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Hezbollah threat poses new crisis for Lebanon

Syria denies trying to oust the government as tensions in the nation rise.

Published November 3, 2006


BEIRUT, Lebanon - Two months after its devastating war, Lebanon is again on the edge of crisis - at the center of a power play involving the United States, Syria, Iran and Israel.

Neighboring Syria on Thursday denied accusations it wants to topple the Lebanese government, but an ultimatum earlier in the week from the Syrian-allied Hezbollah that includes a threat to stage mass protests to force early elections has alarmed Washington and Europe.

At stake is the August cease-fire that halted the Israel-Hezbollah war, and Western efforts to bolster democracy in Lebanon. The crisis also could undermine U.S. diplomatic overtures to Syria and Iran to help calm Iraq, where both countries have influence among armed groups.

Politics in this ethnically diverse nation have boiled over in recent weeks, washing away a brief period of unity during the war, when Lebanon was pounded by Israel's military after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers.

The threat Tuesday from Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, ratcheted up tensions.

He warned of street protests if Prime Minister Fuad Saniora did not accept his group's demands for a "national unity" Cabinet, in which Hezbollah and its allies would have a veto on key decisions. He set a deadline of Nov. 13.

On Wednesday, the White House said there was "mounting evidence" that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah "are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government."

Israel has been flying warplanes over Lebanon to press the international community to curb an alleged flow of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah's fighters.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 02:20:53]

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