by Kim Ghattas
(IPS) BEIRUT --
the first phase of the U.S. military "war against terror" underway, Lebanon is anxiously waiting to see what -- and where -- the next phase will be.
Despite assertions from Lebanese officials that Lebanon is not a target, there are fears that the country could soon become the next focal point.
"Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground," President George W. Bush said in a statement on Oct. 7, without defining the next target.
The Lebanese government has been striving for almost three weeks now to obtain definite information as to whether it is considered a potential target by the United States, while at the same time showing support for the U.S. war against terrorism.
This uncertainty stems from the disagreements that have risen regarding the definition of terrorism, as Arab countries maintain that the struggle to liberate occupied land cannot be categorized as terrorism.
Although all member countries of the United Nations have voted in favor of the world body's anti-terrorism resolution, Arab countries worry that it contained no clear definition of terrorism.
This issue was also part of talks during the visit of Iran's minister of foreign affairs, Kamal Kharrazi, to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt earlier this month.
Kharrazi said that Iran and Lebanon condemned the attacks on the United States, but added that "the concept of terrorism should be identified and it should be distinguished from national liberation movements."
Kharrazi accused the West of double standards in its attitudes towards terrorism because it ignores the actions of Israel against the Palestinians.
He also emphasized that Islamic countries would not support a proposed coalition against terrorism unless it was under the auspices of the United Nations. Arab countries have already ruled out joining any coalition if Israel was involved.
However, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri says "Lebanon is ready for full cooperation with the international community without any equivocation."
At the same time, Lebanese officials have repeatedly stated that a distinction needs to be drawn between terrorist groups and legitimate national resistance -- which in Lebanon's case would be the Shiite Hizbollah group.
almost two decades, both Iran and Syria have backed Hizbollah for political reasons.
There have been worries in Lebanon that if and when the U.S. campaign moves beyond the borders of Afghanistan, the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon and perhaps even Syria might become targets. Israel has been campaigning to that effect, comparing Osama bin Laden to Yasser Arafat.
The Shiite guerrilla group Hizbollah maintains a stronghold in the valley. It has long been on the U.S. list of terrorist groups because of suspicions that it was behind the Western hostage-taking and bombing of the U.S. Marines' headquarters in Beirut during the 1980s.
Hizbollah has always denied it was involved. Today, the group is mainly being credited with ousting the Israeli army from south Lebanon in May last year, putting an end to a 22-year occupation.
A list issued by the United States two weeks ago of terrorist organizations that should have their assets frozen included only a local Sunni fundamentalist group, Esbat el Ansar. This was widely seen as an attempt by the United States not to alienate Arab countries by including groups that enjoy widespread support, such as Hizbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
But there are now reports that another list is circulating which does include Hizbollah and Palestinian groups. The list is seemingly being used as a means of pressure to obtain more support for the U.S. campaign in return for keeping these groups off the list of targets.
Before his visit to the Middle East last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had emphasized that Hizbollah and Hamas were not excluded as war targets.
In Hizbollah's first statement since the Sept. 11 attacks, Hassan Fadlallah, a member of the group's politburo, said yesterday the group did "not have a reason to fear being targets because they were a recognized, legitimate national resistance group, which had fought against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon."
He said Hizbollah had never claimed responsibility for hostage-taking or bombings against the U.S. Marines and foreign embassies.
Fadlallah said bin Laden's agenda was not clear and that there was no proof yet he was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. But he added that Hizbollah condemned all killing of innocent civilians.
Choosing his words very carefully, he did not condemn or support the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack and did not use the word terrorist, only repeating several times that the killing of civilians was not accepted.
Regarding the reports of celebrations in some areas of the Palestinian territories after news of the plane attacks came out, he said that although the Israelis were using U.S.-made weapons against the Palestinians, a difference should be made between American civilians and American politics.
October 15, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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