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Middle East
Row over Hezbollah phone network
Officials call Shia group's communications system a threat to "Lebanese sovereignty".
Last Modified: 09 May 2008 16:08 GMT
Qassem says Hezbollah's phone network is an extension of the group's capabilities [Al Jazeera]
Lebanon's government is to take legal action against a private communication network established in the country by Hezbollah, the Shia political organisation and armed group.
 
Ghazi al-Aridi, Lebanon's information minister, said on Tuesday that the cabinet has decided to pursue all those considered to be involved in the communication network.
"Since it is illegal and constitutes a threat to the government's sovereignty and its public properties, we will take legal action and prosecute anyone proven to be involved - either individuals, groups organisations or companies," he said.
Lebanon's ruling bloc has been locked in a political battle with the Hezbollah-led opposition for the last 16 months.
 
Network 'targeted'  

Hezbollah has admitted that it possesses its own communication network, but has refused to heed government calls to dismantle it.

The organisation, which has an armed wing, says the network is necessary to protect its security in what it calls its resistance against Israel, Lebanon's southern neighbour.

"Hezbollah's telecommunications network is tantamount to Hezbollah's arms and those who are taking aim at the telecommunications network are targeting our arms. They are calling on us not to fight Israel," Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general, said on Tuesday.

"The decision to ... dismantle the system legally, and by force, does seem to be the beginning of a military confrontation"

Ahmad Moussalli,
professor at the American University of Beirut

Ahmad Moussalli, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera that the government action against Hezbollah's communication system hinted at the deepening of an already tense conflict.

"It is a beginning of a war that has started with the communications issue. The communications system that Hezbollah has, was ... instrumental in its defeat of the Israeli invasion [in July 2006]," he said.

"The government has made an indirect declaration of war. The decision to ... dismantle the system legally, and by force, does seem to be the beginning of a military confrontation."

Moussalli said that previous Lebanese governments had agreed with Hezbollah's resistance role, and the systems necessary to sustain it.

"Therefore we are seeing a change of attitude [towards Hezbollah] - not only rhetorically, but by the cabinet's decision to pursue Hezbollah's telecoms network," he said.

Surveillance dispute

Amid the fresh tensions over the phone-network issue, the Lebanese government announced on Tuesday its intention to dismiss the head of security at Beirut airport.

The decision comes in the wake of allegations that Hezbollah had set up surveillance cameras overlooking the airport's runways.
 
"We confirm the right and the obligation of the government to further investigate the issue of the surveillance cameras around the main runway at the airport which Hezbollah set up and [which] constitutes a security threat to the airport and sovereignty of the state," al-Aridi, the information minister, said.

Beirut airport lies close to the capital's southern suburbs, an area largely controlled by Hezbollah.

The initial allegations of spying were made by Walid Jumblatt, a key figure in the ruling March 14 coalition, on Saturday.

Hezbollah has dismissed the allegations.

'Assassination plot'

Jumblatt said that Hezbollah was planning to assassinate senior leaders in the government, so as to reduce the ruling bloc's number below the number needed to remain in power.

Jumblatt has said Hezbollah is planning to
assassinate senior government leaders [EPA]
On Monday, Lebanese judicial officials said that Saeed Mirza, the country's prosecutor-general, had ordered an investigation into the spying allegations after receiving documents from the country's defence and interior ministers.

Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah MP, said the whole situation was "neither a legal nor a security matter" but a political issue.
 
The latest differences between the majority and the opposition highlight the depth of discord between the two sides.

A parliamentary session to elect a new president - a post vacant since November - has been postponed on 17 occasions amid wrangling over power sharing, the reading of Lebanon's constitution and the country's electoral law.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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