Syria and Iran to support Lebanon against Israeli “aggression”

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki (pictured, left) has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus to discuss "the regional security threats posed by the Zionist regime" [Israel]. Referring to the deadly border skirmish last week, both men declared that they would support Lebanon against Israel's "aggression". Mottaki described Israel as "the source of insecurity and threat" in the Middle East . He also met with the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaleed Meshal, in Damascus.

Earlier, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr had lashed out at a decision by the chairman of a US Congressional committee to halt US$ 100 million in military aid for the Lebanese Army in the wake of last week’s clash with Israel, which according to the United Nations occurred on Israeli territory. A Lebanese Army sniper had opened fire on an Israeli officer involved in a brush-clearing operation. IDF troops responded, killing two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist.

On Monday, Howard Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had suspended US aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces on 2 August amid growing concern in Congress that American-supplied weapons could threaten Israel and that Hezbollah may have influence over the army.

"Whoever sets as a condition that the aid should not be used to protect Lebanon's land, people and borders from the (Israeli) enemy can keep their money," Murr told a news conference, adding: "Let them keep their money or give it to Israel. We will confront [Israel] with the capabilities we have." The minister’s comments came after Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said Tehran was ready to help the Lebanese Army. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to visit Beirut next month.

Meanwhile, a London-based Arab newspaper reported that France and the US had dissuaded Israel from opening a larger-scale military operation against Lebanon in response to the border incident. French sources told the paper that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had informed French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Israel intended "to teach the Lebanese Army  a lesson and avenge the death of the senior Israeli officer." This allegedly led to high-level interventions involving French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Egyptian, Jordanian and other Arab state officials.

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