August 21, 2006

Iranians Upset at Government's Financial Aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon

By Ali Nourizadeh

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Iranian government's pledge of 500 million dollars to Hezbollah has angered many Iranians who say they are still awaiting money to help rebuild their homes that were damaged by wars and natural disasters, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The anger is particularly fierce in the Khuzestan district, which sustained severe damage during the Iran-Iraq war, and in Bam, which was hit hard by an earthquake three years ago.

Hezbollah is reportedly handing out wads of cash to residents of southern Lebanon to help rebuild their homes. The money is thought to originate from Tehran, but Iran is downplaying allegations that it has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Lebanon.

Spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hamid Reza Asefi, said on Sunday that Iran was examining ways to help Lebanon, but added that “nothing has been decided yet.”

“Informed sources” told Asharq Al-Awsat that spontaneous demonstrations were staged in Bam and in Khuzestan on Friday as protesters shouted slogans critical of Hezbollah and the government. They were demanding their homes be rebuilt instead of the government intervening in Lebanese affairs.

Iran is reportedly Hezbollah's main benefactor, providing the organization with weapons, funding and fighters. But Tehran insists the support it provides to Hezbollah is moral, not material.

Elsewhere, Hezbollah's representative in Iran has ruled out the disarmament of their Lebanese counterparts and said the group will buy new weapons if necessary.

"There will not be disarmament, the UN resolution has not demanded that either," Abdullah Safieddin told Shargh newspaper in an interview published Monday, on the eighth day of a UN-brokered ceasefire to end the month-long Israeli offensive in Lebanon aimed at crippling Hezbollah.

However, UN Resolution 1701 which laid out the ceasefire calls for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon and prohibits any sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government.

"God willing, we will have no problem. If anybody wants to resist they will seek to buy arms if need be," Safieddin said. "As long as the army does not have the capability to defend the country we have to defend it."

The UN resolution calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the deployment of Lebanese army as well as 15,000 international peacekeepers to the Hezbollah stronghold of south Lebanon.

Israel wants Hezbollah guerrillas pushed back to the north of Litani River -- 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the border -- in the hope of ending the hail of rocket attacks that were unleashed during the 34-day war.

Safieddin dismissed the call, saying: "Hezbollah does not have a (military) base. It is the residents of south Lebanon. They cannot send them out.

"Hezbollah will remain as it is. We even believe this war made the spirit of resistance more serious. We will do our political work but we will defend our country too."

Iran as well as Syria is accused of channeling weapons to Hezbollah -- an allegation Tehran denies saying it only provides "moral support".

August 21, 2006 11:06 PM

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