Arab States, Iran Rally For Lebanon

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Lebanon will get a morale boost this weekend when foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League meet in Beirut in a show of solidarity for the country's struggle against Israel.

Although not an Arab country, Iran, which has strained relations with some Arab League members, will attend as an observer to show its backing for the Lebanese government.

Iran vehemently opposes peace agreements with Israel and has frowned upon Damascus' negotiations with Jerusalem during the past few months.

Iran also is the main supplier of weapons and finances to Hizballah, which is waging a guerrilla war against Israel in the south of Lebanon. Since 1985, Israel has maintained a buffer zone there against terror attacks on its northern communities.

The planned Arab League gathering comes shortly after Lebanon warned Israel not to withdraw Israeli forces from southern Lebanon without first arriving at a peace treaty with Syria. Withdrawing troops without a peace treaty would not bring Israel quiet on its northern border, Lebanon said.

Prospects for an Israeli-Syrian deal continued to look gloomy Tuesday as fierce fighting between the Israeli-allied South Lebanese Army (SLA) and Hizballah raged in south Lebanon.

Two SLA militiamen were killed in separate attacks, for which Hizballah claimed responsibility. The Islamist militia has threatened to continue fighting Israel and SLA forces until Israel withdraws from south Lebanon.

Israel's cabinet voted on Sunday to redeploy its troops to the international border by July, whether it reaches an agreement with the Lebanese government or not.

But Beirut has now made it clear Israel will not be able to leave south Lebanon in peace unless Israel also evacuates the Golan Heights in the framework of an agreement with Syria.

"Either it is a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace or it will not be peace at all," Lebanese Information Minister Anwar Khalil said in response to the Israeli decision.

Unless Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria, there would be no peace for northern Israel, he added.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that although the differences between Israel and Syria were not "large," there was nevertheless "no certainty that we will be able to reach an agreement that will bridge them."

Israeli-Syrian talks broke down over Syrian demands for a written pledge by Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights. Israel refused, saying insisting any land transfer be accompanied by adequate security, water and diplomatic guarantees.

Washington's Mideast envoy Dennis Ross is due to arrive in Israel on Tuesday. However, the spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv told that Ross would not be involved in the Syrian issue but would deal with problems in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli-PA negotiations broke down last month over a dispute concerning a scheduled land transfer. The PA is insisting that Israel hand over Arab neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem now instead of waiting for a final arrangement on the city.

The clock is ticking for a resolution on both the PA and Syrian tracks as President Clinton - who has invested much time and effort into the peace process - nears the end of his second term.