Powell Warns Beirut, Damascus To Rein In Hizballah

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to Lebanon on Monday to warn Beirut and Damascus that an escalation of Hizballah attacks along Israel's northern border could spark a regional conflagration.

Powell, who is in the region hoping to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, held inconclusive talks over the weekend with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders.

The Secretary of State met on Monday with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to talk about the need to restrain the Hizballah.

"The United States remains concerned about the continuing violence across the blue line," Powell said after the meeting with Lahoud.

The "blue line" is a reference to the boundary line drawn by the United Nations between Israel and Lebanon following Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon nearly two years ago.

"There is a very real danger of the situation along the border widening the conflict throughout the region," Powell told reporters. "It is essential for all those who are committed to peace to act immediately to stop aggressive actions along the entire border."

Powell said this message was the reason for his trip to Beirut and Damascus.

Hizballah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has been launching unprovoked missile and mortar attacks at Israeli military and civilian targets for the last two weeks.

It claims that an area, known as Shebaa Farms, is Lebanese territory occupied by Israel, although the United Nations says otherwise. Its during the last two weeks have not been limited to that area.

Israel, who has returned fire at the Hizballah targets with artillery and air strikes, has warned that if the attacks continue it will retaliate on those whom it considers responsible for the escalation, i.e. Lebanon and Syria, the main power-broker in Lebanon.

Israel, which twice hit Syrian targets in Lebanon last year in retaliation for Hizballah attacks, has said that it does not want to see an escalation in the activities along the border.

Powell was also due to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri before flying to Damascus for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hariri had to postpone his departure for the U.S. by 24 hours in order to meet with Powell. Hariri is scheduled to meet with President Bush in Washington on Wednesday, according to the Internet edition of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper on Monday.

According to the Daily Star , neither Syria nor Lebanon had made any promises prior to Powell's visit.

Hariri, who visited Damascus ahead of his trip to Washington, issued a joint statement with his Syrian counterpart Mustafa Miro, reasserting "the importance of support the intifada by all available means to liberate Palestinian land."

Hariri was also quoted in the Washington Post on Sunday as saying that it was "hard" for the Lebanese "because of what is going on in the West Bank and because part of our country, the Shebaa Farms, is occupied."

Powell was flown by helicopter to the northern border on Friday and briefed on the situation from Israel's perspective. A Hizballah mortar round landed at the Shebaa Farms/Mount Dov area while he was there.

Upon his arrival in Beirut on Monday, Powell was greeted with a massive anti-American protest, arranged by Hizballah.

Thousands of demonstrators, some carrying pictures of Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, shouted "Death to America, Death to Israel," according to reports from the area.

Calling Powell "a Jew," they shouted, " T he Palestinian people are being exterminated by an American decision. America is the leader of terrorism in the world ."

Returning to Israel

Powell is scheduled to return to Israel in the early evening just before the start of Israel's memorial day, to continue his mission to bring about a ceasefire.

He met with Arafat on Sunday in his Ramallah headquarters, where the Palestinian leader has been holed up for more than three weeks, surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Powell said very little following his three-hour meeting with Arafat, calling it "a useful and constructive exchange" and saying that members of his staff would continue to meet with members of Arafat's staff on Monday.

"We exchanged a variety of ideas and discussed steps on how we can move forward," Powell said.

Arafat did not exit his quarters with Powell, which Palestinian officials explained was for security reasons.

The meeting between Powell and Arafat was postponed for 24 hours from Saturday, following a suicide bomb attack by a 17-year-old Palestinian woman, who blew herself up at Jerusalem's open air market, killing six people and wounding 84 others.

The Aksa Martyrs Brigade, linked to Arafat's Fatah faction claimed responsibility forcing Arafat to issue a statement in Arabic in which he "strongly condemned all attacks targeting civilians from both sides and especially the attack that took place against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem."

Israeli officials dismissed the statement as meaningless, but it was enough to allow the meeting between Powell and Arafat to take place.

Powell, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other government ministers on Friday, met again with Sharon after his meeting with Arafat on Sunday.

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