Qatari Emir Visits Beirut in First Head-of-State Visit for Lebanon Since War

The emir of Qatar said Monday that the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict had provided "greater opportunity" for Mideast peace, and called on the Jewish state to implement the latest U.N. Security Council cease-fire requirements.

In the first visit to Lebanon by any head of state since the conflict began, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani said the 34-day war proved that Israel could not intimidate the Arabs.

"I believe that there is greater opportunity for peace, more than before," he said at a news conference with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. "As far as the Israelis are concerned, they used to be able to subjugate the Arabs by military force. Now this is no longer possible after what happened in south Lebanon."

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Hezbollah guerrillas' ability to withstand the incessant Israeli airstrikes and to inflict losses on Israeli armor and casualties among Israeli troops in south Lebanon — while continuing to fire rockets at northern Israel — was widely seen in Lebanon and the Arab world as a success after previous wars humbled the Arab armies.

"The Lebanese people have achieved the first Arab victory and this is a source of pride," said Sheik Hamad, whose moderate Arab government has had contacts with Israel, but not full diplomatic relations.

Before leaving Beirut for France later Monday, Sheik Hamad, accompanied Lebanese officials including Lahoud visited Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, which were heavily devastated by Israeli airstrikes.

Hezbollah officials hugged him as he walked amid the rubble of flattened buildings in the suburb of Haret Hreik near what used to be the militant group's headquarters.

The emir touched, although ambiguously, on the question of Arabs employing an oil embargo as a means of supporting Lebanon and pressuring the West to rein in Israel. The leader of the energy-rich U.S. ally in the Gulf appeared to endorse using oil as a weapon, while indicating Arab oil-producing nations had not been able to agree on that strategy.

"If the oil weapon [embargo] was used it would have served the Lebanese interest, but unfortunately it was not used," he said in response to a question about whether the day would come when the Arabs again could unite behind such a tactic, as they did successfully in the 1973 Mideast War.

"Qatar is ready to help Lebanon, in the Arab world and in the Security Council," the emir said, without specifying what aid his country would give. On Saturday, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he had received a pledge from Qatar to rebuild Bint Jbail and another southern town, which Lebanese newspapers identified as Khiam, a Shiite town near the border with Israel.

Qatar has a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and has pushed Lebanon's interests in negotiations at the world body to approve a French-U.S. draft resolution.

"The faster we move toward peace, the better it is for the region," the emir said Monday. "We always seek peace in the region."

He urged Israel to lift its naval and air blockade of Lebanon in line with the requirements of the cease-fire resolution, disclosing that even his flight had to have clearance from the Israelis before landing in Beirut.

"So that we get to Beirut, Israel must approve," he said. "Any plane that comes here, the Israeli control tower must approve it. We are not shy about this but we hope in the future this subject [blockade] is removed and that Israeli implements the latest Security Council resolution. This is what we ask for."

Sheik Hamad rejected the Israeli contention that the blockade was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming, saying Lebanon has the same rights to self-defense as Israel.

"We are for any country defending its territory and establishing its own state," he said.

"I believe it is unacceptable that arms are banned to the Lebanese and allowed to the Israelis. He who believes in this theory wants to place Lebanon in a cage so that it could be easy prey for Israel at any time," the emir said.

He also declared that Israel's commando raid deep inside Lebanon on Saturday was a violation "that did not conform with latest Security Council resolution."

Sheik Hamad, who flew in from Syria, denied he was mediating between Damascus and Israel.

"Had we been asked to undertake a mediation between Israel and Syria we would have announce it," he said.

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He added he was carrying an invitation from Syrian President Bashar Assad to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to visit Damascus "anytime."

Relations between the Western-backed Saniora and Damascus have deteriorated since last year's assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.

The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Lebanon has blamed Syria for Hariri's killing in a truck bombing in Beirut, an accusation Damascus has repeatedly denied despite a U.N. probe implicating top Syrian and allied Lebanese security officials in the assassination.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria have slightly improved during the Israeli onslaught, when Syria hosted tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees and its foreign minister joined Arab League colleagues at an emergency meeting in Beirut during the bombardment.

However, tensions heightened again last week after Assad launched a scathing attack against his opponents in Lebanon, accusing them of being Israeli agents. Anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians hit back, accusing the Syrian leader of seeking to foment strife among the Lebanese.

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