Lebanese president rejects intimidation after rockets hit near palace, sign of growing turmoil

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Friday that a rocket attack near the presidential palace will not intimidate or make him change his convictions regardless of the party behind it.

Suleiman issued the statement hours after two rockets struck near the presidential compound in Baabda, southeast of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. It was the second time in two months that rockets have been fired in the area amid tensions related to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

"Repeated rocket messages, regardless of the sender or the target ... cannot alter national principles or convictions that are expressed freely and sincerely," the president said in the statement issued by his office.

The statement did not say whom officials believed were behind the attack Thursday night. The assault came the same day that Suleiman gave a speech criticizing the involvement of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in Syria's conflict in supporting forces loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad.

The Shiite group's open participation in the war is highly divisive in Lebanon, and has enraged Sunni Muslims there who sympathize with the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Assad.

Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in helping Assad's forces achieve victory over the rebels in the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon in June.

In his speech marking Army Day on Thursday, Suleiman suggested Hezbollah's weapons be folded into that of the national Lebanese army. The president said that "resistance weapons have trespassed the Lebanese border," in a reference to Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed group has a formidable weapons arsenal that rivals that of the army.

The rare criticism by Suleiman, a Maronite Catholic, angered Hezbollah and its allies. A pro-Hezbollah newspaper put a picture of Suleiman on its front page Friday with a bold-headlined single word: "Irhal," Arabic for leave.

It was not clear who fired the two rockets near the presidential compound. Scores of troops and policemen scoured the perimeter around the presidential palace Friday in search of clues.

A Lebanese army statement said one of the rockets struck the front yard of a private villa, while the other hit in Yarzeh district near the palace. There were no casualties.

Anti-Hezbollah politicians immediately blamed the group and lauded Suleiman. Hezbollah condemned the "terrorist" attack and the "lowly and blatant" attempts to link between the rockets and the speech by Suleiman in which he criticized the group.