BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Lebanese army expanded its troop deployment to tense areas around the country Tuesday, saying its soldiers would use force if needed to impose order after clashes between the U.S.-backed government and Hezbollah-led opposition.
The army, which is respected by the Hezbollah militants, has played a central role in defusing the violence by calling on armed supporters from both sides to leave the streets.
But it has remained neutral in the conflict and did not intervene as Shiite gunmen from Hezbollah overran much of western Beirut and the offices of Sunni parliamentary majority leader, Saad Hariri.
President Bush and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal accused Iran of exacerbating the situation by supporting Hezbollah.
In an interview with BBC Arabic TV, Bush called Iran the "crux of many of the problems in the Middle East," adding that "Hezbollah would be nothing without Iranian support."
In a sign of rising regional tensions over the conflict, Saud also warned that Tehran's relations with Arab countries would be affected by its support for the militant group.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded quickly, telling reporters that Saud's comments were made in anger and likely did not reflect the views of Saudi King Abdullah.
In his first public appearance since immediately after the clashes began, Hariri blamed Iran and Syria for the outbreak of violence, telling a news conference the allies wanted to "play a political game in Lebanon's streets."
The country's worst internal fighting since the end of the civil war in 1990, which has left at least 54 people dead.
"Army units will prevent any violations, whether by individuals or groups, in accordance with the law even if this is going to lead to the use of force," the army said in a statement released late Monday.
Troops deployed to several neighborhoods in the capital and to the mountains overlooking Beirut. They also sent troops to the northern city of Tripoli that witnessed heavy clashes on Monday.
Hezbollah supporters and their allies were seen in several areas of Beirut on Tuesday, but none were armed. Streets in the capital were busy as more businesses opened, though many roads were still blocked by opposition supporters, including the highway leading to the country's only international airport.
The U.S. Embassy said Tuesday that U.S. military helicopters will be flying in supplies.
Bush expressed his support for the Lebanese government and army on Monday during an interview with Al-Arabiya television, saying Washington would continue to supply and train the country's forces.
He also confirmed that the U.S. military has moved the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Lebanon but said it was "part of a routine training mission that had been scheduled a long time before."
Future TV, a station owned by Hariri, was back on the air after Hezbollah threatened to destroy the station's offices, said chief editor Nadim Mounla. He said Hariri's Al Mustaqbal newspaper will also resume publication Wednesday, four days after its offices were ransacked and burned.
The recent unrest began after the government fired an airport security chief with alleged links to Hezbollah and declared the movement's telecommunications network a threat to the state. Within days, Hezbollah and their allies swept through the city displacing pro-government gunmen.
The army has offered Hezbollah a compromise. It said the fired employee would retain his post and recommended to the government that it reverse the decision on the phone network. The government has not yet responded to the recommendation.