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Russia envoy warns US policy in Mideast could incite 'new conflicts': report

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, left, speaks during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Hale said that the U.S. will step up efforts to counter Iran's "da
AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
The envoy's warning comes as the UN Security Council calls on Lebanon to cease any involvement in foreign wars

Moscow’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, told Russian-owned media on Saturday that United States policy toward Iran and its proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah, could breed fresh enmity between Israel and its neighbor to the North.

In an interview with Sputnik news outlet, Zasypkin claimed that the US has shown a lack of willingness to cooperate with Russia and other countries to reduce tensions in the Middle East. Instead, President Donald Trump’s administration has waged a unilateral war of both words and actions against Iran and Hezbollah in what the Russian envoy says is a reckless way to deal with an already volatile situation.

"As for a conflict between Israel and Lebanon, nothing can be predicted with certainty because the region is at a crossroads,” the diplomat is quoted as saying.

"People are demanding the settlement of existing crises, the return to a peaceful life, the development of cooperation. A negative alternative to this is the incitement of new conflicts by the Americans, which could involve many countries as well as ethnic and religious forces", he added.

Zasypkin went on the emphasize the “important role” Hezbollah played in military operations in Syria aimed at defeating terrorist groups in the war-torn country.

On Friday night, the UN Security Council issued a statement containing several thinly veiled requirements specific to Hezbollah's political and military wings.

The council urged all parties in Lebanon to withdraw themselves from all foreign conflicts "as an important priority."

Reiterating its call for the full implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, which "require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon so that there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon" apart from state-controlled weaponry. 

The UN body urged Lebanon's government "to address the pressing security, economic, social, and humanitarian challenges facing the country" and encouraged the new government to initiate reforms.

STR (AFP)

“When events started unfolding in Syria, Hezbollah sided with its lawful authorities, seeing the fight against terrorists in the region as its duty. Hezbollah became directly involved in military operations at Syria’s request, alongside Russia and Iran,” Russia's top diplomat in Beirut told Sputnik.

The party took a responsible approach to what was happening in Syria and the region as a whole and contributed significantly to terrorists’ defeat", he said.

Unlike the United States and Israel, who consider Hezbollah in its entirety to be a terrorist group, Russia’s envoy to Beirut presents them as an influential party within Lebanon’s political system.

"After the formation of a new government, the party’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, notably urged political forces to refrain from fighting among themselves and to take on massive challenges the country faces", Zasypkin said.

Last month, Lebanon formed a national unity government, ending nine months of political deadlock.

Hezbollah received three ministry spots, including health, state, and youth.

The militant group, known in the US for its foreign wars with Israel and IS, is a major political force in the mountainous country, with an agreement giving it a third of the seats in parliament - and a de facto veto on every legislative decision.

Following the announcement, the US urged the new Lebanese government to deprive Hezbollah of all official funds.

-- 'Operation Northern Shield' --

In December, Israel announced the beginning of “Operation Northern Shield,” after it located a network of underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah militants leading from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Russia gave its backing to the Israeli anti-tunnel operation a day after its launch on December 4, but warned against violations of the UN armistice.

Israel has long warned that it believes Hezbollah intends to conduct cross-border raids in any future conflict with the Jewish state.

A December report in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper said that a message was conveyed by Moscow to Beirut that the tunnels violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted to end the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, and should be dealt with by the Lebanese army.

The reported warning came following a visit to Moscow by an Israeli army delegation who met with their Russian counterparts and discussed, among other issues, the anti-tunnel operation known as “Operation Northern Shield”.

Hezbollah never disarmed after Lebanon's devastating 1975-90 civil war and is the country's most powerful armed force. It has grown considerably as a domestic political player and it is not considered a terrorist group by many countries -- including Russia.

Since their last fought war in 2006, Hezbollah has strengthened its military capabilities significantly with an estimated arsenal of some 100,000 and 120,000 short-and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles trained on the Jewish State.

(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon's Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri downplayed the Israeli operation on the border and said it should not lead to any escalation.

Hariri stressed his government's "commitment to the full obligations of Resolution 1701 and to the ongoing coordination and cooperation between Lebanese authorities and U.N. forces" while blasting Israel for its “continued violation of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters.”

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