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May 30, 2003

US reportedly offering deal to neutralize Hizbullah '$500m on table’ if Beirut complies

Article at Lebanon Wire, with hat tip to The Agonist, who says: remain suspicious till this verified.
The United States is reportedly making a fresh attempt to strike a behind-the-scenes deal to neutralize Hizbullah, offering the government half a billion dollars if the resistance is dismantled and Syria pulls its troops out of Lebanon.

The offer is reportedly being conveyed by Darryl Issa, a Republican congressman for California, and Democrat Robert Wexler during a visit to Beirut Friday, the daily As-Safir said Thursday. The two congressmen will also travel to Damascus to discuss the offer with Syrian officials, the paper said. The daily quoted sources in the US Congress as saying the deal is being sold as a counterweight to the Syria Accountability Act which seeks to impose political and economic sanctions against Damascus. As-Safir said the $500 million would be delivered in phases as Lebanon fulfilled a number of demands. An initial $100 million would be disbursed if Lebanon agreed to settle its water disputes with Israel, namely the allocation of water from the Hasbani River.

A further $250 million would be handed over for development projects in the border district if Hizbullah’s military wing is dismantled and the army deployed along the UN-delineated Blue Line. The remaining $150 million would be allocated to water and agricultural projects in the South. There was no immediate official comment on the offer, but few believe that Lebanon and Syria will accept the alleged deal.

If the report is true, it would not be the first time that the US attempted to cut a deal to curb Hizbullah’s military activities. After Sept. 11, 2001, Issa reportedly delivered a message to Hizbullah’s leadership on behalf of the US administration, asking the party to withdraw from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, publicly distinguish between Islam and terrorism and share information it has on groups the US considers terrorist organizations. In return, the US administration would forgive Hizbullah’s alleged past involvement in anti-Western attacks. The deal was rejected by Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who described it as a “political hand grenade hurled to finish us off.”

Nasrallah also said that the US attempted to buy off Hizbullah in early 2000, offering millions of dollars, a guaranteed political role in Lebanon and international recognition if it abandoned the struggle against Israel after the Israeli Army withdrew from the South.

Meanwhile, the daily Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Thursday that Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been removing weapons from the border district around Marjayoun. The newspaper also said that Iran has stopped training Hizbullah pilots, apparently hang-glider pilots trained to carry out suicide operations inside Israel. Timur Goksel, UNIFIL’s spokesman and senior adviser, said that Indian peacekeeping troops deployed in the Marjayoun area had seen no unusual movement. He also said no hang-gliders had been seen in south Lebanon. “The only things flying around here bigger than a bird are Israeli jets,” Goksel said. The only known incident of a hang-glider being used in an attack on Israel happened in November 1987.