Hariri stunned as Trump claims Lebanon army 'fighting Hizballah'

Hariri stunned as Trump claims Lebanon army 'fighting Hizballah'
President Trump has promised Prime Minister Hariri that the US will continue to back the Lebanese army in its battle with IS militants, al-Qaeda... and Hizballah.
3 min read
26 Jul, 2017
Hariri was left stunned by Trump's comments [Getty]
US President Donald Trump has warned Lebanon of the "menace" of Hizballah, despite its fighters working alongside the Lebanese troops in a joint military campaign in the Arsal region.

Trump told Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a meeting at the White House that Washington will continue to support the Lebanese army against "enemies" with the list including Hizballah.

"Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against [the Islamic State group], al-Qaeda, and Hizballah. The Lebanese people, of all faiths, are working together to keep – and you know this, and we've been discussing this at great length – their country safe and prosperous," Trump told Hariri.  

This will come as a surprise to Hizballah militants fighting alongside the Lebanese military in eastern Syria's Arsal region against the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda.

Far from being enemies, the two sides appear to be fighting a coordinated campaign in the Hizballah-led offensive which has seen the tacit blessing of the Beirut government.

Hizballah are fighting on both sides of the border with the Lebanese army holding ground in Arsal to block a potential retreat of militants into the interior.

This did not stop Trump from pointing the finger at the Iran-backed Shia militia.

"Hizballah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people, and the entire region," Trump told the Lebanese prime minister.

"The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel. With the support of Iran, the organisation is also fuelling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria."

The move has been highly controversial with the Shia militia backing Bashar al-Assad's regime against a mostly Sunni-dominated armed opposition.

Hizballah has meanwhile greatly increased its influence in Lebanon over the past decade.

It comes as Beirut is rocked by growing xenophobic sentiments against Syrians in the country with the deaths of four regime in Lebanese army detention – apparently from torture – sparking concern from human rights groups.

Many have said the Lebanese military's campaign in the Syrian refugee camps around Arsal and new legislation targeting migrants have fed racist sentiments.

Around one million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon living mostly in appalling conditions.

Trump said that despite the pressures on infrastructure, Syrians are better placed in Lebanon than elsewhere.

"Our approach supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible is the best way to help most people."

Around 300 refugees did leave Arsal for Syria this month in a Hizballah-brokered deal.

Many analysts believing the Shia militant group's campaign is to establish a "de-escalation zone" around Qalamoun which would see more Syrians in Lebanon encouraged – or forced – to return home.