Wednesday, May 23, 2007

State Department Spokesman on Lebanon-May 21,2007

"This highlights the fact that the Security Council  resolutions that exist out there, especially 1559, which calls for the disarmament of armed militias, need to be carried forward".
Daily Press Briefing                                                          
Sean McCormack, Spokesman                                                     
Washington, DC                                                                
May 21, 2007        
QUESTION: Could you talk about how you view what's going on in the camps? Do you think there's any relation to what's going on with U.S. and international efforts to push through the tribunal?                                         
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. At this point, we don't see any linkage between the lashing out of this particular group, Fatah al-Islam, against the Lebanese people and the Lebanese armed forces, any link between that and efforts to move forward the international tribunal.                                           
I know that there's been -- I know that there's been some talk about that in the press, but I can't substantiate that for you. If there is any other information that develops over time, we'll update our assessment, but nothing at this point.                                                                
QUESTION: How do you view the violence in this camp going on right now? I mean, there have been some kind of analysts and officials on background that said that this is some of the Islamic extremists have moved from Iraq to Lebanon to take advantage of the vulnerability of the political situation in Lebanon to try and train more Islamic extremists.                                        
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I can't verify that. This is a group that has al-Qaida affiliations. And just one interesting note for you: the leader of this group is actually somebody who was tried in absentia in Jordan for the murder of Laurence Foley. The other person that was indicated or convicted of  that was Zarqawi.                                                             
So this is a group of people that will use violence, use terror, in order to achieve whatever ends that they are hoping to achieve. And they have managed to embed themselves in this Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, essentially using it as a base of operations. Now, as I understand it, the current violence in Lebanon first started when there was a bank robbery attempt -- and I can't tell you whether or not it was successful -- by members of this organization.      
Rightfully so, the Lebanese security forces reacted to that, and that was the beginning of this -- these battles between the Lebanese military and this group of violent extremists. And what you're seeing is ongoing battles right now.                                                                      
But clearly, the Lebanese security forces, the Lebanese armed forces, are operating well within the established norms and within the laws of Lebanon, seeking to reestablish security for the Lebanese people.                                                                       
QUESTION: Sean, has there been any phone calls of note from this building to any Lebanese officials?                                                       
MR. MCCORMACK: No, not that I'm aware of, no.                                 
QUESTION: Okay.                                                               
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit.                                                   
QUESTION: Some have speculated there may be a Syrian hand in this. Do you see that at all?                                                                  
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I know; I've seen those reports. I can't verify that for you. Again, as I said with Elise, nothing I can -- nothing that I have substantiates that at this point. We'll see as information develops, but this is a dangerous, violent group of people that unfortunately, for some of the innocent civilians, need to be dealt with, with use of force. Lebanese armed forces are reacting admirably. I know it's a difficult situation anytime you have these terrorist, violent extremist elements embedded in civilian populations wherever they may be. But the Lebanese armed forces are doing an admirable job in working on behalf of the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese people to try to bring law and order back to this area of Lebanon. And it's well within their rights to do so.                                            
And the other thing it highlights is the fact that the Security Council resolutions that exist out there, especially 1559, which calls for the disarmament of armed militias, need to be carried forward. This is just one example of why that is so important. You have these small groups and sometimes not-so-small groups that are able, of their own volition, on their own timetable, to create an unstable situation in the country; in this case, in Lebanon.                                                                      
And unfortunately, when this happens, sometimes innocent civilians lose their 
lives and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life, but it's important that
these groups be dealt with.                                                   
QUESTION: How concerned are you about the humanitarian situation in the camps 
right now?                                                                    
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a lot of ongoing fighting right now, so we can't 
-- we don't obviously have a presence there. I know that the UN does have a   
presence there and they will go in and make an assessment of the humanitarian 
situation and in any of these cases, we're always concerned about innocent    
civilians. I know that the Red Cross was able to get in there and remove some 
wounded during a break in the fighting. And that's important that the innocents
in all of this are able to be cared for and that they continue to have their  
needs provided for.                                                           
So it's a hard situation, but let's make it clear that these are -- these     
people in this group are not petty criminals. These are hardened, violent     
extremists that will use the most despicable means of violence in order to    
achieve their ends. And I would just point out that the representative of the 
PLO in Lebanon also denounced this particular group and actually called upon  
the innocent Palestinians in this refugee camp to disassociate themselves from
this group; in essence, try to get them out of that camp because they         
understand how destructive these kinds of violent extremist groups are to the 
fabric of society.