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Lebanese leaders call for unity

Former president: 'The ship is sinking; we should stick together'

From left, Prime Minister Faoud Siniora, Saad Hariri and ex-President Amin Gemayel pose with Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in June.



Unrest, Conflicts and War

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Lebanese leaders Wednesday called for the multicultural country to remain united amid an eight-day Israeli bombardment, a call joined by the son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"The ship is sinking and all of us, the Lebanese, should stick together and work together to stop the Israeli aggression," Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian who served as president from 1982 to 1988, told the Arabic-language TV station Al-Jazeera.

Israeli artillery, warplanes and ships have pounded Lebanon since July 12, when the Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped two soldiers in a cross-border raid. Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim militia that holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and Cabinet, has responded by firing volleys of rockets into northern Israel.

Michel Aoun, a one-time commander in Lebanon's 15-year civil war who now serves in parliament, said he did not believe the Israelis would be able to uproot Hezbollah.

"I don't think that Israel has the capability to destroy Hezbollah militarily because Hezbollah is not a group of armed men," Aoun said. "Hezbollah is a major part of the Lebanese social fabric."

Under the treaty that ended Lebanon's civil war in 1990, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah was allowed to retain its weaponry to fight Israeli troops in southern Lebanon. It says it won't disarm until Israeli troops leave the disputed Shebaa Farms region near the Syrian border. The United Nations considers the region Syrian territory.

Lebanon's government was elected in 2005 amid massive protests that followed Hariri's assassination. The "Cedar Revolution" forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon after nearly 30 years and led to hopes that Lebanon's government would be able to disarm Hezbollah.

Walid Jumblatt, the political leader of Lebanon's Druze sect and a key player in the Cedar Revolution, told Lebanese broadcaster LBC that Shiites should consider whether Hezbollah "should be speaking on their behalf or on behalf of all Lebanese."

"The decision to wage war or to have peace should not be the domain of one group or one party," he said.

But Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, told the Arabic satellite network Al-Arabiya that "we are all together" in the face of the Israeli campaign.

"We are all unified," he said. "We refuse the word refugee, and the Lebanese who leaves his house will go into the house of his brother and sister."

The United States has opposed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's calls for a cease-fire but has urged Israel not to weaken Siniora's government. Israeli leaders have said they want to see the Lebanese government assume control over its southern border, where Hezbollah holds sway.

But Hariri said Israeli support for Lebanon is "the last thing we want."

Aoun, a Maronite like Gemayel, spent nearly 15 years in exile after opposing the Syrian presence in Lebanon. He said Israel could end the conflict quickly by agreeing to exchange Lebanese prisoners it holds for the two soldiers Hezbollah captured last week.

"Israel holds Lebanon prisoners. It occupies Lebanese territory," he said.

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