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'This is a vicious circle'

Transcript of interview with Prime Minister Rafic Al-Hariri of Lebanon about recent bombings

April 12, 1996
Web posted at: 3:40 p.m. EDT (1940 GMT)

From Correspondent Brent Sadler

SADLER: I'm in the office of the Lebanese prime minister, Mr. Rafic Al-Hariri. A couple of hours ago we saw helicopter gunships coming across the Mediterranean Sea and striking one position south of the city in the area of the southern suburbs which Israeli helicopter gunships, you will remember, attacked that area again yesterday.

There are unconfirmed reports of casualties among both Lebanese and Syrian soldiers. Let's now get the latest information from that. I'm joined by Prime Minister Hariri. What can you tell us about these casualties?

HARIRI: Today they have attacked near the Beirut airport, and we have one Lebanese soldier killed and six Syrians injured. Besides, the total people who have been killed between yesterday and today, eleven people -- civilian -- and 37 civilians also injured.

SADLER: Did the gunships attack at base, or did the Lebanese and Syrian soldiers just get in the way?

HARIRI: No, they have been -- you know, it is a normal site for the Syrian army.

SADDLER: So it was a base, a military base.

HARIRI: Mostly, this one was for the Syrians, yes. But for the civilians -- for the Lebanese it was not.

SADLER: So what is your estimation of the fact that the Israelis have attacked a joint Syrian-Lebanese military position?

HARIRI: I don't know what the Israelis are aiming to, but they said that they want to attack Hezbollah positions, which is not what's happening. More of the casualties and people who have been killed are Lebanese and are civilian. And they are destroying civilian places. They have attacked today places around a religious place, on the way to the airport. And, you know, they are saying that "we want to destroy the Hezbollah base," but they are not doing this. They are only attacking the civilian and the Lebanese civilians.

SADLER: Now, you were about mounting civilian Lebanese casualties...

HARIRI: Yes.

SADDLER: Why don't you order Lebanon's army to intervene in this and to stop Hezbollah attacking northern Israel?

HARIRI: You see, this is a vicious circle. We are in this problem since 1978. In 1978 Israel entered southern Lebanon because the Palestinians were there, and they said they wanted to assure the security of the northern border of Israel. They have done this.

And since 1978, 'til now, the northern border with Israel was never secured because the Palestinians were shelling at that time. And in 1982 they obliged the Palestinian to leave Lebanon, but they remained occupying part of the Lebanese territory.

Since 1982 'til now, because of the occupation, we started seeing a resistance and this resistance formed now under the name of Hezbollah, which they have done lots of things in the past and they, you know, they have political direction and political ways which we are not -- we don't agree with them very much.

SADLER: But don't you accept that Hezbollah's resistance, as legitimate as you believe it is, and if the Syrian government in Damascus believes it is, is now putting more and more Lebanese civilian lives at risk? The sovereignty of your country being attacked. Isn't it time to rein in Hezbollah for the good of Lebanon?

HARIRI: You see, if we consider that Hezbollah is a problem -- let's assume that Hezbollah is a problem -- the question is how to solve this problem. Israel is trying to solve this problem by making more attacks, which is at the end of the day strengthening Hezbollah, killing more civilians, destroying the economy and the sovereignty of this country, and not solving the problem.

They have done this before.

SADLER: What should Israel be doing instead of attacking?

HARIRI: They have to withdraw. They have to withdraw. The solution is to withdraw. This vicious circle of terror and killing and attacking and action and reaction, it will never end, not because we don't want to end it, because we cannot do it, we cannot end it. If Israel withdraws from this case Hezbollah has no reason, no legitimate reason to exist and to fight.

SADLER: Are you talking to representatives from the armed section of Hezbollah? Are you in consultation with what's happening at a military level?

HARIRI: You see, I personally, I don't. But the security people, they talk to them. But the question is not here if we aren't talking or we are not talking. Hezbollah, we know that they have a political agenda different than our political agenda. You know they have member in the parliament, the Lebanese parliament, and they are, they represent the opposition to my (unintelligible).

So it is not a matter that we support them or we don't support them. It is a matter of fact that they are there, and they are presenting their resistance to the occupation.

How to deal with this problem? Either Israel said we did what was done by force. I have seen yesterday, Mr. Peres on the television, and the rest of the Israeli leaders talking about attacking and reaction and reacting to what Hezbollah is doing.

If this will solve the problem, the question is, here: If we have a problem, if Israel has a problem, so why then we don't think, all of us, how to solve this problem.

SADLER: All right. Both sides recognize the need for political solutions.

HARIRI: Exactly. The political solution is a solution. It's ...

SADLER: ... bad at the moment, prime minister, is it, sir? Can the Israelis expect to defeat Hezbollah?

HARIRI: I don't think so. I don't think so. They have tried before. In July 1993, Rabin had made the same. They attacked everywhere. They bombard southern Lebanon for seven days and nights. They obliged 250,000 people in Tibnin (?), the south and to come here.

And then what? Nothing happened, except more casualties, more killing, more destroying of villages, more killing of civilians, and Hezbollah remained.

SADLER: So who's going to halt this? How is this escalation, which is getting worse by the day, going to be stopped?

HARIRI: Oh ...

SADLER: And who's going to stop it? The United States?

HARIRI: Maybe the world, yes, maybe the United States. Maybe the friendly countries, they will tell Israel to stop this action, and to try to find a solution different than the usual way (that) has been used since 1978. This ...

SADLER: Are you saying it's time for a new outlook? A more courageous approach to solving this problem?

HARIRI: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly, that's what I'm saying. If the solution or this method of solving the problem, which is had since 1978 at least, now it is 18 years, and it did not work. It does one thing only, strengthen Hezbollah more and more, making more casualties, killing more people, destroying more villages and no results.

SADLER: And there's nothing you or your government or your army can do?

HARIRI: No, we cannot do anything. Why we cannot anything? Because Israel is occupying part of our country. What Israel is asking us to do is to make the life of the occupation easy, so we look, in the public opinion eyes here in this country, as if we are a traitor to Israel. And we are not.

SADLER: One final question. At a time when you're trying to rebuild Beirut ...

HARIRI: Yes.

SADLER: ... to restore confidence, to rebuild the city center ...

HARIRI: Yes.

SADLER: ... what is this symbolizing to you?

HARIRI: It is symbolizing that Israel is trying to jeopardize the work I have done. And they have said it, clearly. Now I hear many Israeli leaders or military, they say that we will not let Lebanon rebuild its economy as we used to do as far as Hezbollah is launching the (unintelligible) on our villages. The problem is not Hezbollah is launching the (unintelligible). The problem is Israel is occupying part of our country. This is a problem.

We don't agree killing civilians on both sides. We don't want this. The Lebanese people is a peaceful people. They have paid a very high price because of the war. We have paid a tremendously high price because of the war, because of terror. We want to live peace -- in peace.

We are a small country. We are only ...

SADLER: We've had Israeli leaders talking at length over the past 48 hours (saying, "We can) attack them on several sides. We have air-based SAM, the Katyusha and SAM missiles. We are stronger."

HARIRI: I know they are stronger. And I admit they are stronger. We never said that they are not stronger. We say that Israel is much stronger than us. We are a small country. We are a peaceful country. We never said that we can destroy Israel or we can do anything of harm to Israel. We don't want that.

So, nobody is challenging the force of the Israeli army. What we are doing, what we are doing we say that we have a problem. A part of our country is occupied ...

SADLER: So stop fighting ...

HARIRI: Stop fighting.

SADLER: ... Sit down. Talk. Negotiate.

HARIRI: Exactly. Put in your eyes, between you eyes that. To stop this vicious circle there is only one way. This way is to withdraw from our territory.

We are -- I am saying this. Listen. I'm saying this not because I'm stubborn, and I want to oblige Israel to Hezbollah. No. Believe me, I'm not.

I am saying this because I don't see any other way out.

SADLER: All right. Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri. Thanks very much indeed for joining us.

As you heard there, an assessment from the Lebanese prime minister that the only way to end this on-going cycle of violence is for there to be negotiations, peace, and eventually Israeli withdrawal. But that would require the acquiescence of both the Lebanese government and the Syrian government in Damascus, and of course the Israelis as part of the wider Middle East peace process.

The chance of those parties coming together at this stage is as elusive as ever.


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