x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hizbollah support for Assad its real face, UAE minister says

UAE Foreign Affairs Minister says region cannnot stand the negative impact of Hizbollah policy.

ABU DHABI // Hizbollah's support for the Syrian regime, detailed in a recent announcement by its leader, has revealed its agenda of spreading sectarian division across the region, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

Dr Anwar Gargash said that the "blatant" announcement made by Hizbollah has confirmed its sectarian agenda in the region.

He spoke during a press conference with the British foreign and commonwealth office minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, who was in the country to discuss regional and bilateral issues.

"The region cannot stand sectarian divisions," Dr Gargash said. "The area is made of a certain religious and ethnic mix and evoking a sectarian depth to the troubled area will have extremely dangerous consequences."

Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, announced on Saturday his militant group's support for Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's regime, claiming they will fight "to the bitter end".

"This announcement has unmasked Hizbollah's real face, I think," Dr Gargash said.

"Hizbollah always promotes itself as a political party that has a sole aim to protect Lebanon and so forth, however, repeatedly they have proved that their main weapon is the use of sectarianism inside Lebanon and Syria."

Dr Gargash said that the group's intentions were known before but never has it been made in such a clear and open way as now.

He said that the latest speech by Mr Nasrallah revealed his perspective and that the group has certain political objectives that it aims to achieve.

"I believe that this stance has caused a negative impact and will add and prolong the strife in Syria and pushes Lebanon into a problem that it does not need to get in to," he said.

This week Bahrain outlawed any political contact with Hizbollah, a first by a GCC country against the group.

"Political associations are banned from making any kind of contact with the Lebanese Hizbollah organisation, for it is a terrorist organisation," the official Bahrain news agency, BNA, quoted an order issued by the justice and Islamic affairs minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa, as saying.

Dr Gargash did not state if the UAE or other GCC countries would follow the move.

The minister said that sectarian conflict in the region and the Arab world is spilling out of control.

"Look at most of the Arab countries in the Middle East, they are all suffering from sectarian problems - the issue is not only that sectarianism is spilling out but extremism as well," he said.

Dr Gargash also warned that new separatist movements will now also come to light due to the marginalisation and segregation of minorities in the Middle East.

Mr Burt said that the UAE and the UK both agreed that the only solution to the Syrian crisis was a diplomatic solution.

"Dr Gargash and I have both discussed this issue extensively and as we continue to confront the appalling disaster that is Syria, the UK government is doing all in its power to find a diplomatic solution," he said.

Responding to the recent Iranian military exercises around the three occupied UAE Islands of the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa, Dr Gargash reiterated the UAE's stance on the issue, calling for a legal resolution to the matter.

"Iran is a very important neighbour to us - just as we have a dispute on this matter, we agree on others, too. What we call for is what we have called for since the occupation in 1971," he said.

"The international law only recognises the UAE's sovereignty over the islands and no amount of visits by politicians, changes made to the population there or to the infrastructure will change that - we call on Iran to negotiate with us or we can dispute it under international law."

amustafa@thenational.ae