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‘Lebanon equals Hezbollah,’ says Israeli minister

Early election results show strong support for the Iranian-backed resistance group

ISRAEL ratcheted up tension in the Middle East as early voting results in Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years indicated a strong showing for Hezbollah.

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett reacted by saying “Lebanon = Hezbollah,” warning that its gains showed that the Iranian-backed resistance group and the Lebanese state have become indistinguishable and that Israel should not distinguish between them in any future war.

“The state of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign state of Lebanon and Hezbollah and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory,” the right-wing Israeli cabinet member said.

In a further regional threat, Israel’s energy minister Yuval Steinitz vowed to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he continues allowing Iran to operate in the country.

“If Assad lets Iran turn Syria into a military base against us, to attack us from Syrian territory, he should know that will be the end of him,” he warned yesterday.

Turnout in the Lebanese vote was lower than expected at just over 49 per cent — down from 54 per cent in the last election in 2009 — with 583 candidates vying for 128 seats.

With results due to be announced late yesterday, polls showed that Hezbollah and its affiliates, including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, were on course to win more than half the seats in parliament.

It cements Hezbollah’s role as the major political force in Lebanon, bolstered by a poor performance by its main rival Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s Freedom Party and its allies.

The results were branded “a slap in the face” for Mr Hariri from the Lebanese electorate after “years of being ignored.”

The elections follow nine years of political turmoil in the country. Lebanon had no president for more than two years and saw polls postponed for security reasons in 2013, 2014 and 2017.

Lebanon’s Communist Party had called for people to vote in the elections but denounced the country’s political leaders and political system, which it said was governed by sectarianism.

“This system is for renewal and extension. Do not re-elect them,” Lebanese Communist Party general secretary Hanna Gharib told a pre-election rally.

“Their system has hindered the possibility of job creation and abandoned the youth. We want to reconstruct the system as a secular democratic state that protects the rights of its people,” he added.



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