Blair blames Syria and Iran for stoking tension

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has increased the pressure on Syria and Iran by blaming the two countries for stoking the crisis in the Middle East and accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to attack British forces in Iraq.

Mr Blair named Damascus and Tehran as major backers of Hizbollah and suggested that Iran had supplied weapons forattacks on Israel and insurgent attacks on UK troops in Basra. No 10 said weaponry fired at Israel had been assessed as coming from the same source.

The comments came just hours after Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, spoke of a link between the Lebanese crisis and Iraq in a BBC radio interview.

Mrs Beckett also accused Iran and Syria of involvement. Asked if she believed strings were being pulled by the two, she said: "I think there is a very real anxiety about that. Hizbollah want only to pour petrol on the bonfire. It is very clear their intervention was intended to create an infinitely worse situation of the kind we have now. One can only ask oneself, whose interests are served by that? It is not the interests of the people of Lebanon."

Mr Blair told MPs: "Hizbollah is supported by Iran and Syria, by the former in weapons, weapons very similar if not identical to those used against British troops in Basra, by the latter in many different ways and by both financially."

Mr Blair'sspokesman said later that: "What he is simply saying is stating the obvious which is that the rockets that have been fired into Israel have been analysed as being from that source. We have compared that with what has been happening around Basra. That obviously has implications."

Mr Blair linked the Hizbollah attacks on Israel with the insurgency in Iraq and the wider problem of extremism in the Middle East. He told MPs: "At root, we need to recognise the fundamental nature of the struggle in the region, which has far-reaching consequences far beyond that region and even in countries like our own. All over the Middle East there are those who want to modernise their nations, who believe as we do in democracy and liberty and tolerance. But ranged against them are extremists who believe the opposite, who believe in fundamentalist states and are at war not against Israel's actions but against its existence. In virtually every country of the region, such a struggle is being played out."

Mr Blair's spokesman stopped short of claiming that Iran and Syria had ordered the conflict. Asked what evidence the Government had to link the conflict with Tehran and Damascus, he said: "It's based on experience of what Iran and Syria have been up to in the past."

Police blocked access to Parliament last night after supporters of Lebanon and the Palestinians protested in Parliament Square and obstructed roads. Police closed the gates briefly, fearing an invasion of the House.

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