Explosives seized from pro-Damascus group

news5.jpgBEIRUT (AP) — Police on Thursday arrested four people and seized large quantities of weapons, explosives and fuses in raids on members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

The party leader, Ali Kanso, condemned the police action, telling a press conference hours afterward that it was unjustified and that the party had kept the cache since the early 1980s when it took part in fighting Israeli forces in south Lebanon.

“Stop your campaigns against us. We are not a militia and we are not a party of murderers,” Kanso said, referring to the mysterious campaign of bombings and assassinations conducted in Lebanon during the past two years.

Nobody has been charged with the attacks, which are being investigated by the UN team looking into the killing of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Kanso said the SSNP had nothing to do with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Christian Cabinet minister who was shot dead in his car at a Beirut intersection on November 21 in the latest attack.

Many Lebanese have blamed Syria for the campaign, and hours after Gemayel’s death a mob of his supporters attacked an office of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Syria denies any role in the bombings and killings.

The police said in a statement that Prosecutor-General Saeed Mirza had ordered the raids in the north Lebanese district of Koura after receiving information that explosives were stashed there. Police found large quantities of explosives with electrical fuses and timers as well as a large quantity of weapons.

It added that four people had been arrested and an investigation was under way.

The statement did not name the political party nor did it say the raids were connected to the bombing campaign.

The SSNP is a secular ultranationalist party advocating a greater Syria that encompasses Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait and Cyprus. It once fielded street fighters in Lebanon during the country’s 1975-90 civil war and was active in south Lebanon, fighting against Israeli troops in the 1980s. In the last 20 years, however, the party became increasingly pro-Syrian.

Kanso suggested to reporters that police were targetting his party because of its alliance with opposition groups that have been staging large protests in a bid to force the US-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to resign.

The opposition, led mainly by the Syrian-backed Hizbollah group, has accused elements of the police force of siding with the government in the political crisis.

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