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Two Key Leaders in Lebanon Meet

After talks with Hezbollah's chief, the top opposition figure says the group should keep its arms until Israel leaves a disputed zone.

March 28, 2005|From Times Wire Services

BEIRUT — Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian opposition leader said Sunday that Hezbollah should keep its weapons until Israel withdraws from a disputed border area.

The meeting between Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah was the first between the two prominent figures since last month's killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which set off massive protests against Syria's longtime military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. The encounter could signal a thaw in relations between the opposition and Syrian-backed Hezbollah.

"The arms issue is not proposed; it is not open to discussion at this stage," Jumblatt told reporters after meeting Nasrallah. "When our ambitions are met, in agreement with the resistance, over Shabaa Farms, then we will talk about arms."

Hezbollah has promised to keep fighting as long as Israel remains in the Shabaa Farms area, a tiny disputed enclave on the border of Lebanon, Israel and the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah was the only political party in Lebanon to openly keep its arms at the end of the nation's 1975-1990 civil war and was a main force in driving Israeli troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, after a 22-year occupation.

The U.S. believes that Hezbollah was behind the 1983 truck bombing at a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans, among other violent acts, and Washington has designated the organization a terrorist group. But President Bush has signaled that he would accept a political role for Hezbollah if it laid down its arms.

In other developments Sunday, Syrian troops continued dismantling positions in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley and heading home.

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