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Report: Hezbollah willing to negotiate over Shaba Farms

Haaretz Service

June 10, 2008

Hezbollah officials have reportedly told French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the group is not opposed to a diplomatic solution to the Shaba Farms dispute, according to a report published in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat on Monday.

This would mean a departure from the Shi'ite militia's traditional policy on the matter, which has been to support the use of force in order to return the 8 square mile disputed area in the Golan Heights.

According to Al-Hayat, the matter came up during a meeting held between Sarkozy and senior Lebanese political leaders, including recently elected Lebanese President Gen. Michel Suleiman, during his visit to the country over the weekend.
Sarkozy also reportedly said that he will bring up the issue of Shaba Farms during his visit to Israel in two weeks. He will reportedly try to encourage Israel to use diplomatic means to resolve the matter.

During his brief visit to Lebanon, Sarkozy stressed his country's support for newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and for reconciliation through dialogue.

Sarkozy, the first Western head of state to visit Lebanon since Suleiman took office at the end of May, said the former army commander had "a great responsibility to drive this national reconciliation forward."

"It is essential that all Lebanese political forces display their commitment to dialogue," he added at a luncheon with Sleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and representatives of all major Lebanese political factions.

Lebanon has endured a tense 18-month political crisis that drove it to the brink of civil war in early May.

After 65 people were killed in sectarian violence, rival factions reached a deal in Doha on May 21 that led to the election of then army chief and consensus candidate Sleiman after a six-month void in the presidency.
Sleiman himself said the "Doha agreement, in which France took part, has regenerated long-awaited and desired political stability".

Even so, the anti-Syrian ruling bloc, backed by the West and most Arab states, and the Hezbollah-led opposition continue to squabble over the formation of a new government.

Sarkozy said that "once the institutions have stabilized, (Lebanon) must address the reconstruction of the state and the economy's dynamism to open up to reforms".

He said France remained "committed to strengthening the capacities of the Lebanese army within the framework of a national defense strategy to be established through sincere dialogue ... that can no longer be delayed."
His office said France would provide training to the army as part of its economic assistance.

The president also indicated "a new page may be opening" in relations with Damascus that Paris suspended during the crisis. A source close to his office said two senior envoys would soon visit Syria.

France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and neighbouring Syria, which for decades was the powerbroker in Beirut.

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited Lebanon, where he met with President Suliman and pledged UK support for the embattled country.

Miliband says Britain wants to offer practical support to Lebanon, which he says needs to become a force for stability in the region.


:: Article nr. 44773 sent on 11-jun-2008 02:51 ECT

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Link: www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/991201.html



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