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Political rivals hold talks on Hezbollah arms

Latest update : 2008-09-17

Lebanon's deeply divided political leaders met on Tuesday to discuss the explosive issue of Hezbollah's weapons. The next session of talks will be held on November 5 and President Sleiman would meanwhile mediate bilateral talks.

Lebanon's rival political leaders gather on Tuesday for talks focused on the potentially explosive issue of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah's weapons amid heightened security concerns.
   
The talks, headed by President Michel Sleiman, will see 14 political figures from the country's pro- and anti-Syrian camps try to mend fences but there is little hope for success because of deep divisions.
   
"Those who expect the dialogue to provide solutions to the bigger issues that divide the Lebanese are hallucinating," wrote analyst Sarkis Naoum in the Arabic daily An-Nahar.
   
Arab League chief Amr Mussa will also join the talks as called for by the Doha accord in May that ended an 18-month political crisis and led to Sleiman's election and the formation of a national unity government.
   
Tuesday's session is expected to set the agenda and timetable for a series of meetings between the rivals.
   
Hezbollah is vying to expand the number of participants to include more of its allies in the dialogue, in the face of stiff opposition.
   
"Expanding the dialogue is a tactic to buy time and determine the outcome in advance," said parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri. "The dialogue then becomes merely an occasion for photo ops."
   
The talks follow a 2006 initiative in which the same 14 major Muslim and Christian, pro- and anti- Syrian leaders held several round-table meetings in a bid to forge political unity.
   
"The chances for the current leaders to reach an understanding after a few meetings... are improbable," wrote Paul Salem who heads the Carnegie Middle East Centre.
   
Hezbollah's weaponry is an explosive issue that bitterly divides the country's political leaders.
   
The Western-backed parliamentary majority insists that the state should have the sole authority in taking decisions on war and peace.
   
The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite group and its allies say that the militant group's weapons are necessary to protect Lebanon from Israeli aggression.
   
The dialogue comes at a time of increased uncertainty and tension in the country, which witnessed a deadly bombing that killed a senior member of the pro-Syrian Lebanese Democratic Party, Saleh Aridi, last week.
   
Six makeshift bombs also exploded early on Monday in a mixed Sunni-Shiite area of west Beirut and two similar bombs were defused by the Lebanese army near a church north of the capital.
   
Despite the violence some are holding out hope that the talks will lead to a breakthrough.
   
"The Lebanese are afraid of being too optimistic about the results, but they have no choice but to be hopeful because the alternative would be a series of civil wars," wrote Talal Salaman, editor-in-chief of the daily As-Safir.
   

Date created : 2008-09-16

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