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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 04:35 GMT
Lebanon signals no Hezbollah freeze
Hezbollah guerrillas and supporters celebrate Israeli withdrawal
Hezbollah guerrillas and supporters celebrate Israeli withdrawal
Lebanon has indicated that it is unlikely to accede to US demands that it freeze the assets of the Shia guerrilla organisation, Hezbollah.

The US ambassador to Lebanon, after talks with the country's prime minister, said Beirut insisted on maintaining its distinction between terrorists and resistance fighters.

Last week Hezbollah and six hardline Palestinian groups were included in a list of organisations whose assets the US says should be frozen.

The US move was harshly criticised in Lebanon and Syria where it was interpreted as an attempt to mollify Israel and put pressure on Arab groups opposed to peace talks with Israel.

Hezbollah sheiks at the Lebanon-Israeli border
Hezbollah is backed by Iran and Syria
After his meeting with Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Ambassador Vincent Battle said he had received an official answer to the US request for the freezing of Hezbollah's assets.

"I did get an answer... the answer of the Lebanese Government is to continue to insist on the distinction that they have for many many weeks now put forward between resistance organisations and terrorist organisations," Mr Battle said.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says it is thought this is as far as the Lebanese Government will go in spelling out its answer.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, also has the crucial support of Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon.

Unease

Mr Battle said he had pointed out to Mr Hariri that for the moment the US was focused on the Taleban, Osama bin Laden and his network.

He said that although the request had been made on Friday, the word "immediately" had not been used.

The US request is not binding on Lebanon for the moment, unless the list is submitted to the UN.

But there is still unease in Lebanon about possible economic repercussions.

Under new rules which the US introduced after 11 September, Washington can block the holdings of foreign banks that do not comply with this request to freeze the assets of blacklisted groups.

And the nature of Hezbollah's assets is also a complicating factor.

The guerilla movement is also a political party with 12 members elected to parliament and a social network that runs schools, hospitals and dispensaries which benefit thousands of Lebanese.

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 ON THIS STORY
Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Nabulsi
"Hezbollah is a resistance and liberation group"
See also:

13 Oct 01 | Middle East
Lebanon nervous over Hezbollah link
10 Oct 01 | Americas
America's 'most wanted terrorists'
23 Jul 01 | Middle East
The next Middle East flashpoint?
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Syria: The power in Lebanon
15 Apr 01 | Middle East
Hezbollah condemned for attacking Israel
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Gulf crackdown on terror cash
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