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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 20:13 GMT 21:13 UK
Hezbollah weapons 'not an issue'
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt
Jumblatt: "The arms issue is not open to discussion"
Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian opposition leader has said that Hezbollah should keep its weapons until Israel withdraws from a disputed area.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made the comments after discussions with the Damascus-backed Shia Muslim group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

It was the first meeting between the two since last month's killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

There have been growing calls for a dialogue between the two sides.

Correspondents say it could signal better relations between the opposition and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah was the only Lebanese political party to openly keep its arms at the end of the1975-1990 civil war and was a main force in driving Israeli troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, after a 22-year occupation.

It has 20,000 militiamen under arms in Lebanon, and has vowed to keep fighting as long as Israel remains in the Shebaa Farms area, a tiny disputed border enclave on the border between Lebanon, Israel and Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"The arms issue is not proposed, it is not open to discussion at this stage," Mr Jumblatt told reporters after meeting Sheikh Nasrallah.

"When our ambitions are met, in agreement with the resistance, over Shebaa Farms, then we will talk about arms."

Lebanon says Shebaa Farms is Lebanese land occupied by Israel, while the United Nations describes it as Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.

'Terrorists'

The UN Security Council passed a resolution last year demanding all foreign forces leave Lebanon and calling on militias to give up their arms.

Syria has now agreed to withdraw its 14,000 troops.

Lebanon's opposition has rejected calls for dialogue with Beirut's pro-Syrian authorities, and refused to join a national unity government to lead the country to elections due in May.

Mr Jumblatt's comments are at odds with US policy towards Hezbollah.

Washington labels Hezbollah group "terrorists" and has led international calls for it to be disarmed.

Mr Jumblatt met US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield earlier in the day, ahead of his meeting with Sheikh Nasrallah.


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