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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 July 2007, 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK
Lebanon factions 'open dialogue'
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
France hopes to use its influence to help end the political stalemate
France says Lebanon's rival political groups have reopened dialogue after months of deadlock that has crippled the country's political life.

The move comes after two days of talks between the main Lebanese parties, which were held in France.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the participants had agreed not to use violence for political ends.

Mr Kouchner said he would go to Beirut in late July to follow up the dialogue.

Lebanon's Western-backed government and the opposition supported by Syria and Iran have been deadlocked since six opposition ministers quit in November.

The parties have since failed to agree how a new unity government might be structured.

Lebanese fears

Members of Lebanon's rival political factions sit down to talk at Celle-Saint Cloud in France
The talks in France brought many rival factions together

Some 30 officials from Lebanon's 14 political parties and civic groups took part in the talks behind closed doors in La Celle-Saint Cloud.

Among the participants were also representatives from the opposition Shia group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah sent its team despite complaints from French Jewish groups who have branded the group a terrorist organisation.

Many in Lebanon fear that the situation there could deteriorate further if no deal is struck before the presidential election in September.

The nation has been in turmoil since the assassination former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and a 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel last year.

About 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the conflict.

France, the former colonial power, has strong ties with some of Lebanon's rival factions and hopes to use its clout to encourage dialogue.

Mr Kouchner said he would travel to Beirut on 28 July to build on progress made at the weekend.

Refugee camp

Smoke rises over Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon
Most of the Palestinian refugees living in the camp have now fled

There was further heavy fighting on Sunday between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants besieged within a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country.

Witnesses said they had seen Lebanese and army flags flying above some of the buildings in the Nahr al-Bared camp, which has been devastated during two months of fighting.

The army continued its bombardment of positions held by the Fatah al-Islam group, who responded with rockets.

The camp was home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees, most of whom have now fled.

About 200 people, most of them soldiers and militants, have been killed in seven weeks of fighting.




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