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Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 17:00 UK

Hezbollah calls for Hariri talks

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, on Hezbollah-run Manar TV, Lebanon (04/09/2008)
Sheikh Nasrallah said he was ready to 'turn the page on the past'

The leader of the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, has called on a leading Sunni political leader to meet him for reconciliation talks.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said he was "ready to sit down" with Saad Hariri for talks following recent violence.

More than 20 people have died in the northern city of Tripoli since June in clashes between Shia and Sunni gunmen.

Many Lebanese hope this latest move will mark real dialogue between the rival groups, correspondents say.

Hezbollah has also praised Mr Hariri's effort to bring an end to the sectarian violence in the north of the country.

Mr Hariri, who heads the pro-Western majority in the Lebanese parliament, has already met local sectarian leaders in Tripoli to try to ease the tension.

Internal disagreements and conflicts are a major cause of weakness
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

In comments published by Lebanese newspapers on Monday, Sheikh Nasrallah said that dialogue "holds no fears" for Hezbollah, a militant and political organisation. He said the group was "ready to turn the page on the past and heal all of the scars".

Sheikh Nasrallah said that national unity would strengthen Hezbollah's resistance against Israel, which has threatened to attack Lebanon if Hezbollah guerrillas tried an attack on Israel similar to the 2006 conflict.

"By contrast, internal disagreements and conflicts are a major cause of weakness," Sheikh Nasrallah said.

'Halt bloodshed'

Sheikh Nasrallah said that talks had not yet taken place because of security concerns for both leaders, and that a venue had not yet been agreed on.

He said Hezbollah backed all efforts to move on from the tensions in Tripoli.

"The important thing is not who sponsors reconciliation... it is to halt the bloodshed," he said.

The BBC's Natalia Antelava in Beirut said that many in Lebanon hope the announcement would mark the start of real dialogue between Lebanon's anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian factions.

It comes three months after both sides signed a Qatar-brokered deal to tackle outstanding disagreements.

The Doha deal ended 18 months of political deadlock and in July, Lebanon's politicians reached an agreement on forming a government of national unity.

However, the Doha deal was quickly overshadowed by the sectarian violence in Tripoli, which has left hundreds displaced.



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