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Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 11:56 UK

Lebanese sceptical over unity talks

By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Lebanon

Lebanese musician Nicholas Saadeh Nakhleh
A song about ending the conflict has topped the Lebanese charts

As he jams on his guitar in the dark recording studio in the centre of Beirut, Lebanese musician and composer, Nicholas Saadeh Nakhleh, tells me he has had enough.

"Khalas!" he says. "Enough of wars and fighting."

Khalas - Arabic for "enough" - is also the name of one of his recent songs.

It has topped the charts here and Nicholas Saadeh Nakhleh thinks it is because most Lebanese want peace.

"I believe all Lebanese think that," Nicholas says. "It is time that we come together and do something for this country. We need unity, and with unity we can achieve peace."

Unity is something that Lebanon has never had.

Religion, politics and the outside powers have all pulled this country apart for decades.

Fragile peace

In May, street clashes between the supporters of the pro-Western government and those of the pro-Syrian opposition, Hezbollah, took the country to the brink of an all out war.

Now, three months on, the rivals are starting a new national unity dialogue.

A street in a Sunni neighbourhood in Beirut
Posters and banners show the political allegiances of Beirut neighbourhoods

The dialogue is part of the so called Doha Peace Accords - an agreement brokered by Qatar last May.

The deal led to the election of the compromise president, Michel Suleiman, and brought relative calm to the streets of Beirut.

However, violence carried on elsewhere, and on the eve of this dialogue the sound of explosions returned to Beirut.

Six makeshift bombs exploded in one of the capital's Sunni neighbourhoods in the early hours of Monday morning.

No one was hurt, but the blasts showed just how fragile peace in Lebanon is, and how difficult it will be for the politicians to reach an agreement.

Flags and slogans

Many in Lebanon are already sceptical about the outcome of Tuesday's meeting, if only because this country's future has all too often been decided elsewhere.

"Of course it's a good thing that people are talking instead of shooting each other, but ultimately its all dancing in the circle," says Beirut-based political analyst Kamel Wazne. "This dialogue will lead to another deadlock because, fundamentally, the issues have not been resolved."

Our neighbours have become our enemies
Beirut resident

"Peace in Lebanon cannot happen until there is a real peace process for the Middle East and until the regional crisis is resolved," he adds.

And even while the politicians here talk about the prospects of peace, their supporters on the streets seem to be preparing for war.

Every neighbourhood in Beirut seems to have pledged its allegiances.

Party flags, slogans and portraits of the rival politicians divide the city into areas loyal to particular groups and leaders.

On the street marked by the banner of pro-Western Sunni Muslim leader, Saad Hariri, a young man showed us what he carried in the back of his scooter - a Kalashnikov, which he said he was ready to use.

Mr Hariri denies arming his supporters, and it was not clear where the man's weapon came from - he did not want to be identified, but he said that he and his friends provided security for the area and that many young people he knew carried guns.

"We have to defend ourselves from our neighbours," he explained.

The neighbours live literally across the road, where a pro-Hezbollah Shia group is in control.

"Our neighbours have become our enemies," a middle aged Sunni woman complained.

"The army is useless - they can do nothing and so our sons have to defend us," she said.

Hezbollah control

Privately held weapons, especially the large and effective arsenal belonging to Hezbollah, are likely to become the main point of contention in the talks.

The pro-western alliance - which until recently controlled the government - wants Hezbollah to give up its weapons and to let the Lebanese army defend the country.

Hezbollah insists the army is not ready for the job.

There will not be peace in Lebanon until these politicians stop their games, and until the outside world stops interfering
Beirut resident, Eva Berro

"Hezbollah thinks that the threat of another attack from Israel is real, and they see their weapons as deterrence against Israel and the only thing that could prevent another war," says Kemal Wazne.

"They will not give them up," he says.

As evening prayers fill the air, hundreds of people gather to break the Ramadan fast in a huge outdoor restaurant in the southern suburbs of Beirut - an area where Hezbollah is in full control.

Seated around one of the tables, Eva Berro and her family chat in the mixture of Arabic and English.

Eva is in her mid-20s and her two sisters are still in their teens, but their political views seem to be fully formed.

All three of them say they support Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

"He is the only leader with the vision. The rest of the politicians are like little children," Eva says.

"They act like Lebanon is a rope and each is pulling the rope towards himself - and Lebanon is in the middle," she adds.

The girls munch on grapes and nod in agreement.

No one at the table is optimistic about the upcoming unity talks, even though everyone agrees that unity is just what Lebanon needs.

"There will not be peace in Lebanon until these politicians stop their games, and until the outside world stops interfering," Eva concludes as the dinner comes to the end.

Unity is on the official agenda here and it seems that everyone is tired of war.

However, with opinions and allegiances as divided as ever, and with guns still out in the streets of Beirut, real peace in Lebanon is still very difficult to imagine.



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