Page last updated at 02:28 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Hezbollah chief defiant on Israel

Hassan Nasrallah in video grab from Hezbollah-run al-Manar TV - 13/3/2009
Hassan Nasrallah's speech marked the Prophet Mohammed's birthday

The leader of Lebanon's Islamist Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, has said his group will never recognise Israel's right to exist.

He was responding to a US suggestion that both Hezbollah and the Palestinian faction Hamas should recognise Israel before expecting any US engagement.

"We reject the American conditions," he said. "As long as Hezbollah exists, it will never recognise Israel."

Israel and Hezbollah's armed wing fought a bloody conflict in 2006.

Mr Nasrallah made the statement rejecting the US conditions for talks said in a speech marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

'Positive developments'

Hezbollah leads a bloc in Lebanon's parliament that has veto power over major decisions in the unity government.

The coalition was formed last year after a political crisis that brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Last week, the UK said it would establish low-level contacts with the group, citing "positive political developments".

A British diplomat told the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington that the decision had been driven by the belief that it was possible to encourage Hezbollah to move away from violence.

But a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity that he was unhappy with the move.

He said he would have liked Britain to explain "the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hezbollah because we don't see a difference between the integrated leadership as they [the British] see it".

The US and Israel regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

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