Page last updated at 20:25 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

UK mulls lifting ban on Hezbollah

By Paul Adams
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on a video-link, file image
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah maintains a wide following

Britain is considering dropping a ban on contact with the political wing of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, a British minister has confirmed.

The government has had no official talks with Hezbollah since 2005.

But the UK's ambassador in Beirut has had contact with at least one Hezbollah politician since the group joined the country's unity government last June.

British ministers say there are no similar plans to open a dialogue with the Palestinian militant group, Hamas.

Hard to avoid

Only last year, the government put Hezbollah's military wing on a list of proscribed organisations over its alleged training of insurgents in Iraq.

But speaking to members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell confirmed that the government is now looking for ways to establish contact with the organisation's political wing.

Since last summer, the party has been part of Lebanon's national unity government and officials admit that contact is hard to avoid.

In the words of one official in London, there is a lot of political and security fragility in Lebanon - which he says means the UK should do what it can to support the government.

There is no such rethink going on with regard to the Palestinian group, Hamas.

Mr Rammell said the government wanted to get to a position where it could engage directly with Hamas.

But he said there had to be substantive movement towards internationally agreed principles, including the rejection of violence and recognition of Israel's right to exist, before that could happen.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Haaretz U.S.: No plans to renew contact with Hezbollah - 5 hrs ago
Arab News US assures Lebanon over Syria overtures - 6 hrs ago
Lebanon Daily Star Feltman to tell Syria: 'Lebanon is for the Lebanese' - 8 hrs ago
Washington PostHezbollah wants dialogue with Britain to be public - 13 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Hezbollah welcomes Britain's decision to engage in direct talks - 13 hrs ago
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