Lebanese president: national dialogue to begin on September 16

Other News Materials 9 September 2008 23:34 (UTC +04:00)

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman has set September 16 as the date for launching a national dialogue among the country's political rivals, a government source said Tuesday, reported dpa.

The talks will take place in the Baabda Presidential Palace and are aimed at generating a consensus between the country's major parliamentary factions - namely the Hezbollah-led opposition and the Western-backed ruling majority - on several controversial issues.

A major sticking point is the proposed disarmament of Hezbollah by the ruling majority.

Hezbollah argues that its arms are still necessary to fight Israeli forces and to liberate areas such as the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, which straddles the border.

Last week Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said his group will never lay down its weapons, even if the disputed Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon are liberated from Israeli occupation.

"Even if Shebaa is liberated the weapons of the resistance are staying. The resistance is a defence project for Lebanon," Nasrallah said during a Ramadan dinner in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh on September 5.

Shebaa was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel says Shebaa is Syrian territory and its fate should be determined in future peace talks with Damascus.

Israel officially ended its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.

Political observers say the upcoming dialogue will try to tackle the arms issue but will not yield any specific results because "Hezbollah arms is a regional rather than an internal Lebanese issue."

Hezbollah, which has always described itself as a resistance movement against Israel, was involved last May in street fighting with Sunni followers of the ruling majority. The group managed to take over mainly Sunni areas of West Beirut in response to steps the government took that angered the group.