x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hizbollah says British dialogue offer is positive

Britain has taken a "step in the right direction" by signalling willingness to talk to Hizbollah, a spokesman for the group says.

BEIRUT // Britain has taken a "step in the right direction" by signalling willingness to talk to Hizbollah, a spokesman for the Lebanese Shiite group said today. Britain's foreign office minister, Bill Rammell, said this week that Britain had reconsidered its position because Hizbollah had joined a national unity government in July, formed under a deal to end a paralysing political conflict in Lebanon.

"This policy revision is a step in the right direction and we shall see how it translates in practical terms," Hizbollah spokesman Ibrahim al-Moussawi said. Britain's policy since 2005 had been to shun contact with the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist group, which was founded in the early 1980s to fight Israeli occupation of Lebanon and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the government was exploring contacts only with Hezbollah's political wing, not its military arm, which features on Britain's list of banned organisations. Hizbollah itself makes no distinction between its political and military functions. It also runs medical, educational, social and reconstruction activities. Its leadership is highly centralised and all members undergo military training.

Hizbollah, which has 14 members of parliament, has taken part in successive Lebanese governments since 2005. It has just one minister in the current cabinet, but along with its allies, wields veto power over important decisions. Mr Rammell said a delegation of British opposition Conservative legislators had held talks with a Lebanese parliamentary committee that included one Hizbollah member. The British ambassador to Lebanon was present at the meeting. *Reuters