Thursday, February 09, 2006

Aoun Meeting With Hezbollah Leader

BEIRUT, 9 February 2006 — An alliance between the leader of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah resistance movement and a prominent Christian leader who fought Syrian troops appears to have jolted Lebanon’s political landscape, raising hopes it might ease sectarian tensions in a country veering toward a renewed conflict.
The landmark meeting took place Monday between Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, a Shiite cleric and one of Syria’s close allies, and Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic who leads a parliamentary bloc and who as army commander in the late 1980s fought Syrian troops. “The Aoun-Nasrallah meeting is a ... plan for a new Lebanon, around which all Lebanese forces could rally,” pro-Syrian former Environment Minister Wiam Wahhab told The Associated Press.
As-Safir newspaper said in a headline Tuesday, “The Aoun-Nasrallah meeting: A political coup.” Its publisher, Talal Salman, said he hoped the agreement would help eliminate the “sectarian climate” in the country, and also perhaps bridge gaps between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian groups. Reaction from anti-Syrian politicians, however, ranged from cautious welcome to silence or subtle criticism.
“Any meeting between leaders from different sects is positive. It is useful,” said Samir Franjieh, an anti-Syrian Christian lawmaker. He told The Associated Press that the Aoun-Nasrallah agreement will lead to “a realignment of political forces” in Lebanon in the face of the anti-Syrian coalition, and that could further polarize the country between anti- and pro-Syrian camps.
The alliance also confirms Aoun’s break with the anti-Syrian coalition. Both Aoun and Nasrallah insist their agreement is not directed against anti-Syrian groups. But it was clear that one of the reasons behind their political alliance is an upcoming parliamentary seat election in central Lebanon that is shaping up as a battle between pro- and anti-Syrian parties.
The men’s meeting, held in a Maronite church south of Beirut, came a day after thousands of rampaging Muslim demonstrators set fire to the building housing Denmark’s diplomatic mission in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut in the most violent of escalating worldwide rage over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Sunday’s riots threatened to rekindle sectarian tensions in this mixed Muslim-Christian nation, which is struggling to recover from the devastating 1975-90 civil war. Extremists took over the streets in the Ashrafieh neighborhood where the Danish mission is located, wreaking havoc on property for about three hours.


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