June 19, 2009 / 9:01 AM / 10 years ago

Lebanon's Nasrallah, Druze leader hold rare meeting

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met for the first time in more than three years, marking a thaw in ties between the political foes, local media reported on Friday.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (L) meets with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumbatt in Beirut's suburbs June 18, 2009. Picture taken June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Handout

The meeting on Thursday night occurred after the U.S.-backed coalition to which Jumblatt belongs beat Hezbollah and its allies in a parliamentary election earlier this month.

“They affirmed the necessity to work to move Lebanon and the region from an atmosphere of crisis to cooperation,” said a statement carried by Hezbollah’s Al Manar television, which aired footage of the meeting.

Al Manar added that the two leaders planned more such talks.

Jumblatt, a prominent figure in the U.S.- and Saudi-backed “March 14” alliance, had been one of Hezbollah’s strongest critics, but adopted a more conciliatory approach after the Shi’ite group and its allies briefly took over Beirut last year, routing March 14 supporters, including Jumblatt’s Druze followers in the mountains southeast of Beirut.

After the June 7 election, in which the March 14 alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri secured 71 seats in the 128-member parliament, Jumblatt said Hezbollah and its allies should take part in a new Lebanese government.

But he also said he did not support the idea of giving the opposition veto power in the new cabinet again.

Nasrallah said on Wednesday he would wait to see what the March 14 alliance would offer before deciding on the question of participating in the next government.

In the past Hezbollah has insisted on veto rights in the cabinet to guarantee it can block any attempt to get rid of its sophisticated arsenal, which it says is only to fight Israel.

The new parliament is expected to meet next week to elect a speaker and then to choose a prime minister-designate, who must be a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.

Hariri, whose father Rafik was assassinated in 2005, has strongly hinted he will be the next prime minister.

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