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Nasrallah meets Hariri secretly on Lebanon unity

Meeting aimed at mending fences

Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah chief Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has met his main political foe, Sunni majority leader Saad al-Hariri, for the first time since the war with Israel in 2006, a statement said on Monday.

"There was an affirmation of national unity and civil peace and the need to take all measures to prevent tension ... and to reinforce dialogue and to avoid strife regardless of political differences," a statement issued by both sides said.

Hezbollah's al Manar television aired footage of the meeting which was attended by aides to both leaders. The statement also said that Nasrallah and Hariri would be in "mutual contact".

Sunday's meeting came ahead of a national dialogue session next week set to address issues dividing pro- and anti-Syrian factions, notably the fate of Hezbollah's arsenal.

Statements from Hariri's office and Hezbollah said the meeting stressed the importance of "national unity and civil peace to prevent tensions and reinforce dialogue."

They said both sides underlined the importance of maintaining cooperation and described the tone of the meeting as "open and frank."

The Hariri aide said the meeting was held at a secret location for security reasons.

Positive meeting

Hezbollah MP Hassan Hoballah, whose party is backed by Syria and Iran, told AFP that the meeting was "very positive, which helps strengthen national unity and lay the foundations for agreement.

"It promotes a positive climate for legislative elections in (spring) 2009," he added.

A debilitating 18-month long political crisis between Hariri's Western-backed parliamentary majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition took a dangerous turn in May when the Shiite militant group staged a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni west Beirut.

The fighting, which brought the country to the brink of another civil war, left at least 68 people dead.

It ended after a Qatari-brokered accord that led to the formation of a national unity government in which the Hezbollah-headed opposition has a power of veto over major decisions.

The statement said Hariri and Nasrallah were also committed to implementing the Qatari-mediated deal which had called for "national dialogue" talks, the first of which were held last month. The next session is due on Nov. 5.

Central to the dialogue is a discussion on the fate of Hezbollah's weapons.

Demands for the disarmament of the Syrian- and Iranian- backed Hezbollah are at the heart of more than three years of political turbulence in Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Saad al-Hariri, his father's political heir, has insisted that the issue of Hezbollah's weapons be discussed. Hezbollah says it needs its weapons to defend Lebanon from Israel. The group stood its ground in the 34-day war with Israel in 2006.