Watchman Newsletter

Israel ‘Perplexed’ As Solana Meets Hezbollah

Middle East Online (Link) (June 14, 2009)

Israel was left "perplexed" by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's unprecedented meeting with an official from Lebanon's Hezbollah, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

"This meeting left us perplexed, and we dare hope that Mr. Solana took advantage of the occassion to press for a disarming of Hezbollah and for the end of the arms smuggling between Syria and Hezbollah," Yigal Palmor said.

Solana held unprecedented talks with a Hezbollah official on Saturday, during a Beirut visit to reaffirm Europe's support for Lebanon after last week's polls.

He met in parliament with MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, whose movement is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.

"Lists of terrorist groups are not the same in every country," Solana told a news conference when asked about the US blacklist of the Shiite group.

"Hezbollah is a member of the Lebanese society and it is represented in the Lebanese parliament and it will bear responsibilities," he said before leaving for Egypt at the end of a two-day visit.

For his part Hajj Hassan said that the meeting "means more EU overture towards Hezbollah, and one at a higher level."

"This also means better communication for the European Union with the region and its parties," he said after the talks, adding that the move will "move the EU towards more realism."

Hajj Hassan is among 11 Hezbollah candidates who won seats in the 128-seat parliament.

Solana said Lebanon's rival political leaders "realise the responsibility they face" and he expected them to "find a way to push the country forward and form a cabinet" as soon as possible.

The Hezbollah-led opposition wants to have veto power on key issues in any new government, as they did in the outgoing cabinet.

Solana, who also met with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, officials and party leaders, earlier said that the EU "is pleased with the 2009 parliamentary election results.

"They reflected the maturity of the country," he said.

"This (election) will help very much open a new page for the future of the country, prosperity, democracy and peace," Solana said.

"The EU will continue to support Lebanon, and the EU will continue its efforts, in regard to pursuing peace in the Middle East, in cooperation with the international community and the United States."

Solana's trip coincided with a visit by US envoy George Mitchell who vowed on Friday that Washington would not sacrifice Lebanon as it seeks comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Before Mitchell headed on to Syria, the two diplomats met briefly to discuss cooperation between the EU and the United States, whose President Barack Obama has vowed to help kick-start stalled Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.

The European Union does not blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and Britain said earlier this year it plans to authorise low-level contact with the group.

"The military wing of Hezbollah is proscribed in the UK," but the political wing is now represented in the government, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in March.

Israel waged a bloody 34-day war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid that aimed to free Lebanese soldiers from Israeli prisons. The bodies of the soldiers were returned in a prisoner swap.

The war claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

Hezbollah, originally a resistance group formed to counter an Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, had forced the Israeli military out of Lebanon in 2000. Israel, however, continues to occupy the Lebanese Shabaa Farms.

Israeli flights over Lebanon occur on an almost daily basis and are in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1710, which in August 2006 ended the war. †

Europe ~ Iran ~ Solana