BEIRUT (AFP) -Hezbollah on Tuesday shrugged off French accusations that it was a terrorist group, without threatening to pull out of an all-party conference in France aimed at easing Lebanon’s political crisis.
“Hezbollah did not take (an official) position regarding what was said in Paris,” said the Shiite group’s Mohammed Fneish, one of six pro-Syrian cabinet ministers who stepped down from the Western-backed government in November.
On Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s spokesman said France would press Hezbollah at the July 14-16 Paris conference to renounce the use of terrorism and limit itself to being a political party.
Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States, is not on the European Union list of terrorist groups.
Sarkozy told family members of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers that his “goal was that Hezbollah renounces the use of terrorism and becomes once again a political party like the others and part of parliamentary democracy,” said spokesman David Martinon.
“These remarks are meant to satisfy the Zionist lobby” in France, said Fneish, one of Hezbollah’s two representatives to the conference, quoted in Beirut’s An-Nahar newspaper.
“If Hezbollah was a terrorist movement, why was it invited to participate in the conference?” he asked. “We are not terrorists, we are a resistance movement and the French know this through our non-stop contacts with them.”
Al-Akhbar newspaper, close to the Shiite group, quoted a Hezbollah source as saying that “the position (to participate in the conference) is under study.”
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has invited representatives of Lebanese political parties and civil society for talks to try to ease the worst crisis in Beirut since the 1990 end of a 15-year civil war.
Lebanon has been deadlocked since November when the five Shiite ministers and a pro-Syrian colleague quit the cabinet, charging it was riding roughshod over the power-sharing arrangements in force since the war.
Both both the anti- and pro-Syrian camps in Lebanon have publicly welcomed the French initiative.
France has taken a leading role in trying to restore stability to Lebanon, with Kouchner travelling to Beirut in May for his first foreign trip abroad since taking office.
Jewish groups in France have criticised the participation of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, accusing it of having carried out deadly attacks dating back to the early 1980s when dozens of French soldiers were killed.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said last month during a visit to Paris that he did not expect much progress at the conference taking place outside the French capital.
“Expectations are not extremely high for this meeting” and participation is not at the top level, he said.