BEIRUT (AP) – The leaders of the militant group Hezbollah and the rival, pro-Western Druse faction have pledged to work together following a rare meeting that could prove to be a step toward political reconciliation and the formation of a national unity government.
Thursday night’s meeting was the first in more than three years between Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, a leading politician in the pro-Western coalition.
A Hezbollah statement Friday said the two men pledged to work together to move Lebanon “from a state of crisis to a state of cooperation” after the June 7 parliamentary elections in which the Western-backed coalition retained a majority in the new 128-member legislature.
The two men had a falling out in late 2005. Jumblatt accused Hezbollah of trying to destabilize Lebanon at the behest of its Iranian and Syrian patrons. Nasrallah accused Jumblatt and his allies in the Western-backed coalition of following U.S. policies. Both sides, however, have toned down the rhetoric.
The meeting is expected to smooth the way for consultations on a new administration in the coming weeks. Saad Hariri, the Sunni leader of the pro-Western coalition, has expressed interest in becoming the next prime minister of a national unity government, a tough task in view of the conflicting demands of the factions.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television aired footage of the meeting, held in a closed room, but did not say where it took place. Nasrallah has been in hiding, likely in his south Beirut stronghold, since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war because of Hezbollah fears of assassination by Israeli agents.
A similar reconciliation meeting last year between Nasrallah and top rival Hariri was held in a bid to defuse Shiite-Sunni tensions.
Tensions between Hariri’s Sunni supporters and Jumblatt’s Druse followers on one side and Nasrallah’s Shiite militants erupted in street fighting in Beirut in May 2008, killing 81 people and nearly plunging Lebanon into another civil war.