20 June 2009

* Hezbollah MP meets British ambassador

Hezbollah parliamentary leader Mohammad Raad met British ambassador Frances Guy yesterday in the first such contact in Lebanon between the Shia group’s political wing and a senior British official. “The talks covered the recent election and the situation in the region,” Hezbollah said in a statement. “I believe the doors are open to further meetings,” Raad said. The British embassy confirmed that the talks had covered local politics. “Basically the meeting covered the elections and the formation of a new government,” an embassy press officer said.

A Hezbollah-led alliance, backed by Iran and Syria, lost the election to a Western-backed coalition. The meeting also covered UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the press officer said. Resolution 1701, passed unanimously in 2006, ended a devastating 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolution demanded the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon but Hezbollah has retained its arsenal insisting it is needed for resistance against Israel.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman in London said her country would hold talks with Hezbollah members “who are legitimately involved in Lebanese politics and those who are involved in violence and supporting terrorism. “Our objective with Hezbollah remains unchanged: that they reject violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role in Lebanese politics, in line with the UN Security Council resolutions,” she said.

“We believe that occasional and carefully considered contact with Hezbollah’s politicians, including its MPs, will best advance this objective,” she added.“We will be taking a pragmatic approach to speaking to known moderates, political figures who to the best of our knowledge have no links with acts of violence.” In March, Britain authorised low-level contact with the political wing of Hezbollah to stress the urgency of disbanding militias.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.