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Factions form alliance in Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon – The leader of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah guerrilla group and a former general who fought Damascus and now leads a parliamentary bloc joined Monday in an alliance to approach some of Lebanon’s thorniest political problems.

The meeting between Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, a Shiite Muslim cleric and one of Syria’s close allies in Lebanon, and Michel Aoun, the Maronite Catholic head of the Free Patriotic Movement, capped weeks of negotiations.

In a joint news conference following the meeting, a “paper of understanding” was announced with an agreement on tackling problems including ending rampant corruption and the drafting of a new election law.

Other issues mentioned in the paper include establishing diplomatic relations with Syria, disarming Hezbollah guerrillas and the Palestinian factions in Lebanon, the future of the disputed Chebaa Farms area occupied by Israel, and the return of Lebanese refugees in Israel.

Aoun and Nasrallah were on opposing ends during the debate – and protests – over Syria’s role in Lebanon. Aoun was a main proponent of anti-Syrian protests in the wake of former Premier Rafik Hariri’s assassination last February, while Nasrallah organized a pro-Syrian demonstration.

But Aoun broke with other anti-Syrian groups and charted his own middle-of-the-road course with Syria and with its allies in Lebanon. Nasrallah, meanwhile, broke an old alliance with anti-Syrian politician Walid Jumblatt, the Druse political leader and a rival of Aoun, and his relationship with other partners in the coalition government is tense.

Aoun, a former army commander driven into exile in 1991, is aiming for the presidency and needs all the support he can get.

Nasrallah, whose guerrillas are under international pressure to disarm, also needs support. His guerrillas, armed with thousands of rockets, fought Israeli forces until their withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 and continue to clash occasionally with Israel.


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