September 3, 2010 11:46 pm

Hizbollah leader denies rift with Syria

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the radical Lebanese Shia group Hizbollah, denied that a rift was opening up between the Iranian-backed organisation and its Syrian allies during a speech given to mark a day of international solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

After discussing the direct talks going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which he described as “stillborn”, Mr Nasrallah said relations between Hizbollah and Syria had “never been so tight and strong”, and those between Iran and Syria were “better than any time before”.

Some western policymakers hope to prise Syria away from its alliance with Iran, and there has been speculation in Lebanon that last month’s clashes in West Beirut, in which a Syrian-backed Sunni group fought with Hizbollah, showed a growing gap between the militant organisation and its allies in Damascus. Although Hizbollah is backed by both, its closest relationship is with Tehran.

Mr Nasrallah also reiterated his refusal to co-operate with an international tribunal investigating the murder of Rafiq Hariri, former prime minister, which Hizbollah believes is a politicised project aimed at implicating them in the crime.

The tribunal’s focus was thought to have been on Syria. Lebanese authorities passed material to the tribunal last month that Hizbollah had given them which they said indicated Israeli involvement. Mr Nasrallah said on Friday night that he was not interested in using the Lebanese authorities as a “mailbox” and wanted them to mount their own investigation.

Tensions have been rising in Lebanon as it anticipates the tribunal’s indictments and many fear more events like last month’s clashes, during which rockets were fired in residential neighbourhoods. Saad Hariri, prime minister, has called for making Beirut a weapons-free city.

But Mr Nasrallah said “all the homes in Lebanon have weapons”.

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