Fri, Aug 11, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Israel understands Beirut meeting: government source

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Israel is satisfied with Taiwan's explanation of a meeting between a senior official and the head of Hezbollah five months ago, a source said yesterday.

Israeli authorities had recently assured Taipei that concerns about foreign minister James Huang's (黃志芳) meeting with the leader of Hezbollah in April were "over," a government source told the Taipei Times yesterday.

"Taipei has been assured recently by Israeli authorities that the case over the Hezbollah incident was closed," the source said, on condition of anonymity.

Huang's meeting with Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah in April sparked concerns from the US and Israel, which regards the group as a terrorist group.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had earlier this week confirmed that both Israel and the US had "voiced concerns" about Huang's meeting with the Hezbollah chief, as an official Hezbollah Web site later reported the meeting in an opinion article condemning Israel's "terrorist plot."

Huang responded on Tuesday that his visit to Nasrallah was merely a "courtesy call" as part of the government's efforts to develop bilateral ties with Lebanon, as Hezbollah controls about one-third of Lebanon's coalition government.

A ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday said Hezbollah's influence on Lebanon's government is "significant," and major Cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister and the chief of the intelligence department, are endorsed by Hezbollah.

"Hezbollah has about 85 percent popular support in Lebanon. The country is virtually run by Hezbollah," the official said.

However, the official said that the timing of Huang's visit to Lebanon was before the eruption of the Israel-Lebanon conflict. At the time of the visit, international perceptions toward Hezbollah had improved significantly with its efforts over the last several years to beef up local social welfare and development projects, the official said.

The official said the timing and intention of Huang's visit to Lebanon, which was long before the current Israel-Lebanon conflict, were why the US and Israel understood that Taiwan was not endorsing Hezbollah's role in the current conflict.

However, the official admitted that the project to develop bilateral ties with Lebanon had been disrupted amid the ongoing unrest in the region.

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