Britain Re-establishing Contact With Hezbollah

U.K. Foreign Office says reconsidered position following political developments in Lebanon.

Britain's government on Thursday said it was re-establishing contact with the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah.

Britain ceased contact with members of Hezbollah in 2005. The United Kingdom listed Hezbollah's military wing as a proscribed terrorist organization last year.

But Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Thursday that it had reconsidered its position following political developments in Lebanon.

Britain's ambassador attended a meeting in January in Beirut alongside a Hezbollah lawmaker, the ministry said.

The Foreign Office added that it was seeking to build relations with other legislators attached to the group.

Israel fought a 34-day war against Hezbollah in 2006 after the group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. In early January, Hezbollah was behind the two Katyusha rocket attacks that struck northern Israel. In both cases, the organization used proxy Palestinian militant groups to launch the rockets from southern Lebanon.

On Wednesday, a British minister said the government was open to talks with Hezbollah's political wing.

"We have reconsidered the light of more positive developments within Lebanon," Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell told a parliamentary committee. "For that reason we have explored establishing contacts."

He said he was referring to the formation in July last year of a unity government in which Hezbollah and its allies hold effective veto power, as agreed under a deal that ended a paralyzing political conflict in the country.

"We will look to have further discussions and our overriding objective within that is to press Hezbollah to play a more constructive role, particularly to move away from violence," Rammell said.

Hezbollah comprises guerrilla fighters, members of parliament, social, medical and reconstruction. It is highly centralized and all members undergo military training.

The move could be significant because Britain, the United States and other powers are locked in a dispute with Iran, Hezbollah's backers, over its nuclear program.

The powers accuse Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran says it only wants nuclear energy.

Lebanon is due to hold parliamentary polls in June which are expected to be a tight contest between anti-Syrian factions and a Hezbollah-led alliance.