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Lebanon leaders close on fate of Palestinian arms

Written by: Staff
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BEIRUT, Mar 5 (Reuters) Lebanon's leaders inched closer to agreement on disarming the country's Palestinian militants but remained at odds over the fate of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and Hizbollah arms, a senior politician said.

He said progress was slow at the so-called ''national dialogue conference'' of rival Muslim and Christian leaders, both pro- and anti-Syrian -- the largest such gathering since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

''The leaders are close to reaching an agreement on the issue of Palestinian militants' arms outside the refugee camps,'' the source told Reuters without elaboration yesterday.

The Lebanese government has said the pro-Syrian Palestinian militants must shut down their military posts outside the country's dozen squalid camps as demanded by a 2004 UN Security Council resolution. The militants have rejected such demands, saying their arms were there to fight Israel.

But the government, which says it wants to resolve the issue through talks, has come under fire from several Damascus allies after the Lebanese army's heavy deployment around the posts along the border with Syria in October.

They have accused the anti-Syrian majority in parliament of pressing to disarm the Palestinians to pile pressure on Hizbollah to relinquish its weapons, another demand of the same Security Council resolution ''Discussions are still ongoing concerning Hizbollah and the presidency but without an agreement in sight so far,'' the political source said.

ASSAD CONFIDENT Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking at a meeting of Arab political parties in Damascus, said he expected Syria's allies to come out on top at the Lebanese talks.

''Either one is with or against the resistance (Hizbollah). I cannot see the nationalist and resistance side saying we accept to disband or damage relations with Syria,'' Assad said.

MORE REUTERS DH RAI0559

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