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Hezbollah’s Qassem meets Qatar diplomat
Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem, left,  meets with Qatari Ambassador Ali Bin Hamad Al-Marri in Beirut's southern suburbs, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem, left, meets with Qatari Ambassador Ali Bin Hamad Al-Marri in Beirut's southern suburbs, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: Qatar’s new Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Bin Hamad al-Marri met Monday with Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem in a first meeting with a senior party official, signaling an improvement in ties between the two sides strained by the war in Syria.

The two discussed the situation in Lebanon and developments in the region, said a terse statement issued by Hezbollah’s media office.

Referring to the deepening political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a functioning government for more than eight months, Qassem and the Qatari envoy stressed that cooperation among the rival Lebanese factions was “the remedy that serves this country and all its citizens.”

On the 32-month war in Syria and turmoil in other Arab countries, the two sides asserted that “political solutions in the region are the basis to constructively resolve issues for the interest of its peoples.”

The Daily Star’s attempts to reach the Qatari ambassador for comment were not successful.

In a TV interview earlier this month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said he had recently received an envoy from Qatar, the first contact between the two sides since differences over the crisis in Syria strained their once-strong relations.

Nasrallah said his party had maintained a channel of communication with Qatar despite differences over the conflict in Syria.

“There is talk between us ... there was a line between us and Qatar, which was reopened [recently] but up to a certain limit,” he said.

Nasrallah said he told the Qatari envoy that a military option was “pointless” in Syria and called for a political solution. Western powers are trying to bring Syrian President Bashar Assad and his opponents together for peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 22.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah group had developed relatively strong ties with Qatar, especially after the Gulf state funded the reconstruction of many Shiite villages in south Lebanon destroyed during a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

In 2010 the then-Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, toured south Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, inaugurating several Qatar-funded projects in the village of Bint Jbeil, where Hezbollah and Israel fought fierce battles.

But relations have soured since Qatar supported Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.

Hezbollah has been actively involved in Syria, sending fighters to help Assad’s forces.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2013, on page 3.
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