The leaders of Hizbullah and Hamas, both under international pressure to disarm, pledged Thursday in Beirut to keep their weapons and continue armed resistance against Israel, threatening to "cut off the hand and the head" of any who try to take the resistance's weapons, and to "rip out their soul."

Hizbullah's renewed pledge to keep its weapons came as rival Lebanese leaders are locked in a national dialogue on the fate of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and a U.N. resolution calling for Hizbullah and Palestinian militias in Lebanon to disarm.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed his party will keep its weapons, reiterating that the resistance "will cut the hand and head of those who attempt to disarm it by force and rip their souls out; however, we are ready to discuss the issue on the table."

Nasrallah was speaking during the opening session of the Fourth General Arab Conference to Back the Lebanese and Palestinian Resistance, held in Beirut at Bristol Hotel, which was unexpectedly attended by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

"Meshaal came to Lebanon only to attend the conference," according to a Hamas spokesperson in Beirut. "This is not an official visit. He is expected to head an official delegation and visit officials here towards the end of April."

Nasrallah said he believes the resistance is the destiny of the Arab and Muslim nations and that it will prevail in the end. "Even if Hizbullah stopped its resistance movement, other groups will emerge and continue the struggle."

Nasrallah said: "We went along with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, even though it is a Zionist resolution and wants nothing more than to disarm the resistance."

"However, the U.S.-Israeli plot against Lebanon and the resistance, and the series of events that began by assassinating late Premier Rafik Hariri a year ago, have been foiled by our unswerving dedication to our country and principles," he said.

Nasrallah added: "Before liberating the greater part of the occupied land in the south, Israel and the U.S. tried to destroy the resistance by force but failed. After the liberation in 2000, when they tried to bribe us by offering to return Shebaa Farms, without demanding proof of its Lebanese identity, and free the prisoners in return for giving up our weapons, we refused to do so and they failed to seduce us."

He added that none can doubt, even inside the national dialogue, the legitimacy and the solid reasoning of the resistance.

Nasrallah also spoke of the  founder of the Amal Movement, Imam Moussa Sadr, who went missing during a visit to Libya in 1978, saying: "We demand the release of Imam Sadr, who is imprisoned in Libya."

Libya claims the Imam left Libya and went missing in Italy.

A Libyan delegate attending the conference interrupted Nasrallah as the latter spoke of Sadr, saying: "This is not true. This is misleading and has no proof whatsoever."

Nasrallah responded by calling on the participants to discuss the issue and try to see the truth. "We should always disagree within the limits of mutual respect," he said.

Meshaal also spoke during the conference, saying: "The Islamist movement, which heads the new Palestinian government, will continue to lead its armed struggle against Israel while in power."

Meshaal argued that Arab leaders and the political movement must change its tactics after failing to achieve anything through the peaceful approach.

"The resistance is a main factor of strength that is needed even when the Arabs go to the negotiating table or try peaceful means to restore their rights," he said. - With agencies

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31/03/2006