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Britain Re-Establishes Contact With Hezbollah

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LONDON — Britain is re-establishing contact with the militant group Hezbollah following the formation of a unity government in Lebanon, the British government said Thursday.

The Foreign Office said that it has established contact with the group's political wing but still has no contact with its military wing.

Britain ceased contact with members of Hezbollah in 2005 and listed the military wing as a proscribed terrorist organization last year.

The Foreign Office said that it had reconsidered its position following positive developments in Lebanon.

"Our objective with Hezbollah remains to encourage them to move away from violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role in Lebanese politics, in line with a range of UN Security Council Resolutions," the ministry said.

The ministry said Britain's ambassador attended a meeting in January in Beirut alongside a Hezbollah lawmaker, and that the government was seeking to build relations with other legislators attached to the group.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal 34-day war in the region in 2006. More than 1,200 people in Lebanon _ most of them civilians _ and 159 in Israel died in the conflict.

Hezbollah has a large rocket arsenal but is not believed to have used it against Israel since the 2006 war. It has denied involvement in recent rocket attacks on Israel.

After showing its military strength against Israel in 2006 and then again in May 2008 against its Lebanese rivals _ when it took control of large parts of Beirut by force _ Hezbollah became a partner in Lebanon's government with veto power over decisions.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Hezbollah has always been a terror group.

"This organization represents serious danger to any reasonable or peaceful political arrangement in the region and those who want to promote peace and compromise would be well advised to keep themselves at a safe distance from these dishonorable people," he said.