WORLDPOST

Hezbollah Leader Denies Syria Chemical Weapons Are In Group's Possession

09/24/2013 08:21 am ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013

BEIRUT -- The leader of the Lebanese political party and militia Hezbollah in a speech on Monday night strongly denied charges that his group had acquired chemical weapons from the Syrian regime.

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah -- a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States but holds a prominent place in Lebanese politics -- called the reports "truly laughable" in his first public comments since an American plan to bomb Syria came and went in response to a chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus.

"Religious reasons [prevent] us from owning or using chemical weapons," Nasrallah said, according to the Lebanese news outlet Now Lebanon. "These accusations have dangerous repercussions on Lebanon ... they will endanger the country and all of its people."

The denial comes at a moment when Iran, one of the chief backers of Hezbollah, seems headed toward a possible rapprochement with the U.S., particularly over the issue of the conflict in Syria.

Hasan Rouhani, the newly elected president of Iran, has made several overtures towards the West in recent weeks, and on Monday he arrived in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, live-tweeting his travel and speaking optimistically about the possibility of opening a dialogue with Washington.

White House officials have yet to say whether they will hold such a meeting, although they have not ruled it out. Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, a top U.N. official repeated an earlier assertion that Iran will have to be included in any eventual dialogue over ending the Syrian crisis.

"It's very hard for us to imagine a political solution for Syria that works, that doesn't somehow have Iran as part of the conversation," Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N.'s top official for political affairs, said in the interview.

Hezbollah has played a small but significant role in the Syrian war, sending troops into towns in Northern Syria that had fallen to rebel fighters, and helping to train the Syrian army in urban combat tactics.

In his speech on Monday night, Nasrallah pointed to the parallel role of countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have funneled large quantities of money and weapons into the hands of rebel forces, and argued that the eventual solution to the crisis lay not in violence, but politics.

"I call on Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Gulf states to revise your stance," he said, according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. "You won't reach anywhere by relying on a military victory. Put this hatred [for Hezbollah] aside and think with your minds. Think about your interests, the interests of the region, the survival of the region."

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