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Germany

German Foreign Minister Sees Hope for Lebanon's Future

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier said Sunday after meeting newly elected President Michel Suleiman that he saw "signs of hope" in Lebanon after an Arab League-brokered deal ended Beirut's prolonged political crisis.

Lebanese soldier in Beirut

A Lebanese soldier in Beirut as the country came close to a civil war last month

Speaking to reporters in Beirut on Sunday, June 1 after holding talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged feuding factions to avoid using arms to settle political differences.

"We consider the Doha agreement as a first step but a very important step to settle conflicts among the various factions in Lebanon," Steinmeier said.

Calls to give up violence

The Arab-mediated deal, signed earlier in May in Doha, Qatar, got Lebanon's US-backed parliament majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition to agree to form a national unity government and halt the crisis which last month escalated into violence that pushed Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war. Sectarian clashes left 82 people dead.

German foreign minister Frank-walter Steinmeier with Lebanese president michel suleiman

Steinmeier, right, with Michel Suleiman

"The election of a president and the formation of a government are signs of hope," Steinmeier said, emphasising that the deal reached in Qatar says that force and weapons should not be used to resolve conflict.

"Violent acts should not be repeated and the government should work on disarming all militias," Steinmeier said.

Hezbollah is the only armed force left in Lebanon after all militias were disarmed following the national reconciliation that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Hezbollah was considered by the government as "a resistance fighting an occupation force (Israel)."

"A new beginning with Syria"

Beirut is Steinmeier's first stop on a Middle East tour that will also take in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Steinmeier said it was "encouraging" that Suleiman's inaugural speech displayed support for the establishment of an international court to try those behind the assassinations of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 and other anti-Syrian public figures.

Anti-Syrian protests in Beirut in 2005

Thousands of Lebanese protested for a full Syrian troop withdrawal following Hariri's murder in 2005

Syria's military was in Lebanon for three decades until it was forced to withdraw by a local outcry over Hariri's assassination which was widely blamed on Damascus. Syria has strongly denied any involvement.

The German foreign minister underlined that Suleiman's inaugural speech "spoke of a new beginning in relations with Syria."

"I hope there will be a normalization of relations and that later there will be an exchange of ambassadors and that Syria treats Lebanon as a sovereign country," Steinmeier said.

He stressed that neighboring Syria should "recognize Lebanon's independence" from now on.

Syria and Lebanon have no diplomatic representation.

Israel frees Hezbollah spy

German troops has been working in the UN naval force patrolling Lebanese waters to keep the peace with Israel and deter arms shipments to Hezbollah.

Steinmeier said that Germany is working closely with the Lebanese authorities to enhance the country's "monitoring of its borders."

Germany has given Lebanon technical expertise and vehicles in order to start securing its land borders, and is also acting as a mediator in negotiations between Hezbollah and Israel on a prisoner

exchange.

On Sunday, Israel freed Hezbollah spy Nassim Nisr and then deported him to Lebanon while the Shiite militant group handed over what it said were the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in its 2006 war with the Jewish state.

Freed Hezbollah spy Nassim Nisr

Nassim Nisr waves to a crowd as he arrives in Lebanon

"I hope this is a step in the direction of a prisoner exchange," Steinmeier told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Fuad Siniora later on Sunday.

"I am happy that preliminary steps were taken in that direction and hope that this creates a positive dynamic, building mutual trust. Quick progress will be in the interest of the victims and concerned parties," he said.

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