Hezbollah chief says he met Qatari envoy in recent days

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a religious procession to mark Ashura in Beirut's suburbs November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Hassan (Reuters)

By Mariam Karouny BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Tuesday he recently received an envoy from Qatar, the first contact between the two sides since divisions over the crisis in Syria severed their once strong relations. "There is talk between us ... there was a line between us and Qatar which was reopened (recently) but up to a certain limit," Nasrallah said in an interview with Lebanon's OTV television. He did not disclose details about the identity or seniority of the envoy but when asked by the interviewer if the meeting took place in the past few days Nasrallah said: "Yes, it is true. I can not hide it." Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group, had developed relatively strong ties with Qatar, especially after the Gulf state funded the reconstruction of many Shi'ite villages destroyed during a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. In 2010 the 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 soured the following year when Qatar took the side of the rebels in the revolt that erupted against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Hezbollah ally. Syria's civil war has divided the region and ignited Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian tension. The mostly Sunni Muslim Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, funded and armed the Sunni rebels while Assad, an Alawite, was supported by Shi'ite Iran, which is also a patron of Hezbollah. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions of Syrians and attracted thousands of fighters from across the world, including hundreds of Hezbollah fighters. 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 Assad and his opponents together for peace talks on January 22 Nasrallah said that regional and Western countries have no appetite for a large-scale war and said several European countries have sent envoys to Damascus to meet with the government. He did not provide additional details. 'UNTIL THE LAST BULLET' The meeting between Hezbollah's leadership and a Qatar representative came after Iran and world powers struck a deal over Tehran's nuclear program last month. Nasrallah praised the agreement and said it would ease tensions in the region and bring different views together. "The number one winner in this deal is the people of this region ... I can not say that this agreement has annulled the choice of war permanently but I can say it has pushed it away for a long time." While saying that several countries were trying to improve relations with Damascus, he noted that Saudi Arabia, which has expressed caution about the Iran nuclear deal, was determined to continue the fight inside Syria "until the last bullet". "There is a Saudi decision to try and change the events on the ground until January 22 ... they will fail," adding that he expected fierce battles in Syria until then. Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a struggle for influence across the Arab world. Nasrallah also said he believed the al-Qaeda group that carried out last month's twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut was linked to Saudi Arabia's intelligence service. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni Muslim group based in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 25 people and wounded 146. "It is not a fictitious name, this group exists ... It has its leadership ... and I am convinced it is linked to the Saudi intelligence," he said. "Saudi Arabia is the one who runs this kind of groups in several places in the world." (Editing by Paul Simao)