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Britain, which confirmed this week it had pulled out of talks to move its embassy here to a building owned by Africa Israel investments because of its role in construction in the settlements, has said it will begin talks with Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, told the British Parliament on Wednesday that his government would hold discussions with Hizbullah's political wing.
Rammell said the decision was made "in the light of more positive developments in Lebanon, and the formation of the national unity government in which Hizbullah is participating."
"Our over-riding objective is to press Hizbullah to play a more constructive role and move away from violence," he said.
Rammell said Britain would not have talks with Hizbullah's military wing, and that the talks with Hizbullah would have no impact on London's refusal to deal with Hamas.
The British move was roundly condemned in Jerusalem.
"Hizbullah is a despicable terrorist organization whose leaders have no honor," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "It uses violence as a means to foist itself and the interest of the country that pulls its strings [Iran] onto Lebanon. All its activities are designed to undercut peace and stability in the Middle East." Palmor said "anyone looking to promote compromise, understanding and peace in the Middle East will not find a partner in Hizbullah."
Zalman Shoval, a top foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu also took severe issue with the British decision.
"This is a very negative development that sends all the wrong signals to other terrorist organizations," he said. The British justification for the move, the formation of a national unity government that Hizbullah is participating in, is weak, he added.
"They say they are doing this because of the growing role of Hizbullah in Lebanese politics," he said."But is that growing role a good or a bad thing? Why do they want to encourage it?"
The British Foreign Office issued a statement saying it was"exploring certain contacts at an official level with Hizbullah's political wing, including MPs." The statement said an envoy to Lebanon met on January 9 with a Hizbullah MP. Israeli officials say that quiet talks between Britain and Hizbullah had been going on months earlier.
While Hizbullah is on the United States' list of terror organizations, it has not been included on Europe's blacklist, and efforts by Israel to include it have yielded no results.