BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The Moslem extremist group Hezbollah expressed readiness Friday to negotiate with the Syrian-backed Amal militia after the latest fighting between the rival Shiite factions left scores dead.
'We are eager to stop this war and we call on the Amal movement to start negotiations,' said Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili, secretary-general of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God, at a news conference in Beirut's predominantly Shiite southern suburbs.
'We are ready for dialogue (with Amal) over all the political, security and military matters,' he said.
'If they refuse (to negotiate) they will be responsible for killing and displacing the people,' Tufaili said. He also accused Amal of triggering the latest fighting.
More than 52 people have been killed, 200 wounded and 10,000 families displaced in fierce battles that erupted between Amal and Hezbollah last Saturday in the Tufah region east of the port city of Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut.
Tufaili said Hezbollah has respected a cease-fire called by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali Besharati late Wednesday. The cease-fire stipulated a withdrawal to positions held before the fighting started.
Besharati, who arrived in Syria this week, said the Iranian-mediated cease-fire was worked out as a result of a series of talks he had held with officials from the rival militias in Damascus and Beirut.
The Tufah region is home to a string of 18 villages that run from east of Sidon to the western part of the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.
Hezbollah fundamentalists originally controlled two villages, while Amal patrolled at least eight. The remainder are controlled by Sunni Moslem fighters from Sidon and Palestinian guerrillas from the refugee camp of Ein El-Helweh on the outskirts of the city.
Hezbollah gained territory in the seven-day, house-to-house battles, capturing three more villages in the region, adjacent to mountain-top positions of the Israeli-backed militia, the South Lebanon Army.
Tufaili called for the implementation of an agreement in early 1989 that ended bloody battles between the rival Shiite groups in Beirut and the south that killed more than 500 people. The accord never eased the tension between the two groups struggling to control Lebanon's estimated 1.5 million Shiites.
Tufaili accused Amal of obstructing the agreement.
'Amal has refused to establish the joint military operations room and to allow Hezbollah members to conduct political and information activity in south Lebanon as the agreement stipulates,' he said.