A hard-line opposition faction in Somalia, allied with the militant al-Shabab group, has cautiously welcomed the passage of Islamic law Saturday in parliament.  It is a positive development for the Somalia's fledgling unity government, which is hoping the imposition of the law, known as sharia, will remove the insurgents' main argument for continuing the war in Somalia. 

The spokesman of the hard-line faction of Hisbul Islam, Muse Abdi Arale, told reporters in the Somali capital that parliament's historic decision was, in the group's opinion, a positive first step toward peace.

Meeting a crucial demand of Somali clerics and some opposition groups, the country's interim parliament voted unanimously on Saturday to adopt sharia as national legislation.

Arale says Hisbul Islam welcomes the passage of Islamic law, but he says it remains to be seen how quickly and in what fashion the government will implement sharia.

While short of a ringing endorsement, the conciliatory words are expected to give Somalia's newly-formed government a much-needed boost in its struggle to pacify a country that has been at war for the past 18 years.   Fourteen previous attempts to form a government have failed amid power struggles, violence, and rebellion.

This government was formed in January, following the Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia and U.N.-sponsored efforts to merge the previous secular government with an opposition group led by moderate Islamist cleric Sharif Sheik Ahmed.  

Somalia's transitional federal parliament was expanded to include several-hundred more members, including many Islamists. Parliament, then, elected Sharif Sheik Ahmed as president of a new unity government.

Hisbul Islam, composed of four conservative Islamist factions, emerged in February to challenge President Sharif's authority.  Accusing the Somali leader of being a "western stooge," Hisbul Islam formed an alliance with the al-Qaida-linked radical group, al-Shabab, which controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. 

Together, they carried out several major attacks in Mogadishu.  But one faction of Hisbul Islam broke away and began supporting the government after President Sharif pledged to institute sharia throughout the country.

On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered at a stadium in Mogadishu to show their support of the parliament's decision to adopt Islamic law.

As crowds chanted "God is Great," Somali officials called on opposition groups to lay down their weapons.  They said there was no excuse to continue violence against an Islamic government.

The most powerful opposition group, al-Shabab, has already refused to accept sharia endorsed by the U.N.-supported government, arguing that the law will not be the version they want implemented.  

In the areas it controls, al-Shabab has imposed an ultra-conservative form of sharia that allows stoning of women accused of adultery, cutting off the hands of thieves, and public beheadings.