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Middle East

Syrian, Saudi leaders meet to avert factional crisis in Lebanon


Latest update : 2010-07-30

The leaders of Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia urged Lebanon's rival political factions to avoid violence over the possible involvement of Hezbollah in the murder of a former Lebanese premier as they met in Beirut on Friday.

AFP - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah on Friday urged Lebanon's rival factions to avoid violence after an unprecedented joint visit to defuse a tense political situation.

"The leaders stressed the importance of stability... the commitment (of the Lebanese) not to resort to violence and the need to place the country's interests above all sectarian interests," said a communique issued following a a mini-summit between Assad, the Saudi monarch and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

The statement also stressed the need to "resort to legal institutions and Lebanon's unity government to resolve any differences."

The Syrian president and Saudi king made the hours-long visit to Lebanon in a joint bid to ease tensions over reports of an impending indictment against Hezbollah members for Hariri's murder.

The Shiite Islamist party is backed by Syria and Iran.

The communique urged Lebanese parties to "pursue the path of appeasement and dialogue and to boost national unity in the face of outside threats," referring to Israel.

Asked about the outcome of the brief talks as he left the presidential palace, the Syrian leader gave a thumbs up and said, "the discussions were excellent."

It was the first visit to the country by Assad since Hariri's assassination soured bilateral ties and forced the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.

Damascus has consistently denied accusations it had a hand in the killing.

Relations between the two countries have been on the mend since 2008, when diplomatic ties were established for the first time. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain Sunni leader, has also made four trips to Syria in the past eight months.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch supporter of the Hariri family, has played a key role in the rapprochement between the Arab neighbours.

Saudi and Syrian flags were on display throughout the Lebanese capital on Friday along with huge portraits of the Saudi monarch.

Security was also tight, with additional army and police deployed.

In addition to attending the summit at the presidential palace, the Saudi monarch paid a brief visit to Hariri's home in downtown Beirut where he met with religious leaders and other officials.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who accompanied Assad to Beirut, met separately with several Hezbollah deputies.

Fears of renewed conflict in Lebanon rose last week after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah revealed he knew the UN tribunal probing Hariri's murder was poised to indict members of his party, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

He made it clear he would not accept such a scenario, accusing the tribunal of being politicised and part of an Israeli plot.

Analysts say that in addition to threatening civil peace, an indictment of Hezbollah members would deal a blow to the party's reputation and destabilise Hariri's unity government.

Assad last visited Lebanon in 2002, and King Abdullah is the first Saudi monarch to visit the country since 1957.

Also coming to Beirut later on Friday is the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The emir, who is staying until Sunday, is to meet separately with Lebanese leaders and is due to visit the south of the country.

Date created : 2010-07-30


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