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Arab League chief says Lebanon should be 'spared'

© AFP/File | Arab diplomats have condemned Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, whose members are seen here in October 2016 during Ashura commemorations in southern Beirut

BEIRUT (AFP) - 

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Monday Lebanon should be "spared" from spiralling regional tensions, during a visit to Beirut a day after Arab diplomats condemned Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

The Arab League held an extraordinary general meeting on Sunday in Cairo at the request of Saudi Arabia, which called the ministerial-level session to discuss "violations" by its rival Iran.

Despite the meeting's strongly worded concluding statement, Abul Gheit said Arab nations sought to keep Lebanon insulated from harm.

"No one can accept, or want, any harm to happen to Lebanon," Abul Gheit said after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Baabda.

"Lebanon has a special character, a particular and special structure. The League recognises this," he told reporters.

Earlier Abul Gheit told Lebanon's National News Agency that "Arab countries understand and take into account the situation in Lebanon and want to spare it... from any dispute."

Abul Gheit also met parliament speaker Nabih Berri and will attend a conference organised by the United Nations' Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

In statements posted on Twitter, Aoun said Lebanon could not be held "responsible" for regional conflicts.

"It did not attack anyone, and it therefore shouldn't pay the price for these conflicts with its political stability or security," he said.

"Lebanon cannot accept the suggestion that its government is a partner in terrorist acts. The position that Lebanon's delegate to the Arab League took expresses a universal, national will," Aoun added.

- Hezbollah 'responsible' -

On Sunday, Arab foreign ministers strongly criticised Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.

In the meeting's concluding statement, they pledged to hold Hezbollah "responsible for supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations in Arab countries with modern weapons and ballistic missiles".

They also demanded Hezbollah stop intervening in regional conflicts and spreading extremism and sectarianism.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil did not attend the meeting, leaving permanent representative to the Arab League Antoine Azzam to represent the country.

Abul Gheit said Sunday that Lebanon's delegation had expressed reservations on the statement, "specifically on the points related to Hezbollah's role".

Iran on Monday dismissed the Arab League resolution as "worthless" and urged Saudi Arabia to "stop its pressure on Lebanon, Qatar and the entire region".

Lebanon has been gripped by a political crisis since Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his surprise resignation earlier this month while in Saudi Arabia, lambasting Iran and Hezbollah for destabilising his country.

The shock announcement sparked worries that Lebanon would be caught up in the spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing political and armed groups across the region.

After resigning, Hariri spent two more weeks in Saudi Arabia amid rumours he was under de facto house arrest there, before travelling to Paris on Saturday.

There, he met French President Emmanuel Macron and pledged he would be in Lebanon in time to mark its independence day on Wednesday.

Hariri said he would be in Cairo on Tuesday to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A source close to Hariri said that meeting aimed to "continue the series of Arab and international consultations".

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is set to give a speech Monday at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) on the crisis in Lebanon and tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

© 2017 AFP