Saudi Arabia quits Lebanon mediation efforts
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Last Updated: Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:33
  
Beirut: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday abandoned efforts to mediate in Lebanon's political crisis, warning of a "dangerous" situation, as the focus turned to a Turkish-Qatari bid to defuse tensions.

In an interview with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the Saudi king was "pulling his hand" from Lebanon.

He said the monarch -- whose country is a key ally of embattled caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri -- took the decision after the failure of Saudi-Syrian efforts for rival camps in the small Mediterranean country to reach a compromise.

Prince Faisal said the king and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had endeavoured in recent months to find a comprehensive solution to Lebanon's crisis.

"When that did not happen, the (king) said he was pulling his hand out."

Faisal warned that the situation was "dangerous" and could lead to the partitioning of the multi-confessional country in which Christians and Muslims -- Sunnis and Shi’ites -- share power.

Lebanon is mired in a deep crisis over a dispute between the US-backed Hariri and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah over a probe into the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

On Monday, the prosecutor of the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) submitted a sealed indictment in the case, which is now being reviewed by a judge.

Hezbollah has said it expects party members to be implicated by the STL, which it accuses of being part of a US-Israeli plot.

The Shi’ite party, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, forced the collapse of Hariri's government last week because of the dispute.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani have been leading efforts in past days to defuse the crisis amid mounting fears of sectarian violence.

On Tuesday, they met separately with Hariri, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

They also met Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who lives in hiding for fear of assassination.

Later in the day, without elaborating, Nasrallah told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television that the "opposition has a new approach to the matter since the indictments were delivered”.

The two visiting officials pursued consultations with the various parties on Wednesday.

"We are working with all the parties to find a solution," Davutoglu said at his Beirut hotel, adding that he would be leaving the country later on Wednesday.

The diplomatic efforts are said to focus on reviving the failed Syrian-Saudi initiative, which reportedly called for Hariri to disavow the STL against guarantees from Hezbollah concerning its weapons arsenal.

Hariri's office said he had briefed Prince Faisal on the talks with the Turkish and Qatari leaders and had been assured of Saudi Arabia's support for all efforts to bring stability to Lebanon.

Consultations on forming a new government are scheduled to begin on Monday but experts and politicians have predicted a protracted crisis that could lead to similar violence as that in May 2008, which brought the country close to a new civil war.

Tension soared on Tuesday after dozens of black-clad unarmed Hezbollah supporters appeared on the streets of several neighbourhoods of west Beirut, prompting schools to shut down and the army to deploy in those areas.

"What happened on the ground Tuesday marks the beginning of a series of unprecedented progressive measures that could surprise many," said the Arabic-language As-Safir newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah.

"It seems that the language of the street is back," added daily An-Nahar, close to Hariri's camp.

It was referring to Sunni-Shi’ite clashes in 2008 in mainly Muslim west Beirut that killed around 100 people.

Also on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Israel, the United States and some European nations of sowing unrest in Lebanon.

"If you don't stop your sedition, then the Lebanese nation and regional countries will cut off your nasty, plotting hand," he said on television.

Later, state news agency IRNA said he telephoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said his country would "do everything it could to help resolve the crisis”.

Bureau Report


First Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:33


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