Beirut: Saudi King Abdullah visits Syria
and Lebanon this week as part of a flurry of diplomatic
efforts to contain a potentially explosive situation in
Lebanon where there are growing fears of a new sectarian
The Saudi monarch, who is also visiting Egypt and
Jordan on his regional tour, is scheduled to meet with Syrian
leader Bashar al-Assad on Thursday before heading to Beirut on
Friday for brief talks with Lebanese leaders.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,
is also expected in Beirut on Friday, and Lebanese officials
said there was a possibility of Assad accompanying the Saudi
king during his hours-long stop in Lebanon.
The diplomatic ballet is widely seen as an attempt to
ease tensions after Hezbollah said last week that a UN
tribunal probing the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier
Rafiq Hariri was set to indict members of the militant party.
The announcement prompted fears of a new conflict
between the Shiite Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and
Iran, and its Saudi-backed Sunni rivals similar to the one
that shook the country in 2008.
There is also concern a new conflict may be looming
between the Lebanese militant party and Israel, which in
recent months has accused Hezbollah of stockpiling weapons in
preparation for a new war.
The two archfoes fought a devastating war in 2006.
"I think the next two weeks will be crucial," said
Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center, a
"There is a risk of escalation, of sectarian
violence, and all players involved realise that risk and are
taking pre-emptive action to defuse things before they get out
of hand in the next weeks and months," Hamid told agency.
Hariri and 22 others were killed in a massive
seaside bombing in 2005 that was widely blamed at the time on
The killing sparked international outcry and forced
Damascus to withdraw its troops from its tiny neighbour
following a 29-year presence.