Saudi king opens diplomatic bid to contain Lebanon tensions
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Last Updated: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 18:41
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 conflict.

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 think-tank.

"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 Syria.

The killing sparked international outcry and forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from its tiny neighbour following a 29-year presence.


First Published: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 18:41

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