Saudi king opens diplomatic bid to contain Lebanon tensions

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.

PTI



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

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