Syria, Saudi fail to contain Lebanon crisis: Aoun

The Syrian-Saudi initiative was lauded as a potential Arab breakthrough.

Updated: Jan 12, 2011, 09:54 AM IST

Beirut: Regional powers Syria and Saudi Arabia have failed to reach a deal to ease political tensions in Lebanon over the ongoing international investigation into 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a Lebanese leader said on Tuesday.

The effort by the two countries — who have backed rival camps in Lebanon in the past — had been touted by Lebanese and Arab leaders as the best hope to defuse tensions in one of the most volatile corners of the region.

"The initiative has ended with no result," Christian leader Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said on Monday during a news conference. "We have reached a dead end."

A UN-backed tribunal investigating Hariri`s killing is widely expected to name members of the militant group Hezbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear that could re-ignite hostilities between Lebanon`s rival Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. In the worst case scenario, the indictments could cause the collapse of Lebanon`s fragile unity government.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, shares power in the government and has called on the Western-backed Prime Minister to reject the court`s findings. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri — son of the slain leader — has refused to break cooperation with the court.

Aoun blamed Hariri supporters for the breakdown of talks and called for a meeting of the opposition on Tuesday night to discuss the next steps.

There have been few details about the direction of the Syrian-Saudi initiative, but the talks were lauded as a potential Arab breakthrough, rather than a solution offered by Western powers.

The Prime Minister has met in recent days with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Saudi King Abdullah during a trip to the US. His office had no immediate comment on the breakdown in talks.

Fears of violence have been a major concern as tensions rise in Lebanon, where Shi’ites, Sunnis and Christians each make up about a third of the country`s four million people. In 2008, sectarian clashes killed 81 people and nearly plunged Lebanon into another civil war.

The 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in a suicide bombing that killed 22 other people both stunned and polarised Lebanese. Hariri, a Sunni, was a hero to his Sunni community and backed by many Christians who sympathised with his efforts in the last few months of his life to reduce Syrian influence in the country. A string of assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians and public figures followed, which UN investigators have said may have been connected to the Hariri killing.

The Netherlands-based tribunal has not said who it will indict, but Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has said he has information that members of his group will be named.

Hezbollah denied any role in the assassination and denounced the court as a conspiracy against it.

The impending indictments already have paralysed Lebanon`s government. Hezbollah officials have reportedly said they will not sit on the same table with a prime minister who accepts an accusation that they were behind the death of his father.

Bureau Report