Saudi Arabia ends effort to mediate in Lebanon crisis

Decision means key US ally won't be involved in efforts to ease tensions in Lebanon after gov't topples; Saudi foreign minister: Situation is "dangerous," could be "end of Lebanon as model of peaceful coexistence."

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 19, 2011 13:39
2 minute read.
The three leaders met in Beirut, Tuesday.

hariri al thani_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia has abandoned efforts to mediate in Lebanon's political crisis, removing a key US ally from talks to ease tensions after Hizbullah toppled the government in Beirut last week.

In an interview Wednesday with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the Saudi king has decided he is "withdrawing his hand" from Lebanon.

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Asked about the situation in Lebanon, al-Faisal said: "It's dangerous, particularly if it reaches separatism or the division of Lebanon. This would mean the end of Lebanon as a model of peaceful coexistence between religions and ethnicities and different factions."

Lebanon is enduring a political crisis stemming from a UN court investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Shi'ite group, which denies any role in Hariri's 2005 killing, forced the collapse of Lebanon's Western-backed government last week in a dispute over the court. The Iran-and Syria-sponsored group says the tribunal is a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.

Many fear the political crisis could lead to street protests and violence that have been the scourge of this tiny Arab country of 4 million people for years, including a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shi'ites in 2008.

The Hague-based tribunal released a sealed indictment in the case on Tuesday, but its contents may not become public for weeks as Belgian judge Daniel Fransen decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

The indictment is the latest turn in a deepening crisis in Lebanon. Last week, ministers from Hizbullah and their allies walked out of the Cabinet when Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri — the son of the slain leader — refused to renounce the tribunal.

Lengthy negotiations lie ahead between Lebanon's factions as they attempt to build a new government. On Tuesday, Turkey's foreign minister was in Beirut in a coordinated visit with Qatar's prime minister to discuss the political crisis in Lebanon.

The officials met with Sa'ad Hariri — who is staying on as a caretaker prime minister — and, separately, with Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

According to Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite. Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon's population of 4 million.


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