Middle East Features
Arab world, US keep wary eye on Lebanon hostility
By Weedah Hamzah Oct 18, 2010, 13:23 GMT
Beirut - The mounting tensions in Lebanon over a United Nations probe into the 2005 assassination of former Sunni prime minister Rafik Hariri have raised concerns among Arab and Western leaders, prompting a rare Syrian-Saudi summit at the weekend.
The escalating verbal attacks between rival Lebanese political camps topped the agenda during the talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday, a Lebanese government source said Monday.
The source, who asked not to be named, said 'King Abdullah and al- Assad are trying to defuse the tension prevailing in the country between (Saudi-backed) Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the (Iranian- Syrian backed) Hezbollah over the UN tribunal, which may lead to a civil strife.'
Lawmaker Walid Jumblatt, a leader of the Druze religious community, said that the Syrian-Saudi summit in Riyadh 'would positively affect the Lebanese situation because the Saudi-Syrian axis is the guarantee for stability in Lebanon.'
Shiite House Speaker Nabih Berri, a close ally of Hezbollah, agreed, saying Monday that 'as long as the Syrian-Saudi relation is fine, Lebanon is immune to this civil strife.'
However, 'the solution must be produced in Lebanon,' he added in an interview with the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper.
The tension between Saad Hariri's camp and the Hezbollah-led opposition has worsened since reports indicated that some members of the Islamist group may be implicated in the murder of Rafik Hariri, the father of the current premier.
The situation prompted Jeffrey Feltman, the United States' assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, to pay an unexpected visit to Lebanon on Sunday.
Feltman said he delivered 'a message from President Barack Obama to his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman that reaffirmed the steadfast support of the US to the development of a sovereign, independent Lebanon, with strong and effective state institutions.'
Feltman also described the UN tribunal as 'a non-political, independent organization that was formed ... in order to end the era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon.'
'We believe that the tribunal should be allowed to complete its work on its own timeline and without outside interference until those responsible for the assassinations of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and others are brought to justice,' he added.
He also noted that Washington is working 'on lowering tensions in Lebanon.'
Meanwhile, Christian hardline leader Samir Geagea accused Hezbollah and their allies in Lebanon of trying to cripple the Lebanese government in order to end the work of the UN tribunal.
'Hezbollah and Syria's allies (in Lebanon) are the ones who reject the tribunal and they are willing to paralyze the government in order to stop the court,' he said.
Geagea played down the likelihood of civil war but did not rule out the possibility of a war in the region that could affect Lebanon, particularly on the southern border 'due to Hezbollah's strategic link to Iran and the implementation of its schemes in the region.'