x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Saudi Arabia ends its efforts to mediate in Lebanon

Saudi king has decided he is 'withdrawing his hand' from Lebanon, day after UN investigative tribunal hands over sealed indictment after investigation into assassination of Rafik Hariri.

BEIRUT // Saudi Arabia has abandoned efforts to mediate in Lebanon's political crisis after Hezbollah toppled the government in Beirut last week, the Saudi foreign minister said today.

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

Asked about the situation in Lebanon, Mr 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 the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

The Shiite group, which denies any role in Hariri's murder in 2005, forced the collapse of Lebanon's Western-backed government last week in a dispute over the court. 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 country of 4 million people for years, including a devastating civil war from 1975 to 1990 and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shiites in 2008.

The Hague-based tribunal released a sealed indictment in the case yesterday, but its contents may not become public for weeks as a 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 Hezbollah and their allies walked out of the Cabinet when Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered leader, refused to renounce the tribunal.

Lengthy negotiations lie ahead between Lebanon's factions as they attempt to build a new government. Yesterday, 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 Saad Hariri, who is staying on as a caretaker prime minister, and, separately, with the Hezbollah leader, 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 Shiite. Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon's population.