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SAUDI ARABIA ENDS MEDIATION IN LEBANON

By NBF News
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SAUDI Arabia has abandoned efforts to mediate in Lebanon's political crisis, removing a key United States (U.S.) ally from talks to ease tensions after Hezbollah toppled the government in Beirut last week.

In an interview yesterday 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.

Associated Press (AP) stated that cessation of mediation by Saudi King was a major blow to outside efforts to avoid a new outbreak of violence between the country's Western-backed political coalition and its rivals in the Shiite militant group.

The political crisis stems from a United Nations' (UN) court's investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni leader, who was a close ally of the Saudis.

The Shiite Hezbollah, which denies any role in Hariri's 2005 killing, forced the collapse of Lebanon's Western-backed government last week when Prime Minister Saad Hariri - the son of the slain leader - refused to renounce the tribunal.

The Iran- and Syria-sponsored Hezbollah says the tribunal is a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.

For months, Syria and Saudi Arabia were jointly trying to mediate between the rival camps they back in Lebanon.

The effort, which had been touted by Lebanese and Arab leaders as the best hope to defuse tensions in one of the most volatile corners of the Middle East, collapsed a week ago.

Al-Faisal said the decision to pull out was made after the Saudi-Syrian contacts collapsed. He did not elaborate.

The withdrawal of Arab powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, from mediation efforts is seen as a worrisome sign that the crisis may have reached a point whereby a diplomatic settlement can no longer be attained.

It also leaves more room for maneuvering by Hezbollah backers - Syria and Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech yesterday that Lebanon must keep 'evil hands' from meddling in its affairs - a clear reference to the U.S. and its allies that support the UN investigation into Hariri's assassination.

'Hands off Lebanon,' he told supporters in the central Iranian city of Yazd. 'If you don't stop, the nation of Lebanon and other nations in the region will cut off your dirty hands.'

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

Hezbollah ordered its allied Cabinet ministers out of the fragile unity government last week when an initial Saudi-Syrian mediation effort reached a dead end. The group blamed U.S. interference for the failure of the Saudi-Syrian initiative and said Hariri had succumbed to U.S. pressure.

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

More criticism of the tribunal came yesterday from Walid Jumblatt, a political leader of the Druse sect who once was among the tribunal's leading supporters.

Jumblatt questioned the court's credibility after a local TV station aired leaked testimony from the tribunal this week.