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Riyadh upbeat over tourism season in Lebanon: envoy
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Lebanon Ali Asiri attends a ceremony in Beirut, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Lebanon Ali Asiri attends a ceremony in Beirut, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: Riyadh expressed its optimism for the upcoming tourism season in Lebanon if the positive atmosphere is maintained in the country, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri said in remarks published Thursday.

“The positive atmosphere that emerged recently in Lebanon has reflected positively on Saudi nationals,” Asiri told An-Nahar daily.

“Several planes filled with Saudi passengers and [others] from the Gulf have landed in Beirut in recent days, and we are anticipating a promising tourism season if such indicators remain positive,” he added.

Lebanon’s tourism sector has suffered of a major decline in recent years due to the tense political atmosphere and recurring security incidents.

In the first quarter of 2013, a decline in the tourism sector resulted in only 30 percent hotel occupancy, and compared to previous year’s revenues show a more than 50 percent decline in the sector.

The Saudi Ambassador also said that his country maintains good ties with all Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah and MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

“There is no rift between Saudi Arabia and any Lebanese party. General Michel Aoun is welcome just like any other Lebanese figure, regardless of his or her political affiliation,” said Asiri.

Asiri said that despite some differences in points of view with Hezbollah, such gaps are repairable, adding that Riyadh is in constant contact with the group “in different ways.”

“The points of convergence are more that the points of divergence [with Hezbollah],” said Asiri.

“An honest and loyal dialogue with Hezbollah can resolve all problems, or at least frame the problems correctly,” he added.

Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, a member of the FPM, held talks with the Saudi envoy earlier this week, in what was viewed as renewed openness by Saudi Arabia towards Aoun and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.

Ties between Aoun and Riyadh have been strained ever since the lawmaker broke his alliance with the March 14 coalition.

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