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FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Paris and Riyadh seek to shield Lebanon from Syria fallout
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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Western diplomatic sources in a European capital say Lebanon has been placed under the temporary protection of regional and international powers including Saudi Arabia, Iran and France, in the interest of minimizing damage to Lebanon’s security and economy during this trying period.

Riyadh and Paris are particularly keen to strengthen Lebanon’s position in the face of regional instability, an approach reflected in France’s insistence that the new Lebanese government not exclude any political group or party. Riyadh, for its part, has decided to open up to all sides in Lebanon, as evidenced by the recent activities of the Saudi ambassador.

This decision on the part of Riyadh and Paris comes against the background of U.S. preoccupation with following up on developments in Syria and Egypt, and the failure of the former emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to score victories in Lebanon and Syria before handing power over to his son, Sheikh Tammim.

In separate news, senior officials in Lebanon have warned against certain parties’ continued involvement in the war in Syria, cautioning that this would simply drag Lebanon into the crisis. This warning coincides with reports of an increase in the flow of weapons into Lebanon, including explosives, leading military and security leaders to warn the Lebanese public and political leadership to remain vigilant against attempts to exploit internal divisions.

These leaders called on Lebanese parties to respect the Baabda Declaration as the only means for Lebanon to maintain neutrality in the face of the Syrian conflict, and to continue to “manage the political game” using “democratic and peaceful means.”

These sources also stressed the importance of maintaining internal stability at any cost until the dust settles from the Syrian crisis, warning that all Lebanese regions, including areas that until recently had been unbreachable, have grown vulnerable to attack, noting that there have been attempts before the bombing of Bir al-Abed that did not claim any casualties.

Meanwhile, efforts to form a new government are ongoing.

Sources close to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt revealed to The Daily Star that the Druze leader was working with Future Movement leader Saad Hariri to convince the latter to tone down his demands regarding the future Cabinet, particularly his threat to boycott any formation that includes Hezbollah.

March 14, for its part, has toned down its rhetoric toward the parties of the former March 8 Coalition following Speaker Nabih Berri’s announcement that it would not be seeking a blocking third, bringing both parties a step closer to agreeing on a solution that is acceptable to everyone. In this regard, there have been intensive negotiations between the PSP and the Future Movement to try and settle on a formula for a new government.

Sources within the former March 8 Coalition welcomed the PSP leader’s efforts, especially following a letter Jumblatt sent to Hezbollah’s leadership emphasizing his own position that the new government should be formed by consensus and reconciliation, and insisting that he would reject Hezbollah’s exclusion from the Cabinet.

But sources with knowledge of the talks did not predict a solution in the near future, blaming the Future Movement for blocking Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s initiatives.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 22, 2013, on page 3.
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