Lebanon News

Saudi Arabia hits back at Syria in escalating spat

Saudi Arabia has rejected as "lies and fallacies" high-level Syrian accusations that its role in the Middle East was waning, signaling a new low in diplomatic ties already strained over Lebanon and Iraq. "The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has followed with great surprise the distasteful statements recently made by [Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk] al-Sharaa, which included numerous lies and fallacies aimed at harming us," said the statement, quoting an unidentified official source and carried by the official Saudi Press Agency SPA late Thursday.

The unusually scathing statement by the conservative Muslim kingdom comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is trying to bolster its regional role.

"Talk about the paralysis of the kingdom's Arab and Islamic role does not come from a rational and prudent person, as this role is well known to everyone ... Perhaps Mr. Sharaa made a slip of the tongue and meant by paralysis the policy he speaks for," said the statement on SPA, which is considered a mouthpiece for the kingdom.

"The problem is not in the stances of the kingdom but rather in positions which have disregarded the unity of Arab ranks and worked to spread chaos and turbulence in the region. Those behind such stances do not have the courage to declare them. They believe they can deceive the Arab and Islamic nation although their actions speak bluntly of their ill intentions," the SPA statement said.

In a sharp speech at Damascus University, Sharaa had said the Saudi regional role was "virtually paralyzed," pointing to the failure of a Palestinian unity deal forged in the Saudi holy city of Mecca in February.

Sharaa said the outline of the Mecca deal had already been hammered out in Damascus anyway, and hinted that its collapse showed either that Saudi Arabia was hamstrung or that the kingdom had lost the ear of its old ally the United States.

Sharaa also criticized a Saudi decision not to attend a meeting on Iraqi security hosted by Syria earlier this month.

Ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia have been strained since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, a close Saudi ally.

Saudi King Abdullah, once close to Syria's Baathist leaders, was outraged by the murder in Lebanon, which was under Syrian military and intelligence dominance.

Hariri's son, Future Movement leader MP Saad, defended Saudi Arabia against what he called "lies and offenses" committed by Sharaa and Syria's associates in Lebanon.

"We're hardly surprised the genius Syrian diplomacy added a new catastrophe to the record of the regime that is replete with dissonant [policies] and diplomatic blunders," said Hariri, who also holds a Saudi passport.

Hariri said that the March 8 coalition should reconsider its media policy toward Saudi Arabia and reminded the Lebanese of Saudi Arabia's support during the summer war in addition to its generous financial, political, and humanitarian donations.

"The date of the court for the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri has approached" Hariri said in a statement issued Friday. "It must be demolishing the nerves of Sharaa and his companions of the criminal system."

A UN investigation has implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the killing, a charge Damascus denies.

Riyadh is concerned about the growing influence of Syria's Shiite ally, Iran, particularly in Iraq and Lebanon, where Shiite groups are strong.

Tensions appeared to ease with Syrian President Bashar Assad's attendance of the last Arab summit held in Riyadh

in March, but the latest exchange appeared to mark a downturn in relations. The next Arab summit is due to take place in Syria.

"Sharaa's claim that the Mecca agreement ... had been agreed in Damascus is an unforgivable insult to the Palestinian leaderships," the Saudi statement said.

"God willing, every Syrian and Saudi is keen on maintaining and strengthening this [Arab] brotherhood, despite the abominable voices and their owners who will vanish in the wind."

In Lebanon, pro-government ministers and MPs were angry at the Syrian remarks.

Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat said that the timing of the Syrian campaign regarding the Saudi role, aims to obstruct the presidential issue.

Speaking to Future TV, Fatfat said that the campaign against Saudi Arabia and its role in Lebanon aims at blocking efforts to help Lebanon.

"Some do not want the crisis to end in this country," he said.

Progressive Socialist Party MP Akram Chehayeb said that the moral assault on Saudi Arabia shows the Syrian disrespectable behavior. Speaking to the NowLebanon news Web site, Chehayeb said the Syrian regime does not believe in the Arab role in Lebanon, recalling the Saudi role in the 2006 summer war against Israel.

Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said the positive Saudi attitude blocks the Syrian greediness in Lebanon.

"I thank God that none of the main [opposition] political groups have participated in this campaign against Saudi Arabia, and it has only been limited to traditional groups," he said, concluding that the Syrian goal is clear and aims to block presidential elections to keep the constitutional institutions paralyzed. - With Reuters, AP





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