Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Syria’s President Assad and Lebanon‘s President Michel Suleiman meet at the presidential palace in Baabda
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani tour Bint Jbeil village, southern Lebanon
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Lebanon‘s President Suleiman presents honorary medal to Syria’s President Assad in Baabda
In this photo released by Lebanon‘s official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets with Lebanese Parliamen



Syria’s President Assad writes on a guest book as Lebanon‘s President Suleiman watches at the presidential palace in Baabda



Lebanon‘s President Suleiman welcomes Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Syria’s President Assad in Baabda



Bashar Assad, Michel Suleiman



King Abdullah



Leaders meet at the presidential palace in Baabda



Syria’s President Assad waters a tree at the presidential palace in Baabda



King Abdullah, Bashar Assad



King Abdullah, Saad Hariri



Michel Suleiman, King Abdullah, Bashar Assad



Michel Suleiman, King Abdullah, Bashar Assad
Woman walks past billboard depicting Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in downtown Beirut
Syria, Saudi buy time amid Lebanon tensions: analysts
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad, surrounded with bodyguards, tours Bint Jbeil village, southern Lebanon

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani waves his hand upon his arrival to tour Bint Jbeil, southern Lebanon

Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, Saad Hariri, Wafaa Suleiman, Nabih Berri, Michel Suleiman
King Abdullah, Saad Hariri






BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in Lebanon Friday for the first time since the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, in a joint mission with Saudi King Abdullah to defuse a tense political situation.

The two leaders arrived together from Damascus and met Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and other officials to address tensions over reports of an impending indictment against members of the militant party Hezbollah for Hariri’s murder.

The discussions were also expected to touch on the overall Middle East situation.

Assad and Sleiman also met separately for about 20 minutes.

It is the first visit to the country by Assad since Hariri’s assassination soured bilateral ties and forced the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence.

Damascus has consistently denied accusations that it had a hand in the killing. King Abdullah (left) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

Relations between the two countries have been on the mend since 2008, when diplomatic ties were established for the first time. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain Sunni leader, has also made four trips to Syria in the past eight months.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch supporter of the Hariri family, has played a key role in the rapprochement between the Arab neighbours.

Saudi and Syrian flags were on display throughout the Lebanese capital on Friday along with huge portraits of the Saudi monarch.

Security was also tight, with additional army and police deployed.

The visit by the Saudi and Syrian leaders is scheduled to last only three hours and includes a lunch to be attended by some 250 officials, among them members of the unity government which includes two Hezbollah ministers.

"The whole visit is about containing the situation for the immediate future," said Sahar Atrache, a Beirut-based analyst with the International Crisis Group think-tank.

The Arabic-language newspaper An-Nahar, which is close to Hariri’s Saudi- and Western-backed governing coalition, called the summit "historic."

"This joint visit is historic and decisive because of its timing and the consequences it can have on a mounting crisis in Lebanon related to the tribunal," it said.

Fears of renewed conflict rose last week after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah revealed that he knew the UN tribunal probing Hariri’s murder was poised to indict members of his party, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

He made it clear that he would not accept such a scenario, accusing the tribunal of being politicised and part of an Israeli plot.

"The Arab leaders’ visit to Lebanon is an opportunity to show Arab unity in the face of this plot which aims to destabilise Lebanon and sow sedition," Hezbollah deputy Hassan Fadlallah told AFP.

Analysts say that in addition to threatening civil peace, an indictment of Hezbollah members would deal a blow to the party’s reputation and destabilise Hariri’s unity government.

The Saudi monarch is expected to press Assad to use his influence over Hezbollah to avoid a political stalemate or a sectarian conflict similar to the one which brought Lebanon close to a new civil war in 2008.

Assad last visited Lebanon in 2002, and King Abdullah is the first Saudi monarch to visit the country since 1957.

Also coming to Beirut later on Friday is the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The emir, who is staying until Sunday, is to meet separately with Lebanese leaders and is due to visit the south of the country.



Beirut – The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al- Thani called late Friday for preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty and enhancing its stability.


"Lebanon should remain sovereign, free and independent in facing all the circumstances arising from the region’s developments," Sheikh Hamad said during a dinner hosted by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in his honour at the Baabda presidential palace.


Hamad, accompanied by a high-ranking diplomatic delegation, arrived earlier in Beirut for a three-day visit that will also take him to southern Lebanon.


"We understand the sensitive moment today … We hope that Lebanon will not drift to where its enemies want," Hamad said.


"We will not hesitate to make any effort when we are asked, not only out of keenness for Lebanon, but out of keenness for the entire Arab nation, so that it can find an open way to safety and progress," Hamad added.


Suleiman praised the role Qatar has played in enhancing stability in Lebanon since 2008.


"The close relations and strong links between our two countries has had a clear and positive impact on the situation in Lebanon," Suleiman said.


"During the bilateral talks, I felt your brotherly keenness for boosting internal stability in Lebanon which was consecrated by the 2008 Doha Agreement," Suleiman said.


The agreement was reached in Qatar by rival Lebanese factions, ending 18 months of political deadlock and giving the country a stable cabinet for the first time in years.


Hamad’s arrival to Lebanon came only one hour after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi King Abdullah ended talks with Lebanese politicians during which they urged parties to avoid resorting to violence in the face of mounting political tensions in the country.


Abdullah and Assad’s four-hour visit was aimed at easing tension in Lebanon sparked by reports indicating that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will indict some members of Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.


Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement, has said it would reject any attempt to indict its members for Hariri’s assassination.


A joint statement released by the Lebanese presidential Palace said "the (Saudi-Syrian) leaders stressed the importance of stability … the commitment of the Lebanese not to resort to violence and the need to place the country’s interests above all interests."


Lebanese parties should "pursue the path of dialogue and boost national unity to confront outside threats," the statement said in reference to Israel.


Assad described the talks "as excellent." It was Assad’s first visit to Beirut since the 2005 assassination of Hariri. Abdullah is also the first Saudi monarch to touch down in Lebanon since 1957.
Copyright DPA