Syria, Egypt stress need to maintain unity of Lebanon

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) – Egypt and Syria stressed the need to preserve the unity of Lebanon, cautioning against moves that could increase sectarian tensions in the country.

The call came after talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, making his first visit to Egypt since Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon.

“Concern now should be focused on guaranteeing Lebanon does not slide back into sectarian divisions that bring to mind an era that nobody desires,” Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told reporters on Thursday.

Syria ended its 29-year military presence in neighbouring Lebanon last month after coming under intense international and huge anti-Syrian protests in downtown Beirut.

“President Mubarak expressed more than once his concern for the achievement of peace and stability in Lebanon, in a way that preserves the unity of its sons,” the presidential spokesman said.

He said Mubarak was confident of “the ability of the Lebanese people to overcome this crucial period in their history”.

Awad said the two leaders also discussed the strained relations between Syria and the United States, at a time when the region needed no “new conflicts or tensions”.

Last week, US President George W. Bush renewed sanctions on Syria, charging that Damascus was supporting terrorism and undermining Washington’s efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

A final declaration issued Wednesday at the end of the first South American-Arab summit criticised the US sanctions against Syria that it said infringed international law.

Awad said the Assad-Mubarak talks also covered the Middle East peace process and the situation in Iraq.