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Rare Arab summit to forestall possible Hezbollah unrest in Lebanon

An Arab summit of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria met in Beirut today for the first time in eight years amid rising concern that the Hariri assassination tribunal could indict key Hezbollah members – sparking Hezbollah unrest.

By Correspondent / July 30, 2010

Saudi King Abdullah (l.) meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (r.) at Hariri's house, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday. An Arab summit of the leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented effort Friday to defuse fears of violence over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Ahmad Omar/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon

The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria arrived in Beirut Friday for an unprecedented summit with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. The visit comes amid rising regional concern over the potentially explosive findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

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The Netherlands-based tribunal reportedly has found evidence implicating members of Hezbollah in the truck bomb assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

The powerful Shiite militia has denied any involvement in the assassination. But if indictments are issued in the coming months as is widely expected, it will cause at the very least a major political crisis. Worse, it could spark outbursts of sectarian violence, analysts say.

“The rapid rush of kings and presidents to Lebanon confirms that this is a very serious development,” says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut. “The scenario that Hezbollah is implicated is the worst-case scenario. It raises problems at every level.”

Strategizing about how to contain potential fallout

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived separately in Beirut early Friday afternoon and headed to the Baabda presidential palace in the hills overlooking Beirut for a meeting with Mr. Suleiman. It was the first time either of them have visited since an Arab League summit in 2002, underlining the level of unease in the region at the potential fallout over the tribunal’s findings.

Mr. Assad, who together with Mr. Abdullah was expected to help Lebanon strategize over how to contain the likely fallout, was quoted as describing the summit and side meetings with senior Lebanese officials as "excellent."

A final communiqué called on all Lebanese not to resort to violence in settling their differences and declared that Lebanon's well-being should come above partisan interests.

Mending Saudi-Syria rift

Rafik Hariri was a Saudi protégé and his murder in 2005 fueled a bitter split between Saudi Arabia and Syria – a new cold war whose fault line ran through Lebanon. Syria was widely blamed for the killing although it has always denied involvement.

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