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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hizbollah Holds Talks with Saudi King: Source

Reuters | Jan 4, 2007

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah held talks on Lebanon’s political crisis with a Hizbollah leader last week in his first such contact with the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group, a Lebanese political source said on Jan. 3.

Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem and a senior aide, Mohammed Fneish, flew to Jeddah on a private Saudi jet on Dec. 26 for the meeting with the monarch and his foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the senior political source said.

The three-day visit was aimed at easing tension between the mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom and Hizbollah, which is leading an opposition campaign to bring down the Beirut government.

Saudi Arabia, like the United States, is a major backer of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and has been critical of Hizbollah since its guerrillas sparked a 34-day war with Israel after capturing two soldiers in a cross-border attack on July 12.
"What came out of the meeting were signals of goodwill from both sides to improve ties, but no tangible results," the source said, adding that the two sides had discussed their differences and rising Sunni-Shi’ite tension in Lebanon.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials.

Beirut’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which reported the meeting, said the Saudis had invited Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah visit the kingdom for last week’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Nasrallah declined on security grounds.
Nasrallah held talks with Egypt’s ambassador to Lebanon on Dec. 30 on the first such meeting since Hizbollah was founded in the early 1980s. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key U.S. ally, has also criticized Hizbollah in recent months.

Kassem said on Jan. 1 he saw little chance of an early end to the standoff with Siniora’s government, adding that the opposition would meet soon to decide how to press its campaign, now focused on a demand for early parliamentary elections.

Supporters of Hezbollah and its Shiite and Christian allies have been camped out in central Beirut since Dec. 1 to demand that Siniora’s anti-Syrian government step down and allow early parliamentary elections to take place.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Damascus and Tehran, says the campaign will remain peaceful.

All Shiite ministers quit the cabinet in November, upsetting its sectarian balance and leaving it dominated by Sunnis, Christians and Druze opposed to Syrian influence.

The opposition says Siniora’s government, in power since elections that followed the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, is illegitimate without Shiite representation.

Many Lebanese fear the crisis could spark Sunni-Shiite violence. One anti-government Shiite protester was killed in early December. Another Shiite was found shot dead in east Lebanon last month in what Hezbollah says was a politically motivated attack.
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