Arab League chief says Lebanon should be 'spared'

BEIRUT: Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Monday Lebanon should be "spared" from spiralling regional tensions, during a visit to Beirut a day after Arab diplomats blasted Lebanese organization Hezbollah.

"Arab countries understand and take into account the situation in Lebanon and want to spare it ... from any dispute," Abul Gheit said after landing in Beirut, in comments carried by Lebanon's National News Agency.

His visit comes a day after the Arab League held an extraordinary general meeting in Cairo, at the request of Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh called the ministerial-level meeting to discuss "violations" by its rival Tehran, which backs armed groups across the region, including Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

Arab foreign ministers blasted Hezbollah in the summit's resolution, saying they would hold it "responsible for supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations in Arab countries with modern weapons and ballistic missiles."

The concluding statement demanded that Hezbollah stop intervening in regional conflicts and spreading extremism and sectarianism.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil did not attend the meeting, leaving permanent representative to the Arab League Antoine Azzam to represent the country.

Abul Gheit said Sunday that Lebanon's delegation had expressed reservations on the statement, "specifically on the points related to Hezbollah's role".

The Arab League head is expected to meet Monday with Lebanese president Michel Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, and take part in a conference organised by the United Nations' Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Lebanon has been gripped in a political crisis since Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his surprise resignation earlier this month from Saudi Arabia, lambasting Iran and Hezbollah for destabilising his country.

The shock announcement sparked worries that Lebanon would be caught up in the spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing political and armed groups across the region.

After resigning, Hariri spent two more weeks in Saudi Arabia amid rumours he was under de facto house arrest there, before travelling to Paris on Saturday.

There, he met French President Emmanuel Macron and pledged he would be in Lebanon in time to mark its independence day on Wednesday.

"I will participate in the celebrations for our independence and it is there that I will make known my position on all the issues after meeting with the president of our republic, general Michel Aoun," he said.

On Sunday, the Lebanese politician said he would visit Cairo on Tuesday to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A source close to Hariri said that meeting aimed to "continue the series of Arab and international consultations".

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is set to give a speech Monday at 6.00pm (12am Malaysia time) on the crisis in Lebanon and tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. — AFP