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Leaders of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon Hold Symbolic Beirut Summit


Syrian and Saudi leaders have arrived in Lebanon for a rare meeting aimed at defusing tensions about a possible Hezbollah indictment for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah held talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Beirut, Friday.

The men held a series of meetings with officials including Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain statesman, and President Michel Suleiman. Few details about the discussions emerged, although Assad gave reporters a thumbs-up and said "it was an excellent summit" as he left Lebanon's presidential palace.

Both Syria and Saudi Arabia support opposing players in Lebanon's internal political tug-of-war and have long been top powerbrokers in the politically fractious country.

The men will discuss a United Nations investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, the father of the country's current prime minister, Saad Hariri.

The meeting marks Mr. Assad's first visit to Beirut since the assassination.

The Hezbollah faction in Lebanon has denied involvement in the assassination but fears the U.N. probe will result in the indictment of some of its members. Syria has had strong ties to Hezbollah. Many countries blamed Syria for the assassination but Damascus has denied involvement.

Paul Salem, who heads the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, argues that Friday's summit represents a dramatic improvement in relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia, which once fought each other via their proxies in the streets of Beirut:

"Just two or three years ago regional and international powers were fighting out their differences partly in Lebanon, and creating more tension and division than Lebanon already had, and Syria and Saudi Arabia just two, three years ago were going at it in Lebanon, so it's quite a change to see them coming together and conferring together to emphasize that even though they may have friends on different sides of the aisle in Lebanon, they are supportive of Lebanese stability and focused on the current crisis, which relates to the special tribunal and Hezbollah," said Salem.

Several key members of parliament from Hezbollah took part in the summit at the Lebanese presidential palace in Baabda, but did not indicate what was said. A Hezbollah spokesman told the Associated Press that his party "welcomed all kinds of Arab rapprochement."

The Shi'ite Hezbollah has traditionally had bad relations with Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia, as well as with Egypt and Jordan. Israel has repeatedly accused Syria of supply rockets and other weapons to Hezbollah in defiance of a UN resolution which put an end to a bitter and bloody 2006 conflict.

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