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Saudi king heads to Syria

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July 29, 2010

(KATAKAMI / ALJAZEERA)  Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is scheduled to arrive in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on the second-leg of his four-nation “Arab unity tour”.

King Abdullah was in Egypt on Wednesday and held talks with its president Hosni Mubarak on the Arab-Israeli peace process.

He is scheduled to meet Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, on Thursday.

King Abdullah is to travel to Lebanon and Jordan after wrapping up his Syria visit. He is expected to travel with al-Assad to Beirut for joint talks with Saad al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister.

If al-Assad does visit Lebanon, it will be his visit since the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, Saad’s father and the former prime minister of Lebanon.

The killing, blamed by many on Syria, led to relations between Beirut and Damascus hitting rockbottom.

Ties have been on the mend since 2008 when diplomatic relations were established for the first time between Lebanon and Syria.

Conflict fears

The Lebanon visit is aimed, in part, at reducing tensions over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the UN-backed body investigating the murder of al-Hariri.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, last week alleged that the special tribunal was set to indict his group for al-Hariri’s murder, triggering fears of a Shia-Sunni conflict being reignited in Lebanon.

There is also concern a new conflict might be looming between Hezbollah and Israel, which in recent months has accused the Lebanese group of stockpiling weapons in preparation for a new war.

The two foes fought a devastating war in 2006 that left much of Lebanon’s infrastructure in ruins.

Shadi Hamid, the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center, said: “I think the next two weeks will be crucial.

“There is a risk of escalation, of sectarian violence, and all players involved realise that risk and are taking pre-emptive action to defuse things before they get out of hand in the next weeks and  months,” Hamid told the AFP news agency.

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