Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Saudis in a panic

APs Hussein Dakroub writes an interesting piece, Saudi Warnings Mark Lebanon Jitters. The clue is in the last para:

Saudi Arabia is warning its citizens against traveling to Lebanon, the U.S. Embassy is urging Americans to be vigilant and French cultural centers in two major Lebanese cities have temporarily closed.

Lebanon's intractable political crisis is no longer business as usual — not after the slaying last week of a top fugitive Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh

The Saudi advisory, issued Monday, was clearly prompted by Mughniyeh's Feb. 12 killing in a car bombing in Syria and Hezbollah's subsequent retaliation threat.

"There is a real Saudi fear ... that the entire region might slide into chaos if Nasrallah carried out his threat to retaliate," said Edmond Saab, executive editor of Lebanon's leading newspaper, An-Nahar.

Although the move can be seen as "a precautionary measure to protect Saudi citizens, it is a signal that the region faces threat of chaos starting from Lebanon," Saab told The Associated Press.

The Saudi warning — which was open-ended — is especially significant because the oil-rich kingdom is a major financial supporter of Lebanon, and Saudis make up a large segment of the 1 million tourists who visit annually.

In the cities of Sidon in the south and Tripoli in the north, two French cultural centers have been closed until the end of the month. The U.S. Embassy restricted its personnel around the Feb. 14 anniversary and has been telling Americans here in recent advisories to exercise caution because of security conditions.

Saudi Arabia, the United States and France have been major backers of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in Lebanon's 15-month crisis, which has been compounded by the failure of rival parliament factions to elect a president since November, when President Emile Lahoud's term expired.

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