Saudi Arabia Calls on Lebanese Leaders to End Political Crisis

Hezbollah to step up protests next week in another attempt to topple the Lebanese government.

Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz urged Lebanese leaders to negotiate an end to their political crisis after Lebanon's opposition said it would step up street protests to topple the government Saudi Arabia backs.

"We fear some of the incidents that Lebanon is going through represent dangerous turning points that threaten its economic and political security and stability," Prince Sultan told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

"I want to take this opportunity to urge the brothers in Lebanon for self-restraint and rational dialogue and to put wisdom above emotion and work to unite Lebanese ranks and return to the legitimate constitutional institutions."

Saudi Arabia, like its ally the United States, has been critical of Hezbollah since its guerrillas sparked a 34-day war with Israel after capturing two soldiers in a cross-border raid.

They have both encouraged Siniora to stand firm but the deadlock has hurt Lebanon's recovery from the second Lebanon war and raised fears of a slide into sectarian violence.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah held talks on Lebanon's political crisis with a senior Hezbollah leader last week in his first such contact with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group aimed at easing tensions with the Saudi kingdom.

Hezbollah to expand protest in Lebanon conflict next weekHezbollah group and its allies will step up a campaign of protest and disruption next week to try to topple the Lebanese government by paralyzing the country, a senior opposition politician said.

The move is an attempt to break a deadlock that has defied mediation efforts and fuelled Sunni-Shi'ite tensions.

"The opposition is putting the final touches to the second phase of its campaign. Things will start moving next week," said the opposition politician, who asked not to be identified.

Protesters have camped outside the heavily guarded office of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in central Beirut for the past five weeks to try to force him to concede veto power to the opposition in a unity government or call an election.

Siniora has stubbornly resisted, even though his cabinet had already been weakened by the resignation of six ministers from Hezbollah and its allies in November.

The impasse has hurt Lebanon's recovery from the July-August war with Israel and raised fears of instability in a land where Christians, Druze, Sunnis and Shi'ites coexist uneasily.

"All political and diplomatic efforts are deadlocked," the opposition politician said. "There is no option for the opposition but to step up pressure on the authorities, who are proceeding as if there is nothing wrong ... the moves will culminate in a stage where most of the country would be paralyzed."

Both sides have outside backing. Hezbollah is allied to both Iran and Syria, long the dominant power in Lebanon.

The United States, France and Saudi Arabia have all encouraged Siniora, who opposes Syrian influence and commands a majority in parliament, to stand firm.