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Lebanese foreign minister to skip Arab League summit on Iran

Divided between pro-Tehran Hezbollah and a Sunni alliance backed by Saudis, Beirut torn by regional Saudi-Iranian rift

File: A general view shows the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, March 29, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
File: A general view shows the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, March 29, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanon’s foreign minister will not attend an extraordinary Arab League meeting on Sunday called by Saudi Arabia to discuss “violations” committed by Iran, a ministry source told AFP.

Arab foreign ministers will gather in Cairo on Sunday at the request of Riyadh, whose simmering regional rivalry with Tehran has escalated in recent weeks.

But Lebanon’s top diplomat Gebran Bassil will not be among them, a foreign ministry source said.

“This morning, a decision was taken that Lebanon would be presented by Antoine Azzam, the permanent representative to the Arab League,” the source said.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. (Youtube screenshot)

“Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will not be present.”

For more than a decade, Lebanon’s political class has been largely split between Iran-backed movement Hezbollah and its allies, and a Saudi-supported coalition led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Hariri stepped down from his post on November 4 in a televised address from Riyadh, sparking fears Lebanon would be caught up in the spiraling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, the predominant Shiite power, are long-standing rivals based as much in geostrategic interests as religious differences.

According to a memo seen last week by AFP, the Saudi request for an Arab League meeting was based on a missile it says its air defenses intercepted near Riyadh after being fired from Yemen on November 4.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, and it has accused the Iran-backed rebels of firing the missile.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.

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