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Gulf states issue travel warning for Lebanon – Top Saudi cleric endorses anti-Hezb stance

RIYADH: Gulf Arab states have advised citizens not to travel to Lebanon, a popular summer tourist destination that is becoming increasingly engulfed in neighbouring Syria’s civil war, official Saudi news agency SPA reported. “Most GCC states have urged their nationals to avoid travelling to Lebanon due to the instability of the security situation there,” Gulf Cooperation Council’s chief Andullatif Al-Zayani was quoted as saying late on Wednesday. Lebanon is “unsafe” for citizens of the GCC, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Zayani said. On Wednesday, at least five rockets launched from across Lebanon’s border with Syria hit the eastern city of Baalbek, a security source told AFP.

The attack came hours after the Lebanese Shiite Movement Hezbollah and Syrian troops captured Qusair, only 10 km from the border with the small Mediterranean country, after deadly battles with Syrian rebels. Lebanon has officially maintained a policy of neutrality in Syria’s conflict, but is sharply divided along sectarian lines that have been emphasized by the conflict in Syria. While Hezbollah and its allies back Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, the Sunniled March 14 opposition movement supports the revolt against Assad. In the northern city of Tripoli, a new wave of Syria-linked clashes between Sunni and Alawite residents has killed eight people since the weekend, bringing to dozens the death toll over recent months.

The violence prompted key GCC member Saudi Arabia on Thursday to urge Lebanon’s people to act “wisely” and end their fighting in Tripoli. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric urged governments and fellow clerics across the Muslim world to punish Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah for its intervention in the Syrian civil war against the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to oust Assad. Grand mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Shaikh said Hezbollah’s actions vindicated the Sunni-dominated kingdom’s long suspicion of the group and its alliance with Shiite Iran. “We urge all politicians and clerics to take substantial measures against this repulsive sectarian group (Hezbollah) and all those backing it,” Shaikh said in a speech carried by SPA.

Shaikh welcomed an about-turn last month by influential Qatar-based Sunni cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who had previously backed Hezbollah, particularly after its 2006 war with Israel. Qaradawi “has returned to the stance taken by the kingdom’s top scholars and which was clear on this sectarian repulsive movement ever since it was created,” Shaikh said. “We support” Qaradawi in his stance and call on “all clerics of the Muslim world to stick together and cooperate during this critical moment in history,” he added. In last month’s speech, Qaradawi, who has millions of supporters around the Arab world, particularly in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he had been at fault for previously backing Hezbollah and urged Sunni volunteers to join the Syrian rebels. The six-nation GCC - of which Saudi Arabia is the key member - warned on Sunday that it could take measures against Hezbollah. One GCC member, Bahrain, has already ordered steps against the group.— AFP

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This article was published on 07/06/2013