Saudi envoy returns to Lebanon after reassurances

'I have received assurances from top officials in the Lebanese government,' Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Assiri says

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Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Assiri returned to Lebanon Friday to resume his responsibilities, after months abroad due to security concerns, and said Saudi citizens could visit the country.

“I have received assurances from top officials in the Lebanese government that the [April 2014] security plan was being executed to impose security and stability in Lebanon,” the envoy told Lebanon’s National News Agency after arriving in the country.

“They told me that the security situation in Lebanon was reassuring,” he added.

The Saudi envoy also denied that his return was linked to Lebanon’s presidential election. Lebanon’s parliament has failed on two occasions to name a new head of state to replace President Michel Sleiman whose term ends later this month.

“We hope to see an inter-Lebanese agreement, and that the decision to select a new president for the upcoming phase to be a Lebanese one, particularly that the coming stage for the region is very sensitive,” he told the state-run agency.

“I returned to Lebanon to fulfill my responsibilities and stay in contact with all the political leaderships, in what serves the interests of Lebanon and its stability,” he said.

Assiri left Lebanon in mid-2013 after a series of security incidents, including suicide attacks, linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria. In response the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, Gulf states including Saudi Arabia issued a series of travel notices advising their citizens to avoid Lebanon.

In early April, Lebanese authorities set in motion a broad security plan to curb growing phenomenon of suicide bombings, prevent infiltration of gunmen across the border from Syria and put a stop to repeated clashes in the northern city of Tripoli.

The Saudi ambassador expressed hope that the security situation in Lebanon would improve.

“We have hope and confidence the security situation in Lebanon will improve with each day and certainly the security plan will demonstrate the state’s ability to boost security and stability,” he said.

He also said there was no travel ban on Saudis visiting Lebanon.

“There is no ban on Saudis traveling to Lebanon but [Saudi King Abdullah] is keen to keep the citizens of his country safe so we issued the warning after the circumstances Lebanon [appeared to worsen] and we hope it doesn't happen again,” he said.

Asked whether Gulf citizens would visit Lebanon this summer, Assiri said: “I assure you such a return depends on the extent of the success of the security plan and its efficiency.”

Lebanon depends heavily on tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council states, especially during the summer and holiday periods.

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