Kingdom’s Ambassador Quits Beirut

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Aziz Khoja has left the country because of threats made against him. An Arab diplomat confirmed the news of Khoja’s departure but refused to elaborate. According to reports, Ambassador Khoja left Beirut on Aug. 17 after the Saudi Embassy had formally notified the Lebanese Foreign Ministry of a “threat of attack against the ambassador’s residence, his person, the embassy or other Saudi interests in Lebanon.”

The Saudi Embassy declined to comment but Khoja told Asharq Al-Awsat daily, a sister publication of Arab News, “There were threats against the Saudi Embassy and against my person. But, the threats will not deter friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia and they will continue to exert efforts to restore security and stability in Lebanon and in the Arab world.”

The holder of a doctorate, Khoja taught at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah before embarking on a diplomatic career. Khoja has served the Kingdom in Turkey, Russia, Morocco, and Lebanon. He has been threatened several times in the past. “Khoja’s decision to quit for a while is a wise move,” said the Arab diplomat who pointed out that the situation in Lebanon demands urgent improvement.

On Friday the UN Security Council voted unanimously to keep peacekeepers in Lebanon for another 12 months. The Lebanese Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment.

Lebanon has been struck by a wave of violence over the past few years. The violence has targeted anti-Syrian politicians, most notably the 2005 murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman. Last July a large number of Saudis returned in haste from Lebanon after war broke out there.

Also, a French envoy ended a visit to Beirut yesterday without any sign of progress toward defusing the nine-month-old political standoff that threatens to scuttle a looming presidential ballot in Lebanon. “I urged all the parties about the need for the presidential election to take place within the timeframe set by the constitution,” diplomat Jean-Claude Cousseran was quoted as saying yesterday.

He added that a new date will be set “very soon” for French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to return to Lebanon. Kouchner traveled to Beirut at the end of July as part of France’s efforts to end the crisis which has blocked Lebanese institutions since 2006, but his visit produced no concrete results. Early last week, he held talks with the pro-Syrian speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, who has refused to recognize the Fouad Siniora government’s legitimacy since six pro-Syrian ministers quit last November.

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