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Saudi urges citizens to leave tense Lebanon

November 21, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Saudi Arabia urged its citizens Thursday to leave Lebanon and exercise caution following this week’s deadly bombing at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and deepening tensions with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah militants.

Hezbollah officials indirectly have blamed Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia for Tuesday’s twin suicide blasts, which killed 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat and embassy guards. More than 140 others were wounded, according to the Health Ministry.

A Sunni radical group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility.

The Saudi warning comes amid fears in Lebanon of more attacks. The country has seen several other car bombings and repeated bouts of sectarian street fighting, but Tuesday’s sophisticated twin suicide blasts took the violence to new levels.

Hezbollah said in a statement that the group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, met with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Beirut Thursday and discussed the attack. It gave no further details.

Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah are longstanding foes that are now rivals in Syria’s civil war. The kingdom is a key backer of the overwhelmingly Sunni Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, while the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is fighting alongside Assad’s troops.

The statement issued Thursday by the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon urged its citizens to “return to the kingdom and be cautious.”

Lebanon has been a popular holiday spot for Saudis, but numbers have dropped off sharply since Hezbollah joined the battles in Syria. The kingdom repeatedly has urged its citizens not to travel to the Mediterranean nation.

Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc held a meeting Thursday and said in a statement that the attack on the Iranian embassy “clearly reveals the identity of the planners and executors who are serving the Zionists by committing random crimes and spreading hate and strife in the land of Arabs and Muslims.”

The bombing was the latest in a series of attacks that have struck Lebanese Shiite areas in recent months, some of which Sunni radicals claimed they made in retaliation for Hezbollah’s backing of Assad’s forces. Hezbollah’s bloc said that giving such pretexts for such “terrorist attacks is among the most evil and dangerous methods of soft war that justify the crimes of terrorists.”

Also Thursday, forensic experts collected evidence from a Beirut hotel room where the two suspected suicide attackers were believed to have spent at least one night before carrying out the bombing, security officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in lines with regulations, said they are still trying to find out whether the attackers were Lebanese citizens or foreigners.

They added that hotel employees who had contacts with the two men were also questioned. Security agents asked the employees about the behavior of the two men and their accent, they said.

The officials said they are still waiting for DNA tests of bodies that have not been identified yet to compare them with evidence collected from the hotel room.

Update hourly