Arab League chief and Syrian president try to defuse tension with Lebanon

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday in an attempt to defuse tension with Lebanon over continuing allegations that Syria was involved in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister. "Our great concern is to keep the relations smooth and strong and to end this tension," Moussa told reporters following his meeting with Assad.

Moussa said he was encouraged by his talks with Syria's leader but did not elaborate. He added he would be returning to Lebanon for further talks. On Wednesday the Arab League chief met Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in Beirut to discuss the problem.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria soured after the February assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many Lebanese blamed Syria. The killing provoked massive demonstrations against Syria which, along with international pressure, forced Syria to pull out its troops from the country in April, ending a 29-year military presence.

A U.N. investigation has reported that Syrian intelligence was implicated in Hariri's murder. Syria has hotly denied this. The tension was highlighted last month when President Assad accused Prime Minister Saniora of hosting plots against Syria and said he was a "slave" of foreign masters. Saniora denied the conspiracy allegation and shrugged off the other remark.

Relations have been aggravated by a string of mysterious bombings in Lebanon that targeted anti-Syrian journalists and politicians. In the latest attack, the prominent editor and lawmaker Gibran Tueni was killed by a car bomb on Monday. Tueni's colleagues and other anti-Syrian politicians blamed Syria, which denied any involvement.

Moussa, who held a separate meeting Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, said Lebanese-Syrian relations were of great concern to everybody in the Arab world. He said he was not carrying any specific proposals, reports the AP. N.U.

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