THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 3, 2007
Erdogan said that Ankara supported the transfer of the territory to UN forces, but stressed that the decision was in Israel's hands.
Turkey's prime minister visited Lebanon for talks with rival Lebanese leaders on the embattled country's deepening political crisis.
He warned that growing sectarian tensions in Lebanon will affect the entire Middle East if left unchecked and offered to mediate in the political crisis if asked by rival factions.
"I told Saniora that sectarian differences will leave repercussions on the region," Erdogan told reporters after the meeting between the two leaders.
"I also told him that all parties in Lebanon and all states in the region must act to solve this problem," Erdogan said, stressing that a solution to the Lebanese crisis should be reached through dialogue.
Erdogan's visit came as the growing political and sectarian tensions among Lebanese factions threaten to tear the country apart. It also came more than a week after Arab League Chief Amr Moussa said that his efforts have failed to reach a solution to the crisis.
Tensions between pro- and anti-Syrian groups erupted when six pro-Hizbullah Cabinet ministers resigned in November after Saniora rejected their demand for a new national unity government that would give Hizbullah and its allies a veto power on key Cabinet decisions.
Erdogan met Saniora who has been living at his office complex in central Beirut amid a tight security cordon near the thousands of Hizbullah supporters and allies camping nearby.
Erdogan, speaking in Turkish, said Turkey was not mediating in the Lebanese crisis but was ready to do so if asked to help by feuding parties.
Saniora said because of its close ties with the Arab world, Turkey can play "an important role" in promoting a solution to the Lebanese crisis.
"We stressed on stability in Lebanon and its impact on the region," he said.
Before meeting with Lebanon's president and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally, Erdogan flew by a Turkish military helicopter to southern Lebanon where he inspected Turkish troops serving with the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL. He reviewed an honor guard, thanked troops for their service and had lunch with military officers.
Some 260 Turkish troops, deployed near the southern port city of Tyre, are helping rebuild bridges and roads damaged in last summer's war between Hizbullah and Israel. Turkish officials said that the total number of Turkish personnel in Lebanon would ultimately reach 681, including sailors and engineers.
Erdogan also said he will meet later Wednesday with legislator Mohammed Raad, head of Hizbullah's 11-member parliamentary bloc.
While Erdogan was meeting Saniora, thousands of Armenians, raising Lebanese and Armenian flags, gathered in the streets north of Beirut shouting slogans against the Turkish premier's visit, witnesses said. All shops in the Armenian neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud north of Beirut closed for a couple of hours.
"Turkey, Israel's strategic ally, cannot keep peace in Lebanon," read a placard by the protesters. The protesters dispersed peacefully but the demonstration caused a traffic jam on Beirut's northern highway.
Ahead of Erdogan's arrival, about 100 Armenian citizens, waving Lebanese flags, also gathered outside the Beirut airport to protest his visit.
In October, thousands from Lebanon's 80,000-100,000 strong Armenian community rallied in downtown Beirut to protest Turkish participation in the UN peacekeeping force because they blame Turkey's Ottoman rulers for the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century.
Turkey, a US ally and NATO's only predominantly Muslim member, has close ties to both Israel and Arab states.