King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Beirut on Friday 30th July in a show of unity before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanon's president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker stood side by side to receive the heads of state as they descended from a Saudi jet onto a red carpet at Rafik Hariri International Airport. The visit appeared to be an attempt to quell anxiety in Lebanon that followed a speech last week by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, in which he denied links between his party and Hariri's death.

On 13 December 2005, the Government of the Republic of Lebanon requested the United Nations to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 in Beirut that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1664 (2006), the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Further to Security Council resolution 1757(2007) of 30 May 2007, the provisions of the document annexed to it and the Statute of the Special Tribunal there to attached, entered into force on 10 June 2007. The tribunal has indicted no one since it was set up. Last year it ordered the release of four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals jailed for four years without charge. Lebanese authorities had detained them at the request of a former U.N. investigator in 2005.

Hariri was a known critic of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and initial findings by UN investigators pointed to Syrian involvement in his assassination - something Syria has always denied. Hariri's killing caused such uproar in Lebanon that Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after three decades of military presence there.

Hezbollah, a Shi'ite guerrilla movement and a powerful player in Lebanese politics, has often questioned the tribunal's integrity and neutrality, saying its work had been tainted by false witnesses and reliance on telephone records that Israeli spies arrested in Lebanon could have manipulated.

This month Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah assailed the court, which is based in The Hague, as an "Israeli project" after saying he had received word that it planned to indict members of his group in connection with Hariri's killing.

The dramatic arrival of the Saudi and Syrian leaders suggests that they may seek to pressure the various Lebanese factions to strike a deal to preserve the country's stability without undermining the credibility of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

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