Turkish PM visits Lebanon, says Turkey stands on the same distance from all Lebanese parties

Erdogan warns Israel Turkey won’t remain silent if Lebanon attacked

International support for STL, Lebanon

Lebanese celebrates Independence Day

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will not remain silent if Israel decides to attack Lebanon, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Erdogan's remarks were made as he departed Beirut, the Lebanese capital, following a two-day visit. The visit strengthens the long-term alliance between Lebanon and Turkey, which currently is at an all-time low.

"Does Israel think it can enter Lebanon with the most modern aircraft and tanks to kill women and children, and destroy schools and hospitals, and then expect us to remain silent?" Erdogan asked. "We will not be silent and we will support justice by all means available to us."

Turkey has been a reliable ally of Israel in the Muslim world but the ties between the two nations have been deteriorating after Turkey opposed the Israeli Operation 'Cast Lead', which left between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians killed in addition to 13 Israeli deaths.

Erdogan's visit came mere weeks after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also visited the Lebanese capital and days before Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is scheduled to travel to Tehran.

It is believed that the visits may indicate that Turkey is moving closer to the so-called resistance axis, as the European nation shares the anti-Israeli stance. Iran and Turkey are promoting unity in Lebanon as the country is on the brink of political disintegration over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Erdogan also visited a village in northern Lebanon which is inhabited by Turkmen families. During his speech, he also called on Israel to apologize for its regional mistakes. In addition, the premier inspected the Turkish troops with the UN Interim Force stationed at the Israeli border.

The Prime Minister also called on the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to pressure Israel over its nuclear program in the same way that the international community has been dealing with Iran.

Erdogan urged Lebanon's rival parties to unite and overcome a crisis linked to a UN probe into the assassination of the country's ex-premier.

"The premier stressed the importance of stability in Lebanon and the need for all parties to come together and find solutions to all matters related to the international tribunal," said a statement issued by the Lebanese presidency following a meeting between Erdogan and President Michel Sleiman.

Turkey would "work to help preserve the unity of Lebanon," Erdogan said after a meeting with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

Erdogan underlined the importance of avoiding a civil conflict that could spread through the region while meeting with Sleiman and Berri, a Lebanese government official said on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish premier's two-day visit comes amid a standoff between the camp of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the powerful militant group Hezbollah over a UN-backed court probing the murder of Hariri's father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

His arrival in Beirut was punctuated by a group of Armenians protesting what they say was genocide against their community by Turkey's precursor, the Ottoman Empire, in the early 20th century.

"The aim of (Erdogan's) visit was to sign bilateral agreements... and strengthen quadripartite ties among Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon," Sleiman's office said.

"The meeting also covered... the importance of finding solutions to all matters related to the international tribunal."

Erdogan's trip comes as Lebanon anxiously awaits an anticipated indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the 2005 bombing that killed Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

Tensions are soaring in Beirut as the STL is reportedly set to implicate high-ranking Hezbollah operatives in the Hariri murder, a move the Shiite militant party has warned against.

Erdogan, whose country played a key role in mediating now-frozen peace talks between Syria and Israel, said Turkey would do everything in its power to prevent war in Lebanon, in comments published hours ahead of his visit.

"Should any signs of war surface in Lebanon, God forbid, Turkey and other countries in the region will do everything they can to prevent that war," Erdogan told the Lebanese daily As-Safir on the eve of his visit.

"Today we stand by Lebanon as we always have," he said.

Turkey is widely seen as aiming to position itself as a central regional mediator in the troubled Middle East.

Erdogan told a joint news conference with Hariri that he had contacted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before his visit and would get in touch with him again on his return to Ankara to "evaluate the situation."

"Lebanon must be free of these pressures... we hope it finds stability," said the Turkish leader.

Hariri welcomed the comments and said that "dialogue is essential. We must give dialogue a priority."

He also reiterated the UN-backed tribunal was established under UN Security Council resolutions and "nobody can change that," in reference to Hezbollah's call for a boycott of the proceedings.

Hariri and Erdogan signed a free trade agreement between the two countries, after an agreement was reached earlier this year on establishing a free trade zone that also includes Jordan and Syria.

Erdogan also inaugurated a Turkish-funded medical centre that specializes in treating burn victims in the southern coastal city of Sidon.

Meanwhile, Kataeb bloc Member of Parliament Sami Gemayel said he believes that Hezbollah will attempt to force Lebanon into rejecting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was established to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.

Gemayel said: "We are committed to everything the tribunal issues but, if the indictment accuses Hezbollah, we will not accuse it because this accusation represents the investigators' point of the view and not the final (verdict) issued by the STL.

"The current system was not able to limit discussions to institutions. (It was not able) to limit sectarianism and spread of arms within a certain Lebanese category. This means it is unsuccessful," NOW Lebanon news site reported.

Last November the Lebanese Cabinet agreed to postpone discussion of the STL and President Michel Suleiman argued that a vote on the issue should be avoided in order to avoid division. Tension is rising in Lebanon amid unconfirmed reports that the U.N.-backed investigation will soon issue an indictment in the Hariri killing and allegedly will name Hezbollah members.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said Lebanon has fought enough fights and urged the Lebanese to work together, not against each other, for a sovereign and independent country that enjoys both justice and stability.

In a statement to mark Lebanon’s 67th Independence Day celebrated on November 22, Obama said Washington was committed to preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, national and cultural identity.

Obama wished President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and all citizens of Lebanon a happy Independence Day, in a statement carried by the US Embassy in Lebanon. The country’s top officials had marked Independence Day with a tribute military parade.

He said the celebration came at a particularly opportune time, in light of current challenges Lebanon was facing.

“This important day exemplifies Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and national and cultural identity. The United States is committed to strengthening these characteristics through support of Lebanon’s state institutions and voices of peace and moderation,” he said.

The US president then thanked the Lebanese government for “its steadfast leadership” under difficult circumstances, adding that it showed vision in its search for peace, stability, and consensus.

He also reiterated US support to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which he said “will end the era of political assassinations with impunity in Lebanon.”

“Lebanon and its children need a future where they can fulfill their dreams free of fear and intimidation.”

Obama also made a commitment to doing his best to support Lebanon and ensure it “remains free from foreign interference, terrorism, and war,” because Lebanon deserved peace and prosperity and anyone with opposing beliefs was no friend to Lebanon.

He also praised Lebanon’s multi-ethnic democratic system, saying it ensured representation by all of Lebanon's different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

“This unique facet sets Lebanon apart and has allowed Lebanese citizens to flourish and build their country and the rich tapestry that is Lebanese society,” Obama said, drawing a comparison between Lebanon and the US, where Lebanese-Americans have long contributed to the American community, economy and culture through their leadership in Congress, the business world, the military, “and even in my Cabinet.”

Sleiman, Berri and Hariri also received congratulations for Independence Day at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, after a tribute military parade.

The parade was held early in the morning on Shafiq al-Wazzan Avenue in Downtown Beirut and was attended by an array of political, religious and military figures, along judicial, diplomatic, media, social, economic and civil society representatives.

An air show, formations of marching soldiers and military drills were part of the event organized to mark Lebanon’s independence from French mandate forces since November 22, 1943.

Sleiman, who presided over the parade, had addressed the Lebanese people for the occasion on the eve of Independence Day.

He called on rival Lebanese factions to maintain national unity and said “After decades of wars and conflicts, it is time to enjoy a state of calm and stability.”

Lebanese Army commander General Jean Kahwaji marked the occasion by placing flowers on the tombs of army martyrs at Defense Ministry cemeteries.

Lebanese Army helicopters also dropped flowers over Beirut and its suburbs, to mark the occasion.

Independence Day was marked outside Lebanon as well, and the Lebanese Embassy in Damascus held a celebration, for the second year in a row since the establishment of the embassy in 2008, at the home of Lebanese Ambassador Michel Khoury, who gave a speech for the occasion.

Khoury recalled Lebanon’s and Syria’s common history and said that their independence was “the fruits of a common struggle against mandate forces.”