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France 'guarantees' Lebanese security amid Syria violence

French President Francois Hollande has offered Lebanon a security guarantee, as violence in Syria threatens to destabilize the region. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is meeting in Doha to forge a united front.

President Hollande met with his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut on Sunday, where he expressed France's solidarity with its former colony, as Syria's civil war heightens sectarians divisions in the Mediterranean nation.

"France will spare no effort to guarantee Lebanon's independence, unity and security," Holland told a news conference after holding talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

"I want to remind all of those who have an interest in creating instability in Lebanon that France will oppose that because Lebanon is an example of unity," Hollande said.

Syrian tremors in Lebanon

The French president's stop in Beirut comes as the Syrian crisis has recently escalated tensions in Lebanon .

In October, Lebanon's Sunni Muslim intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassam, was killed in a car bomb attack in Beirut. The political opposition has blamed the assassination on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

And in August, ex-Information Minister Michel Samaha was arrested on suspicion of planning bomb attacks in Lebanon on behalf of the Assad regime. The attacks were allegedly intended to spark a sectarian conflict in Lebanon.

Mortar rounds fired from Syria have also landed on the Lebanese side of the border numerous times this year. And there have been sectarian clashes between Assad opponents and supporters in the northern coastal city of Tripoli.

More than 100,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011, according to the UN's refugee agency.

President Hollande is scheduled to fly later on Sunday to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, where he will discuss the Syrian crisis with Saudi King Abdullah. In the past, Paris has suggested the possibility of establishing humanitarian corridors and safe zones inside Syria to stem the violence there.

Syrian unity talks in Doha

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups gathered in Doha, the capital of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, on Sunday in an attempt to forge a more united front against President Assad's regime.

The United States, which supports regime change in Syria, has been pressing for anti-Assad factions to create an effective overarching coalition that could serve as a government-in-exile. Although the already established Syrian National Council (SNC) has sought that role, Washington has criticized the SNC, saying that the exile group is not representative of the anti-Assad uprising on the ground in Syria.

The US-backed proposal would reportedly create a new grouping called the Syrian National Initiative, which would include SNC members, Kurdish representatives, officers from the Free Syrian Army as well as other dissidents and activists.

But Mohammed al-Otri, the spokesman for former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said the ultimate makeup of a government- in-exile remained unclear. Hijab defected from the Syria and joined the opposition SNC in August.

"It remains to be decided whether this body will replace the SNC or will constitute a new coalition," al-Orti said, adding that the Doha talks "will certainly lead to the formation of a government" in exile.

slk/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)