Cyprus says it plans to help defuse Lebanese crisis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Cyprus on Wednesday said it would try to help defuse a crisis in neighboring Lebanon after Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri made an unexpected stopover on the island on Tuesday night.

Cyprus announced the move shortly after Hariri shelved a decision to resign at the request of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, easing an impasse that had stirred tensions around the Middle East.

Hariri met Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at Larnaca airport for about 45 minutes late on Tuesday on his way back to Lebanon, his first visit home since he unexpectedly announced on Nov. 4 he would resign in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

“Our common objective is stability in Lebanon, stability in our area. Within this context... the President of the Republic will undertake some initiatives precisely to promote this objective; stability in Lebanon,” Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said.

Christodoulides said Anastasiades’s initiatives would be directed toward European Union and neighboring states, but was not more specific.

“Cyprus is uniquely placed, as a member state of the European Union which also maintains excellent relations with all its neighbors. That (position) is broadly recognized and would allow us to work to achieve stability in Lebanon,” he said.

The island, perched on the edge of the Middle East, is broadly considered a neutral safe haven in an otherwise volatile region. It took in thousands of Lebanese fleeing civil war in the 1970s and successfully mediated an end to a 39-day siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem between Israeli forces and suspected Palestinian militants.

On Tuesday Anastasiades received an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia, Christodoulides said. It was not immediately clear if it was connected to the crisis, though Cypriot government officials told Reuters the visit had been planned for some time.

Reporting By Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean