Le­banese PM says he will re­turn in a ‘cou­ple of days’

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - SARAH EL DEEB BEIRUT JEF­FREY SCHAEFFER

Ten days af­ter his sur­prise res­ig­na­tion plunged Lebanon into cri­sis and raised fears of re­gional tur­moil, Prime Min­is­ter Saad al-Hariri on Tues­day called on ev­ery­one to “chill.” In his first per­sonal tweet since trav­el­ling to Saudi Ara­bia ear­lier this month, where he an­nounced he would step down in a pre­re­corded mes­sage that led many to think he was be­ing held against his will, Mr. al-Hariri said he planned to re­turn to Lebanon in the next two days. “Peo­ple, I am fine. And God will­ing I will come back in a cou­ple of days. Let’s chill.” Mr. al-Hariri wrote, adding that he was in good shape. His phras­ing sug­gested he would re­turn some time in the com­ing days, rather than set­ting a pre­cise date. Lebanon’s For­eign Min­is­ter, mean­while, said dur­ing a trip to Paris that his coun­try may re­sort to in­ter­na­tional law to de­ter­mine Mr. al-Hariri’s con­di­tion, sug­gest­ing he is be­ing held un­der some form of house ar­rest, if he doesn’t re­turn to Lebanon. Mr. al-Hariri’s sur­prise res­ig­na­tion and then his scarce com­mu­ni­ca­tion led many Le­banese to spec­u­late that he was be­ing held against his will and stripped of his phone de­spite Saudi de­nials. A live in­ter­view on Sun­day with a Le­banese TV sta­tion af­fil­i­ated with his po­lit­i­cal party did lit­tle to dis­pel such fears. On Tues­day, Mr. al-Hariri met with the Le­banese Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch, who vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia, the first pub­li­cized meet­ing with a Le­banese of­fi­cial. But there were no TV cam­eras al­lowed into the meet­ing and only pho­tos of the en­counter were re­leased. Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has re­fused to ac­cept Mr. al-Hariri’s Nov. 4 res­ig­na­tion and urged him to come home. Hezbol­lah and other ri­vals have sug­gested that Mr. al-Hariri’s Saudi pa­trons forced him to resign to wreck the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. The coali­tion gov­ern­ment in­cludes the Iran-backed Hezbol­lah. Speak­ing from Paris, Lebanon’s For­eign Min­is­ter said he hoped to resolve the “am­bigu­ous” al-Hariri sit­u­a­tion with Saudi Ara­bia. Gi­bran Bas­sil, who is on a Euro­pean tour aimed at ral­ly­ing sup­port for his coun­try’s sta­bil­ity, said if Mr. al-Hariri doesn’t re­turn, then it will prove he is not free. “We hope Lebanon doesn’t have to re­sort to in­ter­na­tional law,” Mr. Bas­sil said. Mr. Bas­sil spoke af­ter meet­ing French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who said he “hopes Saad Hariri can go to Lebanon as he has an­nounced,” ac­cord­ing to the Pres­i­dent’s of­fice. France, Lebanon’s one­time colo­nial ruler, is seek­ing to play a me­di­at­ing role in the re­gion and Mr. Macron paid a sur­prise visit to Saudi Ara­bia last week. French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian is head­ing to Saudi Ara­bia on Wed­nes­day. Mr. al-Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion came amid mount­ing ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. Mr. al-Hariri lashed out at Hezbol­lah in his res­ig­na­tion speech and said he feared for his safety. Saudi Ara­bia has ac­cused Hezbol­lah of declar­ing war on the king­dom by sup­port­ing Ye­men’s Houthi rebels, who fired a bal­lis­tic mis­sile the night of Mr. al-Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion that was in­ter­cepted near Riyadh. Last week, Saudi Ara­bia called on its cit­i­zens to leave Lebanon “im­me­di­ately,” rais­ing fears of fur­ther es­ca­la­tion. Asked if he fears puni­tive ac­tions from the king­dom, Mr. Bas­sil said any at­tack on Lebanon would af­fect the whole re­gion. “The first to be touched in this will be the Syr­i­ans based in Lebanon,” Mr. Bas­sil said, re­fer­ring to the more than one mil­lion refugees in Lebanon, equiv­a­lent to a fourth of the tiny coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. “They would move from a sit­u­a­tion of be­ing ac­cepted and ab­sorbed by the Le­banese so­ci­ety to a sit­u­a­tion where they will no more tol­er­ate their con­di­tions,” he said, with­out elab­o­rat­ing. Mr. Bas­sil and his party have been press­ing for the re­turn of Syr­ian refugees now that the war is wind­ing down. Mr. al-Hariri and other Sunni politi­cians who op­pose the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment have ar­gued against repa­tri­a­tion be­fore a peace deal is reached. Mr. Bas­sil de­nied Lebanon had any­thing to do with “a mis­sile launched from one coun­try to­ward an­other coun­try,” ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the mis­sile fired at Riyadh. In his in­ter­view, Mr. al-Hariri hinted he may re­con­sider his res­ig­na­tion if Hezbol­lah agreed to dis­cuss stay­ing out of re­gional af­fairs. Mr. alHariri, a dual Le­banese-Saudi na­tional, has homes in Saudi Ara­bia, where his wife and chil­dren have been liv­ing for years.

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