Lebanon tells Saudi Hariri must return
Lebanese President Michel Aoun told Saudi Arabia’s envoy on Friday that Saad al-Hariri must return to Lebanon and the circumstances surrounding his resignation as prime minister while in Saudi Arabia were unacceptable, presidential sources said.
The Lebanese authorities believe Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, two top Lebanese government officials, a senior politician close to Hariri and a fourth source told Reuters on Thursday, amid a deepening crisis pung Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Riyadh says Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, is a free man and it had nothing to do with his decision to announce his resignation on November 4 while in Saudi Arabia.
Since Hariri’s announcement, Saudi Arabia has accused Lebanon and its Shiite Hezbollah movement of declaring war on it. Riyadh has advised Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon, or if already there to leave as soon as possible. Other Gulf states have also issued travel warnings.
Those steps have raised concern that Riyadh could take measures against the tiny Arab state, which hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Lebanon, where Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Druze, all backed by rival regional powers, fought a civil war from 1975 to 1990, maintains a governing system designed to ensure each group is represented.
The shock resignation of Sunni political leader Hariri has thrust Lebanon back to the centre of a regional struggle between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shiite Islamist Iran, whose powerful Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah has major sway.
An “international support group” of countries concerned about Lebanon, which includes the United States, Russia and France, appealed for Lebanon “to continue to be shielded from tensions in the region.” In a statement, they also welcomed Aoun’s call for Hariri to return.