Le­banon tells Saudi Hariri must re­turn

Global Times - Weekend - - WORLD -

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.

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