Saudi king hosts head of Lebanese Maronites
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday hosted the head of the Lebanese Maronite church, a historic first at a time when Riyadh is stepping up the pressure on Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh Monday, in the first trip to the kingdom by a senior Lebanese official since a crisis sparked by the shock resignation of prime minister Saad Hariri, which was announced from the Saudi capital.
The patriarch and the king “reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Rai is also set to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a trip that symbolizes a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultra-conservative kingdom, which is home to the holiest sites in Islam.
The Maronite patriarch’s visit “stresses the kingdom’s approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness for all sections of Arabic people,” Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said on Twitter.
Rai also met Hariri, who stepped down during a televised address on November 4 from Riyadh, in which he blasted Iran and its Shiite ally Hezbollah – a member of the Lebanese government – for intervening militarily in Syria and Yemen.