Le­banon PM Hariri re­signs, as­sails Iran and Hezbol­lah

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

BEIRUT, (Reuters) - Le­banon's Prime Min­is­ter Saad al-Hariri re­signed yesterday say­ing he be­lieved there was an as­sas­si­na­tion plot against him and ac­cus­ing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbol­lah of sow­ing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation, a big sur­prise to Beirut's po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, brought down the coali­tion gov­ern­ment and plunged Le­banon into a new po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

It thrust Le­banon into the front line of a re­gional com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Sunni Saudi Ara­bia and Shi'ite Iran that has also buf­feted Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. A Saudi gov­ern­ment min­is­ter said Hariri was in Riyadh to en­sure his safety.

Hariri, who is closely al­lied with Saudi Ara­bia, al­leged in a broad­cast from an undis­closed lo­ca­tion that Hezbol­lah was "di­rect­ing weapons" at Ye­me­nis, Syr­i­ans and Lebanese.

In com­ments di­rected at Iran, he said the Arab world would "cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it".

Hariri's coali­tion, which took of­fice last year, grouped nearly all of Le­banon's main par­ties, in­clud­ing Hezbol­lah. It took of­fice in a po­lit­i­cal deal that made Michel Aoun, a Hezbol­lah ally, pres­i­dent, and was seen as a vic­tory for Iran.

The resignation risks ex­ac­er­bat­ing sec­tar­ian ten­sions be­tween Sunni and Shi'ite Mus­lims and re­turn­ing Le­banon to paral­y­sis in gov­ern­ment.

An of­fi­cial at the U.S. State Department said it was fol­low­ing the sit­u­a­tion closely and noted that Hariri had been a "strong part­ner in build­ing strong na­tional state in­sti­tu­tions and in the war on ter­ror".

The of­fi­cial added "the United States ex­pects an or­derly po­lit­i­cal process in Le­banon and will re­main sup­port­ive of the le­git­i­mate in­sti­tu­tions of the Lebanese state".

It was not im­me­di­ately clear who might suc­ceed Hariri, Le­banon's most in­flu­en­tial Sunni politi­cian.

The prime min­is­ter must be a Sunni in Le­banon's sec­tar­ian sys­tem. Aoun must ap­point the can­di­date with most sup­port among MPs, who he is ex­pected to con­sult in the com­ing days.

"We are liv­ing in a cli­mate sim­i­lar to the at­mos­phere that pre­vailed be­fore the as­sas­si­na­tion of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is be­ing plot­ted covertly to tar­get my life," Hariri said.

Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a 2005 Beirut bomb at­tack that pushed his son Saad into pol­i­tics and set off years of tur­moil. A U.N.-backed tri­bunal has charged five Hezbol­lah mem­bers over the killing. Hezbol­lah de­nies in­volve­ment.

The Saudi-owned pan-Arab tele­vi­sion chan­nel al-Ara­biya alHa­dath re­ported that an as­sas­si­na­tion plot against Hariri was foiled in Beirut days ago, cit­ing an un­named source.

Saudi Ara­bia's Gulf Af­fairs Min­is­ter Thamer al-Sab­han said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that Hariri's per­sonal se­cu­rity de­tail had "con­firmed in­for­ma­tion" of a plot to kill him.

Le­banon's in­ter­nal se­cu­rity force said in a state­ment on the re­ports that it had no in­for­ma­tion about the mat­ter.

Hariri said Hezbol­lah and Iran had brought Le­banon into the "eye of a storm" of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions. Iran was sow­ing strife, de­struc­tion and ruin wher­ever it went and he ac­cused it of a "deep ha­tred for the Arab na­tion".

Aoun's of­fice said Hariri had called him from "out­side Le­banon" to in­form him of his resignation. He has post­poned a visit to Kuwait and di­rected mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity agen­cies "to main­tain sta­bil­ity", it said.

Hariri flew to Saudi Ara­bia on Fri­day af­ter a meet­ing in Beirut with Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, the top ad­viser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei. After­wards, Ve­lay­ati de­scribed Hariri's coali­tion as "a vic­tory" and "great suc­cess".

Sayyed Has­san Nas­ral­lah, the leader of Hezbol­lah, will ad­dress Hariri's resignation in a tele­vised speech to­day, Hezbol­lah-af­fil­i­ated me­dia re­ported.

A mem­ber of Hezbol­lah's cen­tral com­mit­tee, Sheikh Na­bil Ka­wouk, ac­cused Riyadh of be­ing be­hind Hariri's resignation, say­ing in a speech re­ported by Le­banon's al-Jadeed tele­vi­sion: "God pro­tect Le­banon from the evil of Saudi Ara­bia's reck­less ad­ven­tures."

Walid Jum­blatt, the leader of Le­banon's Druze mi­nor­ity, said Le­banon was too weak to bear the con­se­quences of Hariri's resignation, say­ing he feared po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic fall­out.

"We can­not af­ford to fight the Ira­ni­ans from Le­banon," he told Reuters, ad­vo­cat­ing an ap­proach of com­pro­mise with Hezbol­lah in Le­banon while wait­ing for re­gional cir­cum­stances to al­low Saudi-Iranian di­a­logue.

Iran's For­eign Min­istry said Hariri's departure was a plot to "cre­ate ten­sion in Le­banon and the re­gion".

"Hariri's resignation was done with plan­ning by Don­ald Trump, the pres­i­dent of Amer­ica, and Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the

crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia," said Hus­sein Sheikh al-Is­lam, ad­viser to Iran's supreme leader.

Sab­han, the Saudi min­is­ter, echoed the lan­guage of the Lebanese politi­cian say­ing in a tweet: "The hands of treachery and aggression must be cut off."

Is­raeli politi­cians also used Hariri's resignation to crit­i­cise Iranian in­flu­ence in Le­banon. "His words are a wake-up call to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to take ac­tion against Iranian aggression," Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Hezbol­lah's close ties to Iran and its sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad in his war with rebels have been a ma­jor source of ten­sion in Le­banon for years.

Beirut has adopted a po­si­tion of "dis­as­so­ci­a­tion" from the con­flict, but this has come un­der strain with Hezbol­lah and its al­lies push­ing for a nor­mal­i­sa­tion of ties.

Since tak­ing of­fice, Hariri had worked to gar­ner in­ter­na­tional aid for Le­banon to cope with the strain of host­ing some 1.5 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees.

The gov­ern­ment's col­lapse com­pli­cates prepa­ra­tions for next year's par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, Le­banon's first since 2009.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ali Has­san Khalil told Reuters there was no dan­ger to Le­banon's econ­omy or its cur­rency.

Joseph Tor­bey, head of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Banks in Le­banon, said there was no risk to mon­e­tary sta­bil­ity be­cause the cen­tral bank had large re­serves and there was con­fi­dence in Lebanese banks.

Le­banon has one of the world's high­est ra­tios of debt-to-GDP and last month passed its first bud­get since 2005, one of the few achieve­ments of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

The United States is con­sid­er­ing new sanc­tions on Hezbol­lah, as part of a tougher stance against Iran and its al­lies, that Lebanese politi­cians have fret­ted could hurt the econ­omy.

Saad al-Hariri

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