Aoun orders PM to get back to Lebanon
Fears that he’s held against his will
PRESIDENT Michel Aoun said Saudi Arabia’s envoy 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 yesterday.
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 said on Thursday, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Riyadh said Hariri, a longtime Saudi ally, was a free man and it had nothing to do with his decision to announce his resignation on Saturday while in Saudi Arabia.
Since Hariri’s announcement, Saudi Arabia has accused Lebanon and its Shia Hezbollah movement of declaring war on it. Riyadh has advised Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon or, if there to, leave as soon as possible. Other Gulf states have also issued travel warnings.
The steps have raised concern that Riyadh could take measures against the tiny Arab state, which hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Lebanon, where Sunnis, Shia, 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 Shia Islamist Iran, whose powerful Lebanese Shia ally Hezbollah has major sway.
An “international support group” of countries concerned about Lebanon, which includes the US, Russia and France, appealed for Lebanon “to continue to be shielded from tension in the region”. They welcomed Aoun’s call for Hariri to return.
During the meeting with the Saudi envoy, Aoun expressed concern over reports about Hariri’s circumstances and urged clarification, presidential sources said.
Hariri, whose father, a long- serving prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005, said in his resignation he feared assassination and blamed Iran for meddling in Lebanon’s affairs.
His resignation unravelled a political deal among rival factions that made him prime minister and Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, head of state last year.
The coalition government included Hezbollah, a heavily armed military and political organisation.
France and Germany said yesterday they did not believe Hariri was being held against his will.
“Our concern is the stability of Lebanon and that a political solution can be put in place rapidly,” French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.
“We think (Hariri) is free of his movements and it’s important he makes his own choices,” he said.
On Thursday, Hariri’s Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.
Aoun has refused to accept the resignation until Hariri returns to Lebanon to deliver it to him in person and explain his reasons.
Top Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt said it was time Hariri returned to Lebanon. After a week of absence, “be it forced or voluntary”, it was “time for Sheikh Saad to return,” Jumblatt said on Twitter.
“By the way, there is no alternative to him,” he added.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was expected to address the crisis at 3pm local time in a public address to mark a religious occasion yesterday.
Saudi Arabia considers Iranian-allied Hezbollah to be its enemy in conflicts across the Middle East, including Syria and Yemen.
The Saudi foreign minister accused Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a ballistic missile at Riyadh from Yemen on Saturday. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen was an act of military aggression that could be an act of war.
The resignation of Hariri, who is also a business tycoon with major investments in Saudi Arabia, also comes as Riyadh has rounded up dozens of senior princes and businessmen in a corruption investigation. – Reuters
President Michel Aoun.