Gulf cit­i­zens be­gin leav­ing Le­banon as ten­sion rises

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Regional -

DOZENS of cit­i­zens of Gulf Arab coun­tries be­gan leav­ing Le­banon on Fri­day af­ter their gov­ern­ments ordered them out of the Mediter­ranean coun­try, as the pres­i­dent called for the re­turn of Le­banon’s prime min­is­ter who mys­te­ri­ously re­signed from the Saudi cap­i­tal last week.

Dozens of men, women and chil­dren from Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait and Bahrain were seen leav­ing Le­banon on Fri­day morn­ing through Beirut’s Rafik Hariri In­ter­na­tional Air­port, af­ter Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emi­rates ordered their cit­i­zens to leave the coun­try.

The move was the first con­crete ac­tion against Le­banon af­ter days of Saudi gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials lev­el­ing threats against Beirut.

The man­ner in which Saad Hariri re­signed was “un­ac­cept­able,” a Le­banese of­fi­cial told The Associated Press, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity in line with reg­u­la­tions.

This was con­veyed by Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun to the Saudi charge d’af­faires in Le­banon, Walid al-Bukhari, at the pres­i­den­tial palace on Fri­day, the of­fi­cial said.

Hariri shocked his coun­try last Satur­day when he an­nounced in a tele­vised state­ment from Saudi Ara­bia that he was re­sign­ing. The un­ex­pected move has thrown the tiny na­tion in tur­moil and led to ru­mors that he is be­ing held in Saudi Ara­bia against his will.

Pres­i­dent Aoun has re­fused to ac­cept Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion be­fore he re­turns to the coun­try and ex­plains the cir­cum­stances of his de­ci­sion to step down, which ef­fec­tively shat­tered a year-old coali­tion gov­ern­ment in Le­banon. Aoun met with for­eign am­bas­sadors, in­clud­ing alBukhari, on Fri­day to dis­cuss the res­ig­na­tion and his next moves.

Mean­while, a French of­fi­cial in Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s of­fice said Hariri has told for­eign am­bas­sadors that he is not a pris­oner in Saudi Ara­bia, where he has been holed up since the un­usual res­ig­na­tion.

The French and U.S. am­bas­sadors in Saudi Ara­bia met with Hariri, and Hariri “says he is not a pris­oner, the [Saudi crown] prince says he is not a pris­oner,” said the of­fi­cial.

Macron paid a sur­prise visit to Saudi Ara­bia on Thurs­day night and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man for talks about the ris­ing ten­sions be­tween the king­dom and Le­banon, a for­mer French pro­tec­torate.

The of­fi­cial said Hariri did not ask to see Macron dur­ing the visit and that French of­fi­cials “don’t have any spe­cific signs” that the Le­banese prime min­is­ter’s life is in dan­ger. The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to be pub­licly named ac­cord­ing to pres­i­den­tial pol­icy.

Also Fri­day, France’s For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe-1 ra­dio that “to our knowl­edge,” Hariri is not be­ing held. Le Drian noted Hariri’s trip from Saudi Ara­bia to the United Arab Emi­rates and back ear­lier this week, adding that France thinks “he is free in his move­ments, and it is up to him to make his choices.”

Hariri, who cited Iran’s and its Le­banese proxy Hezbol­lah’s med­dling in the re­gion in his res­ig­na­tion speech, has not re­turned to Le­banon or made con­tact with Le­banese of­fi­cials since then.

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