Saudi king hosts Le­banese pa­tri­arch

Khaleej Times - - MIDDLE EAST - AFP

riyadh — The Cus­to­dian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz of Saudi Ara­bia, on Tues­day hosted the head of the Le­banese Ma­ronite church, a his­toric first at a time when Riyadh is step­ping up pres­sure on Iran­backed Hezbol­lah.

Be­shara Rai ar­rived in Riyadh on Mon­day, in the first trip to the kingdom by a se­nior Le­banese fig­ure 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 also met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man on a trip that sym­bol­ises a rare in­ter-re­li­gious ex­change in the 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.

Pa­tri­arch Rai heads the Ma­ronite church, which has a pres­ence in Le­banon, Syria and Cyprus and fol­lows an East­ern rite of the Ro­man Catholic church.

Rai is now the sec­ond Chris­tian pa­tri­arch to visit the coun­try, af­ter an­other such trip in 1975. His trip was planned be­fore the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Le­banon and he said the orig­i­nal in­vi­ta­tion had been ex­tended in 2013.

Le­banese se­nior politi­cians al­lege Hariri is un­der de facto house ar­rest in Riyadh, though he vowed in an in­ter­view on Sun­day to re­turn to Le­banon in “two or three days”.

Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion came against the back­drop of mount­ing ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran, which back op­pos­ing sides in power strug­gles in hotspots such as Syria and Ye­men. Hariri said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view on Sun­day that he was a free man and would re­turn to Le­banon within days to af­firm that he had re­signed. He said Le­banon was at risk of Gulf Arab sanc­tions be­cause of the Hezbol­lah’s re­gional med­dling. —

Reuters

King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud greets Le­banese Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch Bechara Boutros Al Rahi in Riyadh on Tues­day. —

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