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