Lebanon PM vows return to country 'within days'
Leader’s resignation while with Saudis has triggered crisis.
Lebanon’s Prime BEIRUT — Minister Saad Hariri said Sunday he will return to his country “within days” amid a political crisis that erupted when he announced his sudden resignation on Nov. 4 in Saudi Arabia.
In a live interview shown on Future TV, Hariri said he had resigned to protect Lebanon from imminent danger, although he didn’t specify who was threatening the country. He said he will return to submit his resigna- tion and seek a settlement with his rivals in the coalition government, the militant group Hezbollah.
But Hariri said withdraw- ing his resignation would be contingent on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah committing to remaining neutral on regional conflicts. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to neigh- boring Syria to support the forces of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Hariri looked tired and sad in the interview from Saudi Arabia on his Future TV chan- nel that lasted more than an hour. He held back tears as he spoke and repeated several times that he resigned to cause a “positive shock” and draw attention to the danger of siding with Iran in regional conflicts.
“We are in the eye of the storm,” Hariri said.
He said the unity government he formed a year ago was supposed to stick to an agreement not to interfere in regional affairs but that Hezbollah has not kept up its end of the deal.
Apparently seeking to show he was not being detained by the Saudis, Hariri told the interviewer: “I am free.”
He said his resignation was his own decision, dismissing reports he was forced into it. But he also said he is look- ing into security arrangements before returning to Lebanon, suggesting his life was in danger.
“I saw what happened ... when my father was mar- tyred. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me,” Hariri said. His father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.
The interview followed pressure from Lebanese offi- cials, who said Hariri’s resignation was not accepted because it was declared in Saudi Arabia. Many Lebanese have suspected Hariri was placed under house arrest as part of a Saudi plan to unravel a coalition govern- ment he had formed last year with Hezbollah.
Hariri said his resignation was designed to “cause a positive shock” in Lebanon, warning against what he said was Iranian interference that is ruining relations with other Arab countries.
Hariri said the unity government he formed a year ago was supposed to stick to an agreement not to inter- fere in regional affairs and Hezbollah has not kept up its end of the deal.
“We are in the eye of the storm,” he said.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun said before the interview that “mysterious circumstances for Hariri’s stay in the Saudi capital of Riyadh makes all his positions ques- tionable and in doubt and not of his own volition.”
A dual Lebanese-Saudi national, the Saudi-al- lied Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on Nov. 4 in a pre-recorded message on Saudi TV, criticizing Iran and Hezbollah, and saying he feared for his safety. Hariri’s family lives in Riyadh.
A Saudi-led coalition has been at war with Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis since March 2015. Hariri said relations between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah soured after the conflict began in Yemen.
Earlier Sunday, thousands of people attending Leba- non’s annual marathon used the event to urge Hariri to return home.
Hariri was a regular partic- ipant in the marathon, giving the international sports event a big boost. This year, Aoun encouraged runners to call on Hariri to return. Organizers say more than 47,000 participated in the marathon.
A Lebanese woman at the Beirut Marathon on Sunday holds a placard urging Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to return. Hariri, a regular marathon participant, resigned his post unexpectedly last week while in Saudi Arabia.