Le­banon PM vows re­turn to coun­try 'within days'

Leader’s res­ig­na­tion while with Saudis has trig­gered cri­sis.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Sarah El Deeb

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.

HAS­SAN AMMAR/ ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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