Re­signed PM tells Le­banese to ‘chill,’ says he’s com­ing home

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Sarah El Deeb and Jef­frey Scha­ef­fer

BEIRUT » Ten days af­ter his sur­prise res­ig­na­tion plunged Le­banon into cri­sis and raised fears of re­gional tur­moil, Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri on Tues­day called on ev­ery­one to “chill.”

In his first per­sonal tweet since trav­el­ing to Saudi Ara­bia ear­lier this month, where he an­nounced he would step down in a pre-recorded mes­sage that led many to think he was be­ing held against his will, Hariri said he planned to re­turn to Le­banon in the next two days.

“Peo­ple, I am fine. And God will­ing I will come back in a cou­ple of days. Let’s chill.” Hariri wrote, adding that he was in good shape. His phras­ing sug­gested he would re­turn some­time in the com­ing days, rather than set­ting a pre­cise date.

Le­banon’s for­eign min­is­ter mean­while said dur­ing a trip to Paris that his coun­try may re­sort to in­ter­na­tional law to de­ter­mine Hariri’s con­di­tion, sug­gest­ing he is be­ing held un­der some form of house ar­rest, if he doesn’t re­turn to Le­banon.

Hariri’s sur­prise res­ig­na­tion and then his scarce com­mu­ni­ca­tion led many Le­banese to spec­u­late that he was be­ing held against his will and stripped of his phone de­spite Saudi de­nials. A live in­ter­view Sun­day with a Le­banese TV sta­tion af­fil­i­ated with his po­lit­i­cal party did lit­tle to dis­pel such fears.

On Tues­day, Hariri met with the Le­banese Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch, who vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia, the first pub­li­cized meet­ing with a Le­banese of­fi­cial. But there were no TV cam­eras al­lowed into the meet­ing and only pho­tos of the en­counter were re­leased.

Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has re­fused to ac­cept Hariri’s Nov. 4 res­ig­na­tion and urged him to come home. Hezbol­lah and other ri­vals have sug­gested that Hariri’s Saudi pa­trons forced him to re­sign to wreck the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. The coali­tion gov­ern­ment in­cludes the Iran-backed Hezbol­lah.

Speak­ing from Paris, Le­banon’s for­eign min­is­ter said he hoped to re­solve the “am­bigu­ous” Hariri sit­u­a­tion with Saudi Ara­bia. Gi­bran Bas­sil, who is on a Euro­pean tour aimed at ral­ly­ing sup­port for his coun­try’s sta­bil­ity, said if Hariri doesn’t re­turn, then it will prove he is not free.

“We hope Le­banon doesn’t have to re­sort to in­ter­na­tional law,” Bas­sil said.

Bas­sil spoke af­ter meet­ing French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who said he “hopes Saad Hariri can go to Le­banon as he has an­nounced,” ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent’s of­fice.

France, Le­banon’s one­time colo­nial ruler, is seek­ing to play a me­di­at­ing role in the re­gion and Macron paid a sur­prise visit to Saudi Ara­bia last week. French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian is head­ing to Saudi Ara­bia on Wed­nes­day.

Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion came amid mount­ing ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. Hariri lashed out at Hezbol­lah in his res­ig­na­tion speech and said he feared for his safety. Saudi Ara­bia has ac­cused Hezbol­lah of declar­ing war on the king­dom by sup­port­ing Ye­men’s Houthi rebels, who fired a bal­lis­tic mis­sile the night of Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion that was in­ter­cepted near Riyadh.

Last week, Saudi Ara­bia called on its cit­i­zens to leave Le­banon “im­me­di­ately,” rais­ing fears of fur­ther es­ca­la­tion.

Asked if he fears puni­tive ac­tions from the king­dom, Bas­sil said any at­tack on Le­banon would af­fect the whole re­gion.

“The first to be touched in this will be the Syr­i­ans based in Le­banon,” Bas­sil said, re­fer­ring to the more than 1 mil­lion refugees in Le­banon, equiv­a­lent to a fourth of the tiny coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

“They would move from a sit­u­a­tion of be­ing ac­cepted and ab­sorbed by the Le­banese so­ci­ety to a sit­u­a­tion where they will no more tol­er­ate their con­di­tions,” he said, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

Bas­sil and his party have been press­ing for the re­turn of Syr­ian refugees now that the war is wind­ing down. Hariri, and other Sunni politi­cians who op­pose the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, have ar­gued against repa­tri­a­tion be­fore a peace deal is reached.

Bas­sil de­nied Le­banon had any­thing to do with “a mis­sile launched from one coun­try to­ward an­other coun­try,” ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the mis­sile fired at Riyadh.

“There is no ex­cuse for this ex­cep­tional and un­nat­u­ral sit­u­a­tion” with Saudi Ara­bia, he said.

In his in­ter­view, Hariri hinted he may re­con­sider his res­ig­na­tion if Hezbol­lah agreed to dis­cuss stay­ing out of re­gional af­fairs. Hariri, a dual Le­banese-Saudi na­tional, has homes in Saudi Ara­bia, where his wife and chil­dren have been liv­ing for years.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Le­banese For­eign Tues­day. Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil, left, and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, right, at­tend a meet­ing at the El­y­see Palace, in Paris,

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