Beirut wants clar­i­fi­ca­tion as cri­sis looms

Le­banon seeks an­swers on why for­mer min­is­ter hasn’t re­turned

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FROM THE COVER | WORLD - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT — Le­banon’s pres­i­dent called on Saudi Ara­bia Satur­day to clar­ify the rea­sons why the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter has not re­turned home since his res­ig­na­tion last week, an­nounced from the king­dom, as the United States and France ex­pressed their sup­port for Le­banon’s sovereignty and sta­bil­ity amid height­en­ing ten­sions be­tween Beirut and Saudi Ara­bia.

A po­lit­i­cal cri­sis has gripped Le­banon and shat­tered the rel­a­tive peace main­tained by its coali­tion gov­ern­ment since Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri’s stun­ning an­nounce­ment Nov. 4 from the Saudi cap­i­tal that he was re­sign­ing. Saudi of­fi­cials re­spond

Le­banese of­fi­cials have in­sisted on the re­turn home of Hariri from Saudi Ara­bia amid ru­mors he is be­ing held against his will. Saudi of­fi­cials have said that their mea­sures against Le­banon are in re­sponse to the mil­i­tant Hezbol­lah’s group sup­port of anti-Saudi rebels in Ye­men known as Houthis.

Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun called on Saudi Ara­bia to clar­ify why Hariri hasn’t re­turned home since an­nounc­ing his res­ig­na­tion say­ing that “the ob­scu­rity re­gard­ing Hariri’s con­di­tions makes any­thing that he says or does not re­flect truth.” It was an in­di­ca­tion that Aoun does not rec­og­nize Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

In state­ments re­leased by his of­fice, Aoun called on Saudi Ara­bia “that is linked to us through deep broth­erly and friendly re­la­tions to clar­ify the rea­sons that are pre­vent­ing” Hariri from re­turn­ing to Le­banon.

White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said in a state­ment that Wash­ing­ton calls upon “all states and par­ties to re­spect Le­banon’s sovereignty, in­de­pen­dence, and con­sti­tu­tional pro­cesses.” U.S. weighs in

Saudi Min­is­ter for Gulf Af­fairs Thamer al-Sab­han warned ear­lier this month that his gov­ern­ment would deal with Le­banon as a hos­tile state as long as Hezbol­lah was in the Le­banese gov­ern­ment. The Le­banese unity gov­ern­ment that Hariri formed a year ago in­cludes Hezbol­lah mem­bers — the re­sult of a tacit Saudi-Ira­nian agree­ment to side­line Le­banon from the other proxy wars in the re­gion.

“In this sen­si­tive time, the United States also re­jects any ef­forts by mili­tias within Le­banon or by any for­eign forces to threaten Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity, un­der­mine Le­banese gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, or use Le­banon as a base from which to threaten oth­ers in the re­gion,” San­ders said. She was ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to Hezbol­lah and Saudi Ara­bia.

San­ders de­scribed Hariri as “a trusted part­ner of the United States in strength­en­ing Le­banese in­sti­tu­tions, fight­ing ter­ror­ism, and pro­tect­ing refugees.”

San­ders said the Le­banese army and se­cu­rity forces are the only le­git­i­mate forces in Le­banon.

Iran’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman said Saudi Ara­bia is aim­ing to create un­rest in Le­banon after do­ing so in the Gulf re­gion and Ye­men.

Bahram Qasemi said in com­ments car­ried by state news agency IRNA that the king­dom is try­ing to desta­bi­lize the re­gion.

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