March 19, 2018

Lebanon's Maronite patriarch makes historic Saudi visit

14 November 2017, 04:32 | Taylor George

Controversial Saudi crown prince to open peace centre in 2018

Controversial Saudi crown prince to open peace centre in 2018

At the end of the November 6-10 session of the Catholic Council of the Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, the prelates said their pain "is the continuation of wars in the countries of the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, which have shaken the stability and peace and caused the programmed demolition and the ravages and misfortunes of innocent citizens".

But later in the interview, he plotted a new twist: He said he may be tempted to stay in power after all.

But Rai said his visit, which was planned before the latest crisis, was not political but aimed at boosting religious tolerance and co-existence in a region torn by sectarian conflict. This is the same tactic they are following in Iraq and Syria.

If the interview was meant to end the rumors that Hariri is being coerced by Saudi Arabia, it didn't exactly work. Lebanon's prime minister gave a TV interview and did not sound like he's quitting after all.

Maha Yahya, the director of the Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says she believes Hariri's TV appearance may have been a way for him and the Saudis to save face in the international backlash.

Hishammuddin, who is also the defence minister, said Malaysia's relationship with Saudi Arabia has not been problematic and the fight against Islamic State is an ongoing battle.

El-Rai and Saudi Charge d'Affaires Walid al-Bukhari said the kingdom is not likely to deport Lebanese citizens as punishment for the participation of the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanese politics.

Hariri said: "I am free to travel- tomorrow if I want to".

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MAHA YAHYA: Yeah, I think this kind of strong-arm tactics obviously caused a lot of alarm and it flies in the face of global norms. "So I suspect that this was [to] kind of soften the entire situation".

Hariri explained that his resignation was not officially accepted in Lebanon because it was announced from Riyadh.

Asked why Hariri has been in Saudi Arabia for so long, al-Mouallimi replied: "He has a house in Saudi Arabia".

"I think this is all part of a trend that is regional and not just about Lebanon".

"In order to prevent this we need especially the return of the current prime minister, reconciliation in the country and the prevention of influence from outside", he said. As well as being a well-armed militia, Hezbollah is a dominant force in Lebanon's ministerial Cabinet.

"The national and diplomatic campaign waged by Lebanon to resolve the mystery over Prime Minister Hariri's status in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has produced positive results", Aoun said, according to a statement released by his media office. But even as he called for Lebanon's independence from Iran, questions over Hariri's own freedom remain.

His demand that Hezbollah pull out of its foreign wars is unlikely to be met.

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