April 20, 2018

Lebanon's PM Says He May Rescind Resignation, Will Return

13 November 2017, 07:04 | Winifred Adams

Saudi Arabia reportedly holding ex-Lebanese prime minister against his will

War fear racks Lebanon

Hariri came back to Beirut from that trip "pleased and relaxed", sources in his entourage said.

During a visit by Hariri to the kingdom prior to his resignation on 4 November, Prince Mohammed bin Salman had arranged for him to see senior intelligence officials and Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi point man on Lebanon.

Regional tensions over Lebanon are escalating, after Hezbollah's leader says Saudi Arabia has declared war on Lebanon. He added that Hariri says he is free to move and "we don't have any reason not to believe him".

Abi Khalil said on Twitter that he signed a document on Friday calling on companies who submitted bids for the offshore licensee blocks "to negotiate the technical proposals".

The premier has yet to return to Lebanon and rumours have swirled that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

"There was a danger in Lebanon and I wanted to take additional steps and send a positive shock".

Soon after the interview was announced, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Al Hariri's freedom was being restricted in Riyadh.

Reading from a statement, he blamed his departure on Iranian meddling and the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah, a militant group that plays a central role in Lebanese politics and shared a national unity cabinet led by Mr Hariri.

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"I have a family, and it is my right to protect them", Hariri said of his presence in Saudi Arabia. Aoun has been convening high-level meetings with Lebanese politicians and foreign diplomats since Hariri stepped down.

On Monday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian called for "non-interference" in Lebanon. He told aides he had heard "encouraging statements" from the crown prince, including a promise to revive a Saudi aid package for the Lebanese army.

Saudi Arabia also closed the borders of Yemen after a missile from the country - fired by Houthi rebels allied with Iran - was intercepted near Riyadh.

In the last five years, Hizbollah has become a critical player in the Syrian war, sending thousands of fighters to shore up the government there.

Mr Hariri said he "can't be the only one making concessions while the others do whatever they want".

"Hariri's willingness to reach a compromise with Hizbollah and retract his resignation, in addition to the conciliatory tone of his interview vis-à-vis Hizbollah, indicates it's now likely a solution can be reached similar to the status quo-ante".

Cardinal Bechara El Rai, the head of Lebanon's Maronite sect, the country's largest Christian community, was expected to meet with Mr Hariri.

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