Tensions soar over Lebanon

Lebanon’s president yesterday urged Saudi Arabia to explain why Saad Hariri had not returned to Beirut since his surprise resignation as prime minister a week ago.

Hariri announced on November 4 in a televised statement from Riyadh that he would be stepping down from the post, sending shock waves through Lebanese politics.

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

President Michel Aoun yesterday called on the kingdom to “clarify the reasons that have prevented the return of PM Hariri to Lebanon to be among his people and supporters.”

“The obscurity surrounding the condition of PM Saad Hariri since his resignation a week ago means that all positions and actions declared by him or attributed to him do not reflect the truth,” Aoun added.

“They are instead a result of the ambiguous and obscure conditions (under which) PM Hariri is living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Aoun has yet to formally accept Hariri’s resignation and has criticised the circumstances surrounding it as “unacceptable.”

In his shock announcement, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region, saying he feared for his life.

His statement prompted fears that Lebanon — dominated by rival camps led by Hariri and Hezbollah — would be caught up in spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

Hariri’s week-long absence from Lebanon has sparked rumours that the former prime minister — who also holds Saudi nationality — is under de facto house arrest in the kingdom.

“The head of the Lebanese government is detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon until now,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address Friday.

Members of Hariri’s own Al-Moustaqbal (Future) party said they had no information on his fate.

And Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil announced on Friday that he was launching a “diplomatic campaign to bring back the head of our government of his own free will.”

Even world powers have appealed for calm and freedom of movement for Hariri.

The United States yesterday urged all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty following the power vacuum created by the prime minister’s sudden resignation.

“The United States calls upon all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The United States considers Hariri a “trusted partner,” it said, and “firmly reiterates that the Lebanese Armed Forces and other Lebanese state security forces are the only legitimate security authorities in Lebanon.”

“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,” it added.

The White House statement echoed an appeal issued Friday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Asia with President Donald Trump. Tillerson warned other countries against using Lebanon for proxy conflicts.

Tillerson’s message seemed aimed mainly at Iran and Hezbollah, the powerful Shia organization that is both a militia and part of Hariri’s government.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will embark on a Gulf tour to push for a political solution as tensions rise between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, his ministry said yesterday.

Egypt, which has the most powerful Arab army and has depended on Saudi Arabia for aid, has supported the Gulf country against its regional arch-rival, Iran.

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