Lebanon demand Hariri’s return from Saudi Arabia
Lebanese President Michel Aoun told Saudi Arabia’s envoy on Nov. 10 that Saad al-Hariri must return to Lebanon and the circumstances surrounding his resignation as prime minister while in Saudi Arabia were unacceptable, presidential sources said.
The Lebanese authorities believe Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, two top Lebanese government officials, a senior politician close to Hariri and a fourth source told Reuters on Nov. 9, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Riyadh says Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, is a free man and it had nothing to do with his decision to announce his resignation on Saturday while in Saudi Arabia.
Since Hariri’s announcement, Saudi Arabia has accused Lebanon and its Shi’ite Hezbollah movement of declaring war on it.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on Nov. 9 have advised their citizens not to travel to Lebanon, or if already there to leave as soon as possible. Other Gulf states have also issued travel warnings.
“Due to the situation in the Republic of Lebanon, the kingdom asks its nationals visiting or living in Lebanon to leave as soon as possible, and advises its citizens not to travel there,” said a Saudi foreign ministry source, quoted by state news agency SPA.
Kuwait called on “all its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately” and avoid going there as a precautionary measure, state agency KUNA reported a source at the foreign ministry as saying.
Those steps have raised concern that Riyadh could take measures against the tiny Arab state, which hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Lebanon, where Sunnis, Shi’ites, Christians and Druze, all backed by rival regional powers, fought a civil war from 1975-1990, maintains a governing system designed to ensure each group is represented.
The shock resignation of Sunni political leader Hariri has thrust Lebanon back to the center of a regional struggle between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Islamist Iran, whose powerful Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah has major sway.
An “international support group” of countries concerned about Lebanon, which includes the United States, Russia and France, appealed for Lebanon “to continue to be shielded from tensions in the region.” In a statement, they also welcomed Aoun’s call for Hariri to return.
During the meeting with the Saudi envoy, Aoun expressed concern over reports about Hariri’s circumstances and urged clarification, presidential sources said.
Hariri, whose father, a long-serving prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005, said in his resignation that he feared assassination and blamed Iran for meddling in Lebanon’s affairs.
His resignation unraveled a political deal among rival factions that made him prime minister and Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, head of state last year. The coalition government included Hezbollah, a heavily armed military and political organization.
In the first direct Western comment on Hariri’s status, France and Germany both said on Nov. 10 they did not believe Hariri was being held against his will.
“Our concern is the stability of Lebanon and that a political solution can be put in place rapidly,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. “As far as we know, yes: we think (Hariri) is free of his movements and it’s important he makes his own choices,” he said.
On Nov. 9, Hariri’s Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.
Aoun has refused to accept the resignation until Hariri returns to Lebanon to deliver it to him in person and explain his reasons.
Top Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt said on Nov. 10 it was time that Hariri returned to Lebanon. After a week of absence, “be it forced or voluntary”, it was “time for Sheikh Saad to return,” Jumblatt said on Twitter. “By the way, there is no alternative to him,” he added.