Monday, 20 November, 2017

Top Lebanese priest to head to Saudi Arabia amid crisis

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Maronite Patriarch Bshara al Raii at the Baabda Palace on Thursday Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Maronite Patriarch Bshara al Raii at the Baabda Palace on Thursday
Ben Pena | 13 November, 2017, 19:04

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Sunday he will return to his country "very soon" amid a political crisis that erupted when he announced his sudden resignation on November 4 in Saudi Arabia.

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". His father Rafic Hariri, who was also a prime minister, was assassinated in 2005.

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

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. He added that Hariri says he is free to move and "we don't have any reason not to believe him". His family lives in Riyadh.

U.S. and European diplomats have met with Hariri in Riyadh, but a senior administration official, asked if Hariri was free to leave Saudi Arabia, said, "We don't know".

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, accusing both of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.

Multiple Lebanese sources say Riyadh hopes to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother, Bahaa, as Lebanon's top Sunni politician.

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Earlier Sunday, thousands of people attending Lebanon's annual marathon used the event to urge Hariri to return home.

Mr Hariri was a regular participant in the marathon, giving the global sports event a big boost.

Ibrahim al-Masri, a 37-year-old Hariri supporter, said the Lebanese didn't know if it was Hariri's choice to stay in Saudi Arabia.

While Mr Hariri's speech may have been encouraging in so far as offering a way out of Lebanon's current political crisis, many observers remarked that he still appeared to be more a mouthpiece for Saudi policy rather than someone speaking on his own behalf.

French officials said the ministry's latest comments were the most accurate. Large billboards with pictures of Hariri rose overhead, and a local TV station showed an hour-long profile and interview with Hariri from past year.

"We can not say that we apply disassociation and at the same time see a group interfering in Yemen, or be dragged to relations with the Syrian regime, which I will not do".

The US and France have noted the diplomatic anomaly, expressing their support for Hariri and for Lebanon's sovereignty as tensions have risen between Beirut and Riyadh.

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