Wednesday 21 August 2019

Saudi Arabia accused of detaining Lebanon's prime minister

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh on Sunday (Future TV/AP/PA)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh on Sunday (Future TV/AP/PA)

Lebanon's president has accused Saudi Arabia of detaining his country's prime minister, an escalation in the crisis that followed Saad Hariri's surprise resignation from the kingdom almost two weeks ago.

In comments published on the official Twitter account of the president, Michel Aoun said nothing justifies that Mr Hariri has not returned home so far.

"We consider him detained, arrested" in violation of international laws, Mr Aoun said.

It was the first time Mr Aoun described Mr Hariri as a detainee. He had previously only questioned the "mysterious" circumstances under which he resigned.

The rhetoric further deepens the crisis with Saudi Arabia, which is a backer of Mr Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese national.

Many believe Mr Hariri's decision was dictated by the kingdom amid its intensifying feud with Iran over influence in the region.

Iran supports Mr Hariri's main rival in Lebanon, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which is also a partner in Mr Hariri's unity government.

Mr Aoun refused to recognise Mr Hariri's resignation and the Lebanese government is carrying on in a business-as-usual manner.

In a quick reaction to Mr Aoun's comments, Mr Hariri tweeted that he was fine and will return to Lebanon as promised. "You will see", Mr Hariri said, without giving a time frame for his return.

Mr Aoun is an ally of Hezbollah but had been close to Mr Hariri before the crisis.

The head of Future TV, affiliated with Mr Hariri's party, says the prime minister is expected back before Sunday, when Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo in an emergency session at Saudi Arabia's urging.

Riyadh is expected to discuss Iran's rising influence in the region at the meeting, as well as the Lebanese crisis.

Lebanon's foreign minister Gibran Bassil said in Paris that Lebanon wants to resolve Mr Hariri's "ambiguous" condition with Saudi Arabia in a "brotherly" fashion.

Mr Bassil - who is on a European tour seeking support for his country amid the crisis - said Lebanon also has the option of resorting to international law, without elaborating.

It was not immediately clear if Mr Bassil would attend the Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo.

Riyadh has asked Saudi nationals to immediately leave Lebanon, with several other Arab countries and allies of the kingdom doing the same.

Many fear punitive Saudi actions against Lebanon over Hezbollah.

France's foreign minister is arriving in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet with Mr Hariri and Saudi officials. French President Emmanuel Macron paid a surprise visit to the kingdom last week.

Mr Hariri resigned 12 days ago in a shocking televised address from Riyadh that plunged his country into turmoil.

In a televised interview from the kingdom, Mr Hariri pledged to come back but did not give a specific date.

His appearance did not dispel rumours that Mr Hariri was forced to resign and is prevented from returning home.


PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News