Lebanon has called on Saudi Arabia to release its Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who it accused the Sunni kingdom of placing under house arrest.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun said that he had not accepted the shock resignation of Hariri, announced on a Saudi TV soon after his arrival in Riyadh on 3 November. In his speech, Hariri said he feared assassination and accused Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the region. He said that the Arab world would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it,” language which one source close to him said was not typical of the Lebanese leader.
On Sunday, Hariri made another TV appearance, this time giving interview to a female journalist, but his body language showed all was not well as he nervously kept looking at the window.
Iran and its Lebanese ally, the militant group Hezbollah, too have accused Saudi Arabia of kidnapping Hariri. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of declaring war on Lebanon.
Experts say the latest action by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a part of his attempts to strengthen his grip over the politics in the region. Hariri’s shock resignation followed his mysterious disappearance followed Salman’s crackdown on his 10 Saudi princes and dozens of former ministers and bureaucrats in alleged corruption cases.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday said that had received assurances that Hariri was free and he encouraged him to return to Lebanon. Tillerson said that he was concerned about how the crisis might affect the stability of Lebanon’s fragile coalition, and warned countries in the region against using Lebanon as a “venue for proxy conflicts.”
This followed French President Emmanuel Macron making an unscheduled visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, when he reportedly emphasised to Saudi leaders the importance of stability in Lebanon. He also spoke to Aoun by phone on Saturday, reported BBC.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres too warned that a new conflict in the region would have “devastating consequences.”
What really happened?
Hariri was summoned to the Kingdom to meet Saudi King Salman in a phone call on Thursday night, 2 November.
What happened post Hariri’s arrival in Saudi Arabia on 3 November continues to remain a mystery. However, news agency Reuters reported quoting close Saudi and Hariri sources that things’ rom the moment Hariri’s plane touched down in Saudi Arabia on Friday 3 November, he was in for a surprise.’
Contrary to how a Lebanese prime minister be received in Riyadh during an official visit in the past, this time there was no line-up of Saudi princes or ministry officials. His phone was confiscated, and the next day he was forced to resign as prime minister in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel.
Lebanese sources allege that Saudis have long wanted Hariri’s elder brother Bahaa to become the country’s prime minister after his father Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated in 2005. Saudis are angry with Hariri because of failure to contain the growing influence of Shia Hezbollah in and around Lebanon. The Sunni Kingdom under Crown Prince Salman hopes to achieve that by replacing Hariri with his brother Bahaa.
“From the moment he arrived they (Saudis) showed no respect for the man,” another senior Lebanese political source was quoted by Reuters.