Lebanon PM Hariri says resignation on hold pending talks
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says his resignation is on hold, following a request from President Michel Aoun to wait for more dialogue. Hariri says he is committed to working with the president.
In televised comments quoted by Reuters, Hariri said that he “presented my resignation to President Aoun today and he urged me to wait” for more dialogue. “I showed responsiveness to this hope.”
Speaking to his supporters on Wednesday, Hariri said: “I am staying with you and will continue with you...to be a line of defense for Lebanon, Lebanon's stability, and Lebanon's Arabism.” The comments were made to hundreds of people gathered outside his house in central Beirut, Reuters reported.
Hariri arrived back in Beirut earlier on Wednesday, following his surprise resignation two weeks ago. Hariri’s shock resignation, which took place while he was in Riyadh, prompted many to believe that he was forced to step down due to Saudi pressure, with the assumption that Lebanon had become caught up in the ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Aoun refused to accept Hariri's resignation until it is presented in person. Meanwhile, Hariri denied reports that Riyadh forced him to step down. He says the claims that Saudi Arabia was keeping him against his will are merely “rumors.”
To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport Mr. Sigmar Gabriel.— Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) November 17, 2017
Aoun, however, had been among those who believed Hariri was being “held captive” in Saudi Arabia in an “act of aggression” against Lebanon.
In his resignation speech, Hariri attacked Iran and Hezbollah for spurring conflict in Arab states, and said he feared assassination. This prompted Hezbollah’s leader to accuse Saudi Arabia of declaring war on the group and on Lebanon, claiming Riyadh detained Hariri and forced him to resign in order to destabilize the country.
Hariri did not return straight to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia, instead making stops in Egypt and France. His appearance in Paris came after French President Emmanuel Macron personally invited him and his family to the capital, after speaking by telephone to Hariri and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
During his brief stop in Cairo, Hariri met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The Egyptian side said that Aoun also spoke with Sisi to discuss the situation, with the two leaders underscoring “the importance of preserving Lebanon's stability as well as upholding Lebanon's national interest.”
Following Hariri's comments against Hezbollah, Aoun defended the group. He took it as a chance to address Israeli “aggression,” which he says Lebanon has been subjected to for decades, stressing that his country has the right to protect itself.
On Tuesday, amid a pledge by Arab nations to tighten their grip on Hezbollah, the head of the Lebanese Army asked the military to be at “full readiness” to face the “Israeli enemy” at the southern border. A war between the two sides in 2006 saw the deaths of over 1,000 people, mainly on the Lebanese side, and over 100 Israeli troops killed.
Iran, a Hezbollah ally, and Israel have long been engaged in a war of words, with Tel Aviv seeing the Lebanese group as an existential threat. Meanwhile, Iran is also in a long-standing battle with Saudi Arabia, with the most recent flare-up occurring after Saudi Arabia called on the Arab League to come up with a “non-compromise” solution to deal with Tehran's “aggression” and “disregard for international law.” A statement by the Arab League was slammed by Iran as Saudi “pressure and propaganda.”
In a surprising statement last week, the chief of staff of Israel's military (IDF) told Saudi Arabia's Alaf newspaper that Tel Aviv was ready to share intelligence on Iran with Riyadh, despite the two not having diplomatic relations. He referred to Iran as the “biggest threat to the region,” while stressing that Israel and Saudi Arabia were in full agreement about Iran's intentions.