Lebanon accuses Saudi Arabia of holding its PM hostage

France claims Saad al-Hariri will visit with his family in the next few days

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri shaking hands with French president Emmanuel Macron back in September 2017, before claims about his detainment in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri shaking hands with French president Emmanuel Macron back in September 2017, before claims about his detainment in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty

 

France said on Wednesday that Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who Lebanon’s president says is being held hostage by Saudi Arabia, will visit France with his family in the coming days.

Mr Hariri travelled to Riyadh on November 3rd before abruptly resigning in a televised statement a day later. He has stayed in Riyadh and top Lebanese officials and senior politicians close to Mr Hariri have said he was forced to quit.

Mr Hariri and Saudi Arabia have both denied he is being held in Riyadh or was coerced to resign. Mr Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon in the next few days to formally submit his resignation.

The crisis has thrust Lebanon on to the frontline of a Middle East contest for power pitting a Saudi-led bloc against Iran and its allies, including the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah.

French president Emmanuel Macron said in a statement he had invited Mr Hariri to France after speaking to him and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The invitation is to visit for a few days and is not an offer of political exile, Mr Macron said, speaking in Germany.

“We will not accept [Hariri] remaining a hostage whose reason for detention we do not know,” Lebanese president Michel Aoun said in a statement.

Foreign minister Gebran Bassil, the head of Mr Aoun’s political party, said the situation was “not normal” but that Beirut wanted “good relations” with Riyadh.

Resignation issues

Mr Aoun has said he will not accept Mr Hariri’s resignation until he returns to Lebanon to formally tender it and explain his reasons, which Mr Hariri has said he will do in the coming days.

Saudi Arabia has long been considered Mr Hariri’s main external supporter. Mr Aoun is a political ally of Hizbullah.

Lebanon’s coalition government was formed last year through a political deal that made Mr Aoun president, Mr Hariri prime minister, and included members of Hizbullah in the cabinet.

Saudi Arabia last week accused Lebanon of having declared war on it because of Hizbullah’s role in other Arab countries. It regards Hizbullahas a terrorist organisation.

In an interview on Sunday night with a television station he owns, Mr Hariri warned of economic sanctions against Lebanon and of a threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese workers living in Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

“Nothing justifies Hariri’s lack of return for 12 days. We therefore consider him detained,” Mr Aoun said.

He added that Lebanon had confirmed that Mr Hariri’s family were under detention in their house in Saudi Arabia and were searched whenever they entered or left it.

Mr Hariri wrote on Twitter that he was “perfectly fine” and would return, “God willing, to dear Lebanon as I promised”. On Wednesday he said he would return in a couple of days but that his family was staying in Saudi Arabia, calling it “their country”. – Reuters