Lebanon’s president has called on Saudi Arabia to clarify the reasons why the country’s prime minister has not returned home since his resignation last week, which was announced from the kingdom.
The move came as the United States and France expressed their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability amid heightening tensions between Beirut and Saudi Arabia.
A political crisis has gripped Lebanon and shattered the relative peace maintained by its coalition government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s stunning announcement on November 4 from the Saudi capital that he was resigning.
Lebanese officials have insisted on the return home of Mr Hariri from Saudi Arabia amid rumours he is being held against his will.
Saudi officials have said that their measures against Lebanon are in response to the militant Hezbollah group’s support of anti-Saudi rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on Saudi Arabia to clarify why Mr Hariri has not returned home since announcing his resignation saying that “the obscurity regarding Hariri’s conditions makes anything that he says or does not reflect truth”.
It was an indication that Mr Aoun does not recognise Mr Hariri’s resignation.
In statements released by his office, Mr Aoun called on Saudi Arabia “that is linked to us through deep brotherly and friendly relations to clarify the reasons that are preventing” Mr Hariri from returning to Lebanon.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Washington calls upon “all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes”.
Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan warned earlier this month that his government would deal with Lebanon as a hostile state as long as Hezbollah was in the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese unity government that Mr Hariri formed a year ago includes Hezbollah members — the result of a tacit Saudi-Iranian agreement to sideline Lebanon from the other proxy wars in the region
“In this sensitive time, the United States also rejects any efforts by militias within Lebanon or by any foreign forces to threaten Lebanon’s stability, undermine Lebanese government institutions, or use Lebanon as a base from which to threaten others in the region,” Ms Sanders said. She was apparently referring to Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia.
Ms Sanders described Mr Hariri as “a trusted partner of the United States in strengthening Lebanese institutions, fighting terrorism, and protecting refugees.” Ms Sanders said the Lebanese army and security forces are the only legitimate forces in Lebanon.
Also on Saturday, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that French President Emmanuel Macron called Mr Aoun expressing France’s commitment to Lebanon’s “unity, sovereignty and independence and to help it in preserving political and security stability”.
Mr Aoun said that a marathon planned in Beirut on Sunday in which tens of thousands will participate should be “a national sports demonstration for solidarity with prime minister Hariri and his return to his country”.
Last year Mr Hariri took part in the marathon, wearing the number three.