Hariri says he will soon return to Lebanon

Beirut threatens 'international law' against Saudi Arabia amid suspicions that resigned prime minister is being held against his will

AP

Ten days after his surprise resignation plunged Lebanon into crisis and raised fears of regional turmoil, Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday called on everyone to “chill.”

In his first personal tweet since traveling earlier this month to Saudi Arabia, where he announced he would step down in a recorded message that led many to think he was being held against his will, Hariri said he planned to return to Lebanon in the next two days.

“People, I am fine. And God willing I will come back in a couple of days. Let’s chill.” Hariri wrote, adding that he was in good shape.

Lebanon’s foreign minister said during a trip to Paris that his country may resort to international law to determine Hariri’s condition — suggesting that Hariri is being held under some form of house arrest — if he doesn’t return to Lebanon.

Hariri’s resignation and then his scarce communication led many Lebanese to speculate that he was being held against his will and had been stripped of his phone. A live interview Sunday with a Lebanese TV station affiliated with his political party did little to dispel such fears.

On Tuesday, Hariri met with the Lebanese Maronite patriarch, who visited Saudi Arabia, the first publicized meeting with a Lebanese official. But there were no TV cameras allowed into the meeting, and only photos of the encounter were released.

President Michel Aoun has refused to accept Hariri’s Nov. 4 resignation and has urged him to come home.

Hezbollah and other rivals have suggested that Hariri’s Saudi patrons forced him to resign to wreck the coalition government, which includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s foreign minister said he hoped to resolve the “ambiguous” Hariri situation with Saudi Arabia. Gibran Bassil, who is on a European tour aimed at rallying support for his country’s stability, said if Hariri doesn’t return, that will prove he is not free.

“We hope Lebanon doesn’t have to resort to international law,” Bassil said.

Bassil spoke after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he “hopes Saad Hariri can go to Lebanon as he has announced,” according to the president’s office.

France, Lebanon’s onetime colonial ruler, is seeking to play a mediating role in the region, and Macron paid a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is heading to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Hariri’s resignation came amid mounting tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hariri lashed out at Hezbollah in his resignation speech and said he feared for his safety. Saudi Arabia has accused Hezbollah of declaring war on the kingdom by supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who fired a ballistic missile the night of Hariri’s resignation that was intercepted near Riyadh.

Last week, Saudi Arabia called on its citizens to leave Lebanon “immediately,” raising fears of further escalation.

Asked if he fears punitive actions from the kingdom, Bassil said any attack on Lebanon would affect the whole region.

“The first to be touched in this will be the Syrians based in Lebanon,” Bassil said, referring to the more than 1 million refugees in Lebanon, equivalent to a fourth of the tiny country’s population. “They would move from a situation of being accepted and absorbed by the Lebanese society to a situation where they will no more tolerate their conditions,” he said, without elaborating.

Bassil and his party have been pressing for Syrian refugees to leave now that the war is winding down. Hariri, and other Sunni politicians who oppose the Syrian government, have argued against repatriation before a peace deal is reached.

Bassil denied Lebanon had anything to do with “a missile launched from one country toward another country,” apparently referring to the missile fired at Riyadh.

“There is no excuse for this exceptional and unnatural situation” with Saudi Arabia, he said.

In his interview, Hariri hinted he may reconsider his resignation if Hezbollah agreed to discuss staying out of regional affairs. Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi national, has homes in Saudi Arabia, where his wife and children have been living for years.