HARIRI TARGET OF ASSASSINATION BID DAYS AGO
BEIRUT, Nov 4, (Agencies): Lebanon’s prime minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world. His resignation thrusts Lebanon back into the frontline of Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry and seems likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions between Lebanese Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
It also shatters a coalition government formed last year after years of political deadlock, and which was seen as representing a victory for Shiite Hezbollah and Iran. Hariri, who is closely allied with Saudi Arabia, alleged in a televised broadcast that Hezbollah was “directing weapons” at Yemenis, Syrians and Lebanese and said the Arab world would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it”.
Hariri’s coalition, which took office last year, grouped nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, including Hezbollah. It took office in a political deal that made Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, president. It was not immediately clear who might succeed Hariri, Lebanon’s most infl uential Sunni politician. The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system.
The constitution requires Aoun to nominate the candidate with the greatest support among MPs. “We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” Hariri said.
Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a 2005 Beirut bomb attack that pushed his son Saad into politics and set off years of turmoil. In a statement read from an undisclosed location, Hariri said Hezbollah and Iran had brought Lebanon into the “eye of a storm” of international sanctions. He said Iran was sowing strife, destruction and ruin wherever it went and accused it of a “deep hatred for the Arab nation”.
“Iran has a grip on the fate of the region’s countries… Hezbollah is Iran’s arm not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries too,” he said. “In recent years, Hezbollah has used the power of its weapons to impose a fait accompli,” he said, reading a speech from behind a desk. Aoun’s office said Hariri had called him from “outside Lebanon” to inform him of his resignation. Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia on Friday after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Afterwards, Velayati described Hariri’s coalition as “a victory” and “great success”.
The Saudi-owned pan-Arab television channel al-Arabiya al-Hadath said on Saturday an assassination plot was foiled against Saad al-Hariri in Beirut days ago, citing an unnamed source. Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF), responding to reports that one of its branches had foiled an assassination attempt on Hariri, denied that it was the source of the reports and said it “had no information on this”.
Iranian officials denounced the move, noting that it had been made from outside Lebanon, while Saudi officials appeared to crow over it. “Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by Donald Trump, the president of America, and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to destabilise the situation in Lebanon and the region,” said Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, in remarks to a state broadcaster.
Saudi Arabia’s influential Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, who met Hariri in Riyadh this week, echoed the language of the Lebanese politician saying in a Tweet: “The hands of treachery and aggression must be cut off.” Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a regional power tussle, backing opposing forces in wars and political struggles in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq.