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US, France voice Lebanon support – Aoun asks Riyadh to explain Hariri’s absence

BEIRUT, Nov 11, (Agencies): The United States and France have 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 Nov 4 from the Saudi capital that he was resigning.

Lebanese officials have insisted on the return home of Hariri from Saudi Arabia amid rumors he is being held against his will. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Saturday that Washington calls upon “all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes.”

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Saturday that French President Emmanuel Macron called his Lebanese counterpart expressing France’s commitment to Lebanon’s “unity, sovereignty and independence.” The process of bringing Kuwaitis back from Lebanon is going according to the plan set by the Foreign Ministry and other authorities, said Kuwait Airways Corporation (KAC) Friday.

In an online statement, KAC said that Kuwaiti citizens would not need to change their flight reservations, affirming that they can return to the country as soon as they desire with no additional charge

. The Airways added that their representatives in Beirut and the Kuwaiti Embassy in Lebanon would provide the necessary assistance to ensure the safe return of Kuwaiti nationals. By next Sunday, Kuwait Airways will halt the emergency flights and resume normal flight schedules. Kuwait Airways announced yesterday that it would be sending the 330-seat Boeing 777 to Beirut to help in the process. In a statement Thursday, the Foreign Ministry urged Kuwaiti citizens currently in Lebanon to leave the country immediately.

The statement attributed the step to circumstances experienced by Lebanon at the moment, as well as a precautionary measure against any negative impact that might take place. Dozens of citizens of Gulf Arab countries began leaving Lebanon on Friday after their governments ordered them out of the Mediterranean country, as the president called for the return of Lebanon’s prime minister who mysteriously resigned from the Saudi capital last week.

Hariri return urged
Lebanon’s president urged Saudi Arabia on Saturday to explain why Saad Hariri had not returned to Beirut since his surprise resignation as prime minister a week ago. Hariri announced on Nov 4 in a televised statement from Riyadh that he would be stepping down from the post, sending shock waves through Lebanese politics. The premier has yet to return to Lebanon and rumours have swirled that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

President Michel Aoun on Saturday called on the kingdom to “clarify the reasons that have prevented the return of PM Hariri to Lebanon to be among his people and supporters.” “The obscurity surrounding the condition of PM Saad Hariri since his resignation a week ago means that all positions and actions declared by him or attributed to him do not reflect the truth,” Aoun added. “They are instead a result of the ambiguous and obscure conditions (under which) PM Hariri is living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Aoun has yet to formally accept Hariri’s resignation and has criticised the circumstances surrounding it as “unacceptable.”

In his shock announcement, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region, saying he feared for his life. His statement prompted fears that Lebanon — dominated by rival camps led by Hariri and Hezbollah — would be caught up in spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. Hariri’s week-long absence from Lebanon has sparked rumours that the former prime minister — who also holds Saudi nationality — is under de facto house arrest in the kingdom.

“The head of the Lebanese government is detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon until now,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address Friday. Members of Hariri’s own Al- Moustaqbal (Future) party said they had no information on his fate. And Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil announced on Friday that he was launching a “diplomatic campaign to bring back the head of our government of his own free will.” Even world powers have appealed for calm and freedom of movement for Hariri. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday described Hariri as “a strong partner” and warned against “any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country”.

On Friday, a spokesman for France’s foreign ministry said: “We wish Mr Saad Hariri to have all his freedom of movement and to be fully able to play the essential role that is his in Lebanon.” Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday accused Saudi Arabia of detaining prime minister Saad Hariri and of asking the Shiite movement’s arch-foe Israel to launch strikes. “The head of the Lebanese government is detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon until now,” Nasrallah said in a televised address.

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