Hariri announces planned return to Lebanon in first tweet since quitting

#InsideLebanon

Lebanese prime minister said that while he would be returning to Lebanon, his family would be remaining in the kingdom

Cars pass next to a poster depicting Saad al-Hariri, who has resigned as Lebanon's prime minister, in Beirut (AFP)
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Tuesday 14 November 2017 19:02 UTC
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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced on Twitter that he would be returning from Saudi Arabia after spending more than a week in the kingdom following his on-air resignation.

In his first tweet since announcing his resignation on 4 November, Hariri said that he was safe, but said his family would "stay in its country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia".

He said he would be returning to Lebanon in "the coming" days, as tensions continue to rise between Saudi Arabia and Iran who have exchanged a war of words over each others interference in the country.

In resignation speech - which he made in the Saudi capital Riyadh - Hariri said that political pressure from Iran and Hezbollah had made him fear for his life and no longer able to remain his post as Prime Minister.

Others have suggested, however, that Saudi Arabia - with whom Hariri has numerous business links - had pressed him to step down.

In his first interview made since the resignation, Hariri denied that he was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia, saying that he was there to serve Lebanon's interests, to protect the country from Iran and Hezbollah, who he said are trying to take over Lebanon.

"We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and that there's a political faction that interferes alongside it," he said on Sunday in an interview with Al-Mustaqbal TV.

"Maybe there's a regional conflict between Arab countries and Iran. We're a small country. Why put ourselves in the middle?"

Wearing a suit and tie and with a Lebanese flag in the background, Hariri looked tired on Sunday and spoke softly but firmly throughout the interview.

Hariri told journalist Paula Yaacoubian that he wrote his resignation himself and wanted to submit it in Lebanon, "but there was danger".

He also appeared to lay down an exit strategy, saying he would be willing to "rescind the resignation" if intervention in regional conflicts stopped.

According to the TV station, which Hariri owns, the interview was conducted from his home in Riyadh. He has dual Lebanese-Saudi citizenship.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept Hariri's resignation and has said he wants to meet him in person to discuss the situation.

Just hours before Hariri's interview on Sunday, Aoun blasted the "obscure circumstances" around the resigned prime minister's stay in Riyadh.

In a statement from his office, Aoun said: "Hariri's freedom has been restricted and conditions have been imposed regarding his residence and the contacts he may have, even with members of his family."

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that Hariri was "detained in Saudi Arabia" and "banned from returning to Lebanon".

Historic Christian visit

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch, visiting Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, expressed support for Hariri's position in Lebanon.

Patriarch Bechara al-Rai met Hariri as well as King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of a trip that was planned well before the Lebanese political crisis brought on by Hariri's resignation.

"Hariri is returning as fast as possible and I support the reasons for his resignation," Rai was quoted as saying by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

Visits by Christian religious leaders to Saudi Arabia are extremely rare. During the trip Rai wore a large crucifix around his neck - a techincally illegal act.



Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi during their meeting in Riyadh (Reuters)

The kingdom hosts the holiest sites in Islam and bans the practice of other religions, forcing Christians to risk arrest by praying in private homes.

Bin Salman says he wants Saudi Arabia to open up more to the world.

In addition to imposing radical economic reforms, the 32-year-old heir has pledged to relax strict social norms and revive a "middle-of-the-road, moderate Islam open to the world and all religions, traditions and people".