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Lebanon PM Hariri says resignation on hold pending talks

Saad Hariri originally announced his resignation on 4 November from the Saudi capital Riyadh
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baadba, on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut (AFP)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Wednesday he had accepted a request by the president to suspend the resignation he announced earlier this month pending consultations.

"I discussed my resignation with the president of the republic who asked me to wait before submitting it... and allow for more consultations," Hariri told reporters after meeting President Michel Aoun.

"I agreed to this request."

Hariri later tweeted that Lebanon needs “extensive efforts to protect it in [the] face of danger and challenge. The first effort should be the commitment to avoiding any policy that will cause disruption to the internal stability and the brotherly relations with our Arab brothers.”

Translation: At this delicate moment in time, our dear nation needs exceptional efforts from everyone so that we can protect it and stand strong in the face of danger and challenges. 

Hariri attended independence day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday after returning to Lebanon for the first time since declaring his resignation as prime minister in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

Hariri's sudden decision to quit on 4 November pitched Lebanon into crisis. Aoun greeted him warmly as he arrived at a military parade, where Hariri took the seat reserved for prime minister.

Lebanese state officials and senior politicians close to Hariri say Riyadh forced him to quit and held him in the kingdom, which Saudi Arabia and Hariri have denied.

The resignation took even Hariri's aides by surprise. Hariri's return to Lebanon followed an intervention by France.

Supporters of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri wave Future Movement flags as they celebrate his return in Beirut (AFP)

A long-time Saudi ally, Hariri cited fear of assassination in his resignation speech, and attacked Iran and its powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah for sowing strife in the Arab world.

The resignation thrust Lebanon to the forefront of regional rivalry between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shia-led Iran, which backs Hezbollah.

Ahead of his arrival on Tuesday, Hariri said he would declare his "political position" in Beirut. Hariri left Riyadh for Paris at the weekend. He journeyed back to Beirut late on Tuesday, stopping in Egypt and Cyprus on the way.

His resignation shook the power-sharing deal that brought him to office last year and made Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, head of state. Hezbollah, a heavily Shia armed military and political movement, is part of the Lebanese government.

In a 12 November interview from Saudi Arabia with a TV station that he owns, Hariri said he would return to Lebanon to confirm his resignation. But he also held out the possibility of withdrawing it if Hezbollah respected Lebanon's policy of staying out of regional conflicts, notably Yemen.

A government minister from the UAE, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, said Lebanon must implement its policy of staying out of Middle East conflicts in order to bring an end to the political crisis.

"The main problem is the selective implementation of [this] principle and the functional Iranian role of Hezbollah outside the Lebanese framework," Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter.

Hezbollah open for 'dialogue'

Hariri met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on his way back to Beirut on Tuesday. Hariri said he discussed Lebanon's stability and the necessity of keeping the country out of "all regional politics".

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who called for Hariri's return, said on Monday his group was open to "any dialogue and any discussion". Nasrallah also issued his clearest denial yet of any Hezbollah role in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-allied Houthi forces.

If Hariri affirms his resignation, Aoun will consult MPs on their choice for the next prime minister. He is obliged to nominate the candidate with the greatest support. Political sources expect Hariri to be nominated prime minister once again.

Following Hariri's resignation, Saudi Arabia accused the entire Lebanese government - not only Hezbollah - of declaring war against it.

Western governments, including the United States, have struck a different tone, however, affirming their support for Lebanon and the stability of the country, which is hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees - nearly one in four of the population.

"We stand firmly with Lebanon and will continue supporting your country's efforts to safeguard Lebanon's stability, independence, and sovereignty," US President Donald Trump said in a national day message to his Lebanese counterpart.

In his TV interview, Hariri had warned that Lebanon was at risk of Gulf Arab sanctions because of Hezbollah's regional meddling.

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