Saad al-Hariri reverses resignation as Lebanese prime ministerHeat Profit
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Saad al-Hariri has reversed his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister two weeks after he triggered a political crisis by saying in Saudi Arabia that he was stepping down.
Mr Hariri made the announcement after returning to Beirut late on Tuesday for the first time since he appeared on Saudi-owned television and stunned his country with the resignation announcement. His two-week absence from his country fuelled speculation he was being held against his will.
Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s president, had refused to accept the resignation until Mr Hariri was back in Lebanon. Mr Aoun and much of the political leadership accused Riyadh of detaining Mr Hariri and forcing him to resign as part of Saudi Arabian efforts to escalate pressure on Iran, its regional rival.
Mr Hariri, a Saudi ally, led a government that included Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement that is Iran’s top regional ally and is accused by Riyadh of stoking conflicts and fuelling sectarianism.
“Today I offered my resignation to Mr Aoun, and he expressed a wish that I postpone until we can hold consultations,” Mr Hariri said. “I have agreed to concede to this request in the hope it will provide a serious opening for responsible dialogue so that we can address the issues of dispute and the repercussions it has had on our Arab brothers.”
Despite the reversal, Lebanon’s political fate remains uncertain. Riyadh is stepping up pressure on Beirut in an effort to push Hizbollah to withdraw from government or step back from its increasingly regional role. The group has political and military arms and is involved in regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
It is necessary to commit to the policy of disassociation from the wars and conflicts of the region, and anything that hurts internal stability
Saudi officials say that as long as Hizbollah officials remain in power, the Lebanese government would be considered one that had declared war on Riyadh. The kingdom has hinted that it could push for sanctions or impose other political and economic pressure on Hizbollah and Lebanon.
This weekend, it led the Arab League to condemn Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation.
But with the militant movement considered the most powerful actor in Lebanon — stronger even than the Lebanese army — it is unlikely any outside power or political figure inside Lebanon can force such demands.
The belief among many that Mr Hariri was being held against his will in Riyadh outraged the Lebanese public and sparked concern among western diplomats that yet another country in the region could be destabilised.
Mr Hariri says he wants talks with Lebanon’s political factions to seek a return to the official stance of “disassociation” from regional conflicts.
Still recovering from its 15-year civil war, Lebanon vowed to follow a policy of neutrality after conflict erupted in neighbouring Syria and sucked in rival regional powers.
Mr Hariri indicated that had been undermined by Hizbollah’s increasingly powerful regional role. Its forces have played an important role in bolstering Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and have also worked with Iranian-backed paramilitary units in Iraq fighting Isis.
“It is necessary to commit to the policy of disassociation from the wars and conflicts of the region, and anything that hurts internal stability,” he said. “I hope for real partnership with all political forces to serve Lebanon’s higher interests over any other interests.”
Mr Hariri left Riyadh last weekend with an invitation from the French government to visit Paris, and set off for Egypt on Tuesday. On returning to Beirut, he drove straight from the airport to pray at the grave of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, a statesman who was assassinated in 2005. A UN-backed international tribunal is trying four Hizbollah members in absentia on accusations of playing a role in that killing.
Lebanon, despite its deep political divisions, has largely come together in its demand for Mr Hariri’s return, its streets plastered with pictures of Mr Hariri bearing slogans such as “We are waiting for you” and “We are with you”.
When asked at his father’s grave site in downtown Beirut whether he had a message for his countrymen Mr Hariri said: “Thank you.”