x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 February 2018

Lebanon’s politicians trade blame over Saudi aid cancellation

On Friday Riyadh announced it was halting $4 billion deals aimed at bolstering the Lebanese armed forces.

Former prime minister Saad Hariri, pictured, a key ally of Saudi Arabia, blamed the suspension of aid on Iran-backed Hizbollah and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Lebanese Parliament Media Office/Handout/EPA
Former prime minister Saad Hariri, pictured, a key ally of Saudi Arabia, blamed the suspension of aid on Iran-backed Hizbollah and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Lebanese Parliament Media Office/Handout/EPA

BEIRUT // Lebanese politicians traded accusations on Saturday over the decision by Saudi Arabia to halt US$4 billion (Dh14.7bn) deals aimed at bolstering Lebanese security forces.

The decision was announced by Saudi officials on Friday in retaliation, they said, for Lebanon’s siding with Iran amid the kingdom’s spat with the Shiite power. The Gulf Cooperation Council backed the decision.

The announcement, which appeared to come as a surprise for Beirut, immediately prompted sharp accusations among Lebanon’s notoriously fractious party leaders.

Former prime minister Saad Hariri, a key ally of Saudi Arabia, blamed the suspension on Iran-backed Hizbollah and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

“Fiery statements offending the kingdom are rejected and do not represent the policy of Lebanon,” he said after a meeting with the Sunni grand mufti on Saturday.

The foreign ministry, which is headed by FPM leader Gibran Bassil, shot back, calling such accusations “cheap attempts at political exploitation”.

Riyadh’s decision came after Mr Bassil declined to support Saudi resolutions against Iran during meetings of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Relations between Riyadh and Iran took a turn for the worse at the start of the year, when protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. The attacks prompted Riyadh to cut diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Also on Saturday, the Lebanese foreign ministry recalled its condemnation of the mission attacks.

* Associated Press