Hariri to meet Macron in France on Saturday
Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said on Thursday that claims Mr Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will were untrue
Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri will arrive in France on Saturday and meet French President Emmanuel Macron, a source inside the Elysée said.
Mr Macron invited the Lebanese premier and his family to France on Wednesday, hoping to soothe a crisis triggered when Mr Hariri announced his resignation in Saudi Arabia 12 days ago.
Mr Hariri accepted the invitation, further delaying his promised return to Beirut.
In his resignation speech, Mr Hariri said he feared assassination and criticised Iran’s influence in Lebanon. He said this week he would return to Lebanon within days.
Members of his own party, as well as Lebanon’s president, said his decision was forced by the Saudi leadership and that Mr Hariri had become a pawn in Saudi efforts to counter Iranian influence in Arab states.
Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said on Thursday that claims Mr Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will were untrue.
French efforts to resolve the crisis have intensified in recent days. However, Mr Macron clarified that his invitation was for a visit, and not for political exile. Mr Hariri holds a Saudi passport and lived in self-exile in France and Saudi Arabia from 2011 to 2014.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian said on Thursday France was working to normalise the situation in Lebanon and that Mr Hariri can travel to France whenever he wants.
"Hariri, who I will see later, is invited to France with his family by president Macron,” Mr Le Drian said in Riyadh, where he met Mr Al Jubeir. “He will come to France when he wants and as soon as he wants. He will be welcome as a friend."
A Lebanese politician said after meeting with president Michel Aoun that Mr Hariri will be travelling to Paris on Saturday and then will come to Beirut, Reuters reported.
Mr Al Jubeir blamed Hizbollah for Lebanon’s problems and called on the group to disarm and become a political party for Lebanon to stabilise.
“Whenever we see a problem, we see Hizbollah act as an arm or agent of Iran and this has to come to an end,” he told Reuters.
Hizbollah “has kidnapped the Lebanese [political] system and continues to interfere in the affairs of other Arab countries,” he said. “These militias are weapons in the hands of Iran and Hizbollah’s leader [Hassan Nasrallah] has said it himself.”
Hizbollah is the only political party in Lebanon that still maintains a militia. It is also Mr Hariri’s chief political rival.
Though many Lebanese factions oppose Hizbollah’s arms, they are also viewed as a necessary deterrent to potential Israeli aggression toward Lebanon. But since the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has also become a regional actor.
The party’s militia has been instrumental in helping Syrian president Bashar Al Assad defeat the rebels seeking to overthrow him. Many of those rebel groups received support from Saudi Arabia.
Hizbollah receives both financial and military support from Iran, and has assisted Iranian efforts to support the government of Iraq in its war against ISIL.
The Saudis also accuse Hizbollah of interfering in Yemen’s civil war.
Mr Al Jubeir accused the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels of besieging civilian areas and preventing supplies from coming in or out.
“That’s why you have the starvation that’s taking place in Yemen and people need to do a more serious job of holding Houthis accountable for this,” he said.
Mr Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, was killed by a bombing in Beirut in 2005.
Rafik Hariri also served two terms as prime minister, and his assassination provoked a political crisis that resonates until today. Rafik Hariri’s death sparked demonstrations that ended the Syrian army’s three-decade occupation of Lebanon and split the country’s political parties into two main camps, the pro-Syrian March 8 alliance, dominated by Hizbollah, and the March 14 alliance, led by Mr Hariri.
Also on Thursday, a spokesman for the Lebanese army said a Saudi man in Lebanon who was kidnapped last week had been released. The spokesman said he was unable to provide any further information.
The day before the kidnapping, the Saudi government had issued a travel warning and asked Saudi citizens in Lebanon to leave.
*Additional reporting by Reuters and AFP
Updated: November 16, 2017 11:47 PM