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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Lebanon's Hariri officially withdraws resignation

The announcement came as Mr Hariri’s cabinet, which met for the first time since his surprise announcement on November 4, unanimously affirmed the government’s support for Lebanon’s policy of 'disassociation' from regional conflicts

Lebanese president Michel Aoun (R) and prime minister Saad Hariri (2nd R) attend a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace of Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on December 5, 2017. Joseph Eid / AFP
Lebanese president Michel Aoun (R) and prime minister Saad Hariri (2nd R) attend a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace of Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on December 5, 2017. Joseph Eid / AFP

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri withdrew his resignation on Tuesday, capping a tumultuous month in Lebanese politics.

The announcement came as Mr Hariri’s cabinet, which met for the first time since his surprise announcement on November 4, unanimously affirmed the government’s support for Lebanon’s policy of “disassociation” from regional conflicts.

Mr Hariri has said that his resignation, which he announced from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, was intended to send a “positive shock” to other Lebanese political parties, particularly Hizbollah.

Hizbollah is the only Lebanese political party to still maintain a militia and has intervened on behalf of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in the country’s civil war. The group has also helped train Iraqi militia forces in their successful campaign against ISIL.

Hizbollah, as well as the Syrian and Iraqi governments, are allies of Iran, whose growing influence in the Arab world has angered Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have backed rebel factions in Syria that sought to depose Mr Al Assad and have more recently accused Hizbollah of providing support for rebels in Yemen, who are fighting Saudi-backed factions there on behalf of the internationally recognised government of Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

After the meeting, Mr Hariri read from a statement issued by the cabinet.

“The council of ministers thanked the prime minister for rescinding his resignation,” the statement said. “The Lebanese government, in all its political components, has committed to distance itself from all conflicts, wars, and internal affairs of Arab states.”

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Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said last month that his fighters would be returning from Iraq now that ISIL, which for a time controlled large parts of the country, including the city of Mosul, had largely been defeated. It is unclear whether the group will make further concessions.

The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported that Mohammed Fneish, one of Hizbollah’s two cabinet ministers, had affirmed the government’s disassociation policy.

Though Mr Hariri had already signalled he was likely to withdraw his resignation, the official announcement allows Lebanon’s temporarily paralysed political system to begin moving again. Mr Hariri had remained outside of Lebanon for 18 days following his resignation speech, during which he cited fear of assassination as one of his reasons for stepping down.

Hizbollah members have been accused by a United Nations tribunal in The Hague of assassinating Mr Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a car bombing in Beirut in 2005.

That event led to widespread protests and the withdrawal of the Syrian military, which had occupied Lebanon for nearly 30 years. It also split the country’s political groups into two main blocs, one led by Hizbollah and the other by Mr Hariri’s Future Movement. That rivalry led to the collapse of Mr Hariri’s government during his first term as prime minister in 2011.

The war in Syria changed the calculus of Lebanese politics by 2016, when Mr Hariri began a new term as prime minister and entered a consensus government with Hizbollah.

Though Mr Hariri’s resignation initially prompted fears Lebanon could be thrown into political and economic chaos, the events instead provided a rare moment of political unity in the country.

According to his official Twitter account on Tuesday, Mr Aoun praised that unity when meeting the cabinet ministers. Mr Aoun had staunchly refused to accept the resignation until Mr Hariri had returned to Lebanon.

“Countries are not measured by their size,” Mr Aoun said. “They are all equal in dignity and hence our approach to the crisis was based on not accepting any encroachment on our dignity by any authority in the world. … Our unity as Lebanese was the basis for protecting the country’s stability.”