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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets with former Lebanon PM Hariri 

Saad Hariri travelled to Abu Dhabi from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday after announcing his resignation in Riyadh three days before

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, right, meets with Saad Hariri,
the former prime minister of Lebanon, at Al Shati Palace in the UAE capital. Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, right, meets with Saad Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, at Al Shati Palace in the UAE capital. Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met with former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

The crown prince tweeted that the two discussed "brotherly relations" and the recent developments in Lebanon.

Following the meeting, Mr Hariri flew back to Riyadh, his political party's Future TV said.

It comes after Mr Hariri, who announced his resignation as premier on Saturday from Riyadh, met with King Salman in the Saudi capital on Monday. He left Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning to travel to the UAE, his office said, without providing further details of his trip.

“I was honoured to visit Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz in his office in Al Yamama Palace,” Mr Hariri tweeted following the meeting.

It remains unclear whether Mr Hariri will return to Beirut any time in the near future, though one Lebanese minister said on Monday that he expected him to return “within days”.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun has said he is waiting for Mr Hariri to return before formally accepting his resignation.

Announcing his resignation on Saturday, Mr Hariri made reference to the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, who also served two terms as Lebanon’s prime minister and was killed in a massive bombing in Beirut in 2005.

Mr Hariri also strongly criticised Hizbollah and its ties to Iran.

“Iran’s hands in the region will be cut off,” he said in a video statement. “Wherever Iran is involved, there is nothing but devastation and chaos.

“Iran has a strong desire to destroy the Arab world.”

His remarks come after Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Iran and its growing influence in the region in recent weeks.

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In a tweet on Monday, Saudi minister of state for Arab Gulf affairs Thamer Al Sabhan said: “Lebanon after the resignation will never be as it was before, [we] will not accept it to be in any way a platform for the launching of terrorism to our countries.”

On the same day, Mr Al Sabhan went even further during an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya.

“We will treat the government of Lebanon as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia due to the aggression of Hizbollah,” he said.

With Iranian-allied groups extending their power in Iraq and Syria as ISIL loses its last urban strongholds in those countries, Saudi foreign policy appears to have shifted toward countering Iran’s role in Lebanon and Yemen.

In Lebanon, Iran provides financial and military support for Hizbollah, which wields the most power of any single political or armed group in the country. Mr Hariri’s political bloc has long been at odds with Hizbollah’s, though in the year leading up to the former prime minister's resignation on Saturday, the two blocs had succeeded in creating a consensus government that dealt with some of Lebanon’s most pressing internal issues.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday said Iran’s support for the Yemen's Houthi rebels, who fired a missile towards Riyadh on Sunday, could also “constitute an act of war against the kingdom”.

Mr Hariri, a Saudi citizen, has strong personal ties to the kingdom. His wife and children had been living there during his time as prime minister.

*Additional reporting by Reuters