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saad al-hariri

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia amid an escalating crisis between the kingdom and Lebanon.

The president’s trip comes days after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned while in Riyadh, saying he feared for his life.

Meanwhile, foes Saudi Arabia and Iran have accused each other of fuelling instability in Lebanon and the wider region.

Emmanuel Macron and Saudi officials also discussed the crisis in Yemen, where Riyadh is leading a war against rebels.

France has historical ties with Lebanon, as its former colonial power before it gained independence during World War Two.

President Macron was in the UAE on November 9 to open the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a spin-off of the famous Paris art museum.

Ahead of his two-hour visit to Riyadh, Emmanuel Macron said all Lebanese officials should live freely, “which means having a very demanding stance on those who could threaten any leader”.

Image source Wikimedia

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No details of the alleged plot against Saad al-Hariri have been made public.

Uncertainty surrounds Saad al-Hariri’s circumstances, amid rumors he was being held in Riyadh.

President Macron said on November 9 he had had informal contact with Saad al-Hariri, without giving details, while the French foreign minister said France believed Saad al-Hariri was able to move freely.

On November 5, Saad al-Hariri said in a TV broadcast that he was resigning because of the unspecified threat to his life.

In the video statement, Saad al-Hariri also attacked Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily powerful in Lebanon, and Iran.

There are fears Lebanon could become embroiled in a wider regional confrontation between major Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran.

President Macron is a keen supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which both the Saudis and the Trump administration have heavily criticized.

Before going to Saudi Arabia, Emmanuel Macron said that he had heard “very harsh opinions” on Iran from Saudi Arabia, which did not match his own view.

“It is important to speak with everyone,” the president added.


However, an official communiqué from his office following the visit did not say Iran was among the matters discussed, Le Monde reported.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon have soared since Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation.

On November 9, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies told their citizens in Lebanon to leave the country immediately. The move came after Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “direct military aggression”, saying it supplied a missile which it says was fired by Hezbollah at Riyadh from Yemen on November 5.

Iran has dismissed Saudi Arabia’s allegations as “false and dangerous”.

Iran has rejected “unfounded accusations” by Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister citing Tehran’s “grip” on his country and threats to his life.

It says the surprise resignation of Lebanese prime minister is part of a plot to stoke tensions in the region.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei accused the United States and Saudi Arabia of being behind the move.

Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation in a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran of sowing “fear and destruction” in several countries, including Lebanon.

He said he was stepping down because he feared for his life.

Saad al-Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

Image source Wikimedia

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Correspondents say Saad al-Hariri’s sudden departure plunges Lebanon into a new political crisis and raises fears that it may be at the forefront of the regional rivalry between Shia power Iran and Sunni stronghold Saudi Arabia.

Following the statement on November 4, Iranian politicians lined up to denounce Saad al-Hariri’s assertions.

Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei, said: “Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by [President] Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, quoted by the official Irna news agency, said Saad al-Hariri’s departure was aimed at creating tension in Lebanon and the region.

Bahram Qasemi said Saad al-Hariri had repeated “unrealistic and unfounded accusations” and had aligned himself with “those who want ill for the region”, singling out Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US.

Saad al-Hariri, whose family is close to Saudi Arabia, has been prime minister since December 2016, after previously holding the position between 2009 and 2011.

His father, Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s PM Saad al-Hariri has announced his resignation in a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

Saad al-Hariri also said that he feared for his life, while fiercely criticizing Iran.

He accused Iran of sowing “fear and destruction” in several countries, including Lebanon.

Saad al-Hariri’s father, former PM Rafik al-Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

The Hariri family is close to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional competitor.

Saad al- Hariri has been prime minister since December 2016, after previously holding the position between 2009 and 2011.

“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri,” he said in the broadcast from Riyadh.

“I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life.”

Image source Wikimedia

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Saad al-Hariri also attacked the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.

Addressing “Iran and its followers”, the prime minister said Lebanon would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend into it”.

Iran said the resignation would create regional tensions and rejected Saad al-Hariri’s accusations as “unfounded”.

Saad al-Hariri has made several visits in the past few days to Saudi Arabia, whose leadership is strongly opposed to Iran.

His announcement came a day after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei.

Taking up the prime minister’s office in 2016, Saad al- Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government Saad al-Hariri led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

His father, Rafik al-Hariri, was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on Hezbollah.