Mon, Nov 06, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Lebanese PM quits, fearing for his life

PROXY BATTLEGROUND:Iran’s foreign ministry said Saad al-Hariri’s accusations were baseless, but his quitting raises the prospect of further confrontation with Saudi Arabia

Bloomberg

A banner with a portrait of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri hangs next to a billboard for a school in the northern port city of Tripoli yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Saturday in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, saying he feared for his life and accusing Iran and its proxies of destabilizing his country and the region.

Al-Hariri, a pro-Saudi Sunni politician, said Lebanon has suffered enough because of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its grip on domestic politics.

“I want to say to Iran and its followers that they are losing in their interference in the affairs of Arab nations, and our nation will rise as it did before — and the hands that are extended to it with evil will be cut off,” he said.

The resignation raises the prospect of a renewed political confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon at a time when the Islamic Republic and its allies are widely seen to have won the proxy war against Sunni powers in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite ends of other regional conflicts such as Yemen and Iraq.

The Lebanese government includes Hezbollah members, and al-Hariri’s decision aims to weaken the group’s legitimate representation, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.

“It’s part of an all-out Saudi confrontation with Iran,” he said.

As the war against Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq winds down, analysts are warning against a surge in other conflicts as regional and global powers seek to divide spheres of influence.

Al-Hariri left Beirut for Saudi Arabia on a “work visit” on Friday, the second trip in less than a week, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In the speech, he expressed fears that he could be assassinated like his father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who was killed in 2005.

“Iran, which sows sedition, devastation and destruction in any place it settles in,” he said.

Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Saad al-Hariri’s charges were “unfounded and baseless,” according to the state-run Press TV.

Under a delicate sectarian power-sharing agreement, Lebanon’s prime minister must be Sunni, the president a Maronite Christian and parliament speaker a Shiite.

Parliament elected octogenarian Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, as president a year ago to end a two-year political impasse. Analysts said at the time that his election came with Saudi consent.

In a statement, Aoun said it is important to preserve national unity and political stability.

Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said Aoun has since moved closer to Hezbollah instead of taking a more neutral position as Saudi leaders had hoped.

Saad al-Hariri’s decision shows the kingdom will not accept the current balance of power, he said.

Western intelligence agencies warned Saad al-Hariri of an assassination plot against him, the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported yesterday, citing unnamed sources close to him.

However, al-Mayadin, a Lebanese news channel, said Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security, told it that he was not aware of any information about an assassination plot.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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