Top Lebanese priest to head to Saudi Arabia amid crisis

Hariri said on Sunday he'll return to Lebanon "within days'' to resolve issues with the militant group Hezbollah, his rivals in the coalition government.

By: AP | Beirut | Updated: November 13, 2017 5:06 pm
saad hariri, lebanon pm saad hariri, Saudi Arabia crisis, saad hariri to return to lebanon, world news Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, saying he will return to his country “within days”. (Future TV via AP)

A top Lebanese Christian religious figure will head to Saudi Arabia on Monday where he is expected to meet with Lebanon’s prime minister who resigned earlier this month in a surprise televised address from the kingdom. Cardinal Bechara el-Rai had planned his visit before Saad Hariri announced his resignation in Riyadh on Nov. 4, throwing Lebanon into crisis after he accused Iran of meddling in his country in a vicious tirade that was uncharacteristic of the usually soft-spoken politician.

El-Rai heads the Maronite sect, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community and the Middle East’s largest Catholic church that enjoys wide influence in the country. He is to depart from Beirut on Monday afternoon for the two-day trip.

Hariri said on Sunday he’ll return to Lebanon “within days” to resolve issues with the militant group Hezbollah, his rivals in the coalition government.

The comments came in Hariri’s first TV interview since announcing his resignation. He denied he was being held against his will in the kingdom.

Hariri sounded less belligerent in Sunday’s interview than he did during the resignation announcement. He said he realizes his resignation was unconventional, adding he was ready to return to formally submit it and seek a settlement with Hezbollah.

The United States, France and Britain have all expressed strong support for Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty. A White House statement on Saturday described Hariri as “a trusted partner of the United States in strengthening Lebanese institutions, fighting terrorism, and protecting refugees.”

On Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “we are preoccupied by the situation in Lebanon.”

“We are worried about its stability, we are worried about its integrity,” Le Drian said. He added that Hariri says he is free to move and we don’t have any reason not to believe him. But for there to be a political solution in Lebanon every political official must have total freedom in their movements.”

Even Hariri’s interview on Sunday night, done by Future TV, a channel associated with his political party, raised some new questions.

At times it was evident Hariri was holding back tears in the interview, which went on for over an hour. He repeatedly drank water, finishing his glass and asking for more. He pleaded with the interviewer to finish the questioning and said he was “tired.”

He also repeatedly said he was ready to die for Lebanon _ his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005 _ but added that he didn’t want his children to go through that kind of ordeal. When asked about reports that he is not communicative and doesn’t use his phone much, he said: “I am in a reflective state,” adding that he didn’t want any distractions amid a very busy schedule.

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