Report: Lebanon believes al-Hariri held in Saudi Arabia, wants foreign pressure
Top Lebanese official slams preventing Saad al-Hariri from leaving Saudi Arabia after he recently announced his unexpected retirement, citing Iranian threats; 'Keeping al-Hariri with restricted freedom in Riyadh is an attack on Lebanese sovereignty,' says official, pledging to work with foreign governments to bring about his return to Beirut.
Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister on Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, is being held by Riyadh, and Beirut plans to work with foreign states to secure his return, a top Lebanese government official said on Thursday.
A second source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied al-Hariri, said Saudi Arabia had ordered him to resign and put him under house arrest. A third source familiar with the situation said Saudi Arabia was controlling and limiting his movement.
Al-Hariri's shock resignation, read out on television from Saudi Arabia, pitched Lebanon into a deep political crisis and pushed the country back to the forefront of a regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It has fuelled speculation in Lebanon that the Sunni Muslim politician, long an ally of Riyadh, was coerced into stepping down by the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia and members of al-Hariri's Future Movement have denied reports that he is under house arrest. But he has put out no statements himself denying his movements are being restricted. He made a one-day flying visit to the United Arab Emirates earlier this week before returning to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Hariri's office said in statement he had received the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Thursday. He had also met the head of the EU mission to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and on Tuesday the British ambassador and the US charge d'affaires.
Saudi Arabia says Hezbollah, which was included in al-Hariri's coalition government, had "hijacked" Lebanon's political system.
In his resignation speech, al-Hariri attacked Iran and Hezbollah for sowing strife in Arab states and said he feared assassination. His father, a veteran former prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005.
The top government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Lebanon is heading towards asking foreign and Arab states to put pressure on Saudi to release Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri."
"Keeping al-Hariri with restricted freedom in Riyadh is an attack on Lebanese sovereignty. Our dignity is his dignity. We will work with (foreign) states to return him to Beirut," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to declare its position.
The official said al-Hariri was still Lebanon's prime minister, echoing other Lebanese government officials who say al-Hariri's resignation had not been received by Aoun.
Aoun wants al-Hariri to return to Lebanon and explain the reasons for his resignation declaration before he takes a decision it.
The resignation of al-Hariri, who is a business tycoon with major investments in Saudi Arabia, came at the same time as a wave of arrests of Saudi princes and businessmen accused of corruption by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The second source, a senior Lebanese politician who is close to al-Hariri, said: "When he went (to Saudi Arabia) he was asked to stay there and ordered to resign. They ordered him to read his resignation statement and he has been held under house arrest since."
Lebanese President Michel Aoun is moving towards a diplomatic approach to "uncover the mystery surrounding al-Hariri's resignation", said Lebanon's al-Manar television, which supports Iran-backed Shi'ite movement Hezbollah.
Al-Hariri came to office last year in a political deal that made the Hezbollah-allied Aoun head of state.