Lebanese President Michel Aoun has told foreign diplomats of his concerns over the situation of Saad Hariri, who is said to be held in Saudi Arabia after he announced his resignation in a live broadcast from the kingdom.
In a meeting with foreign ambassadors and representatives of the UN, the EU and Arab League in Lebanon, Aoun called for clarifications of the situation, Lebanese media reported Friday.
According to the reports, the Lebanese leader also told Saudi Charge d’Affaires Walid al-Bukhari that Hariri must return home, describing the circumstances as unacceptable.
Hariri arrived in Riyadh on November 3 and announced his resignation as prime minister the next day in a live speech broadcast from there, citing assassination fears and denouncing Iran and Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah for sowing strife in Arab states.
Both Hezbollah and Iran rejected Hariri’s allegations. The Lebanese army also said it had found no such plots against Hariri.
The Beirut government has not accepted the resignation, with the Justice Ministry saying he should first return, and that his resignation should be “voluntary” to be formally considered by President Michel Aoun.
Two top Lebanese officials on Thursday told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Hariri is believed to “be held” in the kingdom.
Reuters also quoted a third source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied Hariri, as saying that Riyadh had forced him to resign and put him under house arrest, while a fourth source said Hariri does not have freedom of movement.
On of the sources had also said“Lebanon is heading towards asking foreign and Arab states to put pressure on Saudi to release Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri,”
‘Time for Hariri to return’
On Thursday, top Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt took to Twitter to call for Hariri’s return.
“Be it forced or voluntary,” he wrote, it is “time for Sheikh Saad to return.”
“By the way, there is no alternative to him,” said the influential Druze politician, adding that his presence is needed in Lebanon amid joint efforts “to complete the process of building and stability.”
The reported restrictions on Hariri, however, contradict remarks by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said Thursday that he believes Hariri did not have any particular constraints on his movements.
This is while western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, have recently told The New York Times that all of the envoys who met the Lebanese PM came away with the impression that he could not speak freely.
There has been no statement from Hariri on his situation yet.
On Thursday, Hariri’s Future Movement Party called for his return, while Hezbollah backed Aoun’s decision not to accept the resignation. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has also said the government will continue to function despite the resignation.
Hariri, the son of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in a Beirut bombing in 2005, ascended to the post of premiership after he reached a deal with Aoun, a figure close to Hezbollah, last year.
That deal ended a lengthy power vacuum in Lebanon, angering Saudi Arabia, which had vigorously lobbied to prevent Lebanon’s presidency from being placed in the hands of Hezbollah’s allies.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh is “exploring options,” including severing ties with Beirut, to deal with Hezbollah.
In an interview with CNBC, Jubeir warned against the regional role of Hezbollah, which has been providing military assistance to the Syrian army in the fight against the Takfiri terror groups.
Those terrorists are inspired by extremist Wahhabi ideology, widely preached by Saudi clerics. Riyadh has long been viewed a staunch supporter of the extremist militant groups operating against the Syrian government.
“We’re looking at various options and we’re consulting with our friends and allies around the world to see what the most effective way is of dealing with them [Hezbollah],” Jubeir added.