November 9, 2017 / 12:36 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Lebanon believes Hariri held in Saudi, wants foreign pressure -top official

(Edits, adds third source, Hariri meetings with foreign envoys)

By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT, Nov 9 (Reuters) - 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 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.

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 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.

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 U.S. charge d’affaires.

Saudi Arabia says Hezbollah, which was included in Hariri’s coalition government, had “hijacked” Lebanon’s political system.

In his resignation speech, 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 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 Hariri was still Lebanon’s prime minister, echoing other Lebanese government officials who say Hariri’s resignation had not been received by Aoun.

Aoun wants Hariri to return to Lebanon and explain the reasons for his resignation declaration before he takes a decision it.

The resignation of 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 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 Hariri’s resignation”, said Lebanon’s al-Manar television, which supports Iran-backed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

Hariri came to office last year in a political deal that made the Hezbollah-allied Aoun head of state. (Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul and Tom Perry; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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