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Lebanese premier resigns, plunging nation into uncertainty

  • FILE - This Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 file photo, Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri reacts after he announced his support to the Christian leader Michel Aoun to be Lebanese president, in Beirut, Lebanon. Hariri resigned from his post Saturday, Nov 4, 2017 during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions. (Hussein Malla, File) Hussein Malla

  • In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, arrives for a mass funeral of ten Lebanese soldiers at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri has announced he is resigning in a surprise move following a trip to Saudi Arabia. In a televised address Saturday, Nov. 4, he slammed Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group for meddling in Arab affairs and says "Iran's arms in the region will be cut off." (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • In this photo released on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, showing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Hariri resigned from his post Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions. (Dalati Nohra via AP) Uncredited

  • In this photo released on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, meets with Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, at the government House, in Beirut, Lebanon. Hariri resigned from his post Saturday, Nov 4, 2017 during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions. (Dalati Nohra via AP) Uncredited



Associated Press
Saturday, November 04, 2017

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post in a televised address from the Saudi capital Saturday, accusing Hezbollah of taking the country hostage, in a surprise move that plunged the nation into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions.

In his resignation speech, Hariri fired a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs and said that “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off.”

“The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it,” Hariri said, accusing Tehran of spreading chaos, strife and destruction throughout the region.

Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member coalition government that included members of the Shiite militant Hezbollah. But it’s been an uneasy partnership between Hariri, who heads a Sunni-led camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah, which represents a camp loyal to Shiite Iran. President Michel Aoun, who was elected in October 2016 after more than a two-year presidential vacuum, is a close ally of Hezbollah.

As U.S. and Saudi Arabia sought ways to curb Iran’s growing influence in the region, Hariri has come under pressure to distance himself from the militant group which has sent thousands of troops to neighboring Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s forces.

It was not immediately clear whether Hariri intended to return to Lebanon. In a statement, the presidential office said Aoun was informed by Hariri in a phone call of his resignation, adding that the president now awaits Hariri’s return to clarify the circumstances of his resignation and proceed accordingly.

Hariri’s bombshell resignation – even close aides seemed unaware of the announcement – ushers in a stage of deep uncertainty and potential instability. It also throws into doubt parliamentary elections slated for early next year which have been repeatedly delayed.

It comes amid a sharp escalation in Saudi rhetoric against its regional archrival Iran and puts Lebanon at the center of that rivalry.

Hazem al-Amin, a Lebanese writer who follows regional affairs, said Hariri’s resignation is “completely a Saudi step” that comes in the context of an international and regional atmosphere against Hezbollah and against Iranian influence in the region.

“Lebanon is a fragile country. This confrontation (between Saudi Arabia and Iran) is more violent than Lebanon can stand up to,” he said, warning of economic and security ramifications.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the resignation is a plot by the U.S., Israel and the Saudis to foment tensions in Lebanon and the region, the semi-official Iranian Tasnim news agency reported.

Ghasemi dismissed Hariri’s “baseless accusations,” which he said indicate that “a new scenario” for the region was being drawn.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hariri’s resignation and comments “are a wake-up call to the international community to take action against the Iranian aggression that is trying to turn Syria into Lebanon 2.”