Aides to the former Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri, who recently announced his resignation via a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, have reportedly denied claims disseminated by a pro-Shiite Hezbollah newspaper that the Sunni kingdom is holding the influential politician under house arrest.
Soon after Hariri stepped down over the weekend, thrusting Lebanon’s coalition government into disarray, Saudi Arabia accused Beirut on Monday of declaring war, citing aggression by Shiite Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah, arguably the most influential official political party in Lebanon.
In an apparent effort to exacerbate the situation, Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which is close to the Shiite country’s supreme leader, published a controversial editorial suggesting that jihadists affiliated with Tehran’s Yemen-based Houthi terror proxy will target Saudi ally Dubai next.
The Houthi rebels recently fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh’s airport. Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are regional rivals.
Hariri’s resignation has hurled Lebanon into the midst of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has also wrought havoc in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain.
In Lebanon, the country’s largest religious groups share power. The constitution requires the speaker of parliament to be a Shiite Muslim, the prime minister must be Sunni, and the president a Christian.
Hariri stepping down has collapsed the coalition government, leaving the dominant Iran-backed Hezbollah unchecked.
“Hariri announced his surprise resignation on Saturday, citing a plot to kill him, and saying the climate in Lebanon resembled that before the assassination of his father Rafik al-Hariri, who was also prime minister, in 2005,” reports Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya.
The Shiite group-linked newspaper al-Akhbar reported that the PM “was placed under house arrest hours after arriving in Riyadh last Friday” and had remained in detention since, reports Reuters.
According to Reuters, al-Akhbar claimed “a Saudi security team had been supervising Hariri, citing unnamed sources close to him. The prime minister, whose family made their fortune in the Saudi construction industry, had very limited access to his phones, it said on Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, Hariri’s office and Saudi-owned media reportedly noted that the most influential Sunni politician in Lebanon and a close Saudi ally flew to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday.
Al-Arabiya notes that Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomed Hariri.
In response, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir denounced Hezbollah’s claims on Monday as “nonsense,” adding that he was free to leave anytime.
“Speculation in Lebanon over Hariri’s status continued even after Saudi media showed him meeting with King Salman and reported him leaving for the UAE,” points out Reuters.
Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister of Lebanon and influential member of Hariri’s political faction, claimed the former Sunni PM is planning to return to Lebanon.