(AFP) BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, back in Beirut after a mysterious odyssey that saw him announce his resignation in Saudi Arabia, told cheering supporters on Wednesday that he was staying.
“I’m staying with you… we’re continuing together, to be the first line of defense for Lebanon and its stability,” Hariri, looking buoyed and combative, told a large crowd gathered in front of his home.
“You’re teaching the world loyalty, thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, wearing a dark blue sports jacket as he addressed hundreds of supporters waving flags with the colors of his Future Movement.
He flew in late Tuesday after spending around two weeks in Saudi Arabia in yet to be clarified circumstances and making stops in France, Egypt and Cyprus on his way back.
Lebanon’s politicians, including some of his staunch adversaries, were uncharacteristically united in calling for his return.
He told reporters earlier Wednesday that President Michel Aoun had asked him to put his resignation on hold pending further consultations and that he had agreed to do so.
Hariri’s resignation on November 4 was not accepted by Aoun, who said he wanted to hear from Hariri in person first.
Hariri’s televised resignation from Saudi Arabia had sparked a political and diplomatic crisis as Lebanese officials accused the Gulf kingdom, which is feuding with Iran for influence in the region, of forcing him to resign and detaining him for days.
Hariri had been silent since, and Lebanese are hoping his arrival in Lebanon will help clear up the mysterious circumstances surrounding his resignation.
His resignation set off international efforts, led by France, to prevent the upending of the country’s delicate sectarian-based political order.
In his televised resignation from Saudi Arabia, Hariri said he was protesting meddling in Arab affairs by Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a partner in the coalition government formed by Hariri a year ago.
The resignation pushed Lebanon back to the forefront of the intensifying regional feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which until recently appeared to have a tacit agreement to keep Lebanon out of their race for influence.
Hezbollah has been fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s six-year civil war, where many of Assad’s enemies are rebels backed by Saudi Arabia. The kingdom says Hezbollah is also advising Houthi rebels waging a war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government. Hezbollah denies it is militarily supporting the Houthis.
Hezbollah says Saudi Arabia is sowing instability in Lebanon, and accused the kingdom of partnering with Israel to start a war with Lebanon.
Hariri, in his only in-depth interview since announcing his resignation, told his media station Future TV that he could retract his resignation if a deal could be struck with his opponents to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.