Riyadh denies charge it held Hariri captive

Ministry says kingdom will continue to support Lebanon’s stability and security

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry denied French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the kingdom held Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri captive last November, official Saudi media reported on Tuesday.

In an interview with broadcaster BFM TV last week, Macron claimed credit for heading off war in Lebanon, which was plunged into crisis after Hariri resigned while in Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and criticising the Saudis’ regional rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Sources close to Hariri have said Saudi Arabia had concluded that the prime minister, a long-time Saudi ally, had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

After international intervention, including by Macron, Hariri was able to leave the kingdom and eventually rescinded his resignation.

Lebanese officials accused the Saudis at the time of holding Hariri hostage. Riyadh, like Hariri, denied he was ever held against his will.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry statement on Tuesday called Macron’s comments “untrue” and said the kingdom would continue to support Lebanon’s stability and security.

“All the evidence confirms that what is pulling Lebanon and the region towards instability is Iran and its tools like the Hezbollah terrorist militia …” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is battling to contain Iran’s interference in the region which plays out in armed conflicts and political disputes, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

France had nurtured new links with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states in recent years due to its tough stance on Iran in nuclear negotiations, and the broad similarity of their policies on conflicts across the Middle East.

Macron dined with Hariri and Prince Mohammad in Paris in April after a conference to rally international support for an investment programme to boost the Lebanese economy.

Hariri, who visited Riyadh in February for the first time since the November crisis, is working to form a new coalition after a May 6 parliamentary election which strengthened his rival Hezbollah and its political allies.

They won just over half the seats in parliament, while Hariri lost over a third of his seats. Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, though, he remains the front-runner to form the next government.


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