Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait urged their citizens to leave Lebanon amid rising tensions with the Hezbollah militia, following a similar move from Bahrain. France’s Emmanuel Macron arrived in Riyadh for a surprise visit.
All Saudi citizens, including those residing in Lebanon, should leave Lebanon immediately, the oil-rich Kingdom announced on Thursday.
Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also called on their citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon on Thursday and recommended their citizens leave the country if they are currently within Lebanon’s borders. Bahrain had issued a similar warning on Sunday.
The move comes at the time of escalating tensions in the region between the Saudi-led block and Iranian-backed elements in Lebanon, with Lebanon still reeling from the unexpected resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
‘Fear and destruction’
Political power in Lebanon is divided among the Sunnis, the Shiite, and the Maronite Christians, with Sunnis holding the prime-ministerial post. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, resigned while on a visit to Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
In a pre-recorded video, he accused Iran and the powerful Lebanese Shiite militia of Hezbollah of sowing “fear and destruction” across the region. He also alluded to his father, Rafik Hariri, who also served as prime minister until he was assassinated in 2005, presumably by Hezbollah.
In his address from Saudi Arabia, Saad Hariri suggested there was a similar assassination plot against his life. Hariri has so far ignored the calls from his own Future Movement to return to Lebanon.
Saudi authorities ‘imposed’ Hariri’s resignation
Many Lebanese, however, doubt Hariri’s reasons for resigning. Responding to Hariri’s move, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah told the nation that Saudi Arabia forced Hariri to step down.
“It is clear that the resignation was a Saudi decision that was imposed on Prime Minister Hariri. It was not his intention, not his wish and not his decision,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
Many have claimed that the Saudi authorities keep Hariri under house arrest, but members of his party denied those rumors. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has refused to consider the resignation before the two meet in person.
Macron lands in Riyadh
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia accused Hezbollah of declaring war and said it would deal with Lebanon as a hostile state as long as the militia was involved in the Lebanese government.
While many details remain unclear, Lebanon seems set to take on a major role in the standoff between the Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and the Shiite Iran, as the two countries back their players in wars in Syria and Yemen.
In an apparent bid to reduce tensions, French President Emmanuel Macron flew to a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday evening. Ahead of the visit, Macron said he would meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss “regional questions, in particular, Yemen and Lebanon,” and “emphasize the importance of Lebanese stability and integrity.”
France has close ties with Lebanon, a former French colony.