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Saudi says coalition will begin reopening Yemen air and seaports

14 November 2017

The head of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic community arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday in the first public visit by a Lebanese official since Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his sudden resignation nine days ago.

Their Luxembourgish counterpart Jean Asselborn warned Riyadh that a meltdown in Lebanon would further destabilise the tumultuous Middle East, adding that "a hostage crisis, if that is what is happening with the Lebanese Prime Minister in Saudi Arabia, is not very good news for the region".

A dual Lebanese-Saudi national, the Saudi-allied Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on November 4 in a pre-recorded message on Saudi TV, criticizing Iran and Hezbollah, and saying he feared for his safety. Although he met with various ambassadors in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in the days that followed, no one in Lebanon was really sure what was happening to him.

"My resignation came as a wake-up call for Lebanon", he said.

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Hariri said Saudi Arabia wants Lebanon to stay clear of regional conflicts, and not to side with Iran.

"I am freely in the kingdom, and if I want to travel tomorrow, I will travel", Hariri said of his presence in Saudi Arabia.

After a belligerent resignation speech on November 4, Hariri looked sad and exhausted on Sunday, at times holding back tears in the interview that went on for over an hour. Hariri's family lives in Riyadh.

Hariri's interview on Sunday night, carried by Future TV, a channel associated with his political party, raised some new questions.

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A country that once lived under French occupation, Lebanon has always been buffeted by the demands of greater foreign powers. The Saudis deny that they forced Hariri to resign and say he came to Riyadh because of death threats he faced in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, accusing both of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.

The announcement from the Saudi mission at the United Nations came after the coalition fighting Yemen's rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies faced widespread global criticism over the closure, with the UN and over 20 aid groups saying it could bring millions of people closer to "starvation and death". Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later accused Iran of "direct military aggression" against the kingdom by supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.

"The Lebanese people have been waiting for him (Hariri) to return because the situation has come to a stop and the Lebanese people have been unsettled", el-Rai said.

Joanne Hamza, a physical education teacher who wore a cap with a picture of Hariri on it, said he was missed at the race. "We will die for him", al-Masri said.

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Saudi says coalition will begin reopening Yemen air and seaports