ReutersBEIRUT (Reuters) — Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hizbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.
His resignation, a big surprise to Beirut’s political establishment, brought down the coalition government and plunged Lebanon into a new political crisis.
It thrust Lebanon into the front line of a regional competition between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran that has also buffeted Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. A Saudi government minister said Hariri was in Riyadh to ensure his safety.
Hariri, who is closely allied with Saudi Arabia, alleged in a broadcast from an undisclosed location that Hizbollah was “directing weapons” at Yemenis, Syrians and Lebanese.
In comments directed at Iran, he said the Arab world would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it.”
Hariri’s coalition, which took office last year, grouped nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, including Hizbollah. It took office in a political deal that made Michel Aoun, a Hizbollah ally, president, and was seen as a victory for Iran.
The resignation risks exacerbating sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and returning Lebanon to paralysis in government.
The prime minister must be a Sunni in Lebanon’s sectarian system. Aoun must appoint the candidate with most support among MPs, who he is expected to consult in the coming days.
“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” Hariri said.
Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a 2005 Beirut bomb attack that pushed his son Saad into politics and set off years of turmoil. A U.N.-backed tribunal has charged five Hizbollah members over the killing. Hizbollah denies involvement.
The Saudi-owned pan-Arab television channel al-Arabiya al-Hadath reported that an assassination plot against Hariri was foiled in Beirut days ago, citing an unnamed source.
Saudi Arabia’s Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said in a television interview that Hariri’s personal security detail had “confirmed information” of a plot to kill him.
Hariri said Hizbollah and Iran had brought Lebanon into the “eye of a storm” of international sanctions. Iran was sowing strife, destruction and ruin wherever it went and he accused it of a “deep hatred for the Arab nation.”
Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia on Friday after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Afterwards, Velayati described Hariri’s coalition as “a victory” and “great success.”
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, will address Hariri’s resignation in a televised speech on Sunday, Hizbollah-affiliated media reported.
A member of Hizbollah’s central committee, Sheikh Nabil Kawouk, accused Riyadh of being behind Hariri’s resignation, saying in a speech reported by Lebanon’s al-Jadeed television: “God protect Lebanon from the evil of Saudi Arabia’s reckless adventures.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Hariri’s departure was a plot to “create tension in Lebanon and the region.”
“Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by Donald Trump, the president of America, and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” said Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, adviser to Iran’s supreme leader.