Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Sunday he will return to Lebanon "within days" and that his surprising resignation was aimed at creating a “positive shock.”
In a live interview shown on Future TV, Hariri said he had resigned to protect Lebanon from imminent danger, although he didn't specify who was threatening the country. He said he will return to submit his resignation and seek a settlement with the rival camp.
But Hariri said withdrawing his resignation would be conditional on the Iranian-backed Hizbullah committing to remaining neutral on regional conflicts. Hizbullah has sent thousands of fighters to neighboring Syria to support the forces of Syria's President Bashar Assad and is accused by Riyadh of supporting Yemen’s Huthi rebels.
Hariri looked tired and sad in the interview from Saudi Arabia on his Future TV channel that lasted more than an hour. He held back tears as he spoke and repeated several times that he resigned to cause a "positive shock" and draw attention to the danger of siding with Iran in regional conflicts.
"We are in the eye of the storm," Hariri said.
He said the unity government he formed a year ago was supposed to stick to an agreement not to interfere in regional affairs but that Hizbullah has not kept up its end of the deal.
Apparently seeking to show he was not being detained by the Saudis, Hariri told the interviewer: "I am free."
He said his resignation was his own decision, dismissing reports he was forced into it. But he also said he is looking into security arrangements before returning to Lebanon, suggesting his life was in danger.
"I saw what happened ... when my father was martyred. I don't want the same thing to happen to me," Hariri said. His father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.
The interview followed pressure from Lebanese officials, who said Hariri's resignation was not accepted because it was declared in Saudi Arabia. Many Lebanese have suspected Hariri was placed under house arrest as part of a Saudi plan to unravel a coalition government he had formed last year with Hizbullah.
Hariri said his resignation was designed to "cause a positive shock" in Lebanon, warning against what he said was Iranian interference that is ruining relations with other Arab countries.
President Michel Aoun said before the interview that the "mysterious circumstances for Hariri's stay in the Saudi capital of Riyadh makes all his positions questionable and in doubt and not of his own volition."
A dual Lebanese-Saudi national, the Saudi-allied Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on Nov. 4 in a pre-recorded message on Saudi TV, criticizing Iran and Hizbullah, and saying he feared for his safety. Hariri's family lives in Riyadh.
Hariri had not been heard from since but met with foreign diplomats, and appeared with Saudi royalty and in Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hizbullah and its patron, Iran, accusing both of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Huthis. A Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Huthis since March 2015.
Hariri said relations between Saudi Arabia and Hizbullah soured after the conflict began in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has asked its citizens to leave Lebanon, and many Lebanese fear further economic sanctions or even military action against their country.
Hariri, 47, first held the post of prime minister in November 2009 for nearly two years before Hizbullah forced the collapse of his government. Hizbullah ministers withdrew because of differences over a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating his father's assassination.
Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member coalition government that included Hizbullah. But it has been an uneasy partnership between Hariri, who heads a Sunni-led camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, and Hizbullah, which represents a faction loyal to Shiite Iran.
A business graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, he headed his father's Saudi-based construction business for years. The company has struggled with debts for years before closing down in July.
Hariri was born in Riyadh in 1970. He is Rafik Hariri's second son from his first Iraqi wife. He is married to a Syrian, and has three children, the oldest an 18-year-old son.
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