Bahrain Expels Lebanese Ambassador as Aoun, Miqati Move to Contain Crisis with KSA

Bahrain has ordered the Lebanese ambassador to the kingdom to leave the country within 48 hours, shortly after Saudi Arabia made a similar move and halted Lebanese imports in response to Information Minister Georges Kordahi’s remarks about Yemen’s war.

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Miqati meanwhile discussed the Saudi decision and asked Kordahi to take the "appropriate decision," an apparent call for him to resign in hopes it will ease the tension.

Miqati's office said he discussed the situation with Aoun before calling Kordahi and asking him to take "the appropriate decision for the sake of national interests."

Miqati expressed regret for the Saudi move and urged the kingdom to review its decision. Miqati added that his government "categorically rejects" anything that harms the "deep brotherly relations" with Saudi Arabia.

"We are deeply sorry for the kingdom's decision and hope that it will reconsider. As for us, we will continue to work to solve what needs to be solved," he said.

Miqati said earlier that Kordahi's comments do not represent the government's opinion, reiterating that the minister spoke before taking his post last month.

Kordahi, a former TV show host, made the comments on a TV program before he was chosen for the post in September. Kordahi is close to the Marada Movement, an ally of Iran-backed Hizbullah.

Kordahi held a news conference in Beirut this week refusing to apologize for the interview, which he said was broadcast Aug. 5. He added that since becoming a minister, he abides by the government's policy of not expressing his opinion.

"We should not continue to be subjected to blackmail in Lebanon by anyone whether they are countries, ambassadors or individuals," Kordahi said, adding that he has no plans to resign from the post over his comments.

Saudi Arabia says Hizbullah is helping Yemen's Huthi rebels. Both Hizbullah and the Huthis are backed by Iran, and consider themselves part of the so-called axis of resistance that includes the Syrian government and powerful Shiite militias in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of Lebanon, but the kingdom has also been locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of Hizbullah. Tension between the two regional powerhouses have often spilled into a deadlock in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that imposed sanctions on Hizbullah.

Saudi Arabia lists Hizbullah as a “terrorist” organization. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have been tense in recent months over what the kingdom says Hizbullah's control of the small country.

Kordahi said in a television interview that the Iran-backed Huthi rebels were "defending themselves... against an external aggression," adding that "homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed" by the Saudi-led coalition.

In the interview -- filmed in August but aired on Monday -- he also called the seven-year war in Yemen "futile" and said it was "time for it to end."

On Tuesday, the Lebanese government said that Kordahi's statements were "rejected and did not reflect the position of the government," adding that the interview in question took place before Kordahi was appointed to the cabinet in September. 

Yemen's civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis gained control of the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

Tens of thousands of people -- most of them civilians -- have died and millions have been displaced, in what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Rights groups have harshly criticized the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon, saying shipments were being used for drug smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.

And in May, Lebanon's foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stepped down and was swiftly replaced after comments he made irked Saudi Arabia.

Source: Agence France Presse, Associated Press

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