Lebanon’s Hariri rescinds resignation, drawing line under crisis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri rescinded his resignation on Tuesday, drawing a line under a month-long crisis triggered when he announced from Riyadh that he was stepping down and remained outside Lebanon for weeks.

His coalition government, which includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, reaffirmed a state policy of staying out of conflicts in Arab states. Hariri’s Saudi allies accuse Hezbollah of waging war across the Middle East as agents of Iran.

Hariri’s shock resignation had thrust Lebanon to the forefront of the regional quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has been played out on battlefields in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in recent years.

Lebanese officials said Saudi Arabia had coerced Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, into resigning and put him under effective house arrest until an intervention by France led to his return to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Hariri have denied this.

President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, refused to accept his resignation while he remained abroad.

Saudi concern over the influence wielded by Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah in other Arab states, notably Yemen, had been widely seen as the root cause of the crisis, which raised fears for Lebanon’s economic and political stability.

The Lebanese policy of “dissociation” was declared in 2012 to keep the deeply divided state out of regional conflicts such as the Syrian civil war. Despite the policy, Hezbollah became heavily involved there, sending thousands of fighters to help President Bashar al-Assad.

In its first meeting since Hariri’s resignation, the cabinet on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to the policy.

“All (the government’s) political components decide to dissociate themselves from all conflicts, disputes, wars or the internal affairs of brother Arab countries, in order to preserve Lebanon’s economic and political relations,” Hariri said.

“The cabinet thanks its leader for his position and for revoking his resignation,” he added, reading out a government statement that referred to himself.

Lebanon, where Sunni, Shi’ite, Christian and Druze groups fought a civil war from 1975-1990, has a governing system designed to share power among sectarian groups.

Hariri, a wealthy Sunni businessman with financial interests in Saudi Arabia and long ties to the kingdom, had denounced Iran during his resignation speech and said he was outside Lebanon because he feared for his family’s safety. His father, a former prime minister, was assassinated in 2005.

In a speech…

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