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Lebanon’s Hariri arrives in Riyadh for first visit since ‘resignation’

File photo: Lebanon's prime minister Saad al-Hariri

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrived in Saudi Arabia, his office said on Wednesday, his first trip to the kingdom since his abrupt resignation during a visit there in November which caused a brief political storm in the region.

At the time Lebanese officials accused Saudi Arabia of forcing long-time ally Hariri to quit, putting him under effective house arrest until France intervened. Riyadh has denied this.

Hariri returned home weeks later and withdrew his resignation, drawing a line under the crisis that had raised fears for Lebanon’s economic and political stability.

A statement by Hariri’s media office said he left Beirut late on Tuesday responding to an invitation from King Salman. Hariri would meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his office said. Hariri’s office said earlier he had accepted the invitation delivered to him by Saudi envoy Nizar al-Aloula, whom he met in Beirut on Monday, and that he would go to Riyadh as soon possible, without setting a date.

Hariri’s resignation thrust Lebanon onto the frontline of a Middle East contest for power, pitting a Saudi-led bloc against Iran and its allies that include the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah movement.

After his return, Hariri’s coalition government, which includes Hezbollah, reaffirmed a state policy of staying out of conflicts in the Arab world.

The Washington Post said Mohammed bin Salman complained he had been unfairly criticised over Hariri’s resignation. “Now he’s in a better position,” the newspaper quoted Mohammed bin Salman as saying.

Saudi Arabia accuses the heavily armed Hezbollah of waging war across the Middle East as agents of Iran.

Lebanon declared its policy of “dissociation” in 2012 to keep the deeply divided state out of regional conflicts such as the war in neighbouring Syria.

Still, Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters across the border to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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