Saudi Arabia expels Lebanese ambassador over Yemen war remarks

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi sparked crisis with defence of Iran-backed Houthi rebels

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi claimed in an interview that Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen were 'defending themselves ... against an external aggression'. Reuters
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Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Lebanon for consultation and asked Beirut’s ambassador to the kingdom to leave within 48 hours, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.

The kingdom also imposed a blanket ban on all imports from Lebanon, according to the statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, in a dramatic worsening of relations between the two countries.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia and the UAE summoned Lebanon's ambassadors, in response to comments from the Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi.

Mr Kordahi defended the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying they were acting in self defence.

A short time after the Saudi statement was released, Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it too had asked its Lebanese ambassador to leave within 48 hours, pointing to what the Bahrain News Agency described as a recent series of unacceptable and offensive statements issued by Lebanese officials.

In a statement, Lebanon confirmed the move by Saudi Arabia but said it hoped to find a solution to the crisis.

"We regret greatly the kingdom’s decision and hope that the wise Saudi leadership will reconsider," Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement.

Mr Kordahi, in a television interview broadcast on Monday, said the Houthis, who seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014 and forced the internationally recognised government into exile, were “defending themselves ... against an external aggression".

A coalition of Arab nations intervened in the conflict in 2015, at the request of the Yemeni government.

Lebanese imports to Riyadh represented some $282 million in 2019, with the ban likely to hit Lebanon’s already ailing economy.

The Saudi statement on Friday was an escalation in the disagreement, despite Mr Mikati distancing himself and his government from the comments.

Mr Mikati said Mr Kordahi's statements “do not express the government's position at all".

The Saudi statement also said the decision to ban imports was partly made because of Lebanon's failure to “stop the export of the scourge of drugs from Lebanon through Lebanese exports to the kingdom".

Saudi authorities have intercepted millions of Captagon pills hidden in various imported shipments.

In April, the kingdom banned the import of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon after five million pills were found in a delivery of pomegranates.

Captagon is an amphetamine mostly produced in Syria and Lebanon.

“The kingdom’s government affirms its concern for the Lebanese citizens residing in the kingdom, whom it considers part of the fabric and bond that unites the Saudi people and their Arab brothers residing in the kingdom, and does not consider that what is issued by the Lebanese authorities expresses the positions of the Lebanese community residing in the kingdom [which is] dear to the Saudi people,” the statement read.

Updated: October 31, 2021, 4:44 AM