Saudi Arabia says 'no useful purpose' for Lebanon talks

Diplomatic rift deepens as Saudi Foreign Minister calls on political class to end 'domination' of Hezbollah

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. Reuters
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Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister has said there are no plans to engage with the Lebanese government any time soon as the rift between the two countries deepens.

Lebanon is facing its worst diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, after a minister made critical comments about the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

The remarks prompted Riyadh to expel Lebanon's ambassador, recall its own envoy and ban all imports from Lebanon.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called on the political class to end the “domination” of the Iran-allied Hezbollah movement.

“We see no useful purpose of engaging with the Lebanese government at this point in time,” he told France 24 television in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

“We think that the political class needs to step up and take the necessary actions to liberate Lebanon from the domination of Hezbollah, and through Hezbollah, Iran.”

Saudi Arabia was angered by an interview in which Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi appeared to side with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and said Yemen was being subjected to external aggression.

Mr Kordahi said the interview was recorded before he became a minister and refused to apologise or step down.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, last week described Saudi Arabia's reaction as “exaggerated” and accused the kingdom of seeking a civil war in Lebanon.

Some Lebanese activists who have long opposed Hezbollah’s overbearing role on political life have blamed the group and its allies for prolonging the crisis and demanded that it lay down its weapons.

In a communique released on Monday, a group of activists, writers and politicians demanded that representatives of Hezbollah be removed from government.

They also urged Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati to halt all Cabinet meetings until Hezbollah surrenders its weapons to the state and for Gulf nations to return diplomatic representatives to Beirut.

“The policy of President [Michel] Aoun's supporters, Hezbollah and their allies has turned Lebanon into a hub supporting the worst tyrants in the region, especially in Syria and Yemen,” the communique said.

The group has a rotating leadership and is currently led by Soulaf al-Hage, a prominent activist from North Lebanon. Former MPs Fares Souaid and Mustafa Alloush were among those who signed the petition.

Riyadh has said its actions were driven not only by Mr Kordahi's comments, but by the kingdom's objection to the growing influence of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics.

Gulf states were traditional aid donors to Lebanon but, dismayed by Hezbollah's expanding power, have been reluctant to help rescue the country from its current economic crisis, which is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

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Updated: November 15, 2021, 4:46 PM