Photo
Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon visiting the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, last month. Credit Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said on Saturday that he had quit his post, blaming Iran for interference in Arab affairs and surprising a country already awash with tensions and regional rivalries.

Mr. Hariri, speaking in a televised address from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on his second trip there this week, issued a blistering condemnation of Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that is part of the unity cabinet he led.

“Wherever Iran is present it plants discord and destruction, attested to by its interference in the Arab countries,” Mr. Hariri said, adding that “Iran’s hands in the region will be cut off.”

Comparing the atmosphere in Lebanon to the days before his father, the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, he said that he believed his own life was in danger. “I sensed what’s being woven discreetly to target my life,” he said.

President Michel Aoun’s press office issued a statement saying that Mr. Hariri had contacted the president by phone and informed him of his decision, and that Mr. Aoun was waiting for Mr. Hariri to return to Beirut and “inform him of the circumstances of his resignation.”

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Mr. Hariri became prime minister in late 2016, in a compromise deal under which Mr. Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, became president, ending a two-and-a-half-year political deadlock.

His resignation left the country reeling — even Mr. Hariri’s staff was taken by surprise — and Lebanese could do little other than speculate about why he had quit.

Mr. Hariri’s political party, the Future Movement, announced it would hold solidarity demonstrations for him across the country, including in Beirut and in the northern city of Tripoli. But just before 4 p.m., the party announced it was canceling the demonstrations.

Nabih Berri, the speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament, cut short a trip to Egypt to return to Beirut to deal with the crisis, the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, reported.

Mr. Hariri headed a 30-member national unity cabinet that was crafted to protect the country from any spillover from the multisided war in neighboring Syria, which has been raging for more than six years.

That mission has largely been successful, even though Hezbollah entered the Syrian war on the side of the government, Sunni militants joined insurgents, and well over 1 million refugees flooded this tiny Mediterranean country.

But Lebanon, which is governed by a sect-based political system, has long been deeply divided between a bloc aligned with Shiite Hezbollah and Iran, and one aligned with Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni country in the region.

In Lebanon’s political system power is divided between a prime minister, who must be Sunni; a president, who must be Maronite Christian; and a speaker of Parliament, who must be Shiite. But the exercise of real power in the country is a more complicated affair of alliances, rivalries and division of spoils between the leaders of confessional groups, many of them former warlords from Lebanon’s civil war. Hezbollah, which rose to prominence fighting the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, is the strongest because of its powerful militia.

In recent years the rival blocs have essentially agreed to confine their fight to Syria, where Iran backed the government and Saudi Arabia backed the insurgents.

Yet in the same period, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the regional stage have only increased, with the assertive new Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, taking a more aggressive stance as Iran continued to build its influence.

Now that the Syrian war seems to be entering a new phase, with the government of President Bashar al-Assad holding onto control over a devastated country, there are fears that tensions that had been pushed to the back burner — inside Lebanon, between Hezbollah and Israel, and elsewhere — could re-emerge.

The United States has stepped up sanctions on Hezbollah in recent weeks, and President Trump has declared that his administration wants tougher policies on Iran and criticized the landmark nuclear deal reached with Iran under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Hariri’s father was killed when his motorcade was bombed on Beirut’s seafront, and outrage over his death ultimately lead to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, where they had been a longstanding presence.

Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia in a special United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague, although the militant group has denied involvement in the assassination.

Mr. Hariri said in his speech that he wanted to unite Lebanon and free the country from outside interference; his bloc has long opposed the fact that Hezbollah has maintained a military force outside the control of the Lebanese government.

At the same time, Mr. Hariri’s political foes saw him as a tool of Saudi Arabia, where his father built his fortune. Mr. Hariri met earlier this week with Saudi Arabia’s minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, who had called for the “toppling” of Hezbollah and promised “astonishing developments” in the coming days, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Hariri then returned to Saudi Arabia on Friday, for what was billed as another series of meetings with Saudi officials.

He pronounced himself “full of optimism and hope that Lebanon will be free, independent, with no authority except that of the Lebanese.”

Continue reading the main story

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said on Saturday that he had quit his post, blaming Iran for interference in Arab affairs and surprising a country already awash with tensions and regional rivalries.

Mr. Hariri, speaking in a televised address from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on his second trip there this week, issued a blistering condemnation of Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that is part of the unity cabinet he led.

“Wherever Iran is present it plants discord and destruction, attested to by its interference in the Arab countries,” Mr. Hariri said, adding that “Iran’s hands in the region will be cut off.”

Comparing the atmosphere in Lebanon to the days before his father, the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, he said that he believed his own life was in danger. “I sensed what’s being woven discreetly to target my life,” he said.

President Michel Aoun’s press office issued a statement saying that Mr. Hariri had contacted the president by phone and informed him of his decision, and that Mr. Aoun was waiting for Mr. Hariri to return to Beirut and “inform him of the circumstances of his resignation.”

Mr. Hariri became prime minister in late 2016, in a compromise deal under which Mr. Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, became president, ending a two-and-a-half-year political deadlock.

His resignation left the country reeling — even Mr. Hariri’s staff was taken by surprise — and Lebanese could do little other than speculate about why he had quit.

Mr. Hariri’s political party, the Future Movement, announced it would hold solidarity demonstrations for him across the country, including in Beirut and in the northern city of Tripoli. But just before 4 p.m., the party announced it was canceling the demonstrations.

Nabih Berri, the speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament, cut short a trip to Egypt to return to Beirut to deal with the crisis, the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, reported.

Mr. Hariri headed a 30-member national unity cabinet that was crafted to protect the country from any spillover from the multisided war in neighboring Syria, which has been raging for more than six years.

That mission has largely been successful, even though Hezbollah entered the Syrian war on the side of the government, Sunni militants joined insurgents, and well over 1 million refugees flooded this tiny Mediterranean country.

But Lebanon, which is governed by a sect-based political system, has long been deeply divided between a bloc aligned with Shiite Hezbollah and Iran, and one aligned with Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni country in the region.

In Lebanon’s political system power is divided between a prime minister, who must be Sunni; a president, who must be Maronite Christian; and a speaker of Parliament, who must be Shiite. But the exercise of real power in the country is a more complicated affair of alliances, rivalries and division of spoils between the leaders of confessional groups, many of them former warlords from Lebanon’s civil war. Hezbollah, which rose to prominence fighting the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, is the strongest because of its powerful militia.

In recent years the rival blocs have essentially agreed to confine their fight to Syria, where Iran backed the government and Saudi Arabia backed the insurgents.

Yet in the same period, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the regional stage have only increased, with the assertive new Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, taking a more aggressive stance as Iran continued to build its influence.

Now that the Syrian war seems to be entering a new phase, with the government of President Bashar al-Assad holding onto control over a devastated country, there are fears that tensions that had been pushed to the back burner — inside Lebanon, between Hezbollah and Israel, and elsewhere — could re-emerge.

The United States has stepped up sanctions on Hezbollah in recent weeks, and President Trump has declared that his administration wants tougher policies on Iran and criticized the landmark nuclear deal reached with Iran under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Hariri’s father was killed when his motorcade was bombed on Beirut’s seafront, and outrage over his death ultimately lead to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, where they had been a longstanding presence.

Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia in a special United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague, although the militant group has denied involvement in the assassination.

Mr. Hariri said in his speech that he wanted to unite Lebanon and free the country from outside interference; his bloc has long opposed the fact that Hezbollah has maintained a military force outside the control of the Lebanese government.

At the same time, Mr. Hariri’s political foes saw him as a tool of Saudi Arabia, where his father built his fortune. Mr. Hariri met earlier this week with Saudi Arabia’s minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, who had called for the “toppling” of Hezbollah and promised “astonishing developments” in the coming days, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Hariri then returned to Saudi Arabia on Friday, for what was billed as another series of meetings with Saudi officials.

He pronounced himself “full of optimism and hope that Lebanon will be free, independent, with no authority except that of the Lebanese.”

Nytimes

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