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Saudi Arabia calls on citizens to leave Lebanon immediately

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir during an interview with American broadcaster CNBC on Thursday.
BEIRUT/JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon "as soon as possible."

An official source at the Saudi Ministry of Foriegn Affairs was quoted by Saudi Press Agency (SPA) as calling on Saudis not to travel to Lebanon.

"Due to the situation in the Republic of Lebanon, the Kingdom asks its nationals visiting or residing in Lebanon to leave as soon as possible, and advises its citizens not to travel to Lebanon from any other international destinations," the official source said.

Minutes later, Kuwait's Foreign Ministry also ordered its nationals to leave Lebanon immediately, according to a statement carried by Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

The Saudi and Kuwaiti positions come six days after the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri. He announced his resignation from Riyadh on Saturday.

Al-Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, of “controlling the Lebanese state,” and pointed out that he sensed that something was being plotted covertly to target his life.

Bahrain already asked its citizens on Sunday to avoid travelling to Lebanon and advised those already in the country to leave immediately for their safety.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Thursday accused Hezbollah of "hijacking the system" and putting "roadblocks in front of Al-Hariri" at every opportunity.

In an interview to CNBC's Hadley Gamble, he said: "Hezbollah put roadblocks in front of every initiative that Prime Minister Hariri tried to implement. Hezbollah has pretty much hijacked the Lebanese system. It has been the instrument that Iran used to dominate Lebanon, the instrument that Iran used to interfere with Syria, with Hamas, and with the Houthis. We see Hezbollah’s mischief all over the region. Hezbollah has been responsible for smuggling weapons into Bahrain. Hezbollah is involved in criminal activity, such as drug dealing and money laundering."

He urged the international community to take a firm stand against Hezbollah.

"We are saying that the world has to make sure that we designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. There can be no difference between a political wing and a militant wing. The world needs to take action in terms of curtailing Hezbollah's activities, and the world needs to push back against Hezbollah wherever they operate. We cannot allow Lebanon to be a platform from which harm comes to Saudi Arabia."

Al-Jubeir described the Lebanese people as innocent.

"The Lebanese people have been dominated by Hezbollah and we need to find a way to help the Lebanese people come out from under the thumb of Hezbollah," he said. "We cannot allow Lebanon to be a base from which attacks against Saudi Arabia can take place and we are urging the Lebanese government in particular to take firm and resolute action against Hezbollah."

On possible Saudi measures against Hezbollah, he said: "We are looking at various options and in consultations with our friends and allies around the world to see what is the most effective way of dealing with the menace called Hezbollah."

He said there was no difference in the positions of Saudi Arabia and the US vis-a-vis Hezbollah.

"The US wants the Lebanese government to be strong and independent; so do we. The US wants to curtail Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon; so do we. The US wants to push back hard against Hezbollah, its terrorist activities, and its criminal activities, and so do we. So I don’t see a difference between the positions of our two governments," he said.

In Beirut, for the third consecutive day, Lebanese President Michel Aoun carried on consultations with Lebanese leaders.

Aoun's press office said: “The president is still adhering to his position, announced on Saturday, stating that he will wait for Al-Hariri’s return to discuss with him the reasons behind his resignation in order to take the proper actions.

“Our main concern should be the preservation of national unity. The measures taken to maintain security and financial stability are still effective and have so far achieved their objectives.”

The head of the Maronite Catholic church, Patriarch Beshara Al-Rai, visited Aoun at the Presidential Palace on Thursday evening. A source at the Patriarchate’s headquarters said: “The patriarch’s visit to Saudi Arabia is still on as scheduled, at the beginning of next week.”

The Future Movement Bloc and Political Bureau held a joint meeting, headed by former Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, at the residence of Prime Minister Al-Hariri in Beirut. In the statement that was delivered at the end of the meeting, Siniora said: “The Future Movement trusts and fully supports Saad Al-Hariri and his leadership. The movement will support and abide by any decision taken by Al-Hariri under any circumstances.”

The Future Movement said: “The return of Al-Hariri, head of the Future Movement, is a necessity to restore the internal and external balance of powers in Lebanon and respect Lebanese legitimacy represented by the constitution and the Taif Agreement. Al-Hariri’s return is also imperative to preserve Arab and international legitimacy.”

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, representing the Lebanese president, said: “We have already said, and we will keep on saying, that we paid a high price so that we would get a president and a premier who represent us; we chose them and we are the ones to decide if they should be removed from their posts or not.”

In Riyadh, Al-Hariri met the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Al-Hariri's office said in a statement.

Al-Hariri also met diplomats from the EU, Britain and the US in the past two days.

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