Riyadh, Nov 10: Saudi Arabia on Thursday asked its nationals who are visiting or residing in Lebanon to leave that country as soon as possible.
Official news agency SPA reported that the government also advised Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon amid accusations that Riyadh is playing a role in the current Lebanese political crisis.
Tension has risen between Riyadh and Beirut since last Saturday, when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation while on a visit to Saudi Arabia, prompting some in Lebanon to assert that the Saudis forced Hariri to step down.
Hariri, who remains in Riyadh, met Thursday with French Ambassador François Gouvette and with the head of the European Union delegation, Michele Cervone d’Urso.
Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, has denied that he is under house arrest in Riyadh.
In announcing his resignation, Hariri denounced an alleged plot to assassinate him. The prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, also criticized Shiite-majority Iran for interference in Lebanese political affairs.
Hariri’s critique of Iran is connected to Tehran’s support of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia, where the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam is dominant, views both Iran and Hezbollah as adversaries.
Hariri’s resignation has not yet been accepted by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, who said he awaits Hariri’s return to Lebanon to learn the reasons behind the resignation.
Lebanon’s three main sectarian groups: Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, have tried to maintain a delicate power- sharing arrangement since achieving independence in 1943.
Under the terms of the so-called National Pact adopted then, a Maronite Christian is supposed to be the country’s president, a Sunni Muslim holds the post of prime minister and a Shiite Muslim serves as speaker of parliament.
There have been times in recent history, such as the 1975-1990 civil war, when the division of power among groups has been unable to stem the tide of sectarian violence.
Saad Hariri’s fear of possible assassination may come from his family’s relationship with politically motivated murder. In 2005, his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, died in a car bombing, an incident that led to the Cedar Revolution and Syria’s exit from Lebanon.