Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri Announces Sudden Resignation

Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the conference on Friday. Dalati and Nohra

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

He assumed office in December 2016 as prime minister in a power-sharing government headed by President Michel Aoun, a supporter of Hezbollah, whose members have been charged by the International Court of Justice with assassinating Rafik Hariri.

It thrust Lebanon into the front line of a regional competition between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran that has also buffeted Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. In a statement, the presidential office said Aoun was informed by Hariri in a phone call of his resignation, adding that the president now awaits Hariri's return to clarify the circumstances of his resignation and proceed accordingly.

Even as he resigned, Hariri warned his foes: "Our nation will rise just as it did before and the hands that want to harm it will be cut". It also throws into doubt parliamentary elections slated for early next year which have been repeatedly delayed. It comes amid a sharp escalation in Saudi rhetoric against its regional archrival, Iran.

Hazem al-Amin, a Lebanese writer who follows regional affairs, said Hariri's resignation is "completely a Saudi step" that comes in the context of an worldwide and regional atmosphere against Hezbollah and against Iranian influence in the region.

The surprise move risks plunging the small and already fragile Middle Eastern country deeper into turmoil.

Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze minority, said Lebanon was too weak to bear the consequences of Hariri's resignation, saying he feared political and economic fallout.

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Hariri's words are explosive, said Gerges. "The worldwide community needs to come together and stand against this aggression", he said.

Hariri said in his speech that the political climate in Lebanon was reminiscent of that which prevailed before his father was killed.

Lebanese political analyst Hilal Khashan argued that Saudi Arabia had been piling the pressure on its protege lately and "summoned" him to Riyadh. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

He blamed Iran for "disorder and destruction" in Lebanon and called Hezbollah "Iran's arm", which had imposed a "fait accompli on Lebanon through the power of its weapons". If the next government is more pro-Hezbollah, they said, that could lead to devastating sanctions. The group's intervention in Syria is highly controversial in Lebanon.

A Saudi government minister said Hariri was in Riyadh to ensure his safety. "I'm confident that the will of the Lebanese is stronger and they will be able to defeat hegemony from inside and outside", he said. "But unfortunately, this pushed Iran and its allies to more interference in our internal affairs", he said.

The prime minister must be a Sunni in Lebanon's sectarian system. Hariri abruptly returned to the kingdom again on Friday after a meeting in Beirut with Ali-Akbar Velayati, foreign adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

Hezbollah members have been accused over the 2005 assassination in a massive auto bomb blast of Rafik Hariri, the dominant figure in Lebanon's post-war political landscape.

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