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Lebanese PM's Sudden Resignation Expected to Raise Tensions

by Associated Press /
Image: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives for a mass funeral of ten Lebanese soldiers at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept. 8, 2017.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives for a mass funeral of ten Lebanese soldiers at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept. 8, 2017. Hassan Ammar / AP

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Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post Saturday during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprising move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions.

In a televised address from Riyadh, Hariri fired a vicious tirade against Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs and vowed "Iran's arms in the region will be cut off."

"The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it," Hariri added, accusing Tehran of spreading chaos, strife and destruction throughout the middle east.

Hariri also said he feared there was a plot to target his life, adding that the atmosphere in the country is similar to the one that existed before his father, the late prime minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member national unity cabinet that included the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. The government has largely succeeded in protecting the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The country is, however, sharply divided between a camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, headed by the Sunni Muslim Hariri, and a camp loyal to Iran represented by the Shi'a group Hezbollah.

Hariri's bombshell resignation Saturday was expected to sharply raise tensions in the country. President Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah, says he is awaiting Hariri's return to the country to clarify the circumstances of his resignation before moving forward.

Hariri said Hezbollah's policies have put Lebanon "in the eye of the storm."

"Hezbollah was able in past decades to impose a status quo in Lebanon through its weapons directed at the chests of Syrians and Lebanese," he said.

“I declare my resignation from the premiership of the Lebanese government, with the certainty that the will of the Lebanese is strong,” Hariri said.

“When I took office, I promised you that I would seek to unite the Lebanese, end political division and establish the principle of self-sufficiency, but I have been unable to do so. Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon,” he said.

Earlier this week, Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan sharply criticized Hezbollah, calling for its "toppling" and promising "astonishing developments" in the coming days during an interview with the Lebanese TV station MTV.

Al-Sabhan met with Hariri in Saudi Arabia earlier this week. Hariri then abruptly returned to the kingdom on Friday before his bombshell announcement Saturday.

The attacks on Hezbollah came on the heels of new U.S. sanctions on the group.

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