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Lebanon’s Hariri says he will return in next two days

Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad al-Hariri, left, meets with Lebanon's Christian Maronite patriarch Bechara al-Rahi on Nov. 14, 2017.

Lebanon's Maronite Patriarchate press office/AFP/Getty Images

Ten days after his surprise resignation plunged Lebanon into crisis and raised fears of regional turmoil, Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday called on everyone to "chill."

In his first personal tweet since travelling to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, where he announced he would step down in a pre-recorded message that led many to think he was being held against his will, Hariri said he planned to return to Lebanon in the next two days.

"People, I am fine. And God willing I will come back in a couple of days. Let's chill." Hariri wrote, adding that he was in good shape. His phrasing suggested he would return sometime in the coming days, rather than setting a precise date.

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Lebanon's foreign minister meanwhile said during a trip to Paris that his country may resort to international law to determine Hariri's condition, suggesting he is being held under some form of house arrest, if he doesn't return to Lebanon.

Hariri's surprise resignation and then his scarce communication led many Lebanese to speculate that he was being held against his will and stripped of his phone despite Saudi denials. A live interview Sunday with a Lebanese TV station affiliated with his political party did little to dispel such fears.

On Tuesday, Hariri met with the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch, who visited Saudi Arabia, the first publicized meeting with a Lebanese official. But there were no TV cameras allowed into the meeting and only photos of the encounter were released.

President Michel Aoun has refused to accept Hariri's Nov. 4 resignation and urged him to come home. Hezbollah and other rivals have suggested that Hariri's Saudi patrons forced him to resign to wreck the coalition government. The coalition government includes the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Speaking from Paris, Lebanon's foreign minister said he hoped to resolve the "ambiguous" Hariri situation with Saudi Arabia. Gibran Bassil, who is on a European tour aimed at rallying support for his country's stability, said if Hariri doesn't return, then it will prove he is not free.

"We hope Lebanon doesn't have to resort to international law," Bassil said.

Bassil spoke after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he "hopes Saad Hariri can go to Lebanon as he has announced," according to the president's office.

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France, Lebanon's onetime colonial ruler, is seeking to play a mediating role in the region and Macron paid a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is heading to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen's Shiite rebels bombed the airport in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, on Tuesday, Yemeni officials said, though there were conflicting reports as to the extent of the damage.

The United Nations said most of the airport remained intact and that it would be able to receive aid shipments once the coalition follows through on its announced loosening of the blockade of the war-torn country.

But Yemeni officials in Sanaa, which is held by the rebels known as Houthis, said the airport's runway and a ground navigation tower were damaged. Repair crews were already at work, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Jamie McGoldrick, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said UN staff had visited the airport and spoken with authorities there, and that its "runway, taxiway, ramp, terminal and air traffic control tower were not hit and are in good condition."

"This will have no impact on our operations once they resume," McGoldrick said in an e-mail from Amman, Jordan.

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Hariri's resignation came amid mounting tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hariri lashed out at Hezbollah in his resignation speech and said he feared for his safety. Saudi Arabia has accused Hezbollah of declaring war on the kingdom by supporting Yemen's Houthi rebels, who fired a ballistic missile the night of Hariri's resignation that was intercepted near Riyadh.

Last week, Saudi Arabia called on its citizens to leave Lebanon "immediately," raising fears of further escalation.

Asked if he fears punitive actions from the kingdom, Bassil said any attack on Lebanon would affect the whole region.

"The first to be touched in this will be the Syrians based in Lebanon," Bassil said, referring to the more than 1 million refugees in Lebanon, equivalent to a fourth of the tiny country's population.

"They would move from a situation of being accepted and absorbed by the Lebanese society to a situation where they will no more tolerate their conditions," he said, without elaborating.

Bassil and his party have been pressing for the return of Syrian refugees now that the war is winding down. Hariri, and other Sunni politicians who oppose the Syrian government, have argued against repatriation before a peace deal is reached.

Bassil denied Lebanon had anything to do with "a missile launched from one country toward another country," apparently referring to the missile fired at Riyadh.

"There is no excuse for this exceptional and unnatural situation" with Saudi Arabia, he said.

In his interview, Hariri hinted he may reconsider his resignation if Hezbollah agreed to discuss staying out of regional affairs. Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi national, has homes in Saudi Arabia, where his wife and children have been living for years.

Saudi Arabia crackdown targets offshore wealth (Reuters)
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