Lebanon minister says probe 'libelous' Saudis

11 Nov,2017

Beirut, AP/BdChronicle:

Lebanon's Justice Minister has asked the country's prosecutor general to launch an investigation against two Saudi citizens who appeared on a TV talk show and branded the Lebanese president and parliament speakers as "terrorists."


Salim Jreissati wrote in a two-page letter Friday to the prosecutor that the two men, Ibrahim Al Merhi and Adwan al-Ahmari, have engaged in libel against top officials including President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.


The move comes at a time when tensions are high between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia over last week's resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced from the Saudi capital Riyadh.


Al Merhi and al-Ahmari appeared Thursday night on Kalam Ennas, one of the most watched weekly TV programs in Lebanon.


Lebanese police officials say a Saudi citizen has gone missing in Lebanon and search operations are ongoing to find him.


The officials say that Syrian citizen Ivine Hassan informed police that her Saudi husband Ali Shamrawi has been missing since Thursday night, adding that he was missing north of Beirut. The Saudi man resides in Lebanon.


It was not immediately clear if the kidnapping is related to rising tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia over last week's resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.


Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk was quoted as saying by local media outlets Friday that safety of all foreigners is a priority for authorities adding that the stability of Lebanon is a "red line."


Some local TV stations said Shamrawi's family received a call from unknown persons demanding a $1 million in return for Shamrawi's release.


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri should return to the country to make his resignation "official."


Hariri mysteriously resigned last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, fueling rumors he's being held there against his will. Tillerson says he's seen "no indication that is the case."


But Tillerson says if Hariri wants to step down, he needs to "go back to Lebanon" and formally resign "so that the government of Lebanon can function properly."


Tillerson says he's spoken about Hariri's situation with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister. He says the Saudi diplomat assured him that Hariri's decision was "taken solely by him."


Tillerson is also warning parties inside and outside Lebanon not to use the country as "a venue for proxy conflicts." He's alluding to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, as well as to Saudi Arabia and its allies.


Tillerson spoke aboard his plane as he flew from China to Vietnam.


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it's essential that peace is preserved in Lebanon, warning that a new conflict could have "devastating consequences" in the region.


The U.N. chief told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that he has been having "very intense contacts" at the political and diplomatic level with Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but also with other countries in the region "or with an influence in the region."


Guterres said he has been telling the political leaders and diplomats that it is important to preserve Lebanon's unity and stability "and the functioning of the Lebanese institutions."


Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri mysteriously resigned from the Saudi capital last Saturday, throwing the tiny nation into turmoil and leading to rumors that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.


"We are indeed very worried," Guterres said, "and we hope that we won't see an escalation in the region that would have tragic consequences."


Lebanon's Hezbollah leader says war with Israel is unlikely amid the crisis facing his country following the resignation of its prime minister in an announcement made from Saudi Arabia.


Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that his powerful militant group is watching carefully for any Israeli attempts to use the crisis to begin hostilities against Lebanon. Nasrallah says Israel is cautious and unlikely to make such a move.


Nasrallah is calming an apparently jittery population following Saudi Arabia's escalation against Hezbollah's patron Iran. The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia last week was seen as a move by Riyadh to take its rivalry with Iran to the tiny Lebanon.


Many fear the escalation will pave the way for Israel to strike against Hezbollah, against which Israel has fought a number of wars. Nasrallah warned Israel against "miscalculation" or "taking advantage of the situation."


He said Israel should not think "we are troubled. No, absolutely not."


"Today we are more confident and feeling stronger in the face of any threat," said Nasrallah.


Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says the country's prime minister is currently detained in Saudi Arabia and that his "forced" resignation is unconstitutional because it was done "under duress."


Speaking on Friday, Nasrallah said he was certain that Saad Hariri, who resigned last week in an address from Saudi Arabia, was forced to so as part of the kingdom's policy of meddling in Lebanon's affairs.


He said Hariri is being prevented by Saudi officials from returning to Lebanon, adding that his detention should not be accepted.


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