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'Where's Hariri?': Has Riyadh 'Kidnapped' the Lebanon PM?

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A Royal Saudi Air Force fighter jet illustrative

Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept Hariri's resignation unless he tendered it in person in Lebanon.

His resignation is part of a much bigger geopolitical drama that is now unfolding in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

On the same day, Saudi-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shares power with Hezbollah in an uneasy coalition government, suddenly appeared in the Saudi capital and abruptly announced his resignation from office.

Ibrahim al-Masri, a 37-year-old Hariri supporter, said the Lebanese didn't know if it was Hariri's choice to stay in Saudi Arabia.

He accused Iran and the Lebanese Resistance Movement Hezbollah of meddling in Arab countries' affairs, an allegation the two have repeatedly denied.

"When Hariri's plane landed in Riyadh [on his subseqent visit on the weekend of 4 November], he got the message immediately that something was wrong", a Hariri source told Reuters.

A dual Lebanese-Saudi national, the Saudi-allied Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation on November 4 in a pre-recorded message on Saudi TV, criticizing Iran and Hezbollah, and saying he feared for his safety.

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According to sources speaking to Reuters, Hariri believed he had convinced Saudi officials of the need to maintain an entente with Hezbollah for the sake of Lebanon's stability.

He said Saudi Arabia is likely "trying to establish a regional and global coalition, supported by the United States and President Trump, to try and counter the Iranian presence".

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its rhetoric against Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, accusing both of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.

He said he made a decision to resign to save the country from imminent danger, but did not elaborate. "Saudi Arabia is ready to pay tens of billions of dollars to Israel for that", he said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday described Hariri as "a strong partner" and warned against "any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country". In the week of Mr Hariri's resignation, dozens of officials and royals were rounded up in the kingdom on corruption charges.

Last month, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani boasted of Iran's growing influence in the region, a comment that angered Mr Hariri as well as Saudi Arabia. "Everyone may not agree with Hariri's politics, but he is our prime minister".

What's to come largely depends on Saudi Arabia's next move - and will have bigger implications for the region.

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