Saudi Arabia orders Lebanese ambassador to leave the kingdom

BEIRUT (AP) – Saudi Arabia on Friday ordered Lebanon’s ambassador to the kingdom to leave the country within 48 hours and halted all imports from Lebanon, in response to comments from a Lebanese minister who called the war in Yemen a Saudi “aggression”.

Hours later, the Kingdom of Bahrain ordered the Lebanese ambassador to leave the country within two days for the same reason, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said.

The Lebanese prime minister and president discussed the Saudi decision and called on the country’s information minister to make the “appropriate decision,” an apparent call for him to step down in the hope that it will ease tension.

Saudi state media added in their report that the kingdom’s ambassador to Beirut has also been invited to return home. The report says the move will not affect tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens and their families who live and work in the oil-rich kingdom.

The Saudi move to ban imports from Lebanon comes at a time when the small nation urgently needs foreign currency as it goes through the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Since the start of Lebanon’s economic collapse at the end of 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost over 90% of its value, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and now three quarters of its residents live in poverty.

A regional economic powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest oil producers and exporters, has been a major market for Lebanese products over the decades.

The move came days after a video was released on social media in which Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi called the war in Yemen an aggression against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He added that the war in Yemen is “absurd” and must stop because he is opposed to wars between Arabs.

The office of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said it discussed the situation with President Michel Aoun before calling Kordahi and asking him to take “the appropriate decision in the interest of national interests”.

Mikati expressed regret for the Saudi decision and urged the kingdom to reconsider its decision. Mikati added that his government “categorically rejects” anything that undermines “deep brotherly relations” with Saudi Arabia.

Mikati said earlier that Kordahi’s comments do not represent the government’s opinion, reiterating that the minister spoke before taking office last month.

Kordahi, a former TV show host, made the comments on a TV show before being selected for the job in September. Kordahi is close to the Christian Marada Movement, an ally of the militant group Hezbollah.

Kordahi held a press conference in Beirut this week, refusing to apologize for the interview, which he said aired on August 5. He added that since becoming Minister he respects the government’s policy of not expressing his opinion.

“We should not continue to be blackmailed in Lebanon by anyone, be it countries, ambassadors or individuals,” Kordahi said, adding that he did not have the intends to resign from his post because of his comments.

Saudi Arabia says Hezbollah is helping Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Both Hezbollah and the Houthis are backed by Iran and see themselves as part of the so-called axis of resistance which includes the Syrian government and the powerful Shiite militias in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of Lebanon, but the kingdom is also locked in a regional struggle with Iran, the main ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Tensions between the two regional powers have often turned into a stalemate in decision-making in Lebanese politics. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that have imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia classifies the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have been strained in recent months over what the kingdom says about Hezbollah’s control over the small country.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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