First Published: 2017-12-05

Lebanon's cabinet convenes for first time since political crisis
Cabinet is expected to issue statement about Hariri's resignation that will reaffirm Lebanon's state policy of staying out of regional conflicts.
Middle East Online

Hariri (R) has said he wants all Lebanese to commit to the "dissociation" policy

BEIRUT - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Tuesday that he had withdrawn his resignation, a month after his shock announcement that he was quitting sparked political upheaval.

The announcement brought some respite to Lebanon, which had been gripped by fears of new political and economic instability in a country riven by deep divisions and caught up in regional rivalries.

Minutes after Hariri's announcement, Paris said the Lebanese premier would attend talks Friday in France on the situation in Lebanon, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will also attend.

"The council of ministers thanks the prime minister for rescinding his resignation," Hariri said, reading from a cabinet statement issued after its first meeting since his return two weeks ago.

Hariri announced he was stepping down on November 4 in a televised address from Saudi Arabia, a move widely seen as part of the boiling tensions between the Saudi kingdom -- a long-time Hariri backer -- and its regional rival Iran.

In his resignation, Hariri lambasted Tehran and its Lebanese ally, the powerful armed movement Hezbollah, for destabilising his country and the Middle East.

He later said he would consider coming back as premier if Hezbollah stopped intervening in regional conflicts, including the wars in Syria and Yemen.

In recent days, consultations across the political spectrum have sought to find a compromise between the Saudi-backed camp led by Hariri, and Hezbollah's Iran-backed bloc.

On Tuesday, Lebanon's cabinet, which includes both blocs, reaffirmed its official policy of "disassociation", or remaining neutral in regional conflicts.

- 'Disassociation' -

"The Lebanese government, in all its political components, has committed to distance itself from all conflicts, wars, and internal affairs of Arab states," according to the cabinet statement read out by Hariri.

This "disassociation" is intended to "preserve Lebanon's political and economic relations with its Arab brothers", the statement added.

The policy had already been adopted by Hariri's cabinet, formed in 2016 after a settlement across political divides that saw Michel Aoun appointed president and the creation of a government including Hezbollah deputies.

Hezbollah has been accused of violating the policy, however, by fighting in neighbouring Syria to support the Damascus regime as well as by dispatching military commanders to Iraq and allegedly backing Shiite rebels in Yemen.

"A reaffirmation of Lebanese 'disassociation', notwithstanding its manifest hypocrisy and the impossibility of it being translated concretely, makes it possible to save face and win a little time," said Karim Bitar, an expert at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

During the cabinet meeting, according to a statement, Hariri expressed the hope for "a new chance to defend the country together".

"We see how the region is boiling and we must be aware that any misstep could bring the country to a dangerous precipice," he told his cabinet.

Lebanon has been buffeted by regional instability in recent years, particularly by the war in neighbouring Syria which has sent more than one million refugees into its tiny neighbour, seeking safety.

The conflict in Syria has also deepened existing tensions, with Hariri's bloc backing the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad while Hezbollah's fighters battled alongside the regime's troops.

Hariri's resignation raised fears that Lebanon could be plunged into chaos, and provoked widespread speculation about whether Riyadh had forced him to step down.

He delivered his resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia and spent the next two weeks there amid rumours that Riyadh was holding him "hostage".

He denied those claims, and after top-level French intervention returned to Beirut where he announced he had "paused" his resignation to hold consultations across the political spectrum.

France's foreign ministry said Friday's meeting was intended to "support the political process (in Lebanon) at a crucial moment".

 

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant