Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group has hosted a meeting for Saudi opposition figures in its stronghold south of Beirut, a defiant gesture sure to anger the oil-rich kingdom
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group hosted a meeting for Saudi opposition figures at its stronghold south of Beirut on Wednesday, a defiant gesture sure to anger the oil-rich kingdom.
The meeting comes as the Lebanese government is trying to mend ties with Saudi Arabia, which hit a new low in October when it recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports.
Hashem Safieddine, a senior Hezbollah official, said Saudi Arabia should stop its “bullying” policy and interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
The meeting was attended by members of the Saudi opposition and members of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. It was to mark the anniversary of Nimr al-Nimr, an influential Saudi Shiite cleric who mass-executed 47 people in the country in January 2016.
Al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the government and a key leader of Shiite protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011, demanded greater rights and fair treatment in the majority Sunni country.
Lesser-known Saudi figures at the meeting, including Fuad Ibrahim, Abbas Sadek, Hamza Hassan and Sheikh Jassim Mahmoud Ali, slammed the Saudis The royal family killed Nimes. Minutes after Safi al-Din finished his speech, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Waleed Bukhari, tweeted: “The painful truth is that Hezbollah terrorists act above the state. “
Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and banned imports from Lebanon after a Lebanese cabinet minister commented that the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who made comments before taking office, resigned in early December, but the move did little to ease tensions and a war of words between Hezbollah and Saudi officials continued.
Lebanon’s prime minister and President Michel Aoun, a political ally of the Shiite Hezbollah bloc, have been out of touch with the Hezbollah leader’s verbal attacks on the kingdom.
In a speech in late December, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman called on Lebanon to “end the control of Lebanon by the terrorist Hezbollah.”
The crisis is rooted in a years-long regional rivalry with Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are uneasy about Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon.
“We want the best possible relationship with Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia should stop its bullying policies in the region,” Safidin said. “Those who target us will get a response.”
Ali Hashem, a Beirut-based Saudi opposition figure, told The Associated Press that they mark al-Nimr’s anniversary every year, and this year happened to be in Lebanon.
He added that his presence in Lebanon gave him the right to express his opinion, adding that his comments did not violate Lebanese law. Asked what their goal was, Hashem said: “To overthrow the Saudi regime.”