BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's prime minister is attending an Arab League summit in the Mauritanian capital but isn't spending the night there after his health minister questioned the impoverished African nation's ability to host top delegations.
The comments by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour on a local TV show triggered a spat between Lebanon and Mauritania, where Lebanese officials were attacked by journalists and on social media.
"They don't have the infrastructure and it's miserable," said Abu Faour. "The summit will be held inside a tent," he added, apparently comparing it to previous summits that were held in five-star hotels or luxury conference centers.
The minister later clarified on TV that his statements were not meant against the people of Mauritania and said he got his information from a Lebanese delegation that went to inspect where the summit will be held and where the official delegations will be staying.
He told the local Al-Jadeed TV that the Lebanese delegation will fly to Morocco and spend the night there, then fly to attend the summit, leaving the same day without sleeping in Nouakchott.
The Arab League Summit chaired by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz opened inside a large tent in Nouakchott on Monday.
But Abu Faour's statements angered Lebanese living in Mauritania who poked fun at their government and politicians, citing a months-long trash crisis that hit Lebanon over that past year and led to piles of uncollected trash building up in Beirut and its suburbs.
Prominent Palestinian journalist Abdul-Bari Atwan criticized Lebanese politicians in a column he wrote in his online Rai Al-Youm newspaper.
"We don't understand the arrogance by leaders who claim they are Arabs, toward a country like Mauritania whose only guilt is that it is a poor country that does not have oil or gold," Atwan wrote.
Mauritanian journalist Naji Mohammed al-Imam wrote in the daily Al-Wahdawi that Abu Faour "lives amid mountains of trash" and described Salam as a prime minister "by coincidence."