Aoun warns Arab states against pushing Lebanon into 'fire'

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2017 2:28 PM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on Tuesday told Arab states that dealing with Lebanon required wisdom otherwise the country would be pushed "towards the fire".

Aoun's warning followed an Arab League meeting on Sunday whose closing communique condemned the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah for "supporting terrorism" and noted that it was part of the Lebanese government.

The Arab League meeting was called at the behest of Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies as they seek to counter Iran. Saudi Arabia this month accused the Lebanese government of declaring war on it because of Hezbollah.

"My message to the Arab brothers: Dealing with Lebanon requires a lot of wisdom and rationalism, and the alternative to that is pushing it towards the fire," Aoun said in a televised speech on the eve of Lebanese independence day.

Lebanon has been pitched into political crisis this month by Saad al-Hariri's sudden resignation as prime minister, thrusting the country once again to the forefront of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the Middle East.

The Lebanese government and politicians close to Hariri, a longtime ally of Riyadh, say Saudi Arabia forced him to step down and held him against his will. Hariri and Saudi Arabia have denied this.

Hariri flew to Paris at the weekend following an intervention by France. He is expected to return to Lebanon in the coming hours to take part in independence day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday.

Referring to Hariri's resignation, Aoun said the "last governmental crisis" had "passed" but it was not a trivial issue.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)