France extended an official invitation to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and his family on Wednesday, begging the question of whether or not he is held hostage by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.
In an interview on Saturday, Hariri insisted he is not being detained.
President Emmanuel Macron said he extended this invitation after personal consultation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Macron specified that this is not an offer of asylum.
Hariri in Riyadh
During his visit to Saudi Arabia on November 3, Hariri resigned from the post of the Prime Minister. Officially, he did so to protest the role of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon, expressing fear that his assassination is plotted by Hezbollah.
However, sources in his party have told Reuters he was forced to resign.
Traditionally, Riyadh has been a political sponsor for Hariri. However, given that Hariri has yet to return to Lebanon, there is speculation he is held hostage against his will.
The Iran-backed Lebanese President, Aoun, reiterated on Wednesday that he regards Hariri as a detainee.
Hostage or refugee?
From Hariri’s party, foreign minister Gebran Bassil made clear that the relationship between Beirut and Riyadh remains amicable, but there is something “abnormal” about Hariri staying in Saudi Arabia.
Bassil called on Riyadh to deal directly with Iran rather than apply pressure on Lebanon.
In an interview on Saturday, Hariri warned of the danger of an economic blockade by Saudi Arabia, as well as the risks for Lebanese citizens in the Gulf region. Saudi has ordered its citizens to abandon Lebanon suggesting Beirut is backing Iran.