Visiting Lebanese patriarch meets Saad al-Hariri in Saudi Arabia

Jean-Yves Le Drian

Jean-Yves Le Drian

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch, visiting Saudi Arabia in an historic visit to the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, expressed support on Tuesday for the reasons behind Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's resignation. "I have a family, and it is my right to protect them", Hariri said, attempting to quash rumors that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

"Hariri is returning as fast as possible and I support the reasons for his resignation", Rai was quoted as saying by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

In an exclusive interview from Riyadh with his party's Future TV, Hariri brushed aside rumours that he was under de facto house arrest in Saudi Arabia.

Top Lebanese government officials and senior politicians close to Hariri believe Saudi Arabia coerced him into quitting and has been holding him against his will ever since, though Hariri and Riyadh have denied this.

"I will return to Lebanon very soon to initiate the necessary constitutional procedures", Hariri said.

The resignation of the Saudi-allied Hariri's and its aftermath have put Lebanon back to the forefront of the conflict between Shi'ite-led Iran and its regional Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has refused to accept the November 4 resignation, which came under mysterious circumstances, until Hariri returns to the country.

Riyadh blames Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah for the resignation, accusing it of hijacking Lebanese politics.

In a statement from his office, Aoun said "Hariri's freedom has been restricted and conditions have been imposed regarding his residence and the contacts he may have, even with members of his family".

Rai heads the Maronite church, which has a presence in Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus and follows an Eastern rite of the Roman Catholic Church.

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