Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is meeting with Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch, local news reports claim. The meeting comes after Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai met on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia with Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon's prime minister from Riyadh on Nov. 4, according to Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV.
Hariri abruptly announced his resignation in a television broadcast, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Saudi Arabia's arch-foe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.
Patriarch Beshara al-Rai heads the Maronite church, which has a presence in Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus and follows an Eastern rite of the Roman Catholic church. Maronites number about 900,000 in Lebanon, around a quarter of the population.
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An official visit to Saudi Arabia by such a senior non-Muslim cleric is a rare act of religious openness for the kingdom, which hosts the holiest sites in Islam and bans the practice of other religions but says it wants to open up more to the world.
It is also the first trip to Riyadh by a senior Lebanese official since the start of a crisis sparked by Saad al-Hariri’s resignation as Lebanese prime minister on Nov. 4 from the Saudi capital.
Top Lebanese government officials and senior sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia coerced him into resigning and has put him under effective house arrest since he flew there more than a week ago.
During his visit, Rai plans to meet Hariri as well as King Salman and his son and heir-apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both of whom he praised in an address to Lebanese living in Riyadh.
“Certainly his resignation surprised the Lebanese and saddened them and created a type of deadlock,” he later told reporters between selfies with followers. “We hope that with this visit we can speak about this topic.”