Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri said late on Friday he is on his way to the airport in Saudi Arabia.
Hariri, who sparked a crisis by resigning as Lebanese prime minister on Nov. 4 during a visit to Saudi Arabia, tweeted, "To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport..."
In a rare English tweet, Hariri named German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel when announcing that he was heading to the airport in Saudi Arabia. He apparently singled out the top German diplomat because he had criticized meddling in Lebanon's affairs. Earlier a member of his party said Hariri will leave Riyadh for France on Friday but will not return directly to Beirut after the visit.
To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport Mr. Sigmar Gabriel.— Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) November 17, 2017
Hariri's abrupt resignation while he was in Saudi Arabia and his continued stay there caused fears over Lebanon's stability and thrust it into the bitter rivalry between Riyadh and Iran.
Earlier, Hariri dismissed reports about his alleged detention in Saudi Arabia as "rumors," hours before he is expected to leave the kingdom to France two weeks after his surprise resignation.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Hariri is expected in Paris' presidential palace by midday Saturday. Macron said Hariri will be received "with the honors due a prime minister," even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn't yet recognized it.
Hariri said in a tweet that he has stayed in Saudi Arabia to consult about the future of Lebanon and its relations in the region.
"All stories spreading about my sojourn and departure or that deal with the circumstances of my family are merely rumors," he added.
Macron, speaking at an EU summit in Goteborg, Sweden, said Hariri could stay in Paris for weeks should he choose.
Macron said that Hariri "has the intention, I believe, of going to his country in the days or weeks ahead" — the first time a possible timeframe was evoked.
Hariri's televised November 4 resignation from Riyadh stunned the Lebanese, many of whom saw it as a sign that the kingdom — the prime minister's chief ally — had decided to drag tiny Lebanon into the Sunni kingdom's feud with the region's other powerhouse, the predominantly Shiite Iran.
The surprise resignation sparked accusations, including from the Lebanese head of state President Michel Aoun who accused Saudi Arabia of detaining him.
Saudi officials denied the reports, adding that Hariri was an ally, but railed against Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran, accusing the two of meddling in the region's affairs and backing anti-Saudi rebels in Yemen.
The move by Saudi-aligned Hariri raised concerns in a region already beset by conflict. Many feared Lebanon's delicate sectarian-based political system could be easily upended if the county is dragged into a battle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said that there will be no stability in Lebanon unless the militant group Hezbollah disarms.
"This is what we hope," Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart.
It was the second day in a row that the Saudi minister railed against Hezbollah. On Thursday, he called the group a "first-class terrorist organization" that should lay down its arms and respect Lebanon's sovereignty. Saudi Arabia has already asked its nationals to leave Lebanon.
Hariri is expected in France this weekend following a French invitation, which appears aimed to end speculation about him being held against his will.
France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate the crisis and French president Emanuel Macron invited Hariri and his family to the country after his foreign minister met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the crisis.
Hariri's Future TV in Lebanon said Hariri will leave Saudi Arabia tonight.
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Friday against foreign interference in Lebanese affairs following Hariri's resignation.
At a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart, Gibran Bassil, Lavrov said that "Russia invariably stands for supporting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon."
He added that the crisis should be settled internally in Lebanon, without foreign interference, and through dialogue.
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