Saudi Arabia said on Friday it was withdrawing its ambassador to Lebanon and giving the Beirut envoy 48 hours to leave Riyadh, following “insulting” comments made by a Lebanese minister about the Yemen war.
The regional heavyweight decision, accompanied by a suspension of imports, is yet another blow to Lebanon, which is in the midst of an economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is likely to be among the worst on the planet since mid-1990. XIX century.
Saudi Arabia ordered the “revocation of the ambassador to Lebanon for consultations, and the departure of the Lebanese ambassador to the kingdom within 48 hours,” over “insulting” comments made this week by Lebanon’s information minister, the Ministry of Relations said. Exteriors.
The wealthy Gulf kingdom also “decided to stop all Lebanese imports,” citing the “security of the kingdom and its people,” a statement added.
Riyadh lamented the deterioration of relations with Lebanon and said “new measures” will be taken against Beirut, without giving further details.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati reacted quickly, saying he “regretted” the Saudi move.
“We deeply regret the kingdom’s decision and hope that it will reconsider. As for us, we will continue to work to resolve what needs to be resolved,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had summoned Lebanon’s ambassadors on Wednesday over Information Minister George Kordahi’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.
Kordahi said in a television interview that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were “defending themselves … against external aggression,” adding that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed” by the coalition.
In the interview, filmed in August but broadcast on Monday, he also called Yemen’s seven-year war “futile” and said it was “time for it to end.”
Saudi Arabia has turned away from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which has the backing of its regional rival Iran.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese government said that Kordahi’s statements were “rejected and did not reflect the government’s position,” adding that the interview in question took place before Kordahi was appointed to the cabinet in September.
Kordahi, a well-known television host, told local reporters on Wednesday that the interview in question took place on August 5 and was his “personal opinion.”
“I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t attack anyone. Why should I apologize?” he said. “I expressed my position with love as a human being who feels Arab suffering.”
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.
Tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have died and millions have been displaced in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Human rights groups have harshly criticized the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced that it would suspend imports of fruits and vegetables from Lebanon, saying the shipments were being used for drug smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.
And in May, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe resigned and was swiftly replaced after comments he made irritated Saudi Arabia.
( Jowhar with AFP)