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Lebanon Foreign Ministry rejects blame in Saudi aid row

THE LEVANT NEWS — BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry Saturday defended itself against blame for compromising the $4 billion in Saudi military aid that was announced halted one day earlier.

In a statement, the ministry, headed by Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil, said its critics were using the incident to launch “cheap” attacks for “political benefit.”

Saudi Arabia in a surprise move Friday announced that it was halting both a $3 billion grant to the Lebanese Army and a $1 billion package to the Internal Security Forces.

Riyadh also said it was reevaluating its relationship with Lebanon in light of positions taken by unnamed Lebanese officials it deemed were not acting in a “brotherly” manner.

Riyadh’s critics, led by Hezbollah, have rejected that reasoning as an excuse to cover up for its deep financial crisis caused by the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the recent plunge in oil prices.

But Saudi-backed March 14 officials quickly pointed the finger at Bassil over his recent decisions to distance Lebanon from statements issued during meetings in Cairo and Jeddah last month accusing Iran of backing terrorism.

The statement issued at the Cairo meeting also listed Hezbollah, an influential member of Lebanon’s government and FPM ally, as a terrorist group.

Future Movement leader Saad Hariri said Friday he “understood” Riyadh’s decision to halt the aid, blaming Bassil for causing Saudi Arabia “pain” by not getting on board with the statements.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt Saturday called on unnamed Lebanese officials to “reconsider their positions” toward Arab states.

March 14 lawmakers Ammar Houri and Marwan Hamade also blamed Bassil for the Saudi move.

In its statement Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said the decisions taken at Cairo and Jeddah were in line with the agreements made between officials at recent national dialogue and Cabinet meetings.

“The recent principled position adopted by the Lebanese government is to not enter into a regional conflict, but to adopt a conciliatory approach,” the Foreign Ministry said.

It also noted that the Foreign Ministry had unequivocally denounced any interference in Saudi affairs, as well as the Jan. 2 storming of Saudi missions inside Iran last month by protesters.

Both the Cairo and Jeddah meetings were called on by Riyadh over the storming of the missions in Iran by protesters angered over the Saudi executions of a Shiite cleric.

The Foreign Ministry also called for Lebanese expats living and working in Saudi Arabia to not be affected by the dispute.

“The relationship between the Republic of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia is not a circumstantial relationship linked to fleeting conditions. It is a deep historical relationship based on close ties between the two countries and the two peoples,” it added.

Source: The Daily Star

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