Lebanon's Saad al-Hariri leaves Saudi Arabia for France

Lebanon's Saad al-Hariri leaves Saudi Arabia for FranceSaad al-Hariri, who sparked a crisis by resigning as Lebanese prime minister on November 4 during a visit to Saudi Arabia, left Riyadh late last night on a flight bound for Paris, a television channel owned by his family said "Mr Hariri left Riyadh airport on his private jet with his wife and is headed for Le Bourget airport", north-east of Paris, announced Future TV around 1:20 am (2320 GMT). A source close to Mr Hariri confirmed the departure of the former prime minister to AFP, adding that the flight would take six and a half hours. Earlier Mr Hariri had tweeted he was on his way to the airport in the Saudi capital, refuting the suggestion he had been not allowed to leave the country. His visit to France with his family to meet President Emmanuel Macron is seen as part of a possible way out of the crisis. Michel Aoun, the Lebanese president, had accused Saudi authorities of "detaining" Mr Hariri and refused to accept his resignation from abroad. Mr Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen, has been in Riyadh since issuing a statement on television there on November 4 that he was stepping down because he feared for his life while also accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his nation. Mr Macron, speaking in Sweden, said Hariri "intends to return to his country in the coming days, weeks". The French president will meet Mr Hariri at noon Paris time today (Saturday). The crisis has thrust Lebanon into the bitter rivalry pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran, which includes the heavily armed Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group. In Lebanon, Mr Hariri has long been an ally of Riyadh. His coalition government, formed in a political deal last year to end years of paralysis, includes Hizbollah. President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hizbollah, has called Mr Hariri a Saudi hostage and refused to accept his resignation unless he returns to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Mr Hariri say his movements were not restricted. Lebanese politicians from across the political spectrum have called for Mr Hariri to return to the country, saying it is necessary to resolve the crisis. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who heads President Aoun's political party, said on Thursday Beirut could escalate the crisis if Mr Hariri did not return home. "We have adopted self-restraint so far to arrive at this result so that we don't head towards diplomatic escalation and the other measures available to us," he said during a European tour aimed at building pressure for a solution to the crisis. Saudi Arabia regards Hizbollah as a conduit for Iranian interference across the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. It says it has no problem with Hizbollah remaining a purely political party, but has demanded it surrender its arms, which the group says are needed to defend Lebanon.

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