Lebanese leader Saad Hariri has arrived in Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he expected him to return to Lebanon within days or weeks.
Despite Hariri announching his resignation in a televised speech two weeks ago, Macron has said he will welcome Hariri “with the honours that are due a prime minister”.
The politician from Lebanon’s Sunni community made the announcement during a trip to the Saudi capital Riyadh on November 4, but politicians within his own Future Movement, as well his rivals, have demanded he return home to formalise the decision.
“I will … welcome Prime Minister Hariri with the honours that are due to a prime minister, indeed resigned, but whose resignation hasn’t yet been recognised in his country, as he hasn’t been there,” Macron said at a conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Friday.
“So nevertheless I’ll welcome him as prime minister,” he added.
“Prime Minister Hariri then has the intention, I believe, to return to his country in the following days or weeks. It’s for him to discuss his own future, but I don’t have any doubts about this subject.”
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said Hariri’s children had not accompanied him on the trip and that could “raise a lot of questions”.
“Some in Lebanon will definitely say that one way or the other, Saad Hariri remains some sort of a political hostage,” she said.
Hariri: Detained or not?
On Wednesday, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, accused Saudi Arabia of detaining Hariri, a standpoint held by the Iran-backed Shia movement, Hezbollah, which is part of the country’s governing coalition.
Hariri condemned Hezbollah in his resignation speech, but the group’s leader Hasan Nasrallah believes he was coerced into standing down.
A later Reuters report citing “sources close to Hariri” said the Saudi were holding the leader for refusing to confront Hezbollah and Iranian influence in Lebanon.
On Friday, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, during a visit to Russia, criticised groups for attempting to “dislodge the Lebanese head of state”, without naming them.
The suspicions are not limited to Lebanese politicians.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Germany after its foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, condemned Saudi interference in Lebanon’s internal politics.
Hariri rejected the claims that he was being held by the Saudis in a televised interview and later in a tweet directed at Gabriel, but analysts said his demeanour during the interview was not consistent with his statements.
Hariri’s resignation throws Lebanon’s fragile political set-up into chaos as it leaves Hezbollah with the arduous task of finding a Sunni politician willing to lead a new coalition government.
Under a political deal reached last year, a coalition government was formed in Lebanon, with Hariri as prime minister and Aoun as president.
According to Lebanon’s constitution, the office of prime minister must be held by someone from the Sunni community.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies view Hezbollah as a “terrorist organisation” because of its role in Arab countries ranging from Syria to Yemen.
But Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said from Spain that “unless Hezbollah disarms and becomes a political party, Lebanon will be held hostage by Hezbollah and by extension Iran”.