by Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
Saudi minister declines to specify what action Saudi Arabia plans to take, but says Lebanon must "work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return"
Lebanon was thrust into the center of the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran on Saturday when Saudi-allied Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri dramatically resigned, blaming Iran and Hezbollah for his sudden departure.
Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would "be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia" because of what he described as aggression by Hezbollah.
Faulting the Hariri-led administration for failing to take action against Hezbollah during a year in office, Sabhan said, "There are those who will stop [Hezbollah] and make it return to the caves of south Lebanon," the heartland of the Shiite community.
In an interview with Al Arabiya TV, he said: "Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return."
He did not specify what action Saudi Arabia might take against Lebanon, which is still rebuilding itself after the 1975-1990 civil war.
There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese government.
Hezbollah is both a military and a political organization represented in the Lebanese parliament and in the Hariri-led coalition government formed last year. It is designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.
Hezbollah's powerful guerrilla army is widely seen as stronger than the Lebanese army and has played a major role in the war in neighboring Syria, another theater of Saudi-Iranian rivalry where Hezbollah has fought in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Lebanese authorities said on Monday that the country's financial institutions are strong enough to cope with Hariri's resignation and the stability of the Lebanese pound is not at risk.
But the cash price of Lebanon's U.S. dollar-denominated bonds fell, with longer-dated maturities suffering hefty losses as investors took a dim view of the medium- to longer-term outlook for Lebanon.
Hariri's unexpected resignation speech, broadcast from Saudi Arabia, caught even his aides off guard. He claimed there was a plot to assassinate him and harshly criticized Hezbollah and Iran, accusing them of sowing strife in the Arab world.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declined to comment on Hariri's speech, calling it a "Saudi statement" and saying that Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign.
The surprising resignation generated speculation in Lebanon that the Hariri family's Saudi construction business had been caught up in the current anti-corruption purge in Saudi Arabia and that this had been used to coerce him into resigning.
However, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir dismissed these allegations, saying in a CNN interview on Monday that it was "nonsense" to suggest Hariri had been coerced into quitting.
Hariri quit because Hezbollah has been "calling the shots" in the government, he said. Hariri, who holds dual Lebanese and Saudi citizenships, was free to leave the country at any time, the minister said.
Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a senior member of Hariri's political party, said he was under the impression Hariri would return to Beirut within days.
A meeting between Saudi King Salman and Hariri in Riyadh on Monday proved "rumors" wrong, he said, apparently referring to speculation that Hariri was detained or forced to quit.
Earlier on Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, appealed for national unity.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, another political ally of Hezbollah, said in a televised statement after meeting Aoun that it was too early to talk about forming a new government.
The crisis could re-aggravate tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and paralyze the Lebanese government once again. All the sides have called for calm and there has been no sign of unrest since Hariri's resignation.
The Hariri-led government took office last year in a political deal that made Aoun president. The deal ended years of deadlock, and last month it produced Lebanon's first budget since 2005.
Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia on Friday after meeting the top adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Beirut. After the meeting, the adviser described the coalition as "a victory" and "great success."
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran was supplying militias in Yemen with rockets in what the Saudis consider to be "direct military aggression," the official state Saudi Press Agency reported.
Iran's supply of rockets to the Houthis could "constitute an act of war against the kingdom," SPA quoted the crown prince as saying in a telephone call with the British foreign minister.
Saudi air defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired towards Riyadh by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi militia on Saturday.
Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
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