Hezbollah holds conference in Beirut for Saudi opposition

The powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah on Wednesday held a conference for Saudi opposition figures in its stronghold south of Beirut in a defiant gesture that is sure to anger the oil-rich kingdom. The rally came as the Lebanese government tries to restore relations with Saudi Arabia which reached a new low in October when the kingdom recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports.

Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said Saudi Arabia should end its policy of “intimidating” others as well as its interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

The conference brought together leading figures from the Saudi opposition as well as members of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was intended to commemorate the birthday of influential Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in January 2016 in a mass execution of 47 people in the kingdom. Al-Nimr was a vocal critic of the government and a key leader of the Shiite protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011 demanding increased rights in the Sunni-majority nation and fair treatment.

Among the little-known Saudi figures who attended the conference were Fouad Ibrahim, Abbas Sadeq, Hamza al-Hassan and Sheikh Jasem Mahmoud Ali who blasted the Saudi royal family for the death of al-Nimr. Minutes after Safieddine finished his speech, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari tweeted that “the painful truth is that terrorist Hezbollah acts above the state”. Saudi decision to withdraw its ambassador and ban Lebanese imports follows comments by a Lebanese cabinet minister who said in a television interview that the war in Yemen was in vain and called it a coalition aggression led by Saudi Arabia.

In early December, Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who made the comments before taking office, resigned his post, but the move did not ease strained relations and the war of words between Hezbollah and Saudi officials continued. The Lebanese Prime Minister as well as President Michel Aoun, a political ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, dissociated themselves from the verbal attacks by Hezbollah leaders against the kingdom. At the end of December, King Salman of Saudi Arabia called on the Lebanese in a speech “to end the control of terrorist Hezbollah” over Lebanon.

At the root of the crisis lies a years-old regional rivalry with Iran and Saudi malaise over Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon.

“We want the best relations with Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia should stop the policy of intimidation” in the region, Safieddine said. “Those who target us will get a response. Beirut-based Saudi opposition figure Ali Hachem told The Associated Press that they commemorate al-Nimr’s birthday every year and this year is in Lebanon.

He added that his presence in Lebanon gives him the right to express his opinion adding that his comments do not violate Lebanese laws. Asked about their goal, Hashem replied, “Bring down the Saudi regime.”

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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