Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah organization on Thursday welcomed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to suspend his resignation pending talks, after he returned from a mysterious, nearly three-week-long stay abroad.
Hariri had caused widespread perplexity on November 4 when he resigned during a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing assassination threats as well as the negative impact on Lebanon and the region of Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons.
After a puzzling mini-odyssey that took him to France, Egypt and Cyprus, Hariri arrived back in his homeland on Tuesday and then announced that he was putting his decision to quit on hold ahead of negotiations. Hezbollah’s parliamentary group said in a statement that the party was “very satisfied with the political developments”.
“The return of the head of government, his positive comments and the consultations offer a glimpse of a return to normalcy,” it said. Hariri, a 47-year-old Sunni politician whose family made its fortune in Saudi Arabia and whose Future Movement is supported by Riyadh, said upon his return that Lebanon should remain neutral in the region.
His resignation had raised fears of a escalation between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hezbollah’s arsenal outstrips that of Lebanon’s own armed forces and the Shiite group is the only faction not to have laid down its weapons after the civil war that tore the country apart between 1975 and 1990.
Many questions remain unanswered following the unprecedented scenario that saw Lebanon’s prime minister resign in a foreign country suspected of keeping him under house arrest and return only after the apparent intervention of France.
But while Hariri and his backers seemed on a collision course with Hezbollah only a few days ago, an apparent behind-the-scenes deal now appears to be restoring the status quo.