France’s president has sent an invitation to Lebanese leader Saad Hariri and his family to spend a few days in Paris.
Emmanuel Macron’s offer came just hours after Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday that nothing justified the apparent detention of Hariri in Saudi Arabia.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician and longtime ally of Saudi Arabia, suddenly announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister during a visit to Riyadh on November 4.
He has been promising to return home soon but Saudi leaders say they fear for his safety if he does.
Macron extended an invitation to Hariri and his family to come to France after speaking with Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s heir apparent, the Elysee Palace said on Wednesday.
The Elysee Palace did not say how long Hariri would stay in France.
Macron was quoted by the French news media as saying he was not offering Hariri political “exile”, but that it was paramount to dispel the notion that Saudi Arabia had taken him prisoner.
“We need to have leaders who are free to express themselves,” said Macron. “It’s important that [Hariri] is able to advance the political process in his country in the coming days and weeks.”
Separately, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, was due to dine with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh later on Wednesday, according to the French foreign ministry.
Lebanon was under French control between the world wars and maintains close relations with the country, and especially with the Hariri family.
It has been trying to mediate in the crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Okab Sakr, a Lebanese politician from Hariri’s Future Movement political party, said on Wednesday Hariri would arrive in Paris in the next 48 hours.
“It is likely he will visit other countries as well before heading to Beirut,” he said.
“It is very likely he will be doing a tour of some European and Arab countries to explain Lebanon’s position on the current crisis before he returns [to Lebanon].
Rai became the first Lebanese public figure to visit Saudi Arabia since Hariri announced his resignation in a televised speech from Riyadh.
Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, was killed in a devastating truck bombing in 2005.
In his statement on Wednesday, Aoun described the “detention of Hariri” a Saudi act of aggression.
“We will not accept him remaining a hostage whose reason for detention we do not know,” he said.
“Nothing justifies Hariri’s lack of return for 12 days. We, therefore, consider him detained.”
Aoun also said Lebanon had confirmed that Hariri’s family were under detention in their house in Saudi Arabia and were searched whenever they entered or left it.
Tensions with Iran
Under a political deal reached last year, a coalition government was formed in Lebanon, with Hariri as prime minister and Aoun as president.
Hezbollah also joined the 30-member unity government.
Last week, after a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shia Houthi rebels was intercepted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war on the kingdom.
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.
In a speech from Beirut on Friday, the leader of Hezbollah said Hariri’s “forced” resignation was unconstitutional because it was done “under pressure”.
Hassan Nasrallah said he was sure Hariri was forced to resign as part of what he called Saudi Arabia’s policy of stoking sectarian tensions in Lebanon.