Arab League urges 'detente' between Lebanon, Gulf states

The Arab League on Monday pressed for an easing of tensions between Lebanon and Gulf Arab states over a Lebanese minister’s comments on the Yemen war.

“We do not want this situation to continue. We want a breakthrough, a détente in this relationship,” the League’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in a press conference from Beirut where he is on an official visit.

“We hope the starting point for that will begin here,” he told reporters following a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. 

The diplomatic rift, which threatens to plunge Lebanon deeper into meltdown, prompted Saudi Arabia and some of its allies to recall ambassadors and block imports from Lebanon.

Import restrictions are a further blow to a country in financial and political ruin and where a weak government is struggling to secure international aid, namely from wealthy Arab neighbours.

The dispute was triggered by comments by Information Minister George Kordahi in a pre-recorded interview broadcast in late October.

Kordahi characterised the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen since 2015 as an “external aggression,” sparking the rebukes from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Each of those states support the Saudi-led military coalition against Iran-backed Huthi rebels fighting Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

Rights groups have harshly criticised the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment

The diplomatic rift has prompted calls for the resignation of Kordahi, but he told local press this month that is out of the question. 

Zaki stopped short of calling for Kordahi to quit but suggested it was necessary.

“There is a crisis that everyone can see and is aware of, and the majority of people know how to solve it,” Zaki said. 

“But not a single step has been taken in that direction and this is necessary.” 

The powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is backed by Riyadh’s arch rival Iran, has opposed calls for Kordahi’s resignation, saying he did not commit any mistake.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said this month that Hezbollah’s dominance made “dealing with Lebanon pointless for the kingdom.”

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