The Lebanese movement Hizballah has accused Saudi Arabia of forcing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to quit, in a move that could draw Lebanon deeper into the bitter regional rivalry between Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-majority Iran.
Hariri on November 4 announced he was stepping down, accusing Iran and its Hizballah ally of destabilizing his country and spreading unrest in the Arab world.
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on November 5 that it was "clear" the resignation was "imposed” by Riyadh.
"It was not his intention, not his wish, and not his decision" to quit, Nasrallah said in a televised address.
Hariri, a protege of Riyadh, announced his surprise resignation in a broadcast from the Saudi capital.
He cited the "grip" of Hizballah on the country, and also said he feared for his life. His father, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was slain in 2005.
The Lebanese Army said in a statement on November 5 that there was no evidence of an assassination plot against Hariri.
Nasrallah, whose powerful group has been part of Hariri's government for nearly a year, said "we did not seek this resignation."
Hizballah is both a major political and independent military player in Lebanon.
Nasrallah questioned the timing of Hariri's announcement at a time when "things are proceeding normally... in the heart of government" in Lebanon.
Hariri, 47, a Sunni Muslim, claimed in his resignation speech on November 4 that Iran was using Hizballah to spread its influence over Lebanon.
Through Hizballah, he said, Iran has created “a state within a state.” He accused Tehran of sowing “sedition, devastation, and destruction in any place it settles in.”
In remarks seen directed at Iran, he said the Arab world would "cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it."
Hariri said the atmosphere in Lebanon was the same as when his father was assassinated 12 years ago.
Tehran rejected Hariri’s suggestion that it or its allies were plotting his assassination or spreading terror.
"Such suppositions that have also been made by the U.S., [Israel], and the Saudis against Iran lead only to further tensions," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran and Hizballah of supporting regional terrorism, and the U.S. Congress has placed sanctions on the militia, describing it as Tehran’s “terrorist proxy.”
It was not immediately clear who would replace Hariri.
Lebanon’s leadership structure is based on a power-sharing system that helped end the country's 15-year civil war. Under the agreement, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker a Shi’ite.
Michel Aoun, a Christian and an ally of Hizballah, was elected president a year ago in what was seen as a victory for Iran.
Walid Jumblatt, the country's most prominent Druze leader, said Hariri's resignation was another outgrowth of the Saudi-Iran feud, and he called for increased diplomatic efforts to end the rivalry.