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Hezbollah holding Lebanon hostage: Saudi FM

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday accused Hezbollah, which Riyadh blames for the shock resignation of Lebanese premier Saad Hariri, of holding Lebanon hostage and using its banks to launder money.

Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Madrid that the Shiite group was destabilising Lebanon by maintaining its arsenal and fighters in the Mediterranean nation.

“You cannnot have a militia with a military force that operates outside the scope of the government,” he told reporters after talks with Spanish counterpart Alfonso Dastis.

“We see Hezbollah hijacking the Lebanese banking system to launder money, we see Hezbollah hijacking Lebanese ports in order to smuggle drugs, we see Hezbollah engaging in terrorist activities and interfering in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen,” he added.

“Unless Hezbollah disarms and becomes a (solely) political party, Lebanon will be held hostage by Hezbollah and by extension Iran,” he said.

“This is not acceptable to us and is not acceptable to the Lebanese.”

Lebanon, long abused by regional powers seeking to exert influence, was plunged into uncertainty this month after Hariri’s shock resignation, announced on television from Riyadh.

Hariri said he was stepping down because of Hezbollah and Iran’s “grip” over his country.

The resignation — which caught even some of Hariri’s closest advisers off guard — comes at a time of mounting tension between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are backing opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

His subsequent failure to return home to officially quit in person fuelled claims that he was acting under orders from his Saudi patrons.

But both Hariri and Riyadh have denied allegations he was being held against his will, with the Lebanese leader on Friday dismissing all speculation about his situation as “rumours”.

“We are supportive of Prime Minister Saad Hariri but we are against Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon,” Jubeir said.

Hariri was expected to leave Saudi Arabia for France later Friday, a move aimed at defusing political turmoil sparked by his resignation.