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Lebanon calls for talks with Saudi Arabia to ease diplomatic tensions

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib

Lebanon’s foreign minister has called for the initiation of talks with Saudi Arabia as part of efforts aimed at resolving the ongoing disputes and easing a spiraling diplomatic row between the two countries.

“Lebanon invites Saudi Arabia to engage in dialogue to solve all outstanding problems and not just the latest spat, so that the same crisis is not repeated every time,” Abdallah Bou Habib said in an interview with AFP on Monday.

Habib said such problems can only be “resolved through dialogue, communication and trust, and not through imposition.”

Saudi Arabia on Friday gave Lebanon's ambassador 48 hours to leave the country, recalled its envoy from Beirut and suspended all imports from Lebanon following remarks made by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi on the war on Yemen.

Kordahi said during a television program aired on October 25 that the war on Yemen was an act of aggression by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Riyadh’s most significant ally in the military coalition.

The Lebanese information minister said the Yemeni army forces and their allied fighters from the Popular Committees were “defending themselves ... against an external aggression,” and that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed” by the Saudi-led coalition. He also said the war was “futile” and it was “time for it to end.”

Saudi Arabia launched the war on its southern neighbor in March 2015 in collaboration with a number of its allies, and with arms and logistics support from the United States and several Western countries. The aim was to return to power a former Riyadh-backed regime and crush the popular Ansarullah movement, which has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective government in Yemen.

The war has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and turned the entire country into the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but it has stopped well shy of all of its goals, with Yemeni forces having gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders, and leaving Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the impoverished country.

Meanwhile, Habib refuted on Monday recent accusations made by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry that Hezbollah controls Lebanon and the diplomatic crisis between Beirut and Riyadh is rooted in the dominance of the resistance movement.

“Hezbollah is a strong component of the Lebanese state, perhaps the strongest, but it doesn't have a political monopoly,” Lebanon's foreign minister said.

Put patriotic sense above all to defuse crisis: Prime minister to Kordahi

In another development on Monday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on Kordahi to “put his patriotic sense above all else” to defuse the diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia.

The prime minister also said he “regrets” the Saudi decision to expel Lebanese diplomats, urging Riyadh to reconsider the move.

“We face a downhill slope and if we don't avoid it, we will end up where nobody wants us to,” Mikati was quoted by the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen TV channel as saying.

Kordahi defied diplomatic pressure to step down from his post on Sunday and said resigning from the government “is out of the question.”

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