The Arab League said it was concerned about a rapid deterioration of Lebanese-Gulf relations after critical comments from a Lebanese minister about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen were followed by the kingdom banning all imports from Lebanon and giving the Lebanese ambassador 48 hours to leave.
Saudi Arabia also banned its citizens from travelling to Lebanon and recalled its ambassador. In a statement quoting Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday, it appealed to Gulf countries “to reflect on the measures proposed to be taken … in order to avoid further negative effects on the collapsing Lebanese economy”.
“… Aboul Gheit expressed his deep concern and regret over the rapid deterioration in Lebanese-Gulf relations …,” the statement said, adding that he was confident Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati would act quickly to ease the crisis.
Hours after Saudi Arabia’s decision, Bahrain ordered the Lebanese ambassador to leave the country within two days for the same reason, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said.
Ties between Beirut and Riyadh were already strained, but they soured further on Tuesday after footage began circulating online of Information Minister George Kordahi making critical remarks about the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. He said the televised interview was recorded more than a month before he was appointed minister.
Kordahi said the Iran-aligned Houthis are “defending themselves … against an external aggression”.
The former celebrity TV presenter also said the long-running war was “futile” and called for it to end, which offended the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces. The game show host turned minister said his comments were a personal opinion and were made before he joined the government, but said he refuses to be blackmailed by any entity.
On Saturday, a Lebanese crisis group of ministers also met to discuss the deepening diplomatic rift.
In a statement on Friday evening, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he “regretted” the Saudi moves.
“We also appeal brotherly Arab leaders to work and help to overcome this crisis in order to preserve Arab cohesion,” Mikati said. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain summoned their ambassadors to Lebanon in response to the comments, while the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – also comprising Qatar and Oman – condemned Kordahi’s remarks.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Lebanese capital Beirut, said it appears not to be enough for Saudi Arabia.
“Even the Lebanese government has tried to distance itself from the statements, saying it did not reflect Lebanese government’s policy,” she said.
“But clearly, the Saudi government’s decision’s to recall its ambassador for consultation and demanding the Lebanese ambassador in Saudi Arabia to leave within 48 hours indicate that this is just not enough.”
On Saturday, Kuwait summoned its ambassador in Beirut for consultation and gave the Lebanese ambassador in Kuwait city 48 hours to leave the country, the gulf country’s foreign ministry said.