BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s Iranian backed Hezbollah militant group verbally attacked the king of Saudi Arabia on Monday, saying Riyadh helped spread extremist Islamic ideology worldwide and is taking the thousands of Lebanese who work in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region “hostage.”
Hassan Nasrallah’s statements during a speech in Beirut came in response to comments by King Salman, who called on the Lebanese in a speech last week “to end the terrorist Hezbollah’s control” of Lebanon.
The comments come as Lebanese authorities are trying to mend relations with Saudi Arabia that hit a new low in October when the kingdom recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports. The Saudi move followed comments by a Lebanese Cabinet minister who said in a televised interview that the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
Early last month, Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who made the comments before he took the job, resigned from his post but the move did not heal the tense relations.
The Yemen conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Iranian backed Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a statement saying Nasrallah’s comments do not represent the government nor the “majority of Lebanese.” He called on Lebanese politicians to spare Lebanon from statements “that lead nowhere.”
“Your highness the king, the terrorist is (the side) who exported Wahhabi-Daeshi ideology to the world and they are you,” Nasrallah said, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym of Daesh. Nasrallah also blamed Saudi Arabia for sending Saudi suicide attackers to Syria and Iraq as well as for the war in Yemen.
“The terrorist is whoever takes hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of Lebanese as hostages and threatens the Lebanese state with evicting them,” Nasrallah said during a rally marking the second anniversary of the U.S. killing in Baghdad of Nasrallah’s boss Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general .
There have been concerns in Lebanon that the tension could affect hundreds of of thousands of Lebanese who work in the gulf.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari responded immediately after Nasrallah’s speech with a tweet calling the Hezbollah leader’s comments “lies that cannot be hidden in darkness.”
Bukhari did not name Nasrallah but referred to him as Abu Raghal, a historic Arab personality that represents treason.