BEIRUT — Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terror group hosts a conference for Saudi opposition figures in its stronghold south of Beirut, in a defiant gesture certain to anger the oil-rich kingdom.
The gathering comes as the Lebanese government is 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.
Top Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine says Saudi Arabia should stop its policy of “bullying” others as well as its interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
The conference is attended by Saudi opposition figures as well as members of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. It’s meant to commemorate the anniversary of influential Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in January 2016 in a mass execution of 47 people in the kingdom.
Al-Nimr was an outspoken government critic and a key leader of Shiite protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011 demanding greater rights in the majority Sunni nation and fair treatment.
Among the little-known Saudi figures who attend the conference are Fouad Ibrahim, Abbas Sadeq, Hamza al-Hassan and Sheikh Jasem Mahmoud Ali who blasted the Saudi royal family for al-Nimr’s death. Minutes after Safieddine finished his speech, Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari tweets that “the painful truth is that the terrorist Hezbollah is acting above the state.”
The Saudi move to withdraw its ambassador and ban Lebanese imports 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.
In early December, Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who made the comments before he took the job, resigned from his post but the move did not ease the tense relations and the war of words between Hezbollah and Saudi officials has continued.