BEIRUT (AP) – The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah held a conference for Saudi opposition members in their stronghold south of Beirut on Wednesday, a defiant gesture that is sure to upset the oil-rich kingdom.
The gathering came as the Lebanese government tries to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, which hit a new low in October when the kingdom recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports.
Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said Saudi Arabia should end its “bullying” policy and meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
The conference was attended by members of the Saudi opposition and members of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was intended to commemorate the anniversary of the influential Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in a mass execution of 47 people in the kingdom in January 2016.
Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of the government and one of the main leaders of the Shiite protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011, which called for more rights in the Sunni-majority nation and fair treatment.
Little-known Saudi personalities who attended the conference included Fouad Ibrahim, Abbas Sadeq, Hamza al-Hassan and Sheikh Jasem Mahmoud Ali, who beat up the Saudi royal family for the death of al-Nimr. Minutes after Safieddine finished his speech, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Waleed Bukhari, tweeted 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 from a Lebanese cabinet minister who said in a television interview that the war in Yemen was pointless and called it an aggression by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
In early December, Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who made the comments before he took office, resigned, but the move has not eased strained relations and the war of words between Hezbollah and Saudi officials continues.
The Lebanese Prime Minister and President Michel Aoun, a political ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, have distanced themselves from the Hezbollah leaders’ verbal attacks on the kingdom.
At the end of December, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman gave a speech calling on the Lebanese to end “the terrorist Hezbollah’s control” over Lebanon.
The cause of the crisis is a longstanding regional rivalry with Iran and Saudi Arabia over the increasing power of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“We want the best relations with Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia should stop the bullying policy in the region,” said Safieddine. “Those who target us will get an answer.”
Saudi opposition activist Ali Hashem, who lives in Beirut, told The Associated Press that they commemorate the anniversary of al-Nimr every year, and this year happens to be in Lebanon.
He added that his presence in Lebanon gave him the right to express his opinion and added that his comments did not violate Lebanese law. When asked what her goal was, Hashem said: “To overthrow the Saudi regime.”