Lebanon's Hariri, Hezbollah lock horns over Iran
BEIRUT - Caretaker premier Saad Hariri on Thursday accused Iran of meddling in Lebanon's affairs and taking Arab societies "hostage," sparking a harsh rebuke from Tehran's ally, Hezbollah.
"Lebanon and a number of Arab countries ... are suffering politically, economically and in terms of security from blatant Iranian interference in the Arab world," Hariri said at a business conference in Beirut.
Saudi-backed Hariri, whose government collapsed on January 12 when Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the cabinet, also warned Iran was "gradually taking Arab societies hostage."
That sparked a quick response by Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Hariri's ally, the United States.
"Hariri's position ... is in line with the American plot to divide the people of this region and stir unrest," read a statement released by the militant group's media relations department.
"His statement is an open attempt to mask US interference in the region and the confiscation of the will of the people, who seek freedom and the end of American hegemony," it added.
Hariri and Hezbollah, allied with rival regional power-houses Saudi Arabia and Syria respectively, have been locked in a standoff for months over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the 2005 murder of Hariri's father, Rafiq.
The Netherlands-based court is expected to be readying to implicate Hezbollah in the murder, an accusation the militant movement has warned against.
Sunni billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was appointed on January 25 to form a new government with Hezbollah's blessing, but the cabinet has yet to see the light of day.