The Lebanese Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al Rai made a historic visit to Saudi Arabia Tuesday, the first by a Christian Patriarch since 1975, according to the Saudi information ministry.
Al Rai met Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh. The two discussed the importance of different world religions in combatting violence and extremism. A number of Saudi ministers, including Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan attended.
Al Rai, who later met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said “relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia are deep-rooted” and added that he had “always been longing to visit Saudi Arabia.”
The Patriarch’s visit comes at a time of increased tension between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh on November 4. Hariri met al Rai yesterday, his first meeting with a senior Lebanese official since he announced his resignation.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have claimed that Hariri’s resignation was forced upon him by Saudi Arabia and officials are restricting his freedom of movement. On Tuesday, Lebanese foreign minister Gibran Bassil expressed his hope that the situation could be resolved. “We hope Lebanon doesn’t have to resort to international law,” he said.
Hariri has rejected the claims, tweeting on Tuesday, “People, I am fine. And God willing I will come back in a couple of days. Let’s chill.”
On Sunday Hariri suggested he could withdraw his resignation if Hezbollah commits to remain “neutral” on regional conflicts.
[Photo: Al Arabiya English / YouTube]