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Saudi Arabia, regional allies caution citizens over Lebanon

Posted November 9, 2017 9:48 a.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2017 10:11 p.m. EST

— Saudi Arabia, and Gulf allies Kuwait and the UAE, have ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon and avoid travel there as tensions in the Middle East hit a fever pitch.

"Due to the current situation in Lebanon, the kingdom has asked its citizens, whether visiting or residents, to leave Lebanon as soon as possible. We also advise citizens not to travel to Lebanon from any international destination," the Saudia Arabia Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The development comes after Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war on the kingdom earlier this week, citing the presence of Iranian-backed Hezbollah members in its government. One Saudi official said Hezbollah had committed "acts of aggression" against Riyadh.

Hours after Saudi Arabia began urging its citizens to leave Lebanon, Kuwait's Foreign Ministry released a similar statement. The official Kuwait News Agency reported the country is following Saudi Arabia's footsteps in recommending citizens leave Lebanon and restrain from traveling to the country.

Kuwait credited "circumstances experienced by Lebanon at the moment" as the reason its government was advising Kuwaiti citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.

Additionally, the United Arab Emirates told its citizens on Thursday not to travel to Lebanon.

Emiratis should not "travel to Lebanon from the UAE or any other destination," the Foreign Ministry said, according to the official WAM news agency.

Political uncertainty

On Saturday, Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned in a televised address from the Saudi capital, creating a political vacuum in an already politically fractured country.

In the resignation speech, Hariri accused Iran of meddling in the region, causing "devastation and chaos."

In an interview with CNN's Becky Anderson, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said a ballistic missile attack intercepted over Riyadh last week was an "Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen." Iran has denied that it was behind the missile attack.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are in the throes of a proxy war.

"We see this as an act of war," Jubeir said. "Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps," he added, citing Article 51 of the UN Charter, which states a nation can retaliate in self-defense against an armed attack.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has asked its citizens to leave Lebanon, but in the past it has stated that the travel warnings were for the safety of its citizens. Saudi Arabia has not stated why it has issued this order.