Saudi Arabia reportedly holding ex-Lebanese prime minister against his will

A poster depicting Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri who has resigned from his post is seen in Beirut

A poster depicting Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri who has resigned from his post is seen in Beirut Credit Reuters

Shortly before the interview aired on Sunday night, president Aoun reiterated his belief that Mr Hariri was under duress and that anything he said should be "subject to doubt".

His resignation is part of a much bigger geopolitical drama that is now unfolding in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Steps leading to the current crisis began last Saturday, when the Saudis accused Iran and Hezbollah of carrying out an "act of war" with a missile they said was sacked at Riyadh by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

Ibrahim al-Masri, a 37-year-old Hariri supporter, said the Lebanese didn't know if it was Hariri's choice to stay in Saudi Arabia.

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A new political crisis gripping the Middle East has destroyed the relative peace of Lebanon's coalition government, ruled - until just days ago - by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, after his stunning November 4 resignation that was announced from within Saudi Arabia, where he remains as of this moment.

He accused Iran and the Lebanese Resistance Movement Hezbollah of meddling in Arab countries' affairs, an allegation the two have repeatedly denied.

He has not returned to Lebanon since - despite the calls of Lebanese politicians and worldwide observers who suspect that Saudi may be holding him under duress. Though Mr Hariri and Hizbollah had always been political rivals and at times bitter enemies, Mr Hariri managed to walk a fine line between appeasing both the group and the demands of Saudi Arabia, his own foreign patron.

He said Saudi Arabia is likely "trying to establish a regional and global coalition, supported by the United States and President Trump, to try and counter the Iranian presence".

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He said he chose to resign to save the country from imminent danger, but did not elaborate.

Senior administration officials said the warning was directed at Saudi Arabia as well as at Iran and Hezbollah.

And Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, has warned against using Lebanon as a venue for "proxy conflicts". In the week of Mr Hariri's resignation, dozens of officials and royals were rounded up in the kingdom on corruption charges. That may be an attempt to consolidate power before eventually inheriting the throne.

Saudi Arabia also closed the borders of Yemen after a missile from the country - fired by Houthi rebels allied with Iran - was intercepted near Riyadh. His father Rafic Hariri, who was also a prime minister, was assassinated in 2005.

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The US, Saudi Arabia and Israel share concern about expanding Iranian influence in the region.

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