BEIRUT -- The chief of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Saudi Arabia on Friday of declaring war against Lebanon and keeping outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri against his will in Riyadh.
Tensions heightened in the region since Hariri announced his resignation last week during a trip to the Saudi capital, where he has been staying ever since.
Saudi Arabia has been leading its Sunni allies in a regional rivalry with Iran, accusing Tehran of trying to stir trouble in the region, and has lashed out at Hezbollah.
Nasrallah, in response, said that Saudi Arabia had forced Hariri to resign.
"The language that Saudi officials are using is a war on Lebanon and not on Hezbollah," Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
"Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia and is not allowed to return to Lebanon," he added, describing his resignation as "illegal and unconstitutional" because it happened "under coercion."
Riyadh has previously denied the allegation and said Hariri, a Sunni politician who also holds a Saudi passport, is free to leave the kingdom.
In his resignation message, Hariri said his life was in danger and accused Iran and Hezbollah of destabilizing his country and the Arab region.
His Future Movement parliamentary bloc urged him on Thursday to return to Lebanon and earlier Friday, prominent Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblat also said that it was time for Hariri to come back home.
In his first comments since Hariri's resignation last Saturday, President Michel Aoun said the circumstances of Hariri's sudden resignation need to be clarified.
A final decision on the resignation will be delayed until the premier's return and the reasons for his move are revealed, he added, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.
Aoun made the remarks at a meeting on Friday with ambassadors in Beirut, including Saudi Charge d'Affaires Walid al-Bukhari. Media reports said Aoun told the Saudi envoy that the circumstances of Hariri's resignation were "unacceptable."
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel phoned his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir to express Berlin's concern about the threat of destabilization in Lebanon.
Gabriel told al-Jubeir that Germany believed the progress made under Hariri's leadership "should not be jeopardized," a foreign office spokeswoman said in Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman also called on Saudi Arabia and Iran "not to weaken political stability in Lebanon."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared the political situation in Lebanon "a matter of great concern," warning that a new conflict in the region "could have devastating consequences."
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington supports Hariri and denounces possible external meddling in the country's affairs.
"The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country," Tillerson said, adding that the US was opposed to "any actions that could threaten that stability."
In Riyadh, Hariri has been meeting with foreign ambassadors since Tuesday. His latest meetings included Italian ambassador Luca Ferrari and Russian ambassador Sergei Kozlov, according to his press office.
In a sign of escalating tensions with Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday advised their citizens against travelling to Lebanon.
Some nationals from the three Gulf countries were seen Friday leaving Lebanon, an official at Beirut's Rafik Hariri airport said. Tourism is a main source of income for Lebanon, which has felt the economic fallout of the civil war in neighboring Syria.
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