Saudi Arabia was one of four Arab states that withdrew their ambassadors from Lebanon in October last year after comments by George Kordahi, who was Lebanon’s information minister, about the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s intervention in Yemen. The four Arab states also asked their citizens to return home.
Mr Kordahi resigned as a result of the fallout.
On Monday night, after holding meetings with key players in Lebanon, Saudi ambassador Walid Bukhari welcomed prime minister Najib Mikati and other figures, mostly from the now-defunct pro-western, pro-Gulf March 14 political alliance, to the banquet.
Mr Mikati will also reportedly visit Saudi Arabia soon — probably during Ramadan — in another sign that relations are on the mend. Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon, who was also reinstated last week, attended the iftar.
Also present were former presidents Amine Gemayel and Michel Suleiman, former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam. As was the head of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, the veteran Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Joumblatt, and Kataeb Party chief Sami Gemayel and former MP Bahia Hariri.
Amine Gemayel welcomed the return of the Saudi ambassador, while Mr Siniora underlined the importance of restoring and maintaining strong relations with countries including Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were once major donors to Lebanon, but relations frayed amid the growing influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
Along with withdrawing its ambassador, Saudi Arabia accused Hezbollah of turning Lebanon into “a launching pad for implementing projects of countries that do not wish well for Lebanon and its brotherly people”.
Speaking at the iftar, the Saudi Press Agency reported, Mr Mikati said: “This is the significance of the month of Ramadan, the month of mercy and solidarity, the occasion to strengthen the bonds of amicability that bind Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, and the solidarity that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince have been experiencing, hoping that it will be a new page towards developing relations between the two countries.”
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Mr Bukhari had earlier said “we wish Lebanon and the Lebanese people good fortune” before a meeting with Sheikh Ali Al Khatib, the deputy head of the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council.
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Abdul Latif Derian welcomed the return of the Saudi ambassador, saying on Monday: “We are interested in relations between the Kingdom and Lebanon, and hope that Lebanese-Arab relations will remain at the highest level of rapprochement and fraternity.
“As long as things are going in the right direction, and as long as we maintain the right path, these relations will be good and there will be no future crises with Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudi ambassador also met top religious leaders from the Maronite and Druze communities.
The ambassadors of France, the UK and US, and the UN’s special co-ordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, were also at the iftar banquet.
On announcing the return of its ambassador last Thursday, Saudi state media said the kingdom made the decision after the “calls and appeals of the moderate national political forces in Lebanon.”
It also said that Lebanon had agreed to “stop all political, military and security activities affecting” it and other Gulf Arab nations.
Mr Mikati welcomed the move, adding: “We affirm that Lebanon is proud of its Arab affiliation and wants the best relations with the Gulf states, which were and will remain our support.”
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