Lebanon's Saad al-Hariri is expected to leave Saudi Arabia for France within 48 hours, before flying home to Beirut to officially submit his resignation as Lebanese prime minister, a source close to Hariri told Reuters on Thursday. Scarlett Cvitanovich reports.
French President Emmanuel Macron has invited Lebanon's recently resigned prime minister for a visit. But says it's not an offer of exile. (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH PRESIDENT, EMMANUEL MACRON, SAYING: (IN RESPONSE TO JOURNALIST ASKING IF IT'S AN EXILE) "No, not at all. I actually hope the situation in Lebanon fully calms and that political decisions can be made in accordance with its institutions. We need a strong Lebanon, as well as territorial integrity and leaders who are free in their choices and expressing them." It's an attempt by the French leader to defuse brewing tensions in the Middle East. Saad al-Hariri abruptly resigned from his position in a television statement 11 days ago but in a twist it was broadcast from the Saudi capital Riyadh where he has remained ever since. Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept his prime minister's resignation, accusing the Saudis of holding Hariri hostage - and calling it an act of aggression. Saudi Arabia denies detaining the prime minister or coercing him to quit. The kingdom has long been considered Hariri's main external supporter. Whereas, Aoun is a political ally of Lebanon's Hezbollah - a powerful Shi'ite Muslim group with close ties to Iran. Saudi Arabia regards it as a terrorist organization and last week accused Lebanon of having declared war on it because of Hezbollah's role in other Arab countries. Hariri has accepted France's invitation and is expected to leave Saudi Arabia within the next 48 hours. He's then due to fly home to Beirut to formally resign. Macron's offer appeared to be a last minute one - with no indication earlier in the day it was even on the cards. French diplomats say he's found a way to get Hariri out of Saudi Arabia without any side losing face but question how it will pan out in the longer term.