Visiting Lebanese patriarch meets Saad al-Hariri in Saudi Arabia

Jean-Yves Le Drian

It is also the first trip to Riyadh by a senior Lebanese official since the start of a crisis sparked by Saad al-Hariri's resignation as Lebanese prime minister on November 4 from the Saudi capital.

El-Rai is head of the Maronite sect, Lebanon's largest Christian community and the Middle East's largest Catholic Church, which enjoys wide influence in the country.

The Lebanese patriarch arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday for a historic visit to the Sunni kingdom.

Earlier this week, Hariri denied allegations that he was being held by Saudi Arabia, saying that he would return soon to Beirut. "I have a family, and it is my right to protect them", Hariri said, attempting to quash rumors that he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

"We will carry these concerns to the king and crown prince and wish well", he said.

Hariri explained that his resignation was not officially accepted in Lebanon because it was announced from Riyadh.

But Rai said his visit, which was planned before the latest crisis, was not political, but aimed at boosting religious tolerance and coexistence in a region torn by sectarian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hariri's resignation should serve as "a wake-up call to the worldwide community to take action against the Iranian aggression that is trying to turn Syria into a second Lebanon". He said Lebanon was at risk of Gulf Arab sanctions because of the Shiite group Hezbollah's regional meddling.

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