Ex-Lebanon PM Hariri makes unexpected return

Former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri (R) walks with current Prime Minister Tammam Salam (L) after their meeting at the governmental palace in Beirut, Aug. 8, 2014


BEIRUT -- Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, considered Lebanon's most influential Muslim Sunni politician, returned unexpectedly to Lebanon Friday after three years of self-imposed exile.

His return comes amid heightened tensions in Lebanon after Sunni extremists from Syria overran a town in the east, along the Lebanon-Syria border as well as the growing perception that there is a leadership gap among the country's Sunni Muslims.

Hariri left Lebanon in January 2011 after his government was brought down by the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies. He has since split his time between Paris and Saudi Arabia, citing concerns for his safety.

Hariri is the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a truck bombing in February 2005 and whose assassination triggered a massive popular uprising that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops in Lebanon following a decades-long military presence.

The younger Hariri was ousted as prime minister after he refused to renounce a U.N.-backed tribunal to try the killers of his late father.

His return Friday comes as the Lebanese army tightened its control over the border town of Arsal, which was seized by Syria-based Islamic extremists on Saturday, triggering days of ferocious fighting with the army.

Hariri on Wednesday announced from Saudi Arabia a grant of $1 billion for the Lebanese army to help its fight against militants.

Upon returning Friday, Hariri visited the grave of his father in downtown Beirut and then met Prime Minister Tammam Salam.