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Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television shuts Lebanon offices

AFP , Friday 1 Apr 2016
A man leaves while holding a suitcase as security personnel gather outside the offices of the Saudi-owned television news channel Al-Arabiya in Beirut, Lebanon April 1, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)
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The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel has shut down its offices in Lebanon, it said on Friday, in a new sign of tensions between the kingdom and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

The Beirut offices of Al-Arabiya and its sister channel Al-Hadath, which offers extensive coverage of political news, have been closed and they no longer have any correspondents in Lebanon, a spokesman told AFP.

In a statement, the Dubai-based channel said it has "restructured" its operations in Lebanon "due to the difficult circumstances and challenges on ground, and out of Al-Arabiya's concern for the safety of its own employees and those employed by its providers."

It said it would nonetheless "continue to closely cover Lebanese affairs."

The channel said it would help employees affected by the decision to find jobs elsewhere with Al-Arabiya or its providers.

Those dismissed would be given "their full legitimate rights" and "other exceptional grants".

Lebanon's National News Agency said the decision would affect 27 employees.

In the lobby of the Al-Arabiya offices in downtown Beirut, half a dozen security guards stood watching as employees left the building for the last time.

One security guard was changing the lock on the office door, an AFP photographer said.

After exiting the building, several employees stood around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

One of them said they had learned of the decision to shut the Beirut offices only Friday morning.

Shiite militant group Hezbollah is the leading force in Lebanon's governing coalition but in March Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf Arab states blacklisted it as a "terrorist" group.

The kingdom halted a $3 billion programme of military aid to Lebanon to protest what it said was "the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state".

It also urged its citizens to leave Lebanon and avoid travelling there.

Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait followed with similar travel advisories, while the United Arab Emirates banned its nationals from travel to Lebanon.

The moves come against the backdrop of increased tensions with Tehran this year after demonstrators attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the consulate in second city Mashhad earlier this year.

The attacks on the missions came after Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite. Later, Riyadh to cut diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Hezbollah is fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad against Gulf-backed rebels.

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