Bahrain has deported at least five Lebanese residents for security reasons, a Lebanese diplomat said on Monday, after a crackdown on protests stoked regional sectarian tensions.
Since Bahrain quelled pro-democracy protests led mostly by its Shi'ite majority, tensions have not only run high between the Sunni-ruled Gulf country and its own Shi'ites, but between Bahrain and nearby countries with large Shi'ite populations, such as Iran, Lebanon and Iraq.
"They have deported five or six people in what they said was a security decision," the Lebanese diplomat told Reuters by telephone. "Not all of them were Shi'ites, they were from other religious sects including Sunnis and Christians."
He said that in total 16 Lebanese residents of Bahrain were told they were to be expelled, but the Lebanese embassy was in talks with authorities to try to prevent those still in capital Manama from being deported.
Bahrain ended weeks of protests calling for a constitutional monarchy through a crackdown that imposed martial law and called in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf neighbours.
The move shocked its Shi'ite majority and angered non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran, just across Gulf waters, which said Gulf leaders were "playing with fire".
Saudi Arabia rejected Iran's accusation on Monday, saying that Iran was trying to "stir up unrest" and had no right to question the presence of Gulf Arab troops on Bahrain's soil.
"Iran has not right to violate the sovereignty of Bahrain, nor to interfere in the affairs of any of the six Gulf states," the Saudi embassy in London said in a statement.
Gulf Arab states have become increasingly suspicious of Iran's influence over Shi'ite populations in the Arab world, particularly due to its backing of the militant movement Hamas in Gaza and the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah had denounced the crackdown in Bahrain last month in a televised speech by its leader.
"What is the difference between the al-Khalifa regime and the regimes of (Egypt's Hosni) Mubarak and (Libya's Muammar) Gaddafi?" said Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah, who told Bahrainis their blood would "defeat the tyrants".
Bahrain suspended flights to Lebanon, warned its residents against travel there, and lodged a formal complaint to the Lebanese government in response.
Lebanon's prime minister asked Bahrain last week not to consider any stance taken by Lebanese political groups as the position of the Lebanese people.
He said he hoped Bahrain "would not generalise repercussions of such unfortunate positions ... with the Lebanese residing in Bahrain".