Saudi Arabia said Friday it was recalling its ambassador to Lebanon and giving Beirut's envoy 48 hours to leave Riyadh, after "insulting" remarks made by a Lebanese minister on the Yemen war.
The regional heavyweight's decision, accompanied by an imports halt, is a further blow for Lebanon, which is in the midst of an economic crisis that the World Bank has said is likely to rank among the planet's worst since the mid-19th century.
Saudi Arabia ordered the "recall of the ambassador in Lebanon for consultations, and the departure of Lebanon's ambassador to the kingdom within 48 hours", over the "insulting" remarks made this week by Lebanon's information minister, the foreign ministry said.
The wealthy Gulf kingdom also "decided to halt all Lebanese imports", citing the "security of the kingdom and its people", a statement added.
Riyadh deplored the deterioration of relations with Lebanon and said "further measures" will be taken against Beirut, without elaborating.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati reacted quickly, saying he "regretted" the Saudi move.
"We are deeply sorry for the kingdom's decision and hope that it will reconsider. As for us, we will continue to work to solve what needs to be solved," he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday had summoned Lebanon's ambassadors over Information Minister George Kordahi's criticism of the Riyadh-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.
Kordahi said in a television interview that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels were "defending themselves ... against an external aggression", adding that "homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed" by the coalition.
In the interview – filmed in August but aired on Monday – he also called the seven-year war in Yemen "futile" and said it was "time for it to end".
Saudi Arabia has stepped back from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by its regional rival Iran.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese government said that Kordahi's statements were "rejected and did not reflect the position of the government", adding that the interview in question took place before Kordahi was appointed to the cabinet in September.
Kordahi, a well-known television presenter, told local reporters on Wednesday that the interview in question took place on August 5 and was his "personal opinion".
"I did not wrong anyone. I did not attack anyone. Why should I apologise?" he said. "I stated my position with love as a human who feels Arab suffering."
Yemen's civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis gained control of the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.
Tens of thousands of people – most of them civilians – have died and millions have been displaced, in what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Rights groups have harshly criticised the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon, saying shipments were being used for drug smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.
And in May, Lebanon's foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stepped down and was swiftly replaced after comments he made irked Saudi Arabia.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)