Libya has closed down its embassy in Beirut amid conflicting reports that it severed diplomatic relations with Lebanon in a row over the disappearance of a prominent Shia Muslim cleric.
The decision to close the embassy was taken on Wednesday in protest against what a Libyan government spokesman said was the "inability of the Lebanese authorities to prevent attacks by certain Lebanese officials against Libya".
Tripoli was responding to accusations by Lebanese religious and political officials that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi was withholding information on the fate of Imam Musa al-Sadr, who went missing on a trip to Libya in 1978.
In Beirut, a senior official said that Libyan embassy employees were expected to leave the country on Thursday.
But there were conflicting reports on whether or not Tripoli had actually cut ties.
Hussain al-Sharif, charge d'affaires at the Libyan embassy
in Beirut, told Reuters that Libyan diplomats would leave
Lebanon in a matter of hours, saying Qadhafi felt slighted by strong remarks from Lebanese politicians in recent days over the missing Imam.
Libya was also angered by an opinion article in Lebanon's
al-Nahar daily on Monday, which mocked Qadhafi as "mentally
lacking" and "long-armed", the Lebanese official said.
On Saturday a group of al-Sadr’s followers delivered a petition to the Lebanese government demanding it should take up the case against Libya in international courts.
The petition accused Qadhafi of being responsible for the Imam’s disappearance and of “having personally admitted in 2002 that Imam al-Sadr had been killed in Libya”.
“If he (Qadhafi) is truly speaking about courage and wisdom…Then let him have the same courage to disclose the fate of Imam Musa al-Sadr ”
Sayyed Hasan Nasr Allah, Hizb Allah Secretary General
Lebanon’s Parliament speaker Shia Muslim Nabih Berri called on the government, the United Nations, the Arab League and humanitarian aid groups to help determine the fate of the missing cleric.
Berri is currently the head of the Amal movement, which al-Sadr had led before his disappearance.
Al-Sadr was the head of the Shia Higher Council, the most important body in the Lebanese Shia community.
On the anniversary of al-Sadr’s disappearance on Sunday, Hizb Allah Secretary General, Sayyed Hasan Nasr Allah, called on Qadhafi to admit personal responsibility for the Imam’s case.
Nasr Allah referred to the recent Lockerbie settlement in which Libya agreed to pay out $2.7 billion in compensation for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland that claimed 270 lives.
“If he (Qadhafi) is truly speaking about courage and wisdom…Then let him have the same courage to disclose the fate of Imam Musa al-Sadr and bear responsibility for this issue,” said the Hizb Allah chief.
Last year Beirut sent a government minister to Tripoli to invite Qadhafi to the annual Arab League summit which it hosted that March.
The minister returned home without being able to meet the Libyan leader, who eventually failed to attend the summit and sent a high-ranking delegation instead.