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What Hezbollah wants from Lebanon's next government

Talks in Lebanon to form a new cabinet are set to begin Monday. Hezbollah pulled support from the government over opposition to a tribunal investigating the 2005 Rafik Hariri assassination.

By Correspondent / January 13, 2011

Lebanon's Hezbollah party flags are seen in front of the United Nations headquarters (l.) and Arab Bank buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, on Jan. 13. Lebanon's president will launch formal talks on Monday on creating a new government after the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and their allies brought down Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's cabinet.

Jamal Saidi/Reuters

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Beirut, Lebanon

While the collapse of its coalition government throws Lebanon back into political turmoil, this latest crisis for a nation accustomed to strife is unlikely to turn violent on the streets.

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With Prime Minister Saad Hariri planning to return to Lebanon late Thursday from a globetrotting series of meetings with world leaders, consultations to select a new prime minister and form a new cabinet are expected to begin Monday. Still, finding a solution will not be easy given the bitter political divide in Lebanon over how to handle an international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister and father of the current premier.

“This country does not have a mechanism to deal with this kind of conflict if there’s no regional agreement of some kind,” says Karim Makdissi, a professor of politics at the American University of Beirut (AUB). “I don’t see how any faction in Lebanon can gain from this. I think it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone…. And of course ordinary people across all the [Lebanese] regions and sectors are going to suffer.”

Lebanon’s 30-seat government collapsed Wednesday with the resignations of 11 ministers, including all 10 representing the parliamentary opposition headed by the militant Shiite Hezbollah. The abrupt move came after weeks of governmental deadlock and the failure of a regional mediation effort between Syria and Saudi Arabia to forge an amicable compromise.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Prime Minister Hariri to oversee a caretaker government until a new coalition can be formed. That process involves the president consulting with members of parliament to nominate a new premier. Once a prime minister is selected, a tense and prolonged period of negotiation to form a government will likely follow.

Hariri tribunal nears a decision

An international tribunal based in The Netherlands is reportedly close to issuing the first set of indictments against those suspected of involvement in Rafik Hariri’s assassination six years ago. It has been widely reported that members of Hezbollah will be among the names listed. Hezbollah denies any involvement in the assassination and accuses the tribunal of serving the interests of Israel and the United States.

By toppling the government, analysts say, Hezbollah hopes either to establish a new government dominated by the parliamentary opposition that will then cease all cooperation with the tribunal, or leave Lebanon without a cabinet and unable to legitimately cooperate with any indictments issued by the tribunal in the coming weeks and months.

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