Hezbollah-led pullout brings down Lebanon's government

Fearing the international indictment of some of its leaders for the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah ministers resigned Wednesday, causing the collapse of Lebanon's coalition government.

Bilal Hussein/AP
Lebanese Energy Minister Jibran Bassil (c.) flanked by ministers Hussein Hajj Hassan (l.) and Mohammed Jawad Khalife (r.) speaks during a press conference to announce their resignation in the northern Beirut suburb of Rabieh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Lebanon’s fractious coalition government collapsed Wednesday following the resignation of ministers representing the parliamentary opposition headed by the militant Shiite group, Hezbollah.

The dramatic move appears to herald a new escalation in the political drama over a six-year international investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The decision by the Hezbollah-led opposition to leave the government follows the declared failure of a five-month mediation effort by Syria and Saudi Arabia, both of which have influence in this tiny but volatile Mediterranean country, to help resolve Lebanon’s political deadlock.

RELATED: Lebanon tribunal on Hariri assassination set to issue first indictments

In announcing the resignation of opposition ministers, Gibran Bassil, the energy minister, said the decision was “constitutional and legal” and called for the creation of a new government “in order for it to perform its duties.”

Lebanon’s 30-seat cabinet requires the resignation of 11 ministers to topple the government. The opposition share amounted to 10 ministers, but Adnan as-Sayyed, a minister of state who represents Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese president, also tendered his resignation.

Hezbollah members to be indicted?

The resignations came after Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain former leader, refused an opposition demand to hold an immediate cabinet meeting to discuss the international tribunal based in The Netherlands. The tribunal is close to issuing a first set of indictments against those accused of assassinating his father.

It has been widely reported that members of Hezbollah will be among the names of those indicted. Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the assassination and insists that the tribunal is a political tool wielded by the West to place pressure on the organization.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has warned that the organization will “cut off the hands” of anyone attempting to arrest his cadres and has led an intense political campaign in recent months to compel the Lebanese government to end all cooperation with the tribunal.

Hezbollah officials have blamed pressure exerted by the United States on Mr. Hariri for derailing the Saudi-Syrian mediation effort. The US is a staunch backer of the tribunal and Hariri has repeatedly stated that his government would continue supporting the tribunal.

The cabinet resignations risk plunging Lebanon once more into political instability. Earlier Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned that Lebanon faced “a great danger” if the opposi5ion quit the government.

“Lebanon may face the problems it faced before and this will affect the countries in the region,” he said, referring to factional violence that rocked the nation in 2007 and 2008.

Lebanon back on world agenda

The political deadlock in Lebanon has engaged world leaders in recent days.

Even as the opposition ministers announced their resignations, Hariri was meeting with President Obama at the White House. Earlier this week, Mr. Obama discussed Lebanon in separate conversations with Saudi King Abdullah and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

After the meeting, the White House issued a statement condemning Hezbollah, and vowing steadfast support for the tribunal.

"The efforts by the Hizballah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people," the statement says. "During their meeting, the President stressed the importance of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a means to help end the era of political assassinations with impunity in Lebanon."

RELATED: Lebanon tribunal on Hariri assassination set to issue first indictments

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