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Middle east

Lebanese government collapses as Hezbollah and its allies resign

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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-13

Lebanon's government collapsed Wednesday after 11 ministers from Hezbollah and its allies announced their resignations from the national unity cabinet led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

AFP - The Shiite militant group Hezbollah forced the collapse of Lebanon's unity government on Wednesday, demonstrating its political clout in a country where it is also the most powerful armed force.

The government fell after 11 ministers led by Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the 30-member cabinet because of a long-running standoff over a UN probe into the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Hezbollah and its partners had for months been pressing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier, to disavow the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on grounds it is part of a US-Israeli plot.

Hezbollah's camp, which is backed by Iran and Syria, on Tuesday had given the Western-backed Hariri, who is in Washington, until Wednesday to convene a cabinet meeting on the tribunal.

The announcement about the resignations came in Beirut as Hariri was meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House.

According to unconfirmed press reports, the STL is set to indict senior Hezbollah members in connection with Rafiq Hariri's assassination, an accusation fiercely rejected by the militant group.

Hezbollah, or Party of God, was founded in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon, and has since gained enormous support among Shiites, thanks in part to its extensive social services network.

The movement, which drew inspiration from the Iranian Revolution, receives financial and military backing from Tehran.

It is also supported by Syria, which has been accused of smuggling sophisticated weapons to the party through the porous Lebanese-Syrian border.

Hezbollah's main objective since its creation has been its armed struggle against Israel.

Its popularity rose in 2000 after the Jewish state withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon following a 22-year presence.

The party's political clout was also bolstered after its devastating 2006 war with Israel, and most recently in 2008 following a wave of sectarian violence that saw it stage a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni west Beirut.

It is the only group in Lebanon that has refused to surrender its weapons since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war on grounds they are needed to protect the country against Israeli aggression.

Hassan Nasrallah, a 50-year-old charismatic cleric, took over as secretary general of the party in 1992 after his predecessor, Abbas Mussawi, was assassinated in an Israeli missile strike.

Nasrallah, who has become one of the most influential leaders in the Arab world, has lived in hiding since the 2006 war and rarely appears in public for fear of being killed by Israel.

The United States has long branded Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

In November, Nasrallah threatened to "cut off the hand" of any who attempt to arrest Hezbollah members over Hariri's murder, amid frenzied speculation an indictment was near.

The party, or some of its affiliates, have been implicated in a number of attacks, notably the bombing of the US marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that left 241 dead and the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina.

Intelligence officials estimate Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of more than 40,000 short and long-range rockets as well as other sophisticated weapons including anti-aircraft guns the party claims can reach deep inside Israel.

Although Hezbollah initially sought to impose an Islamic way of life in Lebanon, it has since toned down its rhetoric and claims to seek to live in unity with all the Lebanese.

 

Date created : 2011-01-12

  • DIPLOMACY

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