Beirut quiet a day after Hezbollah pullout forces collapse of Lebanon's government

The Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the Lebanese Cabinet and topple the government on Wednesday. (Jan. 12)
Locator map of Beirut, Lebanon
Mary Kate Cannistra/The Washington Post
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 8:04 AM

BEIRUT- The Lebanese capital was largely quiet on Thursday, one day after the collapse of the country's government, as President Michel Suleiman took the first step towards putting together a new administration.

Suleiman asked the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to continue in a caretaker role after the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies resigned Wednesday, toppling the governing coalition. Hariri , who met Wednesday at the White House with President Obama, had not yet returned from his overseas trip.

Tensions have been growing for months over the impending indictments from a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, father of the current prime minister.

It is widely believed that the indictments, expected in draft form this month, will implicate members of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group.

On Wednesday, 11 cabinet ministers from the Shiite group and its allies resigned in protest over the government's failure to denounce the expected indictments. Their resignations toppled the government.

The indictments could spark sectarian clashes in Lebanon, a mixed Arab nation of Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The situation could destabilize this key Middle Eastern nation, a U.S. ally that has become a regional battleground, pitting Saudi Arabia and its Western supporters against Iran and Syria.

The stakes are high for the United States. Hariri is Washington's strongest ally in Lebanon, but his faction has slowly withered as Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, has grown in strength and popularity.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Qatar for talks with Persian Gulf leaders, delivered a forceful rebuke of Hezbollah's move, calling it an "abdication of responsibility."

"We view what happened today as a transparent effort by those forces inside Lebanon, as well as interests outside Lebanon, to subvert justice and undermine Lebanon's stability and progress," she said at a news conference.

Clinton, who was joined at the news conference by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim - whose own government had sought to mediate between rival Lebanese factions - noted that Hezbollah had initially acceded to the U.N.-led investigation of the Hariri assassination. She warned that attempts to derail the tribunal's effort "will not work."

"This tribunal is a creation of the U.N. Security Council, and it is supported by many governments, including my own," she said. "Its work will continue."

A regional battleground

The U.N. tribunal has indicated that members of Hezbollah will be charged in the bombing on Beirut's waterfront that killed Hariri and 22 others. But Hezbollah has denied any role and has dubbed the tribunal an "Israeli project."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company