Premier Selim Hoss' eight-man cabinet of technicians, in office since Lebanon's civil war ended 16 months ago, resigned yesterday in a power play designed to force the country's rival warlords to participate in a new broadbased Cabinet.
Hoss seized upon a meeting Tuesday of conservative Christian and Moslem parliamentary leaders - the first since a series of recent crises further undermined the shaky Lebanese government - to announce his long-rumored resignation.
In what political analysts described as "classic wish fulfilment," Hoss hailed that meeting as "evidence of a return to normal political life," and said "formation of a new government could further help consecrate unity."
Since its formation in December 1976 - less than a month after the long civil war ended - the Hoss government has been hamstrung by warring factions that seemingly have agreed only on a policy of reducing the government to political impotence.
Aside from restoring public utilities, such as telephone, gas and electrical service, and repairing a few Beirut roads, the government has failed to rebuild the badly damaged Beirut business center - or initiate any other major project for that matter. Nor has it been able to control increasing lawlessness in the capital.
Behind the resignation, analysts said, was the first determined effort by President Elias Sarkis to exert his authority since taking office in September, 1976.
"In essence, Sarkis is taking on the warlords - especially his fellow Christians - and saying 'put up or shut up'," a respected Lebanese political analyst said. "You've been screaming against the government, against the Syrian peacekeeping force, against the Palestinians. Well, come in try to help," the analyst portrayed Sarkis as asserting.
The most recent source of criticism of the government has come from rightwing political leaders such as former president Camille Chamoun, and Pierre gemayel, who controls the powerful Phalangist Party and militia.
They have tried to force the government to accept responsibility for the pounding inflicted on a Christian suburb last week by the Predominantly Syrian 30,000-man peacekeeping force. The Syrian government says its troops acted on Lebanese government orders Nominally the peacekeeping force is under Lebanese control.
Sarkis and Hoss apparently decided the Christsian warlords were at their lowest ebb in months.
The fighting next week - initially involving a Christian and a Moslem suburb - did not turn to the Christians' political advantage. In face, it scared the Shia Moslems, whom the Christians had hoped to win over to their crusade against their arch enemies, the Palestinians.
The Christians had reasoned that the Shia were ripe for such an alliance because of their anger at the Palestinians for having provoked the Israeli invasion of predominstly, Shia southern Lebanon.
Moreover, many Christians living in East Beirut have begun to complain about their leaders. The complaints vary from anger at tax provisions to questioning of the wisdom of policies aimed at forcing the Syrian peacekeeping force to go home.
Nor are the Christians convinced of their leaders' claims that the Israelis will help them drive out the Palestinians, especially since the Israeli invasion stopped at the Litani River instead of continuing further north to Beirut, as the warlords had hoped.
Still, given Lebanon's proclivity for violence, intransigence and political immaturity, analysts gave Sarkis no more than a 50-50 chance of success. They also urged that Sarkis and Hoss - seen as most likely to continue as premier in a new government - perhaps have no more than a week to win their gamble or face the prospect of an open-ended crisis.