Lebanon Without Government and the Syrian Contagion
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday. The outgoing Prime Minister called for a caretaker government to be appointed to lead the country, as opposing forces threaten to drag Lebanon into the turmoil and bloodshed of the Syrian civil war.
Prime Minister Mikati was forced to resign due to strong pressure from Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Shia militia force with links to both Iran and to President Assad’s government in Syria, which they have supported throughout the conflict in that country. Hezbollah fighters have engaged Syrian rebels close to the border between the two countries, as well as providing non-military support to Assad’s government. The group wields great power in Lebanon, thanks in part to their leading role in fighting the Israeli military in previous conflicts. The group opposed Mikati’s plans to extend the term of senior security official Major General Ashraf Rifi – a Sunni Muslim from Tripoli – as well as the planned creation of a new body to oversee elections scheduled for June.
The June election may now be delayed. It could take months of political wrangling just to form a caretaker government, which must be done before elections can proceed.
This political vacuum leaves Lebanon at even greater risk of being dragged into the war in Syria. The same ethnic fault-lines which are fuelling the war in Syria are also present in Lebanon, and there had already been several outbreaks of violence between supporters and opponents of Assad’s government, even before this weeks renewed tensions
Saturday saw a third day of clashes between Sunni and Shia militias in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli. One man was killed by a sniper and two others were wounded. Sunni groups support the largely Sunni rebels fighting in Syria, whereas Shia groups such as Hezbollah support the Shia government of Bashar al Assad. Many in Lebanon have strong family connections to Syria, and the massive influx of refugee into Lebanon only serves to increase sectarian tensions.
In Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli – a hotspot for such sectarian tensions – sporadic clashes between the two groups have been reported throughout the last three days. On Saturday one man was killed by a sniper, and two others were wounded.
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- The Reasons Behind Mikati’s Resignation (moulahazat.com)
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- Clashes in Lebanon as PM Mikati resigns over dispute with Hezbollah (haaretz.com)