BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah and its Shiite allies resigned from the Lebanese government Saturday, plunging the country deeper into political crisis and raising the threat of massive street demonstrations.
After a week of intensive talks over Hezbollah’s demand for more clout in the government, the Shiite parties said they were through negotiating with their political rivals.
“The so-called ruling party does not want any other parties to really participate in the decision-making process,” said Trad Hamadeh, a Hezbollah official who had been labor minister until he quit Saturday.
The resignation of the five Shiite ministers comes in the heat of a rapidly escalating political battle between Hezbollah, flush from a perceived victory over Israel in last summer’s fighting, and its furious rivals, who blame the Shiite militia for dragging their country into a devastating war.
The government talks were held under stark threat from Hezbollah chief Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, who vowed that if Hezbollah failed to get its way through negotiations by mid-November, he would lead his followers into the street to topple the government. The popular Shiite organization was striving to get more of its allies into the government in hopes of securing veto power over any government decisions.
There may still be room for compromise, however. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora refused to accept the Shiite ministers’ resignation, which was widely interpreted as a signal that the majority coalition might still see room for compromise.
Many in Lebanon’s political circles believe the Shiites resigned in order to derail preparations for an international court that would try and prosecute the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Shiites quit just ahead of the government’s scheduled discussion of the court.
In his later years, Hariri became a staunch critic of Syrian tampering in Lebanon. And many people, in Lebanon and in the international community, are convinced that Syria had a hand in the massive car bomb that killed Hariri in February 2005. Officials in Damascus have steadily denied any involvement.
A tight ally of Syria and Iran, Hezbollah has dutifully used its political clout within Lebanon to stall and oppose the international court whenever possible.