BEIRUT – Lebanon’s government collapsed Wednesday after Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the Cabinet in a dispute with Western-backed factions over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
A U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others is widely expected to name members of the Shiite militant group, which many fear could re-ignite sectarian violence that has erupted repeatedly in the tiny nation.
Hezbollah’s walkout ushers in the country’s worst political crisis since 2008 in one of the most volatile corners of the Middle East.
Lebanon’s 14-month-old government was an uneasy coalition linking bitter rivals: a Western-backed bloc led by Hariri’s son Saad and Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran and maintains an arsenal that far outweighs that of the national army.
Disputes over the tribunal have paralyzed the government for months, with Hezbollah denouncing the court as a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel and urging the prime minister to reject any of its findings. But Hariri has refused to break cooperation with the Netherlands-based tribunal.
Now, the chasm between the two sides is deepening with Hezbollah accusing Hariri’s bloc of bowing to the West. Hezbollah’s ministers timed their resignations to coincide with Hariri’s meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, forcing him to meet the American president as a caretaker prime minister.
Western governments have worked to strengthen the central government since Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating 34-day war in 2006.
Now that the government has fallen, President Michel Suleiman will likely hold a meeting with the parliament speaker marking the beginning of consultations with lawmakers to name a prime minister-designate.