5/14/2008

Gloves off in Lebanon

New clashes between the government and Hizbullah

Lebanon has taken another lurch towards civil war, following the most serious conflict thus far between the government of Fouad Siniora, the Western-backed prime minister, and the opposition, which is led by Hizbullah, the Shia political and military movement backed by Iran and Syria. Developments in Lebanon could have significant regional implications, as any move by Hizbullah to extend its physical control over large parts of the country, notably including Beirut's international airport, would be likely to elicit a strong reaction from Israel and from pro-Western Arab states. Hizbullah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has reiterated his assurance that the group will not use its weapons against other Lebanese parties, but the scope for any political resolution of the conflict has perceptibly narrowed.

Hizbullah and its principal ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of Michel Aoun, a Christian former army commander, started their campaign against the Siniora government at the end of 2006, with the ostensible aim of forcing a redistribution of executive power in favour of the parliamentary minority. Behind this argument about cabinet seats lay a number of bigger questions: the position of the Shia in the Lebanese political system; the role of Hizbullah's armed forces; Syria's interest in reasserting control over Lebanon and in subverting the operations of the tribunal on the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister; and Iran's ability to project its influence through regional allies. ...



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[Source: The Economist: News analysis

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