Lebanon Christian leader rules out joining Hariri government
The leader of Lebanon's biggest Christian political party on Sunday ruled out joining a new government led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, a new hurdle for efforts to pull the country out of political paralysis.
Politicians have been at loggerheads over the shape of a new administration since the last one quit in the aftermath of the August 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving Lebanon rudderless as it sinks deeper into economic crisis.
Veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri was named premier for a fourth time in October promising to form a cabinet of specialists to enact reforms necessary to unlock foreign aid.
But Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the biggest Christian bloc, and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, said in a televised speech his movement would not join the cabinet as long as Hariri insisted on choosing all ministers. "We don't entrust Hariri alone with reform in Lebanon," Bassil said. "In short we don't want to take part in this government."
Hezbollah, Lebanon's Iran-backed paramilitary organisation
Hezbollah, or Party of God, was conceived by Muslim clerics in the 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in 1982. The Shia group has a political and military wing.
National support against Israel: Hezbollah emerged in the 1980s as an amalgamation of Shia militias and played a major role in the Lebanese civil war. It used guerrilla warfare to drive Israeli forces out of South Lebanon – Israel withdrew in 2000. Israel and Hezbollah fought another war in 2006. Its defence of Lebanon against Israel won it cross-sectarian support and acceptance in Lebanese society
Backed by Iran: since its creation, Hezbollah has received military, financial and political support from Iran and Syria. Today, Hezbollah's military wing is more powerful than Lebanon's own army and has become a major regional paramilitary force
Political apparatus: Hezbollah turned its focus to politics following the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. It represents a large section of the Lebanese Shia population and is allied with other sectarian groups, including Christians. Their political development has mostly come under Hassan Nasrallah (pictured), who became the group's leader in 1992
Armed wing: unlike other parties in Lebanon's multi-sided 1975-1990 civil war, Hezbollah did not disband its armed wing. Some Lebanese political groups, such as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, want Hezbollah to put down its arms. Hezbollah argues its militant wing is necessary to defend against Israel and other external threats
Terror group? A number of countries and bodies, including the United States, Israel, Canada, the Arab League and, most recently, Germany, consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. However, Australia and many European Union countries differentiate between its legitimate political activities and its militant wing
Hezbollah enters Syria's civil war: Hezbollah has been one of the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country's civil war. Its entrance into the war helped save Assad, one of its chief patrons; secured weapons supply routes from Syria and formed a buffer zone around Lebanon against Sunni militant groups it feared would take over Syria. As a result it has won considerable support from Shia communities in Lebanon
Sectarianism: Lebanon has long been at the centre of regional power struggles, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Hezbollah's military and political ascendancy, as well as its intervention in Syria, have also helped stoke Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions in Lebanon and across the region
Renewed conflict with Israel? Iran and Hezbollah have increased their political and military strength through the war in Syria. Israel views this as a threat and has carried out dozens of airstrikes on Iran/Hezbollah targets in Syria. Israel has vowed to not let Iran and Hezbollah create a permanent presence in Syria. There is growing concern of another war between Hezbollah and Israel that could draw in Iran. (Author: Chase Winter)
After Bassil's speech, Hariri's Future party said it did not want to be dragged into political bickering and that the government line-up was ready and waiting to shoulder its duties. "It will be a government that will take up the necessary reforms according to the French initiative and not according to sectarian and racist 'Bassil-like' considerations," a statement by the party said.
Bassil was placed under sanctions in November by the United States over corruption allegations, which he denies, and ties with the Iran-backed Shia Muslim paramilitary group Hezbollah, Lebanon's most powerful party.
He said Hariri did not appear to be serious about forming a government: "Every time he meets the president he takes a different line-up with him," Bassil said. "Someone who does that is serious and wants to form a government? Or is wasting time?"
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and financial crisis, its worst since the 1975-1990 civil war, that has hammered the currency, spread poverty and prompted a sovereign
debt default. (Reuters)