Vol. 5 Num 875 Mon. November 13, 2006  

Hezbollah, allies quit Lebanon cabinet

All five Shia ministers from Hezbollah and ally Amal have quit the Lebanese government, including the foreign minister who will miss an Arab League meeting on Sunday, but the premier has said they must stay on.

"We have resigned because the majority insists on exercising power on its own," the head of the group's parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad said Saturday, referring to the anti-Syrian majority that has baulked at forming a unity government without first having guarantees that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will step down.

"We don't want ministers who blindly follow the majority," Raad said. "This is about giving a warning to the majority."

But Prime Minister Fuad Siniora immediately issued a statement saying he would not accept the resignations, which he said he heard about from Lebanese media.

"Mr Siniora rejects the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal ministers, even if they officially hand in their resignation, and insists that they take part in government," the statement said.

"This government respects the constitution and principles based on dialogue and consensus, and it insists on cooperating with all parties in order to find solutions which preserve the interests of Lebanon," it added.

The resignations came after the failure on Saturday of a week of talks on forming a unity government and months of political stalemate because of disputes between pro- and anti-Syrian elements in parliament.

The powerful Hezbollah movement, supported by Syria and Iran and flush from its claimed "divine victory" in the summer war with Israel, had two portfolios in the 24-minister cabinet, which is dominated by anti-Syrian politicians.

Two ministers from Shia ally Amal also resigned, along with Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh who is considered close to Hezbollah.

Sallukh had been due to attend a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday to examine Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, including a raid that killed 19 Palestinians, mainly women and children, in Beit Hanun on Wednesday.

A government source said Sallukh would not be going, even though the meeting had been called for by Lebanon.

Hezbollah wants to bring in opposition allies, represented by Christian ally Michel Aoun's parliamentary group -- with 21 of parliament's 128 deputies.

It also wants a number of cabinet posts that would ensure it had a "blocking minority", a move opposed by the anti-Syrian majority that sees this as a Syrian attempt to return strongly to Lebanese politics.

Such a mechanism would allow the opposition to prevent the government from ratifying the formation of an international court to try those eventually charged for the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri.