Israel warns of Hezbollah coup in Lebanon
Jerusalem - Israel's army chief has warned that the militant group Hezbollah could stage a coup in Lebanon if an international court targets its members over the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
"There is a real possibility that Hezbollah will take over Lebanon," Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi said during a visit on Monday to Canada, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the army.
Ashkenazi's comments came after Hezbollah's leader Hasan Nasrallah warned last week that the Shi'ite group would "cut off the hand" of anyone who tried to arrest its members over Hariri's 2005 assassination.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a UN-backed investigation into the Hariri murder, is reportedly set to issue an indictment soon that will implicate high-ranking members of the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group.
Ashkenazi, on a working visit meeting Canadian government and military officials, warned that senior members of Lebanon's armed forces were also giving Hezbollah covert assistance.
Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, in which more than 1 200 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.
No date has been set for the international tribunal to issue an indictment, but Hezbollah has already launched a heated campaign to fend off the accusation of any high-ranking members.
Nasrallah has even warned that further Lebanese co-operation with the court would be tantamount to an attack on his powerful group.
Despite the warnings, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri - son of the murdered ex-premier - has vowed to see the tribunal through.
Rafiq Hariri was killed on February 14 2005 in a Beirut bombing that left 22 other people dead.