Lebanon minister quits over Hezbollah 'domination'

2016-02-21 21:02
Members of the Lebanese pro-Syrian Popular Committees stand guard at the Lebanon-Syria border, near the north-eastern Lebanese town of al-Qasr, Lebanon. (AP)

Members of the Lebanese pro-Syrian Popular Committees stand guard at the Lebanon-Syria border, near the north-eastern Lebanese town of al-Qasr, Lebanon. (AP)

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Beirut - Lebanon's justice minister says he is resigning over what he calls Hezbollah's "domination" of the country's government.

Ashraf Rifi's announcement on Sunday came two days after Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending $3bn in aid to Lebanon's army in protest against "hostile" positions it said were inspired by Hezbollah.

"There is an armed party that is dominating the government's decision," Rifi, a fierce opponent of Hezbollah, said in a statement, referring to the Shia group.

"Hezbollah has used this government to consolidate its project of a mini-state. It wanted to use it as a tool to extend its control over the state and its decisions," AFP news agency reported Rifi as saying.

"I will not accept becoming false witness and covering for those trying to dominate the state and its institutions ... that is why I am presenting my resignation."

Hezbollah's media channel Al Manar reported that Judge Alisse Shebtini was assigned the post of acting justice minister.

Search for new president

Rifi accused Hezbollah of being responsible for the political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a president for the last 21 months.

He also said the Iranian-backed Hezbollah was "destroying Lebanon's relations with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia".

Lebanon's political scene is deeply divided, with the government split roughly between a bloc led by Hezbollah and another, the March 14 movement, headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, to which Rifi belongs.

Sources told Al Jazeera that Hariri was to hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the developments.

Lebanon politician endorses rival's presidential bid

Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syrian government, and is backed by Iran, while Hariri's bloc is close to Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia, and is supported by Western powers including the US.

The tensions have been heightened by the war in neighbouring Syria, with Hezbollah sending fighters to back President Bashar Assad against an uprising that is supported by Saudi Arabia and Hariri's political bloc.

Samaha case

Rifi's resignation statement also cited alleged Hezbollah interference in the case of Lebanon's former information minister, Michel Samaha, who is facing charges of having planned "terrorist" acts.

The release on bail of Samaha last month after serving eight months of a four-and-a-half year jail sentence drew anger and condemnation from Assad's opponents in Lebanon.

Jailed Lebanese ex-minister Samaha released on bail

Rifi accused Hezbollah of blocking his efforts to transfer the case against Samaha, a former close ally of the Syrian government, to Lebanon's highest civilian court.

Samaha is currently free on bail as he faces retrial on charges of plotting attacks with Ali Mamluk, Syria's security services chief.

Read more on:    hezbollah  |  lebanon  |  syria  |  iran

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