Lebanese Justice Minister Quits Over Hezbollah’s Domination of Government

Lebanon’s Minister of Justice resigned Sunday out of frustration over Hezbollah’s control of the government, which has harmed the country’s relations with Sunni Arab countries.

Ashraf Rifi’s resignation came days after Saudi Arabia cancelled a $4 billion military aid deal. The Saudi decision followed Lebanon’s refusal to back Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Iran, which supports Hezbollah.

Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, the leader of a Hezbollah-allied party, had refused to back Saudi proposals at meetings of Arab and Muslim foreign ministers. In the statement announcing his resignation, Rifi blasted Bassil, complaining that he “dared to offend the kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the request of Hezbollah. The practices of Hezbollah’s statelet and its allies are not acceptable and staying in the government means approving them.” Rifi called Hezbollah an “armed party that is dominating the government’s decisions” and asked the government to apologize to Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah is the only militia group that has remained armed since the end of Lebanon’s civil war, which ended in 1990. It is widely considered to be stronger than the Lebanese army.

Rifi, who has been a consistent critic of Hezbollah, campaigned against last month’s release of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who was convicted by a Lebanese military court of planning bombings on behalf of Syria. Rifi’s efforts to refer Samaha’s case to other authorities have been blocked by Hezbollah.

Rifi condemned Hezbollah last year for using child soldiers to fight on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He has also blamed Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for fomenting conflict between Sunnis and Shi’ites in Lebanon.

Lebanon has had a national unity government since 2014. Hezbollah has consistently blocked the appointment of a new president ever since President Michel Suleiman’s term expired in 2014. The March 14 coalition, which opposes Iranian influence in Lebanon, issued a statement Sunday warning that the crisis with Saudi Arabia that Hezbollah precipitated could have negative ramifications for the many Lebanese who work in the Gulf states. “We refuse to turn Lebanon into a base to be used for animosity of Arab states or to interfere in their internal affairs,” said former prime minister Fouad Siniora, a leader of the coalition. He also called on Hezbollah to withdraw its troops from Syria.

Hezbollah’s founder, Subhi al-Tufayli, complained on Sunday that the terrorist group served Russian and Iranian interests but not the interests of Lebanese Shi’ites.

[Photo: Arab Acinet / YouTube ]