by Ray Fleming

AFTER a period of relative calm by its own standards Lebanon is once again facing a crisis that could easily lead to internal hostilities with the indirect involvement also of neighbouring countries such as Iran, Israel and Syria. The capacity of Lebanon's troubles to upset the whole Middle East cannot be underestimated. The immediate issue is yesterday's collapse of Lebanon's coalition government following the resignation of ten of its Hezbollah members. Its more distant cause was the death of Lebanon's charismatic prime minister Rafik Hariri in a bomb explosion on Beirut's sea front in 2005.

A United Nations-backed tribunal has been investigating the cause of Hariri's death and is believed to have determined that three members of Hezbollah were responsible. Efforts within the coalition cabinet to discuss the implications of such a finding have apparently been blocked by the prime minister Saad Hariri (Rafik Hariri's son) and the Hezbollah ministers have made clear that they will not accept an indictment which they claim has been influenced by outside interests, including Israel. A complicating factor may be what is thought to be America's insistence that the UN report should be followed by a trial of those named as responsible for the 2005 bombing. Prime minister Hariri was in a meeting with President Obama in Washington when the news came through of the fall of his government.

A tangled web indeed.

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