x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Sunni Muslims in Lebanon warn Hizbollah: 'Don't ignore us'

Leaders of Lebanon's Sunnis warn against 'ignoring the Sunni majority and the parliament majority' and 'the dangers of an imposed government' over choice of country's new prime minister.

BEIRUT// Lebanon's Sunni Muslim religious leaders warned Hizbollah yesterday not to ignore their sect's opinion ahead of key parliamentary talks to pick a new prime minister.

The Shiite Hizbollah and their allies said they will not name the caretaker prime minister, Saad Hariri, to form a new cabinet during two days of consultations that begin today.

They have not publicly said whom they will name instead.

The clerics, led by Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the Sunnis' spiritual leader in Lebanon, said after a meeting that they support Mr Hariri because he represents the majority of Sunnis.

"We warn against ignoring the Sunni majority and the parliament majority," the leaders said in a statement. "We also warn against the dangers of an imposed government."

Ministers from Hizbollah and its allies toppled Mr Hariri's government on January 12 after walking out because of disagreements over a UN-backed tribunal investigating the assassination in 2005 of the country's prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, Saad Hariri's father.

Yesterday's announcement came two days after a potential kingmaker in Lebanese politics threw his support behind Hizbollah, giving the militant group a major boost. Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect, refused to say exactly how many MPs are with him.

The support of at least 65 MPs is required to form a government in Lebanon's 128-seat parliament. Hizbollah and its allies already claim 57 seats. Saad Hariri has 60.

The announcement is the latest twist in a political crisis pitting the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hizbollah against the western-backed Mr Hariri, who said last week he will seek the premiership again.

Lebanon's crisis stems from the fear that Hizbollah members, as is widely expected, will be named in the UN tribunal's sealed indictment on Rafiq Hariri's assassination. The indictment was filed last week but its contents will probably not be made public for weeks.