The indictment came less than a week after the government of prime minister Saad Hariri collapsed [AFP]

US President Barack Obama has welcomed the submission of an indictment for the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, saying the move was key to ending an "era of impunity" but urging calm amid rising tensions in the country.

A prosecutor for the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister filed the body's first indictment against suspects in the case on Monday.

The confidential documents were handed to the registry, the tribunal said in a statement. The details of the suspected named and the charges against them were not released.

In a statement, Obama said he "welcomed" the announcement, adding that it was "a significant and emotional time for the Lebanese people, and we join the international community in calling on all leadersa and factions to preserve calm and exercise restraint".

On Monday, Ali Shami, the Lebanese foreign minister, cautioned the US to stop interfering in Lebanese affairs, summoning Maura Connelly, the American ambassador, to explain why she had met with Nicolas Fattouch, a key undecided lawmaker, on the weekend.

After the meeting, Connelly's office said the meeting was part of routine meetings with "personalities from across Lebanon's political spectrum".

Hezbollah indictments expected

Daniel Fransen, the pre-trial judge, must confirm the charges in the indictment before any arrest warrant or summons to appear can be issued.

The tribunal is widely expected to indict members of Lebanon's Hezbollah, a move many fear could rekindle violence in the country.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said the tribunal has been a source of tension in the country.

"It is widely believed to point the finger at Hezbollah members. Hezbollah has called it a US tool, and ... has alleged it is politicised. It has questioned the way [the tribunal] conducted investigations," she said.

"We heard the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, say yesterday that the group will reject any accusation and it will work to defend its reputation as well as its dignity and it will confront it.

"But he stopped short of saying exactly what kind of action the group would take."

Collapsed government

The indictment announcement came less than a week after 11 ministers allied with Hezbollah resigned from the government of Saad al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, forcing it to collapse.

The lawmakers withdrew from the unity government last Wednesday over the prime minister's stance on the tribunal.

IN DEPTH


 Profile: Rafiq al-Hariri
 Timeline: Al-Hariri investigation
 Focus: Lebanon simmers as Hezbollah braces
 Focus: Split remains over Hariri tribunal
 Inside Story: Hezbollah talks tough

Talks scheduled for Monday to name a new Lebanese prime minister have been postponed until next week.

Lebanese politicians said that the consultations on a new government could be delayed because of a summit in Damascus on Monday where the leaders of Syria, Qatar and Turkey met to discuss Lebanon's political crisis.

But Nasrallah said late on Sunday that his party would refuse to back al-Hariri, Lebanon's caretaker prime minister, in forming a new government.

Hezbollah, which has a political bloc in parliament as well as a powerful military wing, commands strong support in Lebanon's Shia Muslim community.

Lebanon's crisis is the result of long-simmering tensions over the UN tribunal's probe of the death of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister and the father of Saad al-Hariri.

Hezbollah has several times denounced the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel. On Monday, the group's al-Manar television said the US was behind the release of the draft indictment as part of a bid to sabotage efforts to solve Lebanon's crisis.

It also accused the US of "pushing the indictment ahead to light the fuse to blow up the bridges for a solution", adding that the "Americans control the indictments in form and content".

Hezbollah had demanded that Saad al-Hariri's government reject the court's findings even before they come out.

But though he offered some concessions, al-Hariri refused to end co-operation with the tribunal, prompting Hezbollah's walkout.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies