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, which is represented in Lebanon’s parliament but also maintains a powerful military wing.
“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.
Rifi accused Hezbollah of being responsible for the political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a president for the past 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 alliance, headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to which Rifi belongs.
The March 14 alliance held a meeting later on Sunday and issued a statement warning that Hezbollah’s stand would affect thousands of Lebanese families who live and work in the Arab Gulf countries.
“We refuse to turn Lebanon into a base to be used for animosity of Arab states or to interfere in their internal affairs,” said the statement read by Fouad Siniora, former prime minister.
March 14 also called on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, where it has sent fighters to back the government against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Nusra Front.
Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syrian government, and is backed by Iran, while Hariri’s bloc is close to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, 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 al-Assad against an uprising that is supported by Saudi Arabia and Hariri’s political bloc.
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.
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.