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Specter of fresh war raised in Lebanon

AFP BEIRUT (AFP-Jiji) — Saad Hariri’s resignation from Lebanon’s premiership has raised fears that regional tensions were about to escalate and that the small country would once again pay a heavy price.

Analysts said the Saudi-backed Sunni politician’s move on Saturday to step down from the helm less than a year after forming a government was more than just the latest hiccup in Lebanon’s notoriously dysfunctional politics.

“It’s a dangerous decision whose consequences will be heavier than what Lebanon can bear,” Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said.

“Hariri has started a cold war that could escalate into a civil war, bearing in mind that Hizbollah is unmatched in Lebanon on the military level,” Khashan said.

The rift in Lebanon’s political class led to the assassination in 2005 of Hariri’s father Rafik, an immensely influential tycoon who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia.

Investigations pointed to the responsibility of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and its Lebanese ally Hizbollah.

Other political assassinations in the anti-Hizbollah camp ensued, then a month-long war between the powerful militia and neighboring Israel, as well as violent internal clashes that harked back to the dark days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Twelve years on, Lebanese politics remain just as toxically sectarian and the threat of another flare-up very real. Hariri even said on Saturday he feared going the way of his father.

Other than just an internal conflict, analysts also do not rule out an external attack on Hizbollah, be it by Saudi Arabia directly or by the Shiite militia’s arch-foe Israel.

“Hariri is saying ‘there is no government any more, Hizbollah is not part of it’... and he is thus legitimizing any military strike against Hizbollah in Lebanon,” Kiwane said.

Israel and Hizbollah fought a devastating war in 2006, and Israeli politicians have ramped up the rhetoric lately, warning that its military was prepared for war with Lebanon.

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