Lebanon's cabinet to resign as tensions rise in wake of bomb
The crisis in Lebanon following the assassination of Beirut's top police official appeared to be deepening yesterday as the prime minister, Najib Mikati, announced his cabinet would resign as soon as a caretaker national-unity government could be formed.
General Wissam al-Hassan was one of 10 people killed and more than 100 wounded on Friday after a car bomb exploded in a middle-class Christian neighbourhood in central Beirut. The explosion rocked the Sassine Square area just after 3pm.
The killing of Hassan has followed months of rising tension as Lebanon has been drawn ever deeper into the conflict in neighbouring Syria -- whose government has been blamed for the murder.
Hassan was a key investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the international investigation into the 2005 assassination of another former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, and several other bombings that the Lebanese 'street' has blamed on the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Tensions between the pro-Syrian government and an opposition that is openly backing the rebels in Syria's 18-month civil war have steadily risen over the past year and the death of Hassan, a Sunni, left supporters around the country calling for a national strike and retaliatory violence against the Shia militant group Hezbollah and its allies in the government.
Hezbollah denied that it was behind the blast.
Gangs of angry protesters took to the streets on Friday night, blocking roads, burning tyres and calling on the government to resign. Clashes between pro-government supporters and the opposition began late on Friday and show few signs of abating.
As protesters demanded justice and revenge, Hezbollah and its allies began deploying their gunmen on the streets to protect Shia neighbourhoods from revenge attacks by infuriated Sunnis.
Immediately after the assassination, the Hezbollah-led coalition announced that it would block any attempt to transfer jurisdiction over the bombing to the STL, a move that prompted Mikati to announce his cabinet would resign as soon as a caretaker government could be formed.
The dramatic announcement came after a security council meeting with President Michel Sleiman to determine the proper course forward on the day after the worst bombing to strike Lebanon in the past five years.