The key issues at stake in Lebanese contest

Lebanese go to the polls today in a parliamentary election that pits the anti-Syrian March 14 alliance, led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, against the March 8 coalition, including Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian- and Syrian-backed political and military group.

Following are the main issues between the rival blocs:

Hezbollah’s weapons
The role of Hezbollah’s guerrilla army, which outguns the Lebanese army, is a major bone of contention. March 14 leaders accused Hezbollah of embroiling Lebanon in the 2006 war with Israel and using its weapons to impose its will on other Lebanese in 2008, when the group and its allies overran the predominantly Muslim half of Beirut, effectively imposing their terms for an end to an 18-month political standoff.

March 14 leaders call for a state monopoly on arms, a demand echoed by UN Security Council resolutions. But Hezbollah has sworn to keep the weapons it says are vital to defend Lebanon from Israel.
Relations with Syria

Pulling Lebanon from Syria’s orbit has been at the heart of March 14’s agenda since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, while many March 8 leaders have very close ties to Damascus. Shortly after Hariri’s killing, Syria yielded to international pressure and ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon. Damascus has now met another international demand by establishing diplomatic ties with its small neighbour for the first time since both countries won independence.

Hariri tribunal
Establishing an international tribunal to try suspects in Hariri’s killing was a key goal of anti-Syrian politicians, who blamed Damascus for the killing. The issue aggravated political conflict with Syria’s allies in Lebanon. Plans for the court were never approved by the Lebanese parliament or president. The Security Council voted in May 2007 to set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and it began work in March at The Hague.

Hezbollah again questioned the neutrality of an international inquiry into the assassination after the tribunal ordered the release of four pro-Syrian generals held without charge since 2005.

The issue could raise tension in Lebanon again if the prosecutor issues indictments or calls as witnesses any Syrian officials or their Lebanese allies.


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