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Lebanon's Druze leader supports Hezbollah

By the CNN Wire Staff
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (L) declared his support for Hezbollah during a press conference on Friday.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (L) declared his support for Hezbollah during a press conference on Friday.
  • Walid Jumblatt could play a decisive role in choosing the next prime minister
  • He says he supports those who are opposed to a U.N.-backed tribunal
  • The tribunal is expected to indict Hezbollah members in Rafik Hariri's assassination

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- A political showdown now looms in Lebanon after a potential kingmaker threw his allegiance Friday behind the opposition Hezbollah.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said his support lies with Syria and those who oppose a United Nations-backed tribunal's investigation of the assassination of a former prime minister.

"I'm assuring that the party will remain persistently on the side of Syria and the resistance," Jumblatt said in a televised news conference Friday. Hezbollah's military wing is often referred to as a resistance movement in the Muslim world.

'Kingmaker' holds the key

"Hopefully, the democratic game will move away from the tensions and the sectarian alliances, and we should stay open for dialogue, despite the schism that has happened and will continue to happen," said Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party.

Hariri: Lebanon is at a crossroads
Lebanese brace for another crisis
  • Lebanon
  • Hezbollah

Members of Hezbollah forced the collapse of Lebanon's Western-backed government last week because of now-caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri's continued cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

It is widely expected that the tribunal will indict members of the militant Shiite Muslim group for the 2005 killing of Hariri's father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The tribunal has scheduled a hearing for February 7 but it is unrelated to the indictment, said spokesman Crispin Thorold. A judge is currently reviewing the prosecutor's probe results, a process that could take up to 10 weeks.

After the government collapsed, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Saad Hariri to stay on as caretaker prime minister.

Suleiman will begin speaking with members of parliament Monday to see who they want to be prime minister. The system of power-sharing that prevails in Lebanon mandates that the prime minister's office be reserved for a Sunni Muslim. The president is a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament is a Shiite Muslim.

Jumblatt's announcement Friday was key, just days ahead of the key talks with Suleiman.

In the past, Jumblatt has supported the tribunal, and his 11-member parliamentary bloc was officially part of Hariri's March 14 alliance.

But recently, Jumblatt has become increasingly neutral, and now, he could play a decisive role in deciding who will be Lebanon's next prime minister, given the small majority that Hariri's alliance retains in the 128-seat parliament.

"The course of the tribunal has shifted to become a tool of destruction and has gone off the course of justice to enter the political bazaar and the blackmail market," Jumblatt said.

Hariri said Thursday he intends to regain his post. That announcement came after a flurry of mediation efforts by regional powers fizzled.

If Lebanon's crisis cannot be settled, fears are that the Middle Eastern nation -- no stranger to sectarian strife -- could see more bloodshed.

"There is total mistrust between the parties and this is why a compromise is necessary," Jumblatt told CNN.

He said he was "obliged" to take a side after "forces of darkness" obstructed regional efforts to resolve the tribunal dispute and Lebanon's political crisis. But, he said, "even if I side, I will do my best to find out a compromise."

CNN's Nada Husseini, Nic Robertson and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.