Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, has claimed that the Iran-backed Shia militant group, Hezbollah, is undergoing a siege-like attack, warning that it could lead to a civil war in the country if it continues.
In an interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Raya, during his visit to Doha over the weekend to attend the opening ceremony of the Arab Cup FIFA 2021 and the inauguration of sports stadiums, Aoun was asked about his opinion regarding Australia's recent designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
"Hezbollah is almost besieged and this foreign siege may generate an internal explosion and, if it exceeds its limit, a security explosion," Aoun responded. He added that "If this happens – God forbid – it's a sign of the outbreak of civil war."
In recent years, especially over the past year since the Beirut blast, sectarian divisions and tensions have risen sharply in Lebanon.
Opposition to Hezbollah and its powerful influence over the political scene and military – as well as its attempts to obstruct the ongoing investigation into the blast – has also grown amongst much of the public, leading many to see it as Iran's attempt to gain hegemony over the country.
Last month, concerns over civil war being a likely occurrence were raised after clashes broke out in Beirut during protests surrounding the investigation and the judge leading it, Tarek Bitar, who Hezbollah and others affiliated with it accuse of bias against the group. Seven people were killed in those armed clashes, with dozens of others wounded.
President Aoun's defence of the Iran-backed group comes as no surprise to many, as he is in a political alliance with Hezbollah which helped him to win the presidency in 2016. His comments are seen as granting further legitimacy to the group, however, with critics asserting that Lebanon is itself under a siege by Hezbollah and its influence.
Despite his warning of a potential civil war if the "siege" on Hezbollah continues, the President afterwards seemed to contradict his comments by saying that "This situation, despite its disadvantages, is much better than a civil war, which is unlikely to happen because no one can pursue this losing adventure."
Last month, Hezbollah claimed that it is against any situation leading to a new civil war, asserting that it will not be dragged into such as path.
In the interview with the paper, Aoun also insisted that he supports the separation of powers and that he is against political interference in the judiciary, attempting to prove it by recommending that Russia's photos regarding the Beirut port explosion be given to the judiciary investigating the event, rather than to himself.
Last week, however, three Lebanese judges resigned due to politicians' interference in the judiciary and their attempts to influence judicial cases, such as that of the blast.