- Associated Press - Monday, January 17, 2011

BEIRUT | A U.N. tribunal filed the first indictment Monday in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, touching off a process many fear could ignite new bloodshed nearly six years after the massive truck bombing along Beirut’s waterfront.

The contents of the draft indictment were not revealed and may not become public for weeks as Belgian Judge Daniel Fransen decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

The indictment, confirmed by the international court’s headquarters in the Hague, is the latest turn in a deepening political crisis in Lebanon, where Hezbollah toppled the Western-backed government last week in a dispute over the tribunal.

The court is widely expected to accuse members of Hezbollah of being involved in the killing, something the Shiite militant group has insisted it will not accept.

The Iran- and Syria-sponsored group fiercely denies any role in the killing and says the tribunal, jointly funded by U.N. member states and Lebanon, is a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.

A man walks past a picture of Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Sunni neighborhood of Tarik Jdideh, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011. A U.N. tribunal filed the first indictment Monday in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A man walks past a picture of Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad ... more >

Many fear the crisis could lead to street protests and the kind of violence that has bedeviled this tiny Arab country of 4 million people for years, including a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shiites in 2008.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain leader, has refused Hezbollah’s demands to renounce the court, prompting 11 Hezbollah ministers and their allies to resign on Wednesday.

The move brought down the unity government and further polarized the country’s rival factions: Hezbollah with its patrons in Syria and Iran on one side, and Mr. Hariri’s Western-backed bloc on the other, with support by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. has called Hezbollah’s walkout a transparent effort to subvert justice.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Ali Shami cautioned the U.S. to stop meddling in Lebanon. He summoned U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly to explain her weekend meeting with Nicolas Fattouch, a key undecided lawmaker, as politicians scramble to form a government.

After Monday’s meeting with Mr. Shami, Ms. Connelly’s office denied any interference.