Lebanon parliament okays cabinet, ending long vacuum

AFP , Thursday 20 Mar 2014

Lebanon cabinet (Photo: AP)

Lebanon's parliament approved on Thursday a new government after lengthy negotiations over the military role of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, a parliamentary source said.

In a 96-4 vote with one abstention, MPs gave the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Tamam Salam their stamp of approval after two days of debate.

The cabinet includes members of the bloc led by the Hezbollah and their Sunni-led rivals, the March 14 coalition.

The government team was unveiled on February 15, after 10 months of wrangling that left the country without leadership as the war in Syria intensified and increasingly spilled over their common border.

But another five weeks was needed for final parliamentary approval because of disagreement within the government over the thorny issue of Hezbollah's military role.

Known as the "resistance" because of its opposition to Israel, Hezbollah never disarmed after Lebanon's 15-year civil war ended in 1990, and its military power exceeds that of the army.

The March 14 bloc, led by the son of assassinated former premier Rafiq Hariri, had called for Hezbollah's arsenal to be brought under state supervision.

But Hezbollah wanted to enshrine its military role in a government policy statement under a "people, state, resistance" formula that was rejected by the March 14 coalition.

Last week, the cabinet agreed a compromise formula that no longer accords Hezbollah a specific "resistance" role, yet affirms that all citizens have the "right to resist the Israeli occupation, repel its attacks and take back the occupied territory."

The government formation comes as Lebanon is increasingly divided and under strain because of the war in Syria.

The country host nearly a million refugees and has seen tensions rise between Sunni citizens that largely back the Syrian revolt and Shiites, including Hezbollah, who support the regime.

Hezbollah forces are openly fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops despite what had been an official Lebanese policy of "dissociation" from the conflict.

But the new government's policy statement makes no mention of dissociation.

After all the time taken to form it, the new government's mandate is set to expire by May 25. That is the date by which parliament must vote on a new president, who will then choose a new government.

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