BEIRUT // Lebanon announced a 30-member national unity government on today, one-and-a-half years after the outbreak of its worst political crisis since a 1975-1990 civil war. The line-up was announced in a decree signed by President Michel Suleiman and prime minister Fouad Siniora and came seven weeks after an accord which saved Lebanon from the brink of renewed civil war. The accord between Lebanon's political rivals sealed in Doha on May 21 allocated 16 cabinet seats to the Western-backed parliamentary majority and 11 of the cabinet's 30 seats to the opposition led by Hizbollah, giving it veto powers. All major decisions require a two-thirds majority or 20 cabinet votes.
The opposition took the coveted posts of foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the new cabinet, while the ruling bloc maintained its hold on the finance ministry. The president, who himself only took office four days after the Doha accord, filling a post left vacant since November, made three appointments, including Elias Murr, who kept the defence portfolio, despite opposition reservations.
Mr Siniora, who was appointed by Mr Suleiman, Lebanon's armed forces chief at the time he took over as president, named Mohammed Fneish of the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shiite militant group Hizbollah as labour minister. "The government of national unity is the government of all the Lebanese," Mr Siniora said. He said the new government would have two key tasks: "to restore confidence in political institutions and the Lebanese political system... and to promote moderation.
"Our differences will not be resolved overnight, but we have decided to resolve them through institutions and dialogue rather than in the streets," he said. The breakthrough in forming a government came as the Syrian President Bashir al-Assad prepared to join a Paris summit of European and Mediterranean leaders this weekend. It follows a political crisis which broke out when Hizbollah and its allies stepped down from government in November 2006, shortly after a devastating Hizbollah-Israel war.
Parliamentary majority leader, Said Hariri, said earlier today that the breakthrough in weeks of efforts to form a new cabinet followed a concession to Hizbollah. "I have asked prime minister Fouad Siniora to accept the nomination of Ali Kanso" in the line-up, he said, referring to a figure previously opposed by Mr Hariri's camp. "We are making sacrifices in the interests of the country." Mr Siniora has struggled since the end of May to form a new government of national unity, under the Doha accord between rival factions following deadly sectarian clashes. But the rivals were since locked in political bickering over the distribution of key portfolios.
The nomination of Mr Kanso, former head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was sought by Hizbollah, which itself is backed by Damascus and Tehran. But the majority had rejected him because of SSNP involvement in the May clashes. Today's announcement marks a strengthened return to the government of Hizbollah, which the US State Department brands a terrorist organisation, and its allies, notably the Christian leader Michel Aoun.
The Doha deal was struck after 65 people were killed in May in sectarian clashes that saw Hizbollah stage a dramatic takeover of mainly Sunni areas of west Beirut, raising fears of a return to Lebanon's 15-year civil war to 1990.
The opposition had since its walkout from the government insisted on veto power and dismissed Mr Siniora's last cabinet as illegitimate. Siniora headed a caretaker administration after the Doha accord which in effect dismantled his last administration in the wake of Hizbollah's military show of force that was unopposed by the Lebanese army. *AFP with Reuters