x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Opposition says new government means Lebanon 'taken hostage' by Hizbollah and Syria

Opposition March 14 coalition members say the new cabinet, dominated by Hizbollah and its allies, is cconfrontational, for being what some described as one-sided and too closely linked to Syria.

BEIRUT //Members of Lebanon's opposition yesterday responded to the formation of a new government claiming that the country had been "taken hostage" by Hizbollah and Syria.

The March 14 coalition, which includes former prime minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, issued a statement yesterday denouncing the new cabinet that was named on Monday.

Prime minister Nejib Miqati's cabinet was formed after nearly five months of deliberations, after the collapse of Mr Hariri's government in January over disputes centering on the UN-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri. The new cabinet line-up is dominated by Hizbollah's March 8 coalition allies. The United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Australia and Canada and some other countries classify Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation,

Fares Soueid, the March 14 general secretariat coordinator, said yesterday that the opposition would formally announce its position on Mr Miqati's government this week.

Other members of the opposition went on the offensive yesterday, branding the new cabinet as "confrontational", for being what some described as one-sided and too closely linked to Syria, which still has political clout in Lebanon

Opposition MP Antoine Saad said was quoted by the state-run National News Agency (NNA) as saying: "This is a crisis government rather than a government to manage crisis."

However, members of the new cabinet yesterday reiterated comments made by Mr Miqati on Monday that his government will represent all Lebanese and would work in accordance with international obligations.

Panos Manjian, a minister of state in the new cabinet, denied that the government was in any way "confrontational" towards the international community or parties within Lebanon, according to a statement published on the NNA.

The country's new defence minister, Fayez Ghosn, also pledged that the Lebanese army "will always be the valve of safety for [the] country", according to the state news agency.

Following the announcement of the cabinet formation on Monday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, said the new government would be judged "by its actions".

Hizbollah and its allies have a total of 18 posts in the new 30-member government, up from 10 posts in the previous cabinet. Notably though, there are only two Hizbollah ministers and the largest chunk of cabinet posts were given to members of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun's bloc.

However, the government is already down one member, after the resignation of Talal Arslan, the leader of the Lebanese Democratic Party. Mr Arslan, a member of the Druze sect, stepped down shortly after he was named a minister of state on Monday, something observers attributed to his not being given a more prominent cabinet position. Women's activists also voiced their displeasure in local media reports yesterday at the lack of female ministers in the new government.

The cabinet is now expected to prepare its policy statement, ahead of a parliamentary vote of confidence.