UN's Ban calls for disarmament of Hizbullah

Hariri unveils national

November 9, 2009 21:43
3 minute read.
saad hariri solemn 248 88 AP

saad hariri solemn 248 88 AP. (photo credit: )

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Lebanon's new national unity government to fully implement Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah. "The secretary-general hopes that Lebanese political leaders will continue to work together in a spirit of unity, dialogue and cooperation," Ban said in a statement issued on Tuesday. The UN chief called on the new government to quickly take up the remaining challenges to consolidate both the sovereignty of Lebanon and the institutional capacity of the Lebanese state. However, in its first meeting at the presidential palace, the new government signaled Tuesday it would steer clear of the thorny issue of Hizbullah's weapons, according to AFP. "We will draft a new program, but we will be building on the program agreed [upon] by the previous cabinet," the news agency quoted Information Minister Tarek Mitri as responding to a question on whether the new government would address Hizbullah's arsenal. Mitri said the cabinet, which met under the auspices of President Michel Suleiman, had selected a committee charged with drawing up the new program. The previous government's program had also avoided tackling the issue of disarming Hizbullah. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unveiled the newly-formed 30-member national unity cabinet Monday, after winning the parliamentary elections by a narrow margin five months ago. Consequently, Suleiman declared that former prime minister Fuad Saniora's government was no longer in office and that Hariri would now begin his term as prime minister. "We have turned a page that we don't want to return to and opened a new page that we hope will be one of unity and work for Lebanon," Hariri said after submitting his list of ministers to the Lebanese president, pledging to work with "open doors" and cooperate with all factions in Lebanon's combustible mix of ethnic and religious parties. Beirut's new government is "united against Israeli threats" and will work to "assert Lebanon's right to defend itself," said Hariri in a speech later Monday. Hariri's announcement that Lebanon's rival blocs had reached an agreement to share power came after lengthy internal struggles, negotiations and meetings between top political figures in the country, which had been torn for years by a violent civil war. The February 2005 murder of Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in a violent explosion in Beirut had caused the already brittle political climate in the country to turn volatile, prompting Syria to withdraw its forces and causing a deep division between the Saudi and Western-backed 14 March coalition and the opposing Hizbullah. The breakthrough in negotiations between the factions came after Saudi King Abdullah discussed the Lebanese issue - for years a bone of contention between the two Arab countries - with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a visit to Damascus. The cabinet was formed in accordance with a formula that allocates 15 ministers to Hariri's Future Movement, 10 to the Hizbullah-led, Syrian-backed opposition and five to Suleiman. Although consensus was reached, the opposition's demand to have veto power in the government was not fulfilled. Following Hariri's historic declaration, reports surfaced saying that opposition figure Michel Aoun - a Maronite Christian - was commonly considered to be the victor in the elections, having been allotted five ministers in the cabinet. Hizbullah could also boast an achievement, reported Al Jazeera, as its political influence had markedly grown since Lebanon's previous parliamentary elections. "[Hizbullah] will have a policy statement, issued by the government, which will indirectly endorse… their right to resist and have weapons," Al-Jazeera quoted a news anchor as saying. Two Hizbullah officials were named as ministers in the new cabinet. Parliament now must approve the list of cabinet members, which includes representatives from most of Lebanon's major religious groups. Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druse community, said the new government would focus its efforts on improving public services, reducing national debt and developing rural areas. But many predict that the new government will lack the credibility or authority to make any decisive moves, whether on the issue of Hizbullah's weapons or on such mundane matters as the country's sky-high cellphone rates. "If the government took this long to form, it will be a sluggish one in terms of decision-making," said Paul Salem, a Beirut-based Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. "This government is beyond a government of rivals," he said. "It is more like a government of enemies, and the opposition inside the government will likely fight ... at every turn." The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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