Lebanese PM forms cabinet 5 months after taking office

Hezbollah-led coalition has majority in new cabinet; PM Najib Mikati says new gov't committed to "liberating lands under Israeli occupation."

najib mikati_311 reuters (photo credit: Lebanese PM Mikati speaks after announcement of ne)
najib mikati_311 reuters
(photo credit: Lebanese PM Mikati speaks after announcement of ne)
BEIRUT - Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Monday a long-delayed new government dominated by allies of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is likely to cause alarm among Western powers.
Mikati was appointed to form a government after Hezbollah and its allies toppled Western-backed former premier Saad Hariri's coalition in January over a dispute involving the UN-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, Saad's father.
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The Cabinet's majority is made up of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, and Mitaki was quoted as saying by the Lebanese Daily Star that the "government will be a government for all Lebanon and will work for all the Lebanese people without discrimination."
"Let us go to work immediately according to the principles and basis that we have affirmed our commitment to several times, namely ... defending Lebanon's sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy," Mikati said at the Baabda Presidential Palace.
Political wrangling had held up the formation of the cabinet, including disagreements over sensitive posts.
The new government gave three ministers to President Michel Sleiman, seven to Mikati, and three to Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, with the March 8 coaltion claiming the remaining 18 seats.
Mohammed Safadi, the former economy minister, was named finance minister and will try to improve Lebanon's growth outlook which stands at about 2.5 percent this year, driven down by the political stalemate.
Fayez Ghusn was named defense minister and Marwan Charbel as the interior minister. Nicolas Sehnawi was given the telecommunications portfolio, a post ridden with controversy due to disagreements over privatizing the sector.
Hariri, who is supported by the West and Saudi Arabia, has refused to join Mikati's government.
A main aim of the government will be to agree on a unified stand to face indictments by the tribunal expected to implicate members of Hezbollah in the 2005 killing of Hariri. The group denies any link to the attack.
Mikati, who says he is politically neutral, said the Lebanese government would seek to maintain positive ties with all Arab countries.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been fighting a popular revolt against his 11-year rule, telephoned Mikati to congratulate him, Lebanese media said. Syria is a strong ally of Hezbollah, the main player in the political coalition which helped bring Mikati to power in January.
"This government is committed to maintaining strong, brotherly ties which bind Lebanon to all Arab countries without exception," Mikati said.
The cabinet was announced when a presidential decree was read out by the cabinet's Secretary General Suheil Bouji at Baabda Palace.
The newly appointed ministers were expected to convene their first cabinet meeting on Wedensday.