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Lebanon”s Siniora defends Hizbollah”s role | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon”s new government defended Hizbollah guerrillas” right to resist Israel and promised solid ties with Syria, policies that parliament began debating on Thursday.

Lebanon”s first government since Syrian troops withdrew in April is expected to win a confidence vote at the end of the policy debate, which could stretch until Friday or Saturday.

More than 30 out of 128 deputies are scheduled to speak.

Prime Minister-elect Fouad Siniora pledged a broad programme of economic reform in a speech to parliament and said Lebanon would work toward solid and balanced ties with Syria.

He promised to resolve a border crisis with Syria that has slowed Lebanese exports to Arab countries through its only open land border almost to a standstill.

The issue of Hizbollah”s weapons is one of the biggest challenges that will face Lebanon in the coming months.

Siniora said the government would defend Lebanon”s right to resistance, the term usually used for Shi”ite Muslim Hizbollah, whose attacks helped end the Jewish state”s 22-year occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.

&#34The government considers the resistance a natural and honest expression of the Lebanese people”s national rights to liberate their land and defend their honour against Israeli aggression and threats,&#34 he told parliament.

But Siniora, finance minister under slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, did not mention U.N. resolution 1559, which demands that militias disarm. Syria”s withdrawal fulfilled its other main requirement.

&#34The government affirms its respect for international law, good ties to international legitimacy and respect for its resolutions within the framework of sovereignty, solidarity and national unity,&#34 he said.

Hizbollah was the only Lebanese group to keep its arms after the 1975-1990 civil war. The United States brands Hizbollah a terrorist group and wants it to give up its weapons.

Hizbollah has a ministerial post in the new cabinet for the first time, though its overall make-up reflects elections that last month swept an anti-Syrian majority into parliament for the first time since the end of the civil war.

The new government has 15 ministers allied to an anti-Syrian bloc led by the slain Hariri”s son, Saad, and five loyal to the pro-Syrian Shi”ite coalition that includes Hizbollah.

The cabinet also includes three ministers loyal to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and one independent.

Michel Aoun, a long-time opponent of Syria”s influence in Lebanon who heads the largest Christian bloc in parliament, declined invitations to join the government after his demand for four ministers was rejected.

The former general, who returned from 14 years in exile in May, is expected to criticise the government”s policy statement and his 21-member bloc could withhold confidence. Aoun says he plans to form the backbone of opposition to the new government.

Siniora also faces the task of controlling a $36 billion public debt, equivalent to 185 percent of Lebanon”s gross domestic product.

He must also convince investors that Lebanon can take care of its own security in the absence of Syrian troops, after a spate of bombings and assassinations in recent months.