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Moscow praises deal between rival Lebanese forces

MOSCOW, May 21 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Foreign Ministry praised a deal struck between Lebanon's warring political leaders ending a 19-month political crisis which led to the worst violence the country has seen since 1990.

The political stalemate began in late 2006 when pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora during a power struggle. The U.S.-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition spent over a year deadlocked and unable to elect a president.

"Moscow sincerely welcomes these agreements," the ministry said. "We are sure that these agreements will open the way to overcome the protracted domestic political crisis in response to the aspirations of the Lebanese [people] no matter which political groups or confessions they belong to and in the interest of peace and security in the region."

The rival political forces agreed on the formation of a new national unity government and the holding of presidential elections during six-day peace talks in Qatar.

The deal will pave the way for the election of Gen. Michel Suleiman as the country's next president. Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said on Wednesday that Suleiman would be elected within the next 24 hours.

Under the agreement the ruling majority will receive 16 seats in the country's new government, which will allow it to choose a prime minister. The opposition will have 11 seats, giving it a right of veto, while three ministers will be appointed by the country's president.

However, no agreement has been reached on Hezbollah's military arsenal and private telephone network, which remains a key stumbling block in the dispute. Hezbollah says it needs its arms to defend the southern part of the country from Israel.

Violence erupted in the country May 9 when Syrian-backed Hezbollah took control of the Muslim half of Beirut after three days of clashes with pro-government militias. The fighting was reminiscent of the civil war that devastated the country from 1975-1990.

Some 1,200 Lebanese, the majority of them civilians, and 157 Israelis, two-thirds of them soldiers, lost their lives in fighting between Israel and Syrian-backed Hezbollah in 2006.

The Lebanese government had accused Syria, which had a significant influence in Lebanese affairs for decades before it was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in 2005, of standing in the way of the election of a new president.

However, Syria and its allies in Lebanon blamed the political turmoil on Washington's alleged attempts to split the Arab world in order to achieve its political goals in the Middle East.

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