Last updated: 15 March, 2014

New Lebanon government reaches compromise on Hezbollah arms

Lebanon’s new cross-party government, formed last month, adopted a political programme Saturday after reaching a compromise over the thorny question of the arsenal of Hezbollah, one of the coalition’s members.

The Shiite movement, known as the “resistance” because of its opposition to Israel, never disarmed after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, and its military power rivals that of the army.

The group sent its fighters into neighbouring Syria last year to support Bashar al-Assad, fuelling tensions in multi-confessional Lebanon, where many support the Sunni-led rebellion against the Syrian president.

Hezbollah insists its arms are necessary for protecting Lebanon from Israel, but detractors argue that its arsenal allows it to impose its will on the country.

Hezbollah had refused demands by the March 14 bloc of former premier Saad Hariri, a coalition partner, that its military operations be under state supervision.

At a meeting that began late Friday, the parties agreed on a compromise. Unlike in previous programmes, the text does not explicitly confer on Hezbollah a role of resisting Israel but still acknowledges the right to resort to arms outside the authority of the state.

“Based on the responsibility of the state to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and its independence (and) territorial integrity… the government affirms the role of the state and its quest to liberate” territory held by Israel “with all legitimate means,” it reads.

But the text also affirms the “right of Lebanese citizens to resist the Israeli occupation, repel its attacks and take back the occupied territory.”

Prime Minister Tammam Salam unveiled the country’s compromise government on February 15, capping 10 months of political wrangling and bringing together Hezbollah and Hariri’s bloc.

Syria’s three-year conflict has left Lebanon bitterly polarised, and the violence has seeped across the border in a series of bombings and other attacks.

Lebanon is also struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are straining its already limited resources.