BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government agreed to a compromise policy statement on Friday that fell short of explicitly enshrining the militant group Hezbollah’s role in confronting Israel but which would give all citizens the right to resist Israeli occupation or attacks.
The agreement on the compromise language came after weeks of dispute brought the government to the verge of collapse, and now paves the way for Prime Minister Tammam Salam to put his government to a vote of confidence.
Information Minister Ramzi Jreij told reporters that most ministers had agreed on a compromise statement that declares Lebanese citizens have the right to “resist Israeli occupation” and repel any Israeli attack.
The deal was reached a few hours after Israel’s army said it fired tank rounds and artillery into southern Lebanon in retaliation for a bomb that targeted its soldiers patrolling the border. No injuries were reported on either side.
The Israel-Lebanon border has been mostly quiet since Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive war in 2006, but Israeli forces still hold at least three pockets of occupied territory that are claimed by Lebanon.
“Based on the state’s responsibility to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and the security of its citizens, the government affirms the duty of the state and its efforts to liberate the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills and the Lebanese part of Ghajar through all legitimate means,” the government statement said.
It also “affirms the right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation and repel aggressions and recover occupied territory.”
Agreement on the declaration paves the way for Salam to put his government to a vote of confidence, almost exactly a year after he was first asked to try to put together a cabinet following the resignation of his predecessor, Najib Mikati.
The declaration reflected a compromise between the Hezbollah-led political coalition, which sought to guarantee Shiite Hezbollah’s right to fight Israel and to justify maintaining its huge weapons arsenal, with Sunni-led political opponents who sought to emphasize the role of the state in carrying arms.
Tensions between Hezbollah and its Sunni opponents inside Lebanon have been sharply heightened by the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Hezbollah fighters have been battling alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against Sunni rebels who are backed by many Lebanese Sunnis.
Jreij said some ministers expressed reservations because the statement failed to spell out Lebanese state control over the military conflict with Israel and because it refers to “resistance,” Hezbollah’s label for its military operations.
A functioning Lebanese government would finally be in a position to pursue an offshore oil and gas exploration license round that was delayed for months by the political deadlock.
Salam has also said he hoped the emergence of the new government will allow Lebanon to hold presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman’s mandate expires in May and also hold parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the political impasse.
Lebanon, still struggling to recover from its own 1975-1990 civil war, has found its internal divisions worsened by the conflict in Syria, whose sectarian divisions mirror its own.
Sectarian violence has erupted sporadically in the past year, particularly in the north, and car bombings targeting both security and political targets have increased dramatically, with Hezbollah-dominated areas being the most frequent target.
Security sources said on Friday the death toll after two days of fighting in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni Muslims and minority Alawites – the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – had risen to five.