New Lebanon Cabinet allows Hezbollah to keep arms

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2009 4:54 PM

The Lebanese parliament overwhelmingly approved a national unity government Thursday that will allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons, despite strong criticism from pro-Western lawmakers angry at the militant group's refusal to disarm.

The vote in parliament was a further indication that Hezbollah will continue to defy a U.N. resolution calling for it to give up its weapons, which include rockets that can reach deep into Israel.

It was also a sign that Hezbollah will continue to wield great political influence at the expense of pro-Western rivals with whom it shares seats in the Cabinet and parliament _ and it will retain the military muscle to back it up.

"Why do some Lebanese have the right to have weapons while others don't?" asked Hezbollah critic Sami Gemayel of the right-wing Christian Phalange party.

Elie Keyrouz of the right-wing Lebanese Forces group said Hezbollah's weapons "no longer have any justification" after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, which ended 18 years of occupation.

Despite that sentiment, shared by many in parliament's pro-Western majority, the 128-member assembly approved the new Cabinet by a vote of 122 to 1 with one abstention. Only 124 lawmakers attended the session.

Hezbollah says it has thousands of rockets and missiles, some of which can hit far inside Israel, which says it is preparing to deploy a defense system to shoot down rockets from Lebanon.

A United Nations resolution that ended Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel calls on the group to disarm, but Hezbollah says it must retain its weapons to fight off any future Israeli threat and persistent violations of Lebanon's airspace. Hezbollah says its weapons are needed until Israel fully withdraws from disputed border areas, including the Chebaa Farms.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed his 30-member Cabinet a month ago, and last week it permitted Hezbollah to remain armed under the new government's policy platform.

The Western-backed coalition, headed by Hariri, holds a slight majority in parliament, but was forced to form a shaky coalition government with Hezbollah, which has virtual veto power over the government.

Hezbollah legislator Nawaf al-Moussawi asked those who criticized his group's weapons, "What is the alternative and how will the government face Israeli aerial violations?"

He cited news reports that on Independence Day last month, Israeli warplanes were flying over Beirut as senior officials were attending a military parade. "The whole state was there. What is your answer?" he asked.

Israeli warplanes fly over Lebanon almost daily in violation of U.N. resolutions.