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Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 09:50 UK

Lebanese cabinet approves agenda

Tarik Mitri (file)
Mr Mitri said the document stressed the unity and the authority of the state

Lebanon's information minister has said the cabinet has unanimously approved a policy statement aimed at ending the country's political deadlock.

Tarik Mitri said the document confirmed the unity government's authority in all matters. However, it does not clarify the issue of weapons held by Hezbollah.

It asserted "the right of Lebanon's people, the army and the resistance to liberate all its territories", he said.

Parliament is expected to hold a vote of confidence in the cabinet this week.

An agreement to form a national unity government was reached in May following a long period of political paralysis and the worst sectarian violence in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.

The Western-backed parliamentary majority has 16 seats in the new cabinet, while former opposition groups supported by Syria and Iran, and led by Hezbollah, have enough to veto major decisions.

State authority

Following protracted negotiations among the parties, in particular about how to refer to weapons held by Hezbollah, Mr Mitri said on Monday evening that the cabinet had approved the policy statement.

The text stated that it is the "right of Lebanon's people, the army and the resistance to liberate all its territories in the Shebaa Farms, Kfarshuba Hill and Ghajar" which are occupied by Israel, he said.

Michel Suleiman (second left)
Michel Suileiman was elected president in May, ending months of deadlock

Correspondents say the term "resistance" refers to Hezbollah, which views itself as Lebanon's legitimate resistance to Israel.

Mr Mitri added that some members of the pro-Western bloc had unsuccessfully attempted to add "under the state's supervision" to the sentence. Others initially wanted to defer the issue to a forthcoming national dialogue.

But he stressed that the document did assert that "the unity and the authority of the state would be the guiding principle of all government decisions and actions".

Parliament must now discuss the statement, so that it can hold a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government. A meeting is expected later this week.

Meanwhile, President Michel Suleiman has agreed to visit Damascus next week for talks with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, officials have told the AFP news agency.

Relations have been strained since 2005, when Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon after a presence of 29 years, in the aftermath of the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for the killing, but the government has consistently denied any involvement.

Last month, the two countries agreed to re-establish formal diplomatic relations.


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