msnbc.com news services
updated 7/11/2008 10:35:26 AM ET 2008-07-11T14:35:26

Lebanon's prime minister formed a national unity Cabinet on Friday in which Hezbollah and its allies have veto power over government decisions.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who announced the Cabinet formation in Beirut, had been struggling to form a government since former army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman was elected president in May.

"We have decided to manage our disputes through democratic institutions and dialogue, and not through force and intimidation," Saniora told reporters at the presidential palace in suburban Beirut.

Hezbollah's veto power was part of an Arab League-brokered deal to achieve compromise between the U.S. and Western-backed parliamentary majority and Hezbollah-led opposition.

The opposition was granted 11 of the Cabinet's 30 seats under the May 21 Qatari-mediated deal that ended a conflict which had triggered the worst fighting since the 1975-90 civil war.

The new government would have one Hezbollah minister in addition to 10 ministers from its Shiite Muslim, Druze and Christian allies, sources told Reuters.

The ruling coalition would have 16 ministers while the remaining three ministers would be picked by the president, the sources said. People close to Suleiman would be assigned the key defense and interior portfolios.

Easing tensions
The task of the Cabinet would be to ease political and sectarian tensions that had led to bouts of violence, adopt an election law already agreed in Doha, and supervise next year’s parliamentary election.

"The main purpose is to serve all Lebanese citizens in these extremely difficult circumstances," Saniora said. But Lebanon's problems "will not cease to exist overnight," he said.

After the formation of the government, Suleiman is expected to call rival leaders for round table talks to discuss various divisive issues. At the top of the agenda would be the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons.

Hezbollah maintains a formidable guerrilla army that had survived a war with Israel in 2006.

Its domestic detractors say there is no more justification for the group to keep its arms after Israel pulled out of Lebanon while Hezbollah and its allies argue that it needs its arsenal to defend Lebanon against “Israeli threats.”

Hezbollah and Israel are expected to exchange prisoners later this month.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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