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26 February 2024

Hezbollah-backed Mikati set to lead Lebanon

By Reuters

Lebanese telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati, who is backed by Hezbollah and its allies, was set to lead a new government on Monday after winning support from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

But caretaker Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said he and his Future Movement would not take part in a government where the Hezbollah has the upper hand.

Lebanon was plunged into political crisis after Hezbollah and its allies walked out of Hariri's unity government on January 12 in a dispute over still-confidential indictments by a UN-backed tribunal which is investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik Al-Hariri, the premier's father.

Hariri has stayed on in the interim and hoped to form a new coalition. But support from Jumblatt and six members of his parliamentary bloc -- added to the 57 members of Hezbollah and their allies, plus Mikati himself -- will give Mikati 65 votes in the 128-member parliament.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who has support from the United States and Saudi Arabia, said his supporters would not serve under a premier chosen by the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group.

"The Future Movement ... rejects taking part in any government headed by a March 8 candidate," his office said in a statement on Monday. The March 8 bloc includes Shi'ite movements Hezbollah and Amal, along with Christian leader Michel Aoun.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has offered to accept any group within a cabinet led by Mikati, a Sunni businessman and politician -- a post reserved under Lebanon's constitution for a member of the Sunni community.

The collapse of Hariri's government and political deadlock since then has deepened sectarian divisions in Lebanon, and the prospect of a government formed by Hezbollah will alarm Israel, which fought a month-long war with the militant group in 2006.