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‘Hizbollah won’t yield in government formation dispute’

By Reuters - Nov 07,2018 - Last updated at Nov 07,2018

BEIRUT — The Lebanese Shiit Muslim group Hizbollah will not give way in a dispute over Sunni Muslim representation in a new unity government, the pro-Hizbollah Al Akhbar newspaper reported on Wednesday, signalling no quick end to the stand-off.

Separately, a senior political source close to Hizbollah told Reuters it was up to President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, to resolve the problem because neither Hizbollah nor Prime Minister-designate Saad Al Hariri could give ground.

Six months since a parliamentary election, the row over Sunni representation is seen as the final hurdle to the formation of a new government. Posts in the 30-seat Cabinet are parcelled out along sectarian lines.

Lebanon is in dire need of a government able to make economic reforms that are seen as more pressing than ever. The country is wrestling with the world's third largest public debt as a proportion of the economy and stagnant growth.

A deal seemed close last week when a dispute over Christian representation was settled, with the anti-Hizbollah Christian Lebanese Forces ceding ground to Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement, which is allied to Hizbollah.

But Hizbollah, a powerful armed group backed by Iran, is pressing its demand for one of its Sunni allies to be given a Cabinet portfolio to reflect gains they made in the May 6 parliamentary election.

Al Akhbar, citing unidentified sources, said Aoun and Hariri must listen to Hizbollah's Sunni allies "and agree with them on a way out" of the row. "Hizbollah will accept whatever the allies find appropriate," it said.

Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni who is currently on a visit to France, has ruled out ceding one of his Cabinet seats to the Hizbollah-allied Sunnis.

Another possibility would be for Aoun to nominate one of the Hizbollah-allied Sunnis within a group of ministers allocated to him. But he appeared to rule this out last week when he criticised the Hizbollah-allied Sunnis for demanding a ministry, saying their demand was "not proper" or "justified".

The senior political source close to Hizbollah said the ball was in Aoun's court.

"Neither can Hariri retreat, nor can the [Hizbollah-allied] Sunnis, nor can Hizbollah. If the president wants a government he has to take the responsibility," the source said.

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