Hizballah dictates its terms to new Lebanese government

(AFP) Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Wednesday to cooperate with Lebanon's new unity government but warned that it should avoid the "big issues," in allusion to his group's weapons.

"Success for this government, its prime minister and ministers will mean success for Lebanon and Hezbollah," Nasrallah said in a televised address to mark Hezbollah's martyrs' day.

"But I call for patience in dealing with the big issues," he added, alluding to demands by the UN Security Council and his local rivals for the disarmament of his Shiite militant group.

"If we start with this now, we are headed straight for problems."

Nasrallah, whose party fought a devastating war with Israel in the summer of 2006, also said he hoped for a "government of national cooperation and accord."

"We do not want a government divided by barricades," he said.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of murdered ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, announced the formation of his new government on Monday, more than four months after his US- and Saudi-backed alliance defeated a Hezbollah-led bloc backed by Syria and Iran in a general election.

The government met for the first time on Tuesday at the president palace, making it clear that it would steer clear of the thorny issue of Hezbollah's weapons.

Hariri's government includes 15 ministers from Hariri's bloc and 10 from the opposition. The remaining five were appointed by President Michel Sleiman.

The major point of contention between the two major camps has been Hezbollah's weapons, which were starkly brought to the forefront in May 2008 when the militant group staged a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni Muslim west Beirut.

The crisis, sparked by a government crackdown against Hezbollah, left more than 100 people dead and brought the country to the brink of renewed civil war.

The distribution of portfolios in the new government means that neither side will have veto power and that Sleiman will play the role of arbiter.

Nasrallah, whose party has two ministers in the new government, played down the prospects of a new conflict with Israel, dismissing recent Israeli warnings as "psychological warfare."

But he added that Hezbollah remained ready for any eventuality.

"Send all the troops you want," he said. "We will kill all your officers and soldiers."

Hezbollah is the only Lebanese party that refused to surrender its weapons after the country's 1975-1990 civil war. It argues they are necessary to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

Nasrallah called on the rival Lebanese blocs' foreign sponsors Iran and Saudi Arabia to work hand in hand on regional issues.

"We call for Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, initiated by either country or any other party," he said.

"These two large, important countries should cooperate," Nasrallah said. "The region is in need of a loyal firefighter."

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