December 18, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — A new 30-member national unity Cabinet headed by Prime minister Saad Hariri was announced Sunday in Lebanon nearly two months after a new president was elected, and the premier vowed that his top priority would be to protect the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Cabinet includes most of the country’s political groups, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, which holds two seats. It was to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters shortly after the Cabinet was announced, Hariri said his government’s priority would be to “preserve the stability that is prevailing in Lebanon amid fires that are spreading around the region.”

He said his government would work to “isolate our country from the negative effects of the Syrian war” and would seek international help in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into Lebanon.

Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, or a quarter of the country’s population. The Syrian war has spilled over into Lebanon on several occasions over the past five years, with clashes and bombings that killed scores.

Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s war. Hariri has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad’s government, while Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to back the Syrian leader. Hariri, who served as prime minister for 14 months until early 2011, began working to form the new Cabinet in early November, days after the country’s newly elected president, Michel Aoun, asked him to do so. The new government must still be approved by parliament.

A Christian leader and strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, Aoun was elected president by parliament on Oct. 31, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in Lebanon. His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Muslim Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. Hariri is the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and influential politician who was assassinated in 2005 in Beirut. Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

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