Ashton Considers Salam's Cabinet 'Key Step' to Deal with Challenges

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European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the formation of a new government in Lebanon was a key step in dealing with the country's challenges, highlighting an "unprecedented refugee influx".

She expressed hope the government would maintain "peace and security in Lebanon including by the reassertion of a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict".

Lebanon is struggling under the weight of nearly one million Syrian refugees, who are testing its already limited resources.

Ashton hailed the efforts exerted by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman to form the new cabinet after “tough negotiations” between the arch-foes.

She expressed confidence that the new cabinet will revive all the sectors, maintain peace and security in the country and reaffirm the country's commitment to the dissociation policy, in addition to carrying out the presidential elections in accordance with constitution.

“The EU will continue to contribute to the rising needs in Lebanon to confront the current challenges,” Ashton pointed out.

On Saturday, PM Salam unveiled a compromise government, capping nearly 11 months of political wrangling.

Since April, efforts to form a government had stumbled over disputes between Hizbullah, whose fighters have been helping the Syrian army crush the revolt, and the al-Mustaqbal movement chief Saad Hariri's bloc which backs the Sunni-led uprising.

Hariri paved the way for the breakthrough when he announced in a U-turn last month that he was willing to allow his so-called March 14 bloc join a government with arch-rival Hizbullah.

The new government brings together for the first time in three years Hizbullah and the Hariri bloc, and the agreed compromise ensures neither side has veto power over the other.

The 24 portfolios are divided into three groups, with the March 14 and 8 alliance each taking eight ministries, with candidates considered to be neutral allocated the remainder.

To preserve the delicate balance between the country's 18 sects, the government is also equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives.

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