Lebanon's newly named PM Tamam Salam
Lebanon's newly named PM Tamam SalamAFP photo

Moderate Lebanese MP Tamam Salam was named on Saturday as the country’s new prime minister, pledging in his first address to the nation to safeguard the country from the war raging in neighboring Syria.

"There is a need to bring Lebanon out of its state of division and political fragmentation, as reflected on the security situation, and to ward off the risks brought by the tragic situation in the neighboring country and by regional tensions," he said, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

Salam, 67, of the Western-backed opposition, made the remarks in his inaugural speech shortly after being tasked by President Michel Sleiman with forming a new government.

His appointment comes two weeks after former Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned and effectively brought down his Hizbullah-dominated government.

Salam also pledged to work with all groups across Lebanon's political spectrum, which is split into pro- and anti-Damascus camps.

"I have accepted this nomination... out of conviction that it is my duty to work for my country's interest, in cooperation with all political parties," he said, according to AFP.

Lebanon was dominated politically and militarily by Syria until 2005, and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad still holds great influence over Beirut through Hizbullah and other allies.

The March 14 opposition movement, meanwhile, is fiercely opposed to Damascus.

Salam's nomination is expected to help ease a political crisis that has gripped Lebanon since the Syria conflict erupted more than two years ago.

Although Salam's nomination was backed by 124 MPs out of 128, he faces the difficult challenge of forming a government in a deeply divided country.

While Hizbullah has expressed support for creating a national unity government, it is unclear if March 14 would accept this.

Salam refused to comment, instead telling reporters, "I will work for a government committed to the national interest."

He later emphasized in a conversation with AFP that he supports the freedom of the Syrian people while insisting his country remain neutral in its neighbor’s civil war.

"My position is that I am on the side of the Syria people; I support the freedom and the sovereignty of the people," Salam said.

Salam, the 67-year-old scion of one of Lebanon's grand political families and whose father was six times premier, met with AFP at his home in Moussaytbeh, in west Beirut.

"We will work... to distance Lebanon from all the negative repercussions" of the war in Syria, he told the news agency.

There have been deadly clashes within Lebanon, mostly in the northern port city of Tripoli, between backers and opponents of Assad.

Armed elements from Lebanon have crossed the border to join the fray on both sides, and Lebanese border villages have occasionally been the target of fire from Syria.

While the Mikati government also officially took a neutral stance toward the Syrian conflict, some ministers close to Hizbullah openly expressed their support for Assad.

Last July, as the ongoing civil war in Syria continued, the terror group led by Hassan Nasrallah publicly offered to place itself at Assad’s disposal.

But already several months earlier, a soldier from the Free Syrian Army told The Independent newspaper, published in the UK, that Hizbullah's Shiite Muslim terrorists are full military allies of the Syrian army and that "everyone knows they have fighters there."

Salam, known for his moderation, took a diplomatic tack when turning to the question of the arsenal held by Hizbullah.

"I am with the (anti-Israeli) resistance when it is pointed in the right direction and when it is a matter of defending Lebanon," Salam told AFP.

But "when that arsenal is turned toward the inside of the country for the purpose of influencing the (political) balance, that is straying from the resistance," he added.