The political factions in Lebanon agreed on Thursday to form a new government, breaking a nine-month deadlock that only deepened the country' economic woes, The Associated Press reports.
The Hezbollah terrorist group, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, will be a major part of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s new cabinet.
Hezbollah and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election which took place in May of 2018. Hariri, the incumbent Prime Minister, was tasked with forming the next coalition despite his party’s significant losses in the vote.
Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, included Iranian-backed Hezbollah in his last cabinet as well.
A breakthrough became possible after weeks of backroom deals as economic pressures mounted, according to AP. The rival factions worked out a compromise allowing representation of Sunni lawmakers backed by Hezbollah, increasing the group's allies in the government.
The 30-seat government sees an increase in the number of ministries affiliated with Hezbollah.
For the first time, the group now holds the Ministry of Health, which has one of the country's largest budgets. Hariri had warned against Hezbollah holding the Health Ministry fearing it would be hit with sanctions.
The new health minister, Jamil Jabbak, is not a member of Hezbollah but is believed to be close to the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and was his personal physician at one point, according to AP.
The Finance Ministry remained in the hands of a Hezbollah ally, Ali Hassan Khalil.
For the first time, the Lebanese government includes four women ministers, doubling their representation. They include Raya al-Hassan, who was named to the powerful Ministry of Interior in charge of internal security. Al-Hassan, a member of Hariri's party, was a former Cabinet minister.
Hariri's party also named Violette Safadi to be state minister for women's affairs, a post previously held by a man.
May Chidiac, who lost her arm and leg in an assassination attempt in a 2005 bombing, was named state minister for administrative development by the Christian Lebanese Forces group. Another woman, Nada Bustani, was named by the president's political faction to hold the strategic post of energy minister.
Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of the Lebanese president, remains foreign minister.
Hezbollah is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the West and even by some Arab countries, but some of those designations, most notably in the EU and in Britain, make a distinction between Hezbollah’s “military wing” and its political arm.
A State Department official in December expressed concern over Hezbollah’s rising clout in Lebanon and said the United States hopes Lebanon's next government will work with it on areas of mutual interest.