Lebanon's new government to stay out of Syria and other conflicts

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By Reuters
Lebanon's new government to stay out of Syria and other conflicts
FILE PHOTO: A man holding an umbrella walks past a banner of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo   -  Copyright  Mohamed Azakir(Reuters)

By Angus McDowall

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s new government said on Tuesday it will stick with existing policy of keeping out of regional conflicts like Syria after talks to set policy.

Lebanon declared a principle of “disassociation” in 2012 to keep the deeply-divided state formally out of complex regional disputes such as the lengthy war in neighbouring Syria.

Washington had urged it to uphold that after the Iran-backed Hezbollah group gained more influence with another seat in cabinet. Despite the disassociation policy, the heavily armed Hezbollah has for years been fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar al-Assad.

“We as a state are committed to distancing ourselves from events in the region,” Lebanon’s Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said after a meeting of the committee drafting policy.

Hezbollah’s bigger role – with three seats out of 30 in cabinet – reflects the greater clout it has obtained from involvement in Syria and gains by allies in May’s parliamentary election.

Lebanon’s rival parties agreed on the new unity government after nearly nine months of wrangling following the vote. Like the previous coalition, it is headed by the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and includes most major factions.

Jarrah said the policy committee had finished its work and the document would be approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, before going to parliament. The committee is also to recommend policy on the presence of Syrian refugees and economic reforms.

The U.S. government has urged Lebanon’s new government to ensure resources do not help Hezbollah, which it deems a terrorist organisation.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)