(CBS/AP) Rival Lebanese factions reached an agreement to resolve their 18-month political crisis after five days of intensive talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Wednesday.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said at a ceremony Wednesday in Doha that the agreement is be "carried out immediately" and that the election of a new president of Lebanon will follow within 24 hours.
The agreement was a major triumph for Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition, as it met the side's two key demands — veto power in a new national unity government, and an electoral law that divides up Lebanon into smaller-sized districts, for better representation of the various sects.
But the opposition was not gloating, and Hamadeh said "there are no losers" in this agreement. "Lebanon is the winner," he told The Associated Press on the phone from Doha, the Qatari capital.
Qatar's prime minister said Wednesday morning that the election of a new president of Lebanon would take place within 24 hours, following the agreement.
Hamadeh said the factions reached the breakthrough deal at dawn Wednesday. A signing ceremony was expected at 10:30 a.m. (07:30 GMT), chaired by Qatari ruler Emir Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Speeches by both sides and the Arab mediators would follow, he said.
An opposition-allied Lebanese parliament speaker said the opposition protest encampment in central Beirut, which has been in place for more than a year, would be dismantled after the deal in Doha.
The Qatar-hosted talks came on the heels of Lebanon's worst internal fighting since the 1975-90 civil war, with clashes earlier this month between pro-government groups and the opposition raging in the streets of Muslim west Beirut, the central mountains and the north. At least 67 people died.
As the country came close to a new all-out war, Arab League mediators intervened and got the sides to agree to hold negotiations in Qatar on resolving the crisis that has paralyzed the country.
Along with veto-power on government policies, the Syrian-backed opposition will get 11 seats in the Cabinet, while 16 seats would go to the U.S. and Western-backed parliament majority, and the remaining three would be distributed by the elected president, according to Hamadeh.
He said the rival factions have also agreed on a new election law satisfactory for both sides. The new electoral law is significant because it will determine how the sides distribute power in the capital and directly influence the outcome of the next parliamentary elections in 2009.
Lebanon has been without a president since November, when Emile Lahoud stepped down, with the rival factions unable to resolve their differences over a future government. Both sides, however, have agreed on Gen. Michel Suleiman, the army chief, as a consensus candidate, but Parliament could not muster a quorum to meet without both sides agreeing on remaining issues — including the formation of the national unity government and electoral law.
Hamadeh said he expected Suleiman to be elected by Friday.
He also said legislators from the parliament majority, who have been living abroad fearing for their safety after a wave of bombings targeting mainly anti-Syrian lawmakers and politicians, would be asked to return to Beirut to vote for the president in parliament.
CBS News' George Baghdadi, reporting from Damascus, said Syria backed the agreement just a few minutes after the parties in Doha had announced it Wednesday.
"Syria supports the accords signed in Doha by Lebanese parties," Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Mualem told reporters in Syria.
Syria was forced to withdraw troops from Lebanon in 2005 after huge demonstrations following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Nobody has ever been held responsible for his death.
Asked whether the agreement bans Hezbollah's supporters from taking up arms and turning their weapons on fellow Lebanese as they did earlier this month, Hamadeh only said the "agreement forbids internal use of weapons ... and calls for dialogue ... on the whole subject of arms."
The agreement was struck after host Qatar stepped up pressure Tuesday, offering the rival factions two drafts on how to end the deadlock and a day to consider the proposals.
Lebanese television reported that the Qatari Emir intervened personally late Tuesday, arriving at the Doha hotel for meetings with leaders of both Lebanese camps. The emir had visited Saudi Arabia earlier in the day.
The negotiations had hit snags from the very start, with neither side willing to give concessions. By late Tuesday, they were back to working in joint committees on how to divide Beirut into electoral districts.
The 18-month political deadlock started when Hezbollah-led opposition lawmakers resigned from the government in November 2006 to protest the Cabinet's refusal to grant them enough seats to ensure veto power.
The Qatar deal was also a triumph for the tiny energy-rich Gulf state. Lebanon's stalemate had defied mediation efforts by other Arab and European countries, including shuttle diplomacy in the last year by the foreign minister of France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler.
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