The Lebanese parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as President. Aoun’s election ended a 29-month presidential vacuum as part of a political deal that is expected to make Sunni Muslim leader Sa’ad Hariri Prime Minister. Aoun, who is in his 80s, secured the presidency by winning the support of 83 Parliament Members, well above the absolute majority of 65 needed to win. After taking the Presidential oath, Aoun declared in his first speech that any solution to the war in neighboring Syria must guarantee the return of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which amount to some 1.5 million people.
The newly-elected President, a Maronite Christian who is allied with the Shi’ite Muslim organization Hezbollah, also took the opportunity to war Israel, stressing that Beirut will not spare any effort or resistance in order to liberate what remains of its territory under Israeli occupation, referring to the Sheeba Farms which were annexed by Israel in 1981, due to its strategic value.
”We will respect the Arab League Statute, namely its 8th clause, and pursue an independent foreign policy based on the higher interests of the Lebanese people and respect international law and safeguard Lebanon as an oasis of stability and understanding. As for the struggle with Israel, we will not spare any effort or resistance in order to liberate what remains of Lebanese territory under occupation,” said Aoun during his speech.
The decision by former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s to endorse Aoun marked a major political concession, reflecting the diminished role of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon, and the decisive influence wielded by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia had backed Hariri and his allies through years of political struggle with Hezbollah and its Iranian-backed allies.