BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon‘s pro-Syrian president bowed to the will of the majority on Thursday and appointed an anti- Syria former minister to head the first government to take office without Syrian troops in the country for 30 years. Highlighting the challenges facing the next government, Israeli troops shot at Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas in an Israeli-occupied border area in the second day of the worst violence seen there in six months.A Hizbollah spokesman said the guerrillas did not respond. Fouad Siniora, a former finance minister and aide to assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, was proposed by the Future Bloc led by Hariri’s son, Saad. All but two lawmakers nominated Siniora, a choice President Emile Lahoud was obliged to respect though relations between the two are said to be frosty, as they were with the late Hariri.”I would like to note the positive atmosphere of my meeting with His Excellency the President, which I hope would pave the way for cooperation between us to the serve the public interest,” Siniora told reporters. “This moment is not a moment for political debate or renewing disputes and differences,” he said. “Therefore we join Mr. Saad al-Hariri in extending hands to all Lebanese people and political forces to move forward with a comprehensive reform program.” Elections that ended on June 19 returned an anti-Syrian majority to parliament for the first time since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Syria pulled out its troops in April under Lebanese and international pressure after the killing of the elder Hariri, which triggered Lebanon’s worst post-war political crisis.

Lahoud met bloc representatives and independent lawmakers to receive their nominations for prime minister, a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s sectarian political system. An unprecedented 126 out of 128 backed Siniora.

Agreeing on a government will be more contentious because pro-Syrian Lahoud can oppose the prime minister’s line-up, which is likely to include anti-Syrians and few of Lahoud’s allies.

Siniora remains close to the Hariri family and is the chairman of one of Hariri’s banks.

“The martyrdom of premier Rafik al-Hariri is what has put me in this situation,” he said. “But no one can replace His Excellency.”

Straight after the speech he went to a central Beirut mosque where Hariri is buried and stood over his grave in tears, praying silently.


Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets overnight addressed to the Lebanese government and people.

Hizbollah had carried out “terrorist acts” to justify its existence, they read. “Such irresponsible acts could bring destruction and take Lebanon back to the years of horror.”

The Israeli army said soldiers shot and possibly killed at least one guerrilla in a firefight with Hizbollah gunmen near the Shebaa Farms area, which the

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United Nations has ruled is Israeli-occupied Syrian soil but Lebanon claims as its own.

“It was Israeli fire directed at the Lebanese territories. There was no exchange of fire, we did not fire back,” the Hizbollah spokesman said.

Hizbollah, which was instrumental in driving Israeli troops from the south in 2000 after a 22-year occupation, killed an Israeli officer on Wednesday in a strike on an army post in the Shebaa Farms and drew Israeli retaliatory air raids.

Security across the country is a priority for most Lebanese. Hariri’s killing on Feb. 14 was followed by a string of assassinations and bomb attacks in and around Beirut that have prompted many to ask: “Who’s next?”

Parliament re-elected pro-Syrian Shi’ite Muslim Nabih Berri as speaker on Tuesday in a compromise highlighting how hard it will be for anti-Syrian lawmakers to erase Damascus’s influence.

Pro-Syrian Shi’ite groups Hizbollah and Amal reciprocated on Thursday by nominating Siniora, but two out of the top three political posts remain in the hands of Syria’s allies.

Siniora’s appointment will send a good signal to investors and the business community. He was finance minister for most of Lebanon’s post-civil war period under Hariri and is credited with controlling spending and introducing post-war taxes.

Tackling tiny Lebanon’s debt burden — one of the world’s heaviest at about $36 billion, or about 185 percent of its GDP — must be a priority for the next government.