Rival Lebanese leaders agree deal

Rival Lebanese leaders signed a deal today to end 18 months of political conflict, pulling their country away from the brink of a new civil war and paving the way for the election of a new president.

Parliament will be convened on Sunday to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as head of state, aides to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told Reuters in Qatar, where the rival sides signed the deal after six days of Arab-mediated talks.

The agreement between the US-backed ruling coalition and the Hizbollah-led opposition resolved a dispute over a law for holding 2009 parliamentary polls and met the opposition's long-standing demand for veto power in cabinet.

Hizbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, increased pressure on the ruling alliance this month by routing its followers in a military campaign. The Qatari-led negotiations in Doha built on mediation that ended violence in which 81 people were killed.

It was Lebanon's worst civil conflict since the 1975-1990 war and exacerbated tensions between Shi'ites loyal to Hizbollah and Druze and Sunni followers of the ruling coalition.

"Today, we are opening a new page in Lebanon's history," said Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni politician who leads the governing coalition and has close ties to Saudi Arabia. His supporters were among those defeated by Hizbollah.

"I know the wounds are deep, but we have no one except each other," said Hariri, who is seen as a strong contender for prime minister in the new cabinet. Hizbollah delegation leader Mohammed Raad said the deal would help "towards strengthening coexistence and building the state".

Iran and Syria both welcomed the agreement.

"This is a compromise that if the Lebanese use well could be transformed into a solid agreement," said Talal Salman, a commentator in the pro-opposition as-Safir newspaper. "It redresses the balance in the no-victor, no-vanquished formula."