MAJURO — The government of the Marshall Islands on Tuesday defeated a motion of no confidence brought after it nominated a former Lebanese general — a suspect in a deadly bombing — as its ambassador to UNESCO.

The motion from opposition leaders in the Pacific nation’s parliament was defeated by 17 votes to 13 after more than four hours of acrimonious debate.

It followed the Marshalls’ surprise nomination in December of Jamil El Sayed, a former head of Lebanon’s security services, as its representative at the Paris-based cultural arm of the United Nations.

The nomination — which would reportedly have given El Sayed diplomatic immunity — was withdrawn in February after it received international media attention.

Opposition senator John Silk said the Marshalls’ international standing had been hurt by the affair, with the government only withdrawing the nomination after “the damage to the country had already been done”.

Marshalls President Christopher Loeak announced a cabinet reshuffle on Monday in which he moved the minister responsible for the nomination, Phillip Muller, from the foreign affairs portfolio to health.

El Sayed spent four years in prison on suspicion of involvement in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. He denies any involvement and claims to have been subjected to arbitrary detention.

The former premier was killed in a Beirut suicide bombing which also claimed the lives of 22 others and left 226 people injured.

The attack was initially blamed on Lebanese officers suspected of being close to Syria, but a UN-backed tribunal set up to try Hariri’s killers has since indicted four members of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Their trial in absentia has been postponed until at least May so that a fifth suspect can be added.