Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam said that the new Saudi-led counter-terrorism alliance, in which Lebanon is a partner, would not target the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah, the Lebanese Daily Star news site reported Wednesday.
Salam said that he had received assurances from Saudi Arabia that the alliance of Muslim countries, announced on Tuesday, would target only the Islamic State and “like-minded” extremist groups.
The statement came in the wake of criticism by Hezbollah, a key member of Lebanon’s governing coalition, of Salam’s preliminary approval of Lebanon’s participation in the alliance.
Sources close to Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, told Lebanese daily An-Nahar that Salam could not make a decision to join such an alliance without first consulting his cabinet.
“We do not know what sort of responsibilities joining the alliance would require from Lebanon,” the sources told An-Nahar.
Saudi Arabia announced the alliance of 34 Muslim countries on Monday, but provided few details about what the group would do, and did not name any targets.
Riyadh has in recent years moved to blacklist Hezbollah, which is backed by regional rival Iran.
The announcement carried early Tuesday by the Saudi Press Agency, said the Saudi-led alliance was established because terrorism “should be fought by all means and collaboration should be made to eliminate it.”
The alliance brings together diverse Muslim countries from several continents, including Mali, Malaysia, Lebanon and Egypt, as well as neighboring Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates.
However, officials from both Pakistan and Malaysia said they had not agreed to join the coalition.
Noticeably absent from the list of countries included in the coalition were Iran, Iraq and Syria.
A statement from the press agency also listed Palestine as one of the 34 countries participating.
According to the statement, the goal of the group will be “achieving integration, closing ranks and uniting efforts to combat terrorism, which violates the sanctity of people’s lives, threatens regional and international security and peace, poses a threat to the vital interests of the nation and undermines coexistence in it.”
A report on Tuesday estimated that Hezbollah had lost one-third of its fighters in the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria, where the organization has been sending forces to support embattled president Bashar Assad.
Lebanon, a country plagued by sectarian tensions for decades, has a delicate societal and government balance between the three main population groups: Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. According to the unwritten National Pact of 1943, which laid the basis for the state’s governing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of the parliament must be a Shiite Muslim, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the deputy parliament speaker and deputy prime minister must be Greek Orthodox.
Agencies contributed to this report.