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Lebanon's parliament extends army commander term amid crises

1 min

Lebanon's parliament extended on Friday by one-year the term of army commander Joseph Aoun, avoiding a vacuum in leadership in an institution seen as vital to keeping peace inside the country amid crises that include a border conflict with Israel.

Lebanon's Army chief General Joseph Aoun Reuters/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Lebanon's parliament extended on Friday by one-year the term of army commander Joseph Aoun, avoiding a vacuum in leadership in an institution seen as vital to keeping peace inside the country amid crises that include a border conflict with Israel.

Parliament approved the extension as hostilities raged on the frontier between the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah, a political group and heavily armed militia, is widely seen as militarily more powerful than the army.

Aoun had been due to leave office next month, with no agreement among Lebanon's deeply divided sectarian factions on who should fill the role reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

The patriarch of the Maronite church had said the post must not be left vacant and said the army's stability was at stake.

The army, which recruits from across the sectarian spectrum, was rebuilt after Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war and many Lebanese see it as the country's most trusted security institution.

Lebanon has been in deep economic and political crisis since the financial system collapsed in 2019, destroying the currency, driving up poverty and paralysing much of the state.

The United States, which supports the army with training and equipment, has provided cash stipends to soldiers and members of the internal security forces to support them.

The parliament also voted to extend the term of the head of Lebanon's internal security forces, a Sunni Muslim.

Factional rivalries have exacerbated Lebanon's problems, leaving senior Lebanese state posts vacant, including the presidency, which has been empty since Michel Aoun left the role more than a year ago.

Several former army commanders become head of state.

Maronite Christian politician Gebran Bassil, Michel Aoun's son-in-law, has presidential aspirations and opposed extending the term of Joseph Aoun, mainly because he argued it was for the president to approve any extension. The two Aouns are not related.

Lawmakers who voted on Friday for the extension included those from Hezbollah's Shi'ite ally Amal, the Progressive Socialist Party led by the Druze Jumblatt family and the Christian Lebanese Forces. Hezbollah lawmakers left the chamber during the vote in solidarity with their ally Bassil.

Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair

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