HEZBOLLAH has strengthened its grip on Lebanon, taking the majority of cabinet positions in the new government.

At a time when the Middle East is wracked with instability, the Iranian-backed “Party of God” and its allies have taken 16 of the 30 cabinet positions in the new government led by Najib Mikati – an increase of six positions.

The new cabinet, announced late on Monday, does not include any member from the pro-Western “March 14” coalition of the immediate past prime minister Saad Hariri.

Mr Hariri’s government was brought down in January by Hezbollah, which demanded he disown the UN special tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former president Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah fears some of its key identities face indictment when the tribunal hands down its investigation.

Many Lebanese believed Syria, a close ally of Hezbollah, was involved in the assassination and a public backlash forced the Syrian military from Lebanon.

Yesterday, Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, engaged in a brutal crackdown against his own people, telephoned Mr Mikati to congratulate him.

The fragility of the government was highlighted when one of the new cabinet members, Talal Arslan, resigned, unhappy with his ministry. Mr Arslan, a Druze, said: “I cannot participate in a government in which Najib Mikati says the Druze do not have the right to a key ministry.”

The new government further entrenches Hezbollah’s power over government decisions.

Mr Mikati tried to reassure doubters yesterday by saying the new government would be “a government for all Lebanon”.

But his soothing words were undercut by incoming Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Safadi, who said: “We are going into precarious times and would like everyone to be represented in the new government.”