Lebanese celebrated on Wednesday the agreement to end the political crisis [AFP]

The barricades are being dismantled and so are the opposition protest camps.

Under the leadership of Qatar, the Arab League has brokered an end to Lebanon's 18-month political crisis.

Feuding factions have agreed to stop fighting and elect a unity government and new president.

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Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al Thani, Qatar's prime minister, said: "With God's help and thanks to the co-operation of the Lebanese representatives and efforts of the Arab League seceretary-general, we have been able to reach an agreement based on consensus between all the Lebanese brothers."

Amr Moussa, the Arab League general-secretary, said it was a deal based on the principle of "no victor, no vanquished".

While all rival Lebanese parties agreed it was necessary to reach a deal to build co-existence and unity, some in the March 14 pro-government camp made clear they were not happy.

Amin Gemayel, a pro-government Christian leader, said: "This agreement is not perfect.

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"We had to make a lot of sacrifices. But the most important thing now is to reconcile the country ... To make all the parties work together."

The pro-government camp wanted the issue of Hezbollah's arms on the agenda of the talks, but the group's arsenal will only be discussed as part of a national defence strategy.

Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, described the deal as a "great achievement in ... the history of Lebanon", but analysts said it appeared Hezbollah, the country's main armed group, had emerged the main winner.

Mohammad Fneish, a former Hezbollah minister, said: "We will not assess this agreement from the point of view of each party, but rather from a national interest perspective. It is a national acheivement because it restored confidence among the Lebanese."

Nawar Sehli, a Hezbollah MP, said: "I think this is a positive thing for the whole country. If it happened one year ago, it would be better than now, but all we ask is to share. We have our demand, and that is to share in the government."

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said it was a move in the right direction, despite the gains made by Hezbollah.

"We view this agreement as a positive step towards resolving the current crisis by electing a president, forming a new government and addressing Lebanon's electoral law," she said in a statement on Wednesday.

Compromise

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese political analyst, said: "Obviously this is a compromise between the government and the opposition; a settlement, not a solution.

"In no way does it address the real grievances that led to the current crisis."

Patrick Haenni, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the breakthrough allows for "a return of the institutional wheels [of the Lebanese state], and that is vital".

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,
centre, shares a joke with Siniora [AFP]

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, said: "This is a very significant agreement. It will be able to solve the current standoff and move forward to the election of a president, a new government and elections.

"It will create a new balance of power."

However, Salem said, "it will not resolve the basic contradictions, because there are two states, the state itself and Hezbollah which is another state, and this will not change before the regional situation has changed".

Supporters of the Hezbollah-led opposition began dismantling a protest camp outside the prime minister's office in Beirut after a deal was reached, but some are wary about the deal's potential.

"Hopefully this is not a band-aid solution and is a long-lasting one ... people need to live in peace," said Beirut resident Aleco Assaf, 64.

"It seems our political leaders woke up and felt a real sense of responsibility towards the people. Finally there is hope," Elias Rashed said.

Sanaa Osman, an employee of the Hariri-owned Solidere real estate firm that rebuilt the devastated city centre after the 1975-1990 civil war, expressed relief.

"I simply cannot believe it. I feel at peace with myself," she said.