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The United Nations Security Council on Thursday welcomed a Lebanese peace deal brokered by Qatar, an agreement that may have averted a new civil war in the Middle East.

The council said it "welcomes and strongly supports the agreement reached in Doha ... which constitutes an essential step towards the resolution of the current crisis, the return to normal functioning of Lebanese democratic institutions, the complete restoration of Lebanon's unity and stability."

In the nonbinding statement, a French initiative, the council also urged the parties to implement all aspects of the agreement.

Rival Lebanese leaders signed the deal on Wednesday to end 18 months of political conflict that had threatened to push the country into a new civil war.

The agreement, which was reached after six days of Arab-mediated talks, also paved the way for the election of a new president.

The declaration thus represents a Western stamp of approval to an agreement that is in practice a capitulation to Hezbollah demands, including a greater share of the political decision-making power in Lebanon.

The agreement was the culmination of weeks of turmoil, during which violent incidents initiated by Hezbollah, including the group's takeover of parts of Beirut, gripped the country.

According to the terms of the Doha agreement, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will resign in the coming days; the commander of the army, Michel Suleiman, will be installed as president, and the government will comprise 30 ministers.

Most significantly, however, the agreement meets a key Hezbollah demand to reshape the structure of government representation. Members of the Shi'ite organization will account for one-third of the government ministers, plus an additional portfolio, thus enabling the group to veto any government decision. Hezbollah will now wield more political clout than it ever has in the past.

Despite enhancing Hezbollah's position within the Lebanese power structure, the U.S. will support the Security Council statement praising the agreement, which is viewed as a vehicle to promote the internal stability of the country.

The representatives of all Security Council member states are currently holding consultations over the precise language of the statement in hopes that the wording will be approved by consensus. One of the drafts being considered by the body includes an expression of gratitude to the Arab parties who worked in mediating the deal, among them the Arab League and Qatar.

One potential stumbling block over the final wording of the statement centers around the issue of whether to include references to prior Security Council resolutions passed in relation to Lebanon in recent years, including Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the Second Lebanon War.

Another Security Council resolution that is to be mulled is 1559, which includes a clause stipulating the decommissioning of weapons belonging to the various militia forces in the country. The U.S. and France insist on including mention of the resolution in the statement. Libya has stated its opposition, while Russia has also expressed reservations.

U.S. and U.K. say Hezbollah weaker after Beirut fightingThe United States and Britain said on Thursday they believed Hezbollah had been weakened by this month's fighting in Beirut despite the greater influence the militant group gained in Lebanon's Cabinet.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband rejected the view that the show of force by Hezbollah had increased its power.

"Hezbollah lost something very important, which is any argument that it is somehow a resistance movement on behalf of the Lebanese people," Rice told reporters traveling with her and Miliband on a trip to her California hometown.

"What it is, is a militia that, given an opportunity, decided to turn its guns on its own people. It is never going to live that down," she said.

Miliband said Hezbollah had shown an "unacceptable" show of force in the streets which created an "illusion" of its power. More than 80 people were killed in the military campaign by Hezbollah amid fears of a return to full-scale civil war.

"What struck us in subsequent days is that the reaction of the people of Lebanon has been very negative about that. The guns of Hezbollah were trained on their own people. The long term consequences of that are potentially going to strengthen the forces of democracy in Lebanon," said Miliband.

Zvi Barel contributed to this story.