South Lebanon is heated up and tension is reported high following the killing of three Israeli soldiers, including an officer, and a fourth wounded, in a road bomb planted by the resistance fighters in the central sector of the security zone near Deir Serian, when an Israeli patrol from the elite commando unit EGOZ was searching the area.
The Islamic resistance in Beirut claimed responsibility of the road bomb and said "it has been detonated by a remote control, from an area outside the occupied security zone, occurred after midnight and it took Israeli choppers one hour to evacuate the casualties". The resistance statement said its fighters clashed with the Israeli force and they scored victory against the zionist occupants. The operation was carried on the anniversary of Imam Ali.
The January monthly record of the attacks and counter attacks by both the Israeli occupants and the Islamic resistance read the following:
40 operations and bomb explosion by the resistance fighters including yesterday's operation.
17 Israeli air force raid namely at the Iqlim Toffah posts.
The Israeli death toll includes 4 soldiers killed and 15 others wounded.
10 soldiers of the Israeli backed SLA reported wounded.
3 AMAL fighters killed and 3 Hizbullah fighters reported killed in Deir Sirien.
The SLA and the resistance swapped the corpses of two men from each side.
The International Monitoring committee held 3 meetings this month and investigated 7 complaints including three from Lebanon.
The Israeli artillery pounded residential areas in Loueize and Ain Qana and violated the April understanding, also detained total of 7 men , and its navy patrols chased fishermen 5 times during the month. The Israelis have released this month 9 detainees from the concentration camp Khiam.
The resistance operation yesterday came few weeks before Washington was due to host key leaders from the region in an effort to find ways to revive the peace talks and put it back on track. The US president is hoping that the meetings in Washington will provide a formula or the resumption of peace talks with each of Lebanon and Syria. The Israeli officials held Lebanon and Syria responsible for the violence in south, prime minister Netanyahu said " the simplest and most basic thing needed is for syria to restrain Hizbullah, stop the war and carnage in Lebanon and ,of course, find with us the formula for returning to the negotiating table".
The Israeli president Ezer Weizman called the Israeli government not to resume the peace talks with Damascus" as long as such attacks continue, and the situation is very complex in south Lebanon but that doesn't mean we have to stand there and do nothing". The violence also came at a time the European Union's M.E envoy Miguel Moratinos was touring the region looking into the ways to resume the peace talks. He met on Wednesday P.Assad in Damascus.
In Beirut, reliable circles expected a Lebanese syrian summit at an earliest time and perhaps by mid Feb, after the Fitr holiday, unless some events occur and force a nearer one. The summit will review the current efforts aimed at resuming the peace talks as of spring. The Lebanese who called Syrian circles say there are no new elements or change in Israel's attitudes. Israel is trying to divert attention to the Syrian track and overshadow the Hebron deal, and the positive atmospheres which are circulated now are originating from Israel and there is no new grounds for that resumption, the Lebanese circles say. The Syrians quoted saying they have received no new initiatives, the only proposal was by the European envoy to the M.E who offered mediation to rebuild confidence between Syria and Israel.
The parliament continued its budget debate yesterday with 12 deputies addressing the assembly. The debate on second day morning and evening highlighted the needs of the provinces, The displaced repatriation, government general policy and the need for a productive economy, questioned revenues forecasts and warned of any increase. 14 other deputies are scheduled to speak in today's afternoon session and voting on budget will be tomorrow, easily approved according to observers.
Metn deputy Nassib Lahoud noticed a disparity between budget forecasts and central bank figures, the government expects the growth rate to be 7 per cent while the central bank figures say that at the best growth will be 5 percent, provided certain conditions are met. He said "the worst that could happen in 1997 is awarding the municipal posts by government appointments instead of the democratic elections. Achieving a productive economy is the most important. Democracy is the condition for prosperity. The arrests which followed Tabarja incident was harmful and considering the people as criminals until their innocence is proven is more harmful".
Metn deputy Antoine Haddad: "we need a constitution that is drafted by ourselves which reflects our needs and guarantees the same rights for all the citizens not just some communities".
Deputy of Bint Jbeil Hassan Alawieh:"the government is placing most of the burdens on the poor and the middle class. compensations for southerners for the April assault by Israel is not paid so far".
Chuf deputy Nabil Boustany :" to impose a charge on all the profits made by non Lebanese in the real estates matters and such taxes should be paid to the displaced fund.
Deputy of Marjauoun Ahmad Suweid:"the draft budget made no proposal for the salary increases that has been accorded for the teachers".
Deputy of Bekaa Ismail Sukkarieh:" focus on the problem among the troika which is not dead but its in the intensive care. The death will usher in the rightful role of the institutions".
Deputy of Baalbeck Marwan Fares:" the draft budget is a de facto one as it includes barely salaries and debts and a budget should be a forecast for future not a repetition of the past. The CDR is a state within state. the loans policy makes Lebanon more alienated to outside.
Deputy of Chuf Wadee Akel:" The displaced fund main resources are the allocations in the budget, which is poor enough, and the special charges. There should be steady financing for the displaced".
Deputy of Aley Abdou Bejjani:" the government should rebuild the infrastructure and schools in the displaced villages. Enough money should be allocated to the displaced fund and compensations should be fair and sufficient. Recalled the Aley and Behamdoun's past glory and what they are now. Critical to the reconstruction taking place only in the capital. Demanded a review of the Arab highway which damage Kahale residents' properties".
Deputy of Baalbeck-Hermel Ammar Mussawi:" calling for a progressive tax which would lessen the burden on the poor and the middle classes. Refusing the additional taxes on electricity or oil because there are other sources for the revenues. Calling the government to invest in the resistance as it has in reconstruction".
Deputy of Beirut Bahaeddine Itani:"The budget figures do not suggest confidence. Praising the lowering of inflation and the stability of the exchange rate".
Deputy of Baalbeck Rabih Kairouz:" deploring the decline in living standards and some officials are not living up to expectations".
Deputy of Bekaa Ghazi Zuaiter:" the budget lacks the plan to increase productivity and a plan for agriculture and industry. The budget is a continuation of a policy which does not match with the reality. Criticising the government favouring of the private sector.
Deputy of Akkar Talal Merebi:"the Troika is an unconstitutional word. The budget preamble was justifying the increase of deficit and it is not a development program nor an economical revival plan".
Deputy of Beirut Hussein Yatim:" The economical and administrative corruption is a challenge that is not less than the Israeli challenge. Calling for a modern state with ethical values".
In its annual country by country human rights report, the state department report on Lebanon and Syria, over 60 pages, said the " presence of of foreign forces in Lebanon was undercutting the government. Most Lebanese are averse to close ties with Syria. Both Beirut and Damascus accused of major human rights violations especially the handling of suspected government critics and restrictions on public freedoms. Non Lebanese military forces control much of Lebanon and undermine the authority of the central government also prevent the application of law in areas not controlled by the government.
The strong Syrian influence over the Lebanese politics and decision makers make the Lebanese officials unwilling to press for a complete withdrawal of the Syrian forces. The relationship with Syria does not reflect the will of most Lebanese citizens. The Lebanese government had made no effort to disarm Hizbullah. Serious human rights abuses were recorded in Lebanon in the past year. Members of the security forces used excessive force and tortured some detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. Abuses also include arbitrary arrests and detentions of persons who opposed the government policy. The Lebanese army arrested members of the dissolved Lebanese forces and other opposition groups in April at Bkirki who were protesting the government policy. The arrests and search of homes made following Dec 18 machine gun attack on a Syrian bus without arrest warrants and detainees were not given access to lawyers. Freedom of the press declined significantly during the year. The government imposes direct censorship on satellite broadcasts".( excerpts of the 60 pages report).
The Metn MPs are threatening of the so called "Qadmous" project for the coastal north Metn which they say aims to place larger parts in the area under study, by that prohibiting the people to deal with their properties for one year which could be renewable. The project is introduced as a real estate company, similar to that of the Solidere, Elissar for southern suburbs, under the shield of development and reconstruction. The informed sources say Mr Hariri is behind the idea looking to put hands on the quarter of the properties ,worth of around 3 billion dollars, in order to refloat the failing leonor plan which could not go ahead.
As Lebanon's inaugural shopping festival begins tomorrow, the minister of economy and trade Yassine Jaber held yesterday last minute consultations with shopowners and merchants associations to ensure the smooth running of the six week long event. He toured yesterday the markets of Hamra and Furn Chebback to check the preparations and the observe of the rules. He urged shopowners to remain open until 10.00 p.m to take advantage of the influx of visitors and said "It is in the interest of the shopowners to ensure fair trading and not to play around with prices". He said nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council are not required to obtain visas before travelling to Lebanon and they can collect it upon arrival to Beirut. Also the Japanese and Canadian nationals who are living in the Gulf states could obtain special visas from Beirut airport as well.
The British Mediterranean Airways announced yesterday it will participate in the shopping festival by offering one night at the Imperial suite hotel for the first and business class travellers ,also allowing a 30 Kg extra baggage allowance.
MEA marketing director Nizar Khoury said yesterday all the company's flights from the Gulf Feb were reserved, until mid Feb, following the 50 per cent discounts on air tickets. He said the company is hopeful its sales will increase by 50 per cent during the month, recalling that Paris-Beirut round trip tickets is now offered for 360 dollars instead of the past 750, the same was offered by The Emirates and Saudia airliners. Rent car companies with its 800 car fleet expect an increase of 20 per cent.
Merchants associations in Furn Chebback, Hamra, Jounieh and Kesrouan announced their schedule of festivities during the month, including musical, folkloric and entertainment programmes.
News analysis in Beirut said the release of the three Iraqi diplomats in Beirut signals a package deal which would allow Lebanon to have Iraqi crude oil traded for Lebanese products, in the framework of food for oil approved by the UN. Iraq was a top importer before the sever of diplomatic relations in 1994. The Iraqi oil could be pumped through the pipeline across Syria to the Tripoli refinery in north Lebanon. The Lebanese measure aimed to undermine a Jordanian attempt to give up Beirut seaport and act as centre point, between the west and Israel from one side and the Gulf from another side, through the seaports of Aqaba abd Haifa, something will deprive Lebanon and Syria from the transit trade through their ports. The package also was a signal to Jordan which is going ahead in normalising its relations with Israel, ignoring Arab solidarity and taking no stand to support the Lebanese and Syrian stands against the policies of Netanyahu.
Another news analysis say after Jordan summoned its ambassador in Beirut who has been handed Lebanon's response to Jordanian memorandum over the release of the three diplomats, the Lebanese officials may decide to summon back the Lebanese ambassador in Amman, and the diplomatic relations would be degraded to charge d'affaire level.
The minister of the displaced Mr Walid Jumblat visited yesterday the newly appointed Maronite Bishop for Beirut Boulos Mattar to extend his congratulations. He was accompanied by top aides and deputies. He said he discussed the continuation of cooperation aims for the repatriation of the displaced.
Former deputy of Aley Fuad Assaad criticised yesterday the announcement which said present deputy of Aley Antoine Andraos is to be in charge of the displaced fund. Assaad said such measure is illegal and unconstitutional as it merge executive and legislative powers and violates the laws. He ridiculed the step and called all deputies to seek to have each the chairmanship of a public institute same as Andraos. He questioned the supervisory boards what justification can be given to such violation.
Ex minister Joseph El Hashem said yesterday the repatriation of the displaced is the core of the national reconciliation drive and only 7 percent of the estimated 350 thousands Christian refugees have returned to their homes.
The health minister Suleiman Franjieh signed yesterday a modified price index for the medicines in Lebanon, including those imported from nearly 15 country and covering 70 percent of the daily used medicines, decreasing the prices by 6.4 per cent.
Brazil is going to have a fair in Beirut in July in bid to promote the trade relations and enhance partnerships with the Lebanese businessmen.
The Finnish batallion of the UNIFIL held yesterday an Iftar at its H.Q at Burj Qalaweih in south and its commander said he hopes his batallion would observe -shortly the implementation of the 425 resolution.
The minister of tourism Nicola Fattouche attended the Madrid fair and opened the Lebanese section which included representatives of the travel agencies and the hotels of Lebanon.
US ambassador Richard Jones and congressional staff member responsible for the M.E Deborah Bodlander met prime minister Hariri. The ambassador said the visit allowed Deborah to learn about America's work in Lebanon, so that she could inform her committee in Washington in the congress. Jones reiterated that Hebron deal is a very important breakthrough. He clarified that he has no intention to involve himself in the Lebanese affairs when quoted speaking about the troika rule. He said he was only explaining the US political system of checks and balances.
Samir Sanbar, a Lebanese, has been reappointed as assistant secretary general of the information at the UN headquarters in Washington.
Lebanese university teachers lecturers are staging one day strike today calling for appointments of deans, job guarantees,and 20 per cent increase of salary.
An MEA purchased airbus aircraft is due to arrive today from France and 3 more will arrive next month. The new aircrafts are to modernize the company's fleet.
Sit in protest off the UN headquarters in Beirut yesterday to protest the continued jailing of 18 Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails despite their completion of their sentences.
122 Kurdish were deported yesterday to Syria. They were stranded in a remote island off Tripoli while attempting to have passage to Europe with the help of smugglers.
The ambassador of Sudan visited cardinal Sfair and informed him of the current situation in his country.
The information minister Bassem Sabaa presided yesterday a meeting of the team which will censor the political newscasts broadcasts on the satellite. The team will start the censor on 1st Feb.
The ambassador of Tunisia declared that the Tunisian airlines will resume flights to Beirut in June.
Snow falls on 1000 meters altitude in Lebanon.
The British supermarket chain "SPINNEYS" will reopen again in Lebanon after the 20 years closure. A delegation from the company in London arrived yesterday to Beirut and checked the branch of Dbayeh. The company executive said that at the reopening some 250 jobs will be available and branches will cover all Lebanon and total cost of the 4 years plan is nearly 170 million dollars.
The Bristol hotel discharged 17 Lebanese labours and the Sporting club replaced the Lebanese staff by Indians.
Orbit satellite television organises the second Orbit festival which will be held at Beirut forum as of 8th Feb. Most famous singers from Lebanon and Egypt will participate.
The daily Ramadan tents is still under criticism from the religious circles who assail the televised nightly celebrity. They insist that Ramadan, as a holy month should not be exploited to have financial gains and what purpose are those tents for, is it singing and amusement in a month of worshiping ?.
Jordanian team is due to arrive today to Beirut and scheduled to play with the Lebanese team on Sunday at Burj Hammoud stadium.
The 10th anniversary of the Lebanese schools sport gathering was held yesterday at Saydet loueize in Zouk Musbeh. Honorary shields distributed on prominent figures who played significant roles to sponsor the sports.
The Lebanese Olympic Committee announced that its offices and communications facilities are in the disposal of the sports unions, and called on all the unions which wish to join the mediterranean tournament in Italy on June to submit their applications.
The Ping Pong union is organising the Fitr cup from 13 to 16th Feb at the Mont La Salle.
The Nadi Al Ahli club in Sarba calls for the election of a new administrative committee.
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