Hizbullah guerrillas today attacked a patrol of the Israeli-allied militia in South Lebanon. But no casualties were reported. In a statement, Hizbullah said its guerrillas detonated an explosive charge this morning near a six-member foot patrol of the allied militia on a road leading to the town of Bent Jbeil in the central sector of the border area. The statement added all members of the patrol were hit. Meanwhile, Israeli and allied militia artillery reportedly bombarded the outskirts of the villages of Kafra and Yater, located at the edge of the border zone. The five-nation cease-fire monitoring group meets tomorrow in Naqoura to look into six complaints, two filed by Lebanon and four others lodged by Israel. The Israelis protested against the attack on Beit Leif over the weekend, the two Katyushas landing in Israel, an alleged mortar attack from Majdel Selem, and another mortar attack from Nabatieh. Lebanon filed complaints for the shelling of civilian areas in Nabatieh on Sunday and the wounding of a 35-year old woman in Byuot Al-Sayyad from Israeli shelling.
The country's leaders and officials yesterday held a marathon meeting to discuss economic issues. The 1998 draft state budget topped the agenda of talks during the five-hour meeting at the presidential palace. The meeting was attended by President Elias Al-Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, Acting Finance Minister Fouad Sanyoura, Minister of Economy Yassin Jaber, the head of the Finance and Budget Committee in parliament Khalil Al-Hrawi, and the deputies Mohammed Abdel Hammed Baydoun and Anwar Al-Khalil. After the meeting, Berri told reporters no additional taxes will be introduced on low income earners. Berri also promised that development projects in rural areas will start by the end of the year. For his part, Prime Minister Hariri described the outcome of last night's meeting as a comprehensive plan to reach an economic strategy in the country. Sources close to the Baabda meeting said an agreement was reached on a number of points dealing with public expenditure and revenue.
This evening, President Elias Al-Hrawi inaugurated the national Museum in Mathaf.
The president stressed the museum's educational importance and fundamental role in tourists attraction. The project cost three million dollars. But it needs another two million dollars to be completely rehabilitated. The national museum contains some of Lebanon's most valuable stone statues and tombs.
House Speaker Nabih Berri today said Lebanon will borrow $2 billion in foreign currency to cover the expected deficit in the government's 1998 budget. Berri told reporters the government will be given the mandate to borrow from abroad by foreign currency eurobond what is equal to the deficit. The House Speaker also said $1.6 billion would be raised through Eurobond issues abroad and another $400 million would be borrowed from local banks in hard currency. Lebanon's cabinet approved in October the state's 1998 budget with spending of 7,925 billion Lebanese pounds and revenues of 4,956 billion. Berri added the budget would not include major tax increases previously proposed for 998 but would begin to eliminate 10,000 state employees per year for the next six years. He also said the administration would be streamlined.
Agriculture Minister Shawki Fakhouri and the US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones today held a press conference in Beirut. They announced that an agreement was signed between the US Department of Agriculture and the Lebanese Agriculture Ministry. Under the agreement, the first side provides insurance guarantees of 15 million US dollars in addition to technical grants of 650,000 US dollars. During the press conference, Fakhoury said the agreement will be followed by other forms of cooperation. The agriculture sector in Lebanon will also be provided with more plants and fruit seeds, cows and cattle. For his part, the US ambassador told reporters this was a sign that the cooperation which began a year ago when both Jones and Fakhoury started discussing the possibility of importing cows from the US was actually expanding into a variety of different areas adding the two sides were expanding cooperation beyond the import of cows.
Jones felt this was very important in leading to what he called the "Renaissance of the Lebanese Agricultural Sector". Jones stressed it was not just a guarantee program to be executed by the US Department of Agriculture but also a included a lot of technical assistance. Jones talks about the assistance provide by the US AID program through its representative Spike Stevenson, saying it provided 600,000 US dollars working with the American University of Beirut to provide the technical assistance and the training for Lebanese farmers. The US ambassador concluded by saying the program of importing cows form the US aimed at creating a more viable diary industry in the country.
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