The south Lebanon is under spotlights with varied expectations over the course of events. Lebanon is braced for possible Israeli retaliation to the fatal attack by the Islamic resistance on Thursday. Some reports predict that Israel would be preparing for another blitz operation in South forcing large number off southerners to evacuate, while other reports predict that Israel would be involved in a battle which will not be easy for it and emerge exhausted enough to resume the peace talks. Whatever the predictions are the fact is that South Lebanon now is at a stand still. The Islamic resistance planted yesterday two roadside bombs in the central sector which exploded at time the Israeli backed SLA's patrols passed by, no casualties reported. The Israeli helicopter gunships retaliated by bombarding the infiltration routes in Jarmaq-Suweida.
Foreign minister Fares Boueiz said yesterday it is Israel and the international community to be blamed for the Thursday's operation, because "Israel should know perfectly well that its occupation, and the international community incapability to implement the UN resolution, compels the Lebanese people and the resistance movement to resort to arms to liberate their territories". He said the resistance is a result of the degradation of the international justice and the occupation cannot go on in peace and harmony for the occupier. It is time to Israel to realise that it cannot safeguard its security by occupying the south. "On the contrary, its occupation will bring more burdens and costs". Mr Boueiz added that "Lebanon could be blamed only if the attack took place on the Israeli territory, but evidently it was a resistance action against an occupant army and inside the occupied territory". Prime minister Rafic Hariri said Israel should make good of its reiterations that it wants peace and that is by withdrawing its forces from the Lebanese and Syrian territories. He said also that If Israel wants really to withdraw and is serious about reaching a just comprehensive peace, then it should make all that clear, by publicly announcing that it is ready to withdraw to the June 4 1967 border with respect to Syria, and from all the Lebanese occupied territories in the south and west Bekaa, Israel has given no clear answers to that. Hariri also said that "Lebanon and Syria always highlight that the peace is a strategic choice, but the peace should secure the full restoration of our land", he was speaking at another Iftar at his palace in Beirut.
The Moslem Shiite clerics in their Friday sermons said they are aware of an israeli retaliation but warned that serious consequences will emerge if Israel launched a large scale attack. Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine said " we got the message and our response is simple, if the zionist criminals commit a new mistake it will be more costly than in the past times. He hailed the resistance and its will to confront the zionist scheme but in the same time called for wisdom and reason in dealing with the enemy. He said " we are with peace and diplomacy to liberate Lebanon or Syria or Palestine, but we will reinforce our capacities to confront any aggression which is no longer acceptable to let go unpunished".
Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah called for stepping up the resistance movement distinctive operations as part of increasing security and military pressures on Israel. He cautioned Israel that it has achieved nothing politically or militarily from its past wars in Lebanon. He praised the Thursday operation saying it proved that resistance is growing more fiercer and more accurate. He said the resistance fighters in Lebanon have strong will, popular backing, and the power of confrontation, for that, the Israeli schemes will fail. He considered the new American administration under P.Clinton more pro -Israeli than the previous one, and also cautioned the Arab states not to fall to US-Israeli scheme to lure them into an unjust peace settlement. He said Israel is planning for war while it is talking the peace. However, the Hizbullah sources denied any connection between Thursday's operation and the anticipations on the resumption of the peace talks.
The Syrian V.P Abdel Halim Khaddam rejected yesterday the Israeli call for Syria to restrain Hizbullah attacks in south Lebanon, saying that the resistance is a Lebanese group which is fighting to liberate its national territory, and the Hizbullah did not go to Israel to fight there, but it is fighting on its Lebanese soil. He said let the Israelis get out and they will relax, Lebanon will relax, and we will relax too.
Israel's military chief of staff Gen. Amnon Shahak rejected yesterday "any unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon which would only threaten the safety of towns in north Israel". He said "there is no one to conclude an accord with in Lebanon, as the government in Beirut cannot or will not take responsibility for what happens in south".
The Parliament is going on debating the budget for 1997, for the third consecutive day, while government sources said the government will not issue the budget by virtue of a decree, as debates went beyond constitutional time limit. The parliament is expected to vote today at a final session starting 10.30 a.m this morning and the budget is expected to be easily approved. On yesterday evening session, deputy Najah Wakim attracted public opinion because of the intense accusations he made against the government, and his revealing that the budget figures are masked as it aimed to show that the situation is good enough, while the real figures could tell a major disaster. Mr Wakim called prime minister to be present during the debates because he is speaking for the government and responsible of the budget. Wakim, who has gained reputation as the most vocal and crass critic to prime minister Hariri, centered in his one hour address on the fictitious figures, accused the government of misleading the public opinion. He said every article in the budget is a cover of the personal interests, criticised the rising deficit, and predicted that the public debt will reach $25bn. He said the government continues the systematic destroy of the public administration under the pretext of its corruption, while the government itself is responsible of the corruption, until a time it sells the sector to the private one, which is monopolized by few hands existing inside the ruling system or in its shadow. Wakim revealed chains of private firms owned by government officials, also revealed preparations to take over state utilities and collections of fees, also spending some $400 mn of the state treasury in the form of illegal bribes during the election. He affirmed he is going ahead with his case against senior officials for violating the laws and splitting the television and radio stations' licenses and called for a parliamentarian investigation committee from the opposition. Mr Wakim accused the press for ignoring the opposition voice. He argued how there can be economical freedom without political freedom.
Wakim said the public debt ratio is 86 per cent compared to GDP and when the ratio is 60 percent it is catastrophe. "We heard that one of the oil refineries will be sold out, also the regie(Tobacco industry). The income law which was issued was said to encourage flow of investments but where are they, it is the fact they they used the law to avoid paying their taxes. Who hired the Ramadan tents' located on a land which belongs to Beirut municipality. Why the $700 thousands monthly commission for renting 4 MEA planes, why a margin of 60-70 per cent is profited from the contracts, Mr Wakim questioned.
Other speakers during yesterday evening session were:
Baalbeck deputy Ibrahim Assayed (Hizbullah): Hopes the troika will continue in disagreement because that will lead to the salvation of the country. Criticised the government as acting same as a relief committee in what relates to southerners but without support to the resistance.
Zgharta deputy Naelah Moawad:" the budget includes some positive moves such as supporting the agriculture, tourism and industry but called for reconsidering taxation system and finding new resources.
Becharri deputy Jubran Tawk:" some of the gold reserves to besold and instead to buy treasury bills in foreign currencies".
Akkar deputy Abdel Rahman Abdel Rahman:" deplored plans to increase taxes and charges".
Wadee Khazen, the prominent Maronite businessman, denied yesterday he is authorized by Cardinal Sfair to liaise on behalf of Bkerke with Syria. He said "Bkerke has never resorted to a secular person to liaise or to resolve a situation that might lead to stable relations between the Christians and Syria".
He said he visited the cardinal yesterday to brief him of his trips to Damascus and its outcomes, and he will continue his contacts with V.P Khaddam after the latter returns from a tour in the Gulf states. Mr Khazen has held last month several meetings with Mr Khaddam. His trips to Damascus sparked speculations that Bkerke was trying to smooth its relations with Syria. The media here gave several names of persons involved in the mediation with Syria, including deputy Butros Harb, deputy speaker Elie Firzli, while other reports said Bishop Khalil Abi Nader is the only one authorized to make such contacts with Syria not anybody else.
Karim Bakradouni, deputy leader of the Kataeb party, testifying yesterday at Samir Geagea's trial, said he did not believe Geagea was behind the attempted assassination of Michel Murr, now interior minister. He also said that Mr Geagea had high regard to Murr and that Geagea ordered the Lebanese Forces men in 1986 not to storm the LF H.Q ,where the then ousted LF commander Elie Hubeika was present, because Murr's son Elias was there. He said Geagea called him to contact Murr and told him not to leave the Christian areas and offered him security guarantees, but Murr told Bakradouni he has problem with Amin Gemayel not Geagea. Bakradouni, who was deputy leader of the LF until 1988, said Murr's son had visited the Christian areas many times after the change in the LF command, also denied that the LF confiscated Murr properties. He said he believes that Israel had a strong hand on the LF militia at that time and its surrogates took initiatives without Geagea knowledge. He ruled out that Geagea was thinking at that time to kill Murr who was defense minister because a tougher stricter one would replace him and because appointing Geagea as defense minister was out of question. Mr Bakradouni was giving his testimony as the prosecution witness before the Judicial council now trying Samir Geagea. The council is adjourned until Wednesday to hear more prosecution witnesses.
Lebanon inaugural shopping festival begins today. The opening ceremony is to be held at Qadmous hotel at Ain Mreisse with fireworks and sound of brass bands along the Cornishe. The Economy minister says it is first of series of festivals under consideration that will help to promote Lebanon abroad and encourage tourism. Another festival in Summer is a thought we shall work on, he said. The idea in Lebanon is stemmed from the shopping festival in Dubai, and the minister says one of the reasons to hold the festival was to change the view that Lebanon is an expensive place, and now we can show it is affordable enough. Since the festival was announced a month ago, a broad range of discounts followed.
Ice and snow is reported on even 800 meters high and it closed roads in the mountainous areas.
The foreign minister Fares Boueiz, in response to the US report on human rights violations, said human rights in Lebanon are applied with the highest standards.
Sweden reopened its embassy in Beirut after ten years closure. Swedish under secretary of state Jan Eliasson who attended the occasion said his current tour in M.E aims to revive peace talks and boost relations with Lebanon. He said Sweden hosts some 40 thousands Lebanese community.
The foreign ministry signed yesterday a lease contract of 14 story building in downtown Beirut. the building is to host Many UN agencies including the ESCWA, FAO, UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and others. The lease was for 7 years period.
The Education minister warned the private schools of some rocketing hikes of fees and said penalties will be severe to include even abolishment of the school license.
The MEA received yesterday the first delivery of AIRBUS 4 planes which will modernize the company's fleet. The second delivery will be in March including one plane, and two others in May.
The Lebanese university teachers staged yesterday a one day warning strike. The teachers are demanding better pay and social allowances. They say they are afraid the university is going to be privitised following the repeated reductions of funds allocated to the institution.
The agriculture ministry is imposing tighter control on the imports of livestock and slaughter. The new measures include vaccination before transporting the cattle, also cleaning and decontaminating the trucks or ships used for transporting the cattle, as well as barns and farms .
Sports unions responded to the invitation by the director of sports and youths Zaid Khiami which aims to discuss the best means to make the Arab tournament in July a total success. The governmental and nongovernmental sectors will cooperate together in organising and preparing for the event.
The Volleyball union is to visit P.Hrawi on Friday and brief him the preparations underway for the Asian cup in May.
The Lebanese Kick Boxing union decided to participate in Ireland's cup .
Lebanon is to host Jordanian soccer team and play a friendly match Sunday also to meet again and play on Thursday in Amman.
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