The Lebanese Sunni Muslims celebrated the first day of El Fitre on Feb 8. The Lebanese Muslim Shiites celebrated the Eid on Feb 9. The government offices, banks, schools and other institutes will close for three days. The Lebanese daily news papers will reappear again on Feb 12.
Mufti Qabbani said in his annual address of El Fitre that it is important to adhere to the true and tolerant spirit of religion, denouncing the materialism of the modern times. The Lebanese Muslims' religious leaders denounced the comments made by the US ambassador Jones and hailed the resistance movement during the Friday sermon prayers.
Lebanon foreign minister Fares Boueiz said after a 45 minutes meeting with the US ambassador Richard Jones on Feb 7 that he listened to the explanations, understanding, and the intentions of the ambassador, over his latest remarks, and he considers this matter is closed. The ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry here to be informed of a petition by the Lebanese parliament foreign relations committee which expressed its dismay over the ambassador's comments following the Israeli helicopters crash. Mr Jones said " his remarks at Baabda should be understood from a humanitarian context. I am sorry my words were misconstructed. It was misunderstood and thee is no change in the US policy toward Lebanon. The US calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. We don't like to see loss of life anywhere, whether in Lebanon, or Israel, or anywhere in the world. I was making a humanitarian statement which I think is one of the things that help make my country great. The US is always on the side of the peace, and it exerted efforts over the years in this region, and most recently in April last year to help arrange the ceasefire, and we are active in the monitoring group since then." Jones said also he handed the foreign minister an introductory letter from Mrs Albright in the occasion of assuming her office.
The US ambassador has delivered Feb 7 two cables of congratulations in the occasion of El Fitre to prime minister Rafic Hariri, one from P.Clinton and another from the secretary of state Mrs Albright. Mr Jones said it was also an occasion to introduce to Mr Hariri the desk officer of the USAID James Stephenson, who is in Lebanon to see how the US can best utilize the resources that was pledged to Lebanon in the Friends of Lebanon forum.
It was observed here that the security measures around the US embassy at Aukar in east Beirut have been reinforced following the ambassador's comment and the local reactions against it.
P.Elias Hrawi sent a letter of congratulation to P.Assad in the occasion of El Fitre on Feb 7 expressing his personal wishes. The observers say the letter was personal not on behalf of the government or the country as usual as before. News reports said P.Hrawi is wishing to have a private meeting with P.Assad after the Fitre holiday, away from the meeting of the Lebanese Syrian supreme council 's meeting, which is due to meet in Damascus shortly. The Syrian side said to have been annoyed of the disagreements among the top officials here, and see it has no justifications at this delicate serious regional phase.
P.Clinton is scheduled to receive next week the Israeli prime minister, and in the following weeks he will receive the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Egyptian P.Mubarak, and King Hussein of Jordan.
Lebanon prime minister Rafic Hariri said Feb 7, after a meeting with P.Hrawi, that the situation in the region is certainly delicate, and the helicopters crash will have repercussions inside Israel. He said his government has no information over the possibility of an Israeli military strike, designed to deflect the public opinion in Israel.
The secretary general of Hizbullah Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, speaking in the occasion of the "Jerusalem day" Feb 7, and addressing some 15 thousand rally in Ghobeiri in the southern suburbs, said "the Palestinians should overthrow the self rule authority and execute its leadership and they should pay heavy price for signing the peace agreement with Israel. The only way for the Palestinians is to destroy this traitor (Arafat) who is standing in the way of their freedom. We have great trust in the Palestinian people, and very proud of the suicidal operations carried by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Jerusalem and the Hebron". Sheikh Nasrallah also blamed the Arabs for not doing enough to liberate Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem day turned to be a military parade for the Hizbullah fighters, with no arms appearing in public, the parade itself was under the security of the Hizbullah. Hizbullah fighters with uniforms, squadrons of future suicide bombers and models of Katyusha marched in the 4 hours parade and rally. Other rallies were held in south and Bekaa. In Tyre some 10 thousands packed the city Jerusalem's square. The Iranian ambassador in Lebanon, who attended the Ghobeiri rally said "without the resistance the Israelis could have planted too many settlements in south Lebanon".
In Israel, the crash of the two helicopters has re-ignited the debate over whether Israel should pull out unilaterally or wait for a Syrian backed peace agreement. The columnist of Haaretz Yoel Marcus said Feb 7 " the time has come to rethink the Israeli policy in Lebanon, which since 1982 cost Israel more than 800 lives. Just as it happened to the Americans in Vietnam, we too have ceased to understand that we've got ourselves into a dead end street, entangled in big military operations that didn't pay off. The continuous bloodletting has lost its purpose and aim."
The prime minister however refused the unilateral withdrawal saying it will bring the "terrorist" Hizbullah men more nearer to Israel's northern borders. The ferrying of the Israeli soldiers to the security zone in south by the helicopters was resumed Feb 7 after a halt of three days.
The Palestinian mainstream Fatah movement in Lebanon is preparing itself for a political-social role among the Palestinians here, after a dialogue with the Lebanese government over the pending issues, including the travel permits, the permissions of work and others. The movement has reshuffled some of its leading posts here namely the financial official and the commander of PASF.
The representatives of the PLO in Lebanon called on the Lebanese authorities to reconsider the "unjust laws it is applying on the Palestinian refugees here". It said in a statement published here " before rejecting a settlement first they have to apply a civilized policy toward the Palestinians' human rights, including the permissions of work , travel and living in dignity". It also reaffirmed that the Palestinian refugees are firmly adhered to their right to return back to their homeland in Palestine. The PLO statement also blasted the UNRWA for decreasing their health and social services to the Palestinians in Lebanon under the pretext of shortage of money and aids.
Speaker Nabih Berri did not attend the St Maron ceremony held in Beirut, same as his boycott to the Iftar hosted at Baabda. He apologized for not going because of receiving congratulations in the Eid El Fitre at Musseileh in South. News reports here said the real reason is that Mr Berri does not agree to turn St Maron to a national occasion, same as before the war, or perhaps he did not want to meet P.Hrawi during the ceremony. Mr Berri is scheduled to visit France early March upon an invitation from the French counterpart.
The central bank deputy governor Nasser Saidi said at a round table forum which assembled more than 14 leading bankers" the private sector should take over some reconstruction projects, currently managed by the government". He urged the commercial banks to develop home loans to property buyers as there is shortage of middle income housing. He also said the people want to borrow money to buy their own homes but cannot get long term loans from the banks.
He added that "we have bank loan of $2.5 bn, all frozen in the luxury apartments that were not sold so far". He praised the banks for meeting the capital adequacy ratios, noted the international banking positive reactions to the the series of bonds issues released by the banks since last year.
Saidi criticised the investment houses for concentrating on the treasury bills, and in 1996 the central bank licensed four new investment banks and seven financial institutions.
The financial observers say that if the 1997 budget figures are realized, the year will constitute a turning point in Lebanon's public finance history, however, Lebanon's recent fiscal record shows that the realized budget figures seldom conforms to the expectations. The greater threat to the 1997 budget will come from the rush to authorize additional spending as the year goes on.
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