News from Beirut March 27  1997  .......Search

Lebanon- Earth Quakes

The Roum fault, east of Sidon, was the epicenter of Lebanon's last earthquake-- the strongest earthquake since 1956. No casualties were reported, though there were some broken glasses and cracks in the walls. Additional 8 aftershocks were reported between 6:20 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. time. The one at 3.20 p.m. registered 4.3 on the Richter scale, and the 8 aftershocks registered between 2.5 and 3.5 Richter scale. Bhannes observatory's director Charles Tabet expected more tremors today, adding that these tremors would be light but they could turn stronger if they occur at same epicenter.

Interestingly, both earthquakes - in 1956 and yesterday's - occurred in March. Scenes of panic were common in various parts of Lebanon, so were the prayers. Yesterday's earthquake was the latest in series of tremors to plague Lebanon in recent few months. It fueled worries of an imminent major earthquake, which experts say is a distinct possibility. One expert contend that Lebanon is at the end of a quiescent cycle. He pointed out, "On average a major devastating earthquake occurs every 250 years. The last one was in 1759 and we should be aware that there is a possibility it would occur soon."

He added that yesterday's earthquake could have been the expected 50 years-old tremor. The last tremor felt in Lebanon was in January, measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale and its epicenter was located off the coast of Cyprus. Yesterday's earthquake's magnitude was lower but the intensity was greater because of the proximity of the epicenter and shallow depth as it is 33 Km far only.

Following the 1956 earthquake, the Lebanese government imposed a special levies which is still collected until now. However, statistics say some 30 quakes hit Lebanon since 1982. AUB's lecturer and seismologist Mohammed Harajli said Lebanese engineers should adopt certain specifications and that the government should impose them. Asked whether the government discussed the earthquake at yesterday's session, the Minister of Information Bassem Sabbaa replied, "Not too much, but it discussed quakes of different nature."


President Elias Hrawi is heading to Damascus today to meet his Syrian counterpart. He would discuss the latest developments in the region and their impact on the peace process. Also expected in their discussion are plans to coordinate the two countries' stands in view of the outcome of the Islamic Summit in Islamabad. He will also discuss some local issues.

Lebanon -Council of Ministers Decisions

National Education

As proposed by the Ministry of Education upon a plan laid down by the National Center for Research and Development Program, a national and general education for the pre-university levels was endorsed by the Council of Ministers. President Hrawi suggested that Lebanon, with its various religious affiliations, would find it arduous to apply obligatory teaching, and proposed instead that these teachings take place during religious holidays, such as Friday (for Moslems) and Sunday (for Sunday). The ministry's plan stipulated two weekly obligatory hours of religious teachings for the elementary and intermediate levels. The Ministry's proposal was rejected, as Hrawi and 10 other voted against it. Instead, the Council adopted Prime Minister Hariri's proposal on optional teaching.

LU Deans appointments

President Hrawi noted that the LU should be far from nonacademic stands, calling for the maintenance of legal procedures. Prime Minister Hariri said that it is the President's right to veto any decision or decree. The council agreed to consult the Shawra council. In the meantime, the appointment of  three deans will be suspended until the Shawra council makes final ruling.

Municipal Elections

The Internal Security Forces is to enforce security and safety inside the polling centers. In addition, the Lebanese army units will ensure security outside the polling centers and would be placed at the disposal of the Minister of Interior. Any civil serviceman refraining from joining the center specified for him/her will be referred to the disciplinary council.

- The council endorsed imports of tourist diesel cars, with restrictions specified by the Minister of Interior, namely smoke density. It also endorsed the formation of Arab sports tournament's high committee. The Minister of Tourism, just returned from conferences in Germany and Yemen, handed the council a report by the World Tourism Organization which reported that 420 thousand tourists entered Lebanon in 1996 with $715 million income, compared to $ 710 million in 1995.

Middle East

Senior American mediator David Ross is on a crisis trip to the Middle East to save the peace and halt the violence that threatens to rupture the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat is caught in major dilemma as some Palestinians are demanding him to halt settlements, while the Israelis are putting pressures on him to step up his efforts to fight so called "terrorism." Violent clashes in West Bank drew the Jerusalem Committee to convene in Rabat, Morocco.

News analysts in Beirut contend that Washington is not in favour of an Arab summit, now being under preparation, because it thinks such a summit would shake down the image of the American as a neutral mediator, and perhaps would open doors to demands such as involving the European Union, Japan and China in an international authority. The summit would probably call for the suspension of peace talks until Jewish settlements were halted, as well as linking between the Palestinian and Lebanon-Syria tracks. Moreover, the summit might halt normalization of relations. All that would embarrass Washington which has little options to pressure Netanyahu.

Much speculations in Israel about possible formation of a national unity cabinet is still not feasible, though Labor party leader Shimon Peres asserts that his party is ready to join.

- US Ambassador to Lebanon declared today that Ross's visit to the region will be short and his mission is to bring back both the Palestinians and Israel to the negotiation table.

-Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said yesterday that the Middle East is likely to remain in a state of no-war and no-peace for sometime, but a settlement is inevitable irrespective of how long it may take. He added that the "US policy on the Middle East remains ambiguous because of America's covert struggle with Europe." Fadlallah believes that a major military showdown is unlikely. "No matter how complicated issues appear to be now, a compromise will be achieved in due time," he pointed out. He noted that Netanyahu had scored some points at home, despite his claims that his policies were unsuccessful. Netanyahu, who lacks the aura of military generals, tried to present himself as a new prophet who had come to salvage the religious and political depth of Judaism. Netanyahu, through the new settlement in east Jerusalem, is projecting himself as a savior of the Jews by capitalizing on the religious significance they attach to the city.

Palestinians-Habash Resigns

Leader of the Palestinian PFLP group George Habash is said to have presented his resignation to the group's political bureau in Damascus on Tuesday for health reasons. The resignation will be announced at the PFLP's 6th conference which will be held in Damascus in May. Habash will reside in Amman and establish a Palestinian studies center. Abu Ali Mustafa, now an assistant Secretary General of the PFLP, would succeed Habash, according to a responsible source at PFLP.

Speaker-Paris Trip

Lebanon's Speaker Nabih Berri urged France to regain its role in the M.E and regenerate its presence in the region. He said the US stance raises doubts about its seriousness in seeking a peace in the region. He asked the French Foreign Minister de Charette to renew his efforts with the Israeli side to lift the siege of the Houla village in Southern Lebanon. Mr. Berri pledged that the Lebanese parliament will monitor the forthcoming municipal elections and try to maintain its freedom and honesty. He emphasized the agreement among the Lebanese in the security zone on choosing their candidates for the municipal elections. Both sides said to have reached identical conclusions on the Middle East situation, and agreed that continual freeze of the peace process will lead the region to a new and hard phase. De Charette was quoted as saying that his country is puzzled of the Israeli stand which is extremely contradictory, but noted that France will take measures to break the deadlock in the coming weeks. He noted that no new element occurred to make him change his pessimism, expressed during his last trip to the region. Mr. Berri met yesterday with France National Assembly's Speaker, parliamentarians, and former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali.

Cardinal Sfair

Cardinal Sfair is expected to announce today the Easter's message. The message centers on church, social and national issues. It will include clear and important stands. Yesterday, he received a German delegation and he was quoted as saying, "Lebanon is now living a peace but an incomplete one, because of the incomplete repatriation of the displaced, which was only by 20 percent, and because the emigrants did not return yet, and the large number of Palestinians on Lebanon's territory." He added that the Middle East peace is also slow, and independence in Lebanon is short because of the Israeli occupation in south, the sovereignty which is not complete and the free decision making which is restricted.

National Council-Media Licenses

The National Council on Media licenses is expected to license three radio stations-first rank, including Voice of the People and Voice of Lebanon. It would also license 8 radio stations -2nd rank. TV stations' licensing is unclear yet but at least one more station would be licensed. Hizbullah T.V station, Al Manar, temporary licensed, is not certain if it will be licensed or kept running as it is now.

News In Brief

- Yesterday, Israeli warplanes flew over a number of suspected resistance hideouts in Southern Lebanon and Bekaa. Dozen warplane made yesterday's low altitude flights between 10:30 and 12:30 p.m. over Sidon, Nabatieh, and Tyre. The planes broke sound barriers over Baalbeck. Israeli aircrafts made reconnaissance flights for hours over the South. Sources in Southern Lebanon said they spotted an Israeli AWAX reconnaissance plane over the south at 10 a.m. Israeli artillery shelled Jabal Raffii in Iqlim Toffah and the road between Arnoun and Yohmor Shakif.

- On the second day of his three days visit, Iran Deputy Foreign Minister Murtada Sarmadi said the resistance fighters are pride for all Islamic countries. He has toured on the President, Prime Minister, and religious leaders. He contended that he was pleased to see national unity realized, namely on issues such as resistance against Israel, and the reconstruction. He added that the support to the resistance is still beyond the levels required. He did not exclude confrontation in the region because Israel is not committed to the agreements it signed. Lecturing the LU students, Sarmadi said Iran has no ambitions in Lebanon.

- At a farewell decoration at the Foreign Ministry, German Ambassador in Lebanon announced that he would attempt to improve the bilateral relations due to the stable and good situation in Lebanon.

- Bishop Kigham Khatsharian was chosen yesterday as Bishop of the Armenian Orthodox in Lebanon, succeeding Bishop Aram Kashishian.

- A considerable state financial resource, which would be obtained of the seaside state property now nibbled by Mafias and seaside touristic sites, is under discussion by the parliament joint committees. $300 million resource as a result of settling the illegal use could be obtained if a law is properly applied, if not, only $7million could be collected.

- Jubran Tueini is to leave today to China, among a delegation representing the World Association of News Papers to discuss the release of one of the oldest press detainees in the world Gao Yu, acceptance of China membership in the association, and the freedom of the press in China.

Municipal Elections

- Beirut Governor Nicolas Saba announced yesterday that posters and billboards in Beirut are prohibited and that the Beirut municipality will issue special posters by May. He warned that any unauthorized posters will be removed and any violation will be fined.

-General Michel Aoun group held talks with NLP Douri Chamoun, Kataeb opposition Elie Karameh, and other dignitaries in Beirut to coordinate their stands on the coming elections. The National Bloc is mobilizing party supporters prior to the elections in Byblos.

- The "mayor of mayors", Nicolas Nimr Majdalani- a 100 years old - is running again for the Mazraa mayoral post, saying that serving people is an obligation.

- In Tripoli, running for the municipal and mayoral elections is taking the same course as the parliamentary elections with posters and billboards.

-Speaker of Parliament in the Geneva Canton visited the Prime Minister and toured Southern Lebanon.

- Kuwaiti fund representative met with Minister of Health Suleiman Franjieh to inquire about the Ministry's readiness to establish four hospitals and seven medical centers financed by the Kuwaiti fund. The total cost is estimates at $32 million.

- At a lecture entitled "future vision," Muslim Shiite Imam Mohammed Mehdi Shamsedine noted that the brain drain in Lebanon is due to the inability of the political regimes to invest. He demanded that Arab boycott of Israel be resumed.

- 20 Lebanese and Libyan security personnel are now trained by the Egyptian police academy on combating terrorism.

- In a detailed report, the Palestinian DFLP group, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, outlined the decline of UNRWA social and health services to the Palestinians in Lebanon. The group accused the UNRWA of wasting money, corruption of its administration.

- At a meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, private hospitals in Lebanon demanded the payment of L.L 250 billion due on the public sector. The private hospitals association, noting it is representing 163 hospitals and 18,000 employee, said only 10 per cent of the patients pay for themselves, while others are hospitalized on the account of the public institutions or insurers.

- Rival Sunni religious groups met again in Ain Helwe camp yesterday and called their supporters to practice self-restraint. The meeting was held in the presence of the camp's officials. In a related development, the Christian right wing Tadamoun party criticized the Muslim clerics for saying the death sentences on the three should have been commuted to life imprisonment same as the treatment given to Samir Geagea. Tadamoun leader Emile Rahmeh said that involving Geagea's trial in the controversy is unacceptable. The Lebanese army reinforced its security measures in Sidon yesterday after an empty police jeep was set on fire by arsonists. Around 20 Lebanese and Palestinians were arrested in Sidon for not carrying identifications cards at the army checkpoints set up throughout the city.

- Russian ambassador to Lebanon said a set of agreements are to be signed during Prime Minister Hariri's coming visit to Moscow.

- In a sudden inspection of the quarries in mount Lebanon yesterday, Minister of the Environment Akram Shehayeb discovered that some quarries are still operating at Abu Mizan, defying earlier government banning. The Minister ordered the closure of the quarries and that owners be fined and deterred.


- Arab ministerial committee including sports ministers and officials who were assigned to inquire and check Lebanon's preparations to host the Arab 8th sports tournament left Beirut to report to their countries.

- Yesterday, Lebanon's Council of Ministers formed the higher committee in charge of the tournament.

- Head of the Arab ministerial delegation Abdel Menem Amara said the delegation was confident and admired the preparations that were underway in Lebanon including the opening festival, transportation, residences, and all other details. He added that there should be no worry for not yet receiving responses from the Maghreb countries.

- Lebanon volleyball finals: Bauchrieh defeated Ghazir 1-0 at Jounieh stadium.

- Arab clubs basketball championship: Homentmen women once again defeated the Egyptian Ahli 65-57.

- Adha football cup: Today's match is between Nijmeh and Safa at the opening of the tournament.

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