News from Beirut April 3  1997 ...Search

Middle East Affairs

- According to an Israeli human rights activist, four missing Iranians kidnapped 15 years ago in Lebanon are alive and being held in an Israeli jail.

-Israel sought yesterday to block another session of the UN General Assembly regarding the Middle East. The Arabs asked the 185 member body for a special session in the wake of a US veto of a Security Council resolution on Jewish settlement. Israel alleged the session would lead to further polarization with the Arabs.

- Israel former Premier and architect of the peace process  disputed yesterday with Netanyahu's claim that Yasser Arafat gave a green light to terrorists. Peres said Arab-Israeli relations are in deep crisis, accusing  Netanyahu of  being  not responsible due to his zigzag policy, and adding that Netanyahu is motivated by only the internal politics on new settlement.

Lebanon-Debate On Municipal Elections Law

- Lebanon's parliament debate on the highly controversial municipal elections law has been postponed and set for today. The house was expected to vote on a law dating back to 1977 with amendments previously approved by the parliament joint committees. The last minute's 14 points proposal containing new alterations, casted doubts and signaling the possibility of postponement of the elections.

Minister of the Interior Michel Murr declared that the 14 points were not a proposal but observations to be discussed at the parliament and could be disregarded if they would cause problems or lead to delaying the elections. Murr also asserted he would support the appointment of local councils members in towns and villages affected by the displacement.

News analysts in Beirut said the election, set on 1 and 8 of June, is like an illegal child that everybody deny abandoning. Many MPs believe that state institutions are blaming each other for delaying tactics and publicly they are assertive insisting on the elections. Yesterday, President Elias Hrawi has said he would not approve delaying the elections. Former MP August Bakhous quoted him as saying the preparations for elections have cost the government a considerable amount of money and the country cannot afford such losses if  elections are postponed.

The President and Prime Minister met yesterday for 90 minutes to discuss the issue but no details were released. At yesterday's start of the Parliament's two days plenary session, 16 MPs addressed the parliament before voting on 15 draft bills. Among those bills, reinforcing the measures against water, electricity, and telephone theft, and penalties are now raised up to 3 years in prison and L.L l1 million fine.  Today they will vote on six remaining proposals ,including the municipal elections law.

At the beginning of the session, former Premier Selim Hoss called for a formula which secures equal representation for all communities in the municipal councils. He said he was aware that the forthcoming elections would be a miscalculated adventure with effects on the national unity if there is not a fair, factional, and communal representation.

MP Najah Wakim said the Lebanese were not classified according to sectarian considerations but divided into social classes, expressing his desire that all classes should be represented too.

MP Nassib Lahoud urged the elections to be hold on time, warning that any delay would lead to lose of a golden opportunity to reconcile people with the state. He said this elections is needed to boost political life in Lebanon.

Chuf MP Zahir Khatib warned of social unrest if  the government continue to maintain the same policy, citing the issue of  phone tapping and LU deans, saying both are examples of state acting without principles.

Zahle MP George Kassarji cited the high telephone charges, calling all public including MPs to stop paying bills. MP Butros Harb questioned why a private group is making a personal inquiry on certain persons, arguing if it that was true then it is a serious case and should be investigated.

News analysts said none of Lebanon's officials, starting with the MPs and above, want the elections to be held, but none dare to express that in public. Another analysts contends scandals in Lebanon are like a daily bread for Lebanese, exemplified by the constitutional Council resignation.

At a meeting with reporters at the parliament, Minister of the Interior Michel Murr  denied categorically that any government security or military agency was tapping the cellular calls, adding that the private companies may have such surveillance facilities. He contended the government departments have no such necessary equipments but "we do not know if the cellular companies have."

Lebanon-Another Political Quake

Head of Lebanon's Constitutional Council Wajdi Mallat submitted a written resignation to Speaker Nabih Berri in protest against interventions and pressures on some members of the Council aiming to influence them. Mallat was elected as head of the council by parliament. The council has received a  total of 19 impeachments on 17 parliamentary seats, including 7 cases proved to be serious and acceptable according to the constitutional judgments.

Mallat was firm in rejecting any personal or political favoritism, and determined to maintain the council as a constitutional institution with credible head and members. So far, Speaker Nabih Berri asked Mallat to take time because announcing his resignation would discredit and shake down image of all institutions including the parliament.

Lebanon Muslims- Executions and Religious Education

Lebanon government's decision to make religious education optional  in the new schools curricula, effective as of 97-98 scholastic year, is a new controversial issue. Religious education was obligatory since the last revised curricula in 1968. The government last week endorsed a proposal by the Ministry of Education to hold religious education on Fridays afternoons for Muslims and on Sundays for the Christians.

The Muslim Shiite High Council consider it as annulment of the entire religious education, adding that such education immunize the young generation against daily enticements. It called officials to reinforce this education in cooperation with religious leaders.

One Muslim Sunni Mufti was quoted as saying that "the decision will not be allowed to pass."

Sheikh Naim Kassem of  Hizbullah said the decision was dangerous and suspicious, calling for its annulment because "it is an attack on our society." He called upon the government to have enough courage to discard the decision and to crack down on all non-religious activities in the country. He added that religious education has been in effect since independence so why now the government seeking a change. He argued if the government has other urgent issues to tackle, and questioned if it wants the society here to be lewd like Western societies.

Jamaa Islamiya official and former MP Fathi Yakan called on President Hrawi to annul sectarianism in politics, not in religion. He said the Muslims and Christians were surprised of the decision which is a violation of the constitution, thus strengthening sectarian differences and weaken religions.

Tripoli based Unification Movement said the decision was an insult to the people because sermons are held on the two days Fridays and Sundays, arguing that students cannot go to religious education classes and go to mosques or churches at the same time.

- Yesterday, Lebanese judicial authorities ordered the arrest of dozens of men seen carrying guns at last week funeral of three Muslim militants executed for killing Sheikh Nizar Halabi. The security forces were ordered to question and interview the men even if they had licenses because law prohibits displaying guns in public. The display drew sharp criticism from political leaders here.

Unification Movement leader Saeed Shaaban denied yesterday that his speeches at the funeral and at a commemoration in Tripoli had threatened the national unity. In a statement, he said, "It is a constitutional right for every Lebanese to practice constructive criticism of the government's performance." He denied too statements attributed to him in which he allegedly denounced the Pope's visit to Lebanon in May. Shaaban said his words had been distorted by the officials and the media, criticising both the Ministers if Interior and Defense and  asking them to contact Speaker Berri, whom he said understood how his remarks were misconstrued.

The Minister of Defense Mohsen Dalloul has said Shaaban remarks were a reminder of an era which is over, it was invitation to revive the civil war, and the judiciary death sentence was punishing killers who used religion as a cover. Minister of the Interior contended that the  Shaaban's speeches and others are threatening peace and national unity.Such statements are irresponsible and may lead to the prosecution of those who delivered them.

Hizbullah has stepped in the controversy yesterday, saying in a statement that "prosecuting a national and Islamic symbol such as Sheikh Saeed Shaaban would be a major threat to civil peace and national unity." The party added "many religious and political leaders voiced views challenging the fundamentals of the political life, yet no official has moved to prosecute them." It called officials to realize the problem resulting from executions and work on solving it with wisdom and caution.

Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said yesterday, "Everyone should study his speech before delivering it in order to avoid touching a national fire." He said all efforts should concentrate on fighting Israel not on petty arguments.

Lebanon-Arab Americans

-US Congressman Nick Rahall, of Lebanese descent, and Khalil Geahshan, head of the NAAA, a main Arab lobbyist group in the USA, said in Beirut the improvement of security in Lebanon would support lifting the travel ban. Rahall noted that he is relaxed to tour all Lebanon without fear, confirming that security situation has remarkably improved. Geahshan said the Arab community in the USA is a figure of the Arab situation, with fragmentation, ,lack of organization, and lack of unified stand. He added that none of  the Arab officials who visited the White House did mention a Palestinian state. He added that most of the Arab officials were visiting the NAAA before Oslo accords, but now they visit the Jewish organizations which can help them improve relations with the Americans. Four Arab foreign ministers attended a conference of the most powerful Jewish American lobbies, but none of them visited a conference by the NAAA. Geahshan mentioned that 2 out of 6 million Jews in the USA are actively participating in Jewish organizations, while only 50,000 out of the 3 million Arabs are activists. The annual budget of AIPAC - A strong Jewish lobby - is $80million compared to only $400 thousand for the NAAA.

The National Association of Arab Americans officials, now touring the M.E, in their second day in Lebanon, mentioned that out of the 600 people who had attended coffee meetings at the White House there were 400 Jews and one Arab only. They said they contributed to President Clinton campaign and out of the $1billion cost of the election campaign, $600million were paid by Jews. In the final conclusion, the NAAA said that Jewish influence in the USA is not magic but a result of Jewish well organization and money.

News In Brief

- News analysts said President Elias Hrawi placed over Damascus justifications of a major government change.

- Israeli artillery fired artillery shells at areas adjacent to the occupied security zone and Iqlim Toffah. A young man suffered burns during shelling at Kfartabnit village.

- Former MP August Bakhous, after a meeting with President Hrawi, said if the law on exploiting state seaside property amended it would collect an  annual revenue of L.L 700 billion, enough to cover the budget deficit.

- Speaking to French and German delegations visiting Bkerke, Cardinal Sfair said Lebanon is unique in its experience where 17 communities are coexisting and all interrelates and work for the country. He added that the last war was not a domestic conflict, rather it was international. The Cardinal assured that Lebanon has recovered from the war but still suffering its impacts, such as the current economical hardships. He hoped that the peace process would return to normal course and peace be restored in all regions.

- The Maronite League's groups representatives , in presence of Bkerke representative Bishop Besharas Raii, discussed proposed amendments of the league's internal discipline and the coming elections.

- Lebanon's Foreign Ministry prepares for the nonaligned movement's conference which will start at the end of this week in India, M.E partnership conference in Malta mid this month, and the visit of Foreign Minister Boueiz to Algeria and Tunisia around end of the month.

- Russian ambassador announced yesterday that the scheduled three days visit to the Russian Federation by Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, starts on Sunday. In the first day, Hariri will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister and visit the Kremlin. In the evening, he will meet Arab ambassadors. In the second day, he will place a wreath at the unknown soldier's monument before meeting with President Yeltsin and Prime Minister, signing cultural and economical agreements. Hariri will meet Moscow's Mufti. On the third day he will hold meeting with Russian businessmen, after which he will visit Petersburg.

- Prime Minister Hariri pledged to implement state autonomous administrations' employees union demand. The union postponed a strike set for today until Saturday.

- Lebanese Pilot's Union urged the national airliner MEA to find out a rapid solution for the air engineers in a week time to avoid negative repercussions. The union said that MEA deliberately ignore demands by the engineers and it did not give any signs on solving this case, namely after selling the 747 Jumbo planes. It warned MEA of dismissing any engineer before concluding any accord with all and in an amicable manner.

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