Lebanon's cabinet meeting today under Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to discuss the status of unlicensed buildings in the Baalbeck-Hermel area and other allocations, and the mechanism of implementing the Hariri proposed $1bn plan.
The ministerial committee charged with overseeing development projects in the Baalbeck-Hermel and Akkar area decided to increase the funds allocated to these areas from LP150 billion to LP350 billion. Opposition media said the increase was offered as a bribe to deputies in order to endorse Prime Minister's proposed plan. Some news reports today said it is possible to distribute the taxes envisaged to finance the plan on several commodities, such as cigarettes, alcohols, luxury food, cement, and other non alimentary items. The reports said if that was agreed upon, the gasoline price would be increased only by LP2,000 instead of LP5,000.
The Finance Ministry reiterated that there is no alternative other than increasing taxes if the proposed development plan is carried out. Financial sources disclosed that the ratio of the collected indirect taxes and charges during the first half of1997 marked a 90 per cent increase compared to same period last year, jumping from LP220 billion last year's first half, to LP400 billion during the same period this year.
President Elias Hrawi yesterday said in Brazil that the conspiracy that has targeted Lebanon since1975 is not over yet, and that the Lebanese should be wary of the Israeli schemes against their country. Speaking at dinner party held in his honor by the Lebanese community in Brasilia, Hrawi said, "we want Lebanon united and we want it for all its communities and not for those who want it to serve self interests".
On the subject of restoring to expatriates their Lebanese citizenship, Hrawi told an expatriate gathering that "a new naturalization bill will soon be sent to the Parliament for approval". The President also called on the expatriates to come back and see what have been achieved during the past years, and warned to beware of media reports speaking about confessionalism, sectarianism and civil war. Hrawi said if that was the case, the war would not have stopped a second after "we took the decision to stop it".
A series of bilateral draft agreements were considered during the meeting President Hrawi and the accompanying delegation had on Tuesday, September 2, with the Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardozo and a number of the country's top officials.
The envisaged agreements did not see the light during this first meeting due to their wide and complex nature, but will remain subject to a continuous follow up later on. Lebanese sources said the envisaged agreements are likely to materialize during the visit the Brazilian President will pay to Lebanon next Spring. In this regard the Brazilian side expressed the desire to widen the scope of the agreements, especially the judicial which they want it to include matters pertaining to both the criminal and the civil domains.
Added to that, there was a clear agreement on coordinating the efforts of the two countries in the United Nations. Of these was Lebanon's announcing its support to Brazil's nomination for a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.
Sources of the Lebanese delegation said the talks began with a speech by the Brazilian President in which he affirmed the solid relations between the two countries. He explained that these are primarily based on the human factor where the size of Lebanon's presence in Brazil is considered to be the largest and the most effective of all foreign communities there. In this framework, President Cardozo suggested establishing advanced relations between the two countries in all economic, political, cultural, judicial and transport fields.
On his part, President Hrawi delivered a speech saying that he is "impatiently waiting for the visit the Brazilian President is expected to pay to Lebanon next Spring". He also affirmed the "inevitability of the special relationship between Lebanon and Brazil, because part of Lebanon's blood and flesh is in Brazil, and because each and every house in Lebanon has a part of it in Brazil."
On the political level, President Hrawi gave the word to Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz who explained Lebanon's stance as of the beginning of the peace process, and diagnosed the status of the process following the election of Israel's current Prime Minister Benjamine Netanyahu. He also explained the American and European initiatives, stressing the inevitability of returning to the principle of comprehensive peace "without which no peace will be signed outside the Madrid framework.
In the same context, President Hrawi hoped the United States will "resume playing the role of arbiter and fair partner in the peace process". On the economic level, President Hrawi affirmed the necessity of integrating the industrial-export nature of Brazil with the marketing and commercial nature of Lebanon which can be a base or a starting point for Brazil's relations with the Middle East.
The two sides also agreed to form a Lebanese-Brazilian committee of businessmen managing strategic companies. They also agreed on the principle of preparing judicial agreements on the levels of interrogations, information exchange, investigating delegations and the extradition of criminals.
During the official talks, the Brazilian President raised the subject of his country's nomination for a permanent seat at the U.N Security Council. Responding, President Hrawi announced Lebanon's support for this nomination. Yet he expressed concern over the reforms suggested for the U.N General Assembly, and Lebanon's fears that some super powers might be aiming at weakening the Assembly's role to the advantage of an expanded U.N. Security Council which will monopolize international political and security decisions.
Explaining the matter, Foreign Minister Boueiz said Lebanon fears this might be an attempt to undermine the numerical majority in favor of the principle of qualitative democracy.
In this regard, the Brazilian President affirmed that a general consensus on the subject has been reached, to the effect that Brazil aims from entering the Security Council at activating the representation of small and medium size countries, more than seeking to enter the influential countries club.
House speaker Nabih Berri, speaking to a Romanian television on the eve of his visit to Romania, said there is only one President in Lebanon heading the state, but due to Lebanon's confessional structure it appears as if there are three presidents. Speaker Berri commenced Monday a tour that will take him to Romania, Armenia and Iran. The tour will continue until mid Sept.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Hariri's scheduled visit to Australia by the end of this month was postponed to an indefinite date for special reasons, Hariri's circles said. They also said his visit to Paris on the 11th and 12th of September will be a working visit where he will have a meeting with President Jacques Chirac and his French counterpart. A financial protocol is expected to be signed during the visit.
Two Lebanese boys were wounded yesterday when an old mortar shell accidentally exploded near the southern village of Majdal Silm on the outskirts of the occupied zone. The incident was caused by an 80 mm shell which was detonated by one of a flock of sheep tended by the youngsters. The explosion was initially believed to have been caused by a road side bomb, leading Amal and Hizbullah to blame Israel for planting it.
On another note, an Israeli force reportedly entered the town of Khiam inside the occupied security zone and detained a 16-year old boy.Meanwhile, the village of Ramiah inside the security zone was placed under a joint Israeli-SLA siege where four of the villagers were detained.
The draft amendment to the Lebanese nationality law which was placed on the August 28 Cabinet agenda, is becoming a highly controversial issue. A news analyst today said Prime Minister Hariri views that the amendments were not endorsed by the cabinet. On the other hand, President Hrawi affirms that the draft law was passed during that session. To end the controversy, Hariri is said to be willing to place the draft law once again on the cabinet's agenda. He was also quoted as saying that the envisaged amendment aims at naturalizing over 5 million Lebanese Christians.
Patriarch Sfeir yesterday told a delegation of 300 school children from Jezzine that "the situation there is bound to change soon". In a sudden departure from the pessimism that marked his earlier statements, Patriarch Sfeir also assured the delegates who came to Diman to brief on the situation, that peace and calm will reign, and "you will soon live in dignity in the shadow of the government". He said he always prays for Jezzine and all the South which is "unfortunately the only burning front suffering from daily deaths, bloodsheds and displacements". He also said that Lebanon is always the one to pay the cost, adding that while the war was over in large parts of Lebanon, its fire is still glaring on in Jezzine. However, he told the youngsters not to be afraid as long as they have faith is in their hearts.
Defense lawyers of the former leader of the prohibited "Lebanese Forces" Samir Geagea, yesterday visited Patriarch Sfeir at Diman and thanked him for the stance he took with regard to their defendant. Lawyer Edmond Naiim said they pledged to defend the case of Samir Geagea until the end. He said they visited the Patriarch to thank him for defending Geagea the way he did. Naim said the term, "state of law", refers to a just, fair and constitutional law that stipulates equality among the citizens, and not one which is unfair even if passed by the parliament.
Lawyer Issam Karam said Geagea's case has two sides, one is political and the other is legal. Based on those two aspects, Karam said the defense aims at showing what is right, and "the right is that Samir Geagea is innocent of what was attributed to him".
On the occasion of the sixth anniversary of General Michel Aoun's departure from the French Embassy in Beirut, the Bureau Central de Cooperation Nationale (BCCN) sent him on August 28 an open letter wishing him to return to Beirut after 6 years of exile in France. The letter said the return of Aoun is governed by regional and international factors and considerations that rallied to oust him out of Lebanon, knowing "he won't bargain on an inch of the Lebanese soil or a drop of its waters, or accept the crime of naturalization, or give up the unity of the people and land, or give up security to non Lebanese, or accept mortgaging Lebanon to debtors, or approve having half of the people armed, while the other half is paying taxes".
Minister of Industry Nadim Salem defended the Jezzine Mar Roukos Group and said it will continue to hold its meetings until their hometown is saved. He said the Group will go on bearing the responsibility until the end, and shall try to rescue Jezzine with all means. Salem said the plan to habitate the Palestinians in Jezzine is still on, and it would be wrong to assume anything to the contrary. Salem said one of the Group's aims is to halt selling the land there.
Thousand Dunums of the Greek Orthodox Church land in Jerusalem, including 70 Dunums at the Abu Ghuneim site, were said to have been sold to Israel by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Thoeodoros I, a press report said today. Reported to be holding a Greek nationality , the Patriarch is also accused of selling $3.5 million worth of land to a rich Israeli woman named Atirat Cohen, as apart of a policy aiming at selling or leasing land on long term basis. The report said this policy has caused a rift between the Patriarch and other archbishops and members of the Church, causing many to leave the country or join other churches.
- Cuba's Deputy Foreign minister arrived in Beirut in on a three-day official visit.
- Former US Under Secretary for M.E. Affairs Richard Murphy arrived in Beirut on a three-day personal visit following the lifting of the US travel ban. Prime Minister Hariri is to host him at a launcheon today at his residence in Beirut.
- The meeting held between the delegation of US churches and Lebanese intellectuals at the AUB Alumni Club on Saturday was a forum of questions and answers. Intellectual Mohammed Mousalli said that containing Hizbullah, which is now a part of the Lebanese system, proved Lebanon's ability to contain other voices as well. Previously, he said, Hizbullah rejected recognizing the Lebanese government and was advocating an Islamic republic. Now it is in the ranks of the opposition, but from within the system. Intellectual Mohammad Sammak also replied to a question on whether the Moslems are seeking an Islamic state. He said the war in Lebanon made everyone realize that no community can live without the other.
- Governor of Australia's New South Wales district is expected to arrive in Lebanon next Sunday, heading a large business delegation. The delegation includes Lebanese origin Senator Edward and a number of other political and business dignitaries.
- A lottery for allocating 55,000 permanent US residence for the year 1999 was announced in Beirut by the US Consular Section. Applicants are to call the US Consulate at Ras Beirut every Wednesday.
- The two bickering factions of Lebanon's General Labor Confederation (GLC) affirmed in two separate statements their opposition to the government's proposal of raising $1bn for social spending and increasing taxes on a number of commodities. In the same context, the Chairman of GLC's Executive Board Ghanim Zoghbi announced that the Confederation will stage an open strike in case the government approved a tax increases on petrol and other vital commodities. The GLC Executive Board authorized Zoghbi to fix a date for the strike.
- The international tennis tournament for male and female beginners organized by the AUB Alumni Club under the supervision of the international union continued on, with Lebanese players gradually decreasing.
- Lebanon Football Federation's high committee welcomed a one-day visit to Lebanon by FIFA chairman on September 12, heading an official delegation.
- Lebanon swimming championship at its second day of the second phase marked 22 races and 30 new records.
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