In the wake of the explosion that left 8 people dead and over 100 wounded at the center of Jerusalem today, Lebanon's media wondered this evening about what situation in the Middle East would receive the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright next week. The bombing today was said to have been carried by three suicide bombers, marking for the first time a triplet operation in comparison with the duet bombing that shook Jerusalem recently. The question now is what will be the stand of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamine Netanyahu, and whether he would be prepared to discuss matters beyond the impending security file. Israel reinstated the siege of the West Bank and Gaza strip days after it was eased down. The Palestinian group Hamas in a phone call to a foreign news agency claimed responsibility for the explosions and said it will continue its strikes until Israel responds to its demands, including the release of all Palestinian detainees from Israeli jails. Israel's Security Minister and the White House this evening said Albright would not cancel her visit to the region.
President Elias Hrawi yesterday ended his visit to Brasilia after addressing a joint meeting of Brazil's Senate and Parliament. The Lebanese community in Sao Paolo also held a dinner party in honor of the Lebanese President. During the ceremony, Hrawi said, "Lebanon and Brazil are both deep rooted in history. Brazil's heritage has always attracted the World, and now the country has become a great economic power. Similarly, Lebanon is having on its shoulders 6,000 years of civilization and heritage, and remains today a Middle Eastern need and a World necessity". Hrawi said the downfall of the fair, just and comprehensive peace is a fall for the principles of right and international legitimacy.
A joint communique issued after the talks said President Hrawi and his Brazilian counterpart have expressed satisfaction over the accelerated momentum in bilateral relations. Brazil expressed its support for Lebanon's efforts to arrive at an unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from South Lebanon and Western Biqaa in the context of U.N. resolution 425. The communique also called for enhancing diplomatic efforts to achieve a durable and just peace in the Middle East, based on U.N. resolutions 242, 338 and 425.
On another note, the communique said Brazil offered to provide technical and consultative assistance for Lebanon's reconstruction projects. In this regard, speedy arrangements are envisaged to begin regular flights and encourage tourism between the two countries. Added to that, the two sides agreed to conclude 3 judicial agreements, including one on the extradition of criminals. Finally, the communique said the Brazilian President has accepted an invitation to visit Lebanon sometime in 1998.
Lebanon's cabinet in an ordinary session today decided to increase the prices of foreign imported cigarettes by 10 per cent, and modify the custom duties it levied on imported cars during its session of June 10, 1997.
Headed by Prime Minister Hariri, the session was attended by 19 ministers. Absent were ministers Walid Jumblat, Akram Shohayeb, Hagop Demerjian, Elias Hanna, Shawki Fakhouri, Talal Irslan, Jean Obeid, Fares Boueiz, Bahij Tabbara and Mohsen Dalloul.
After the session, Information Minister Bassem Sabaa announced the following:
1. The Cabinet began its session by discussing a number of unlisted items, and approved buying quantities of the Jezzine area apple produce for the use of the Lebanese army. It also approved appointing Mr. Munir Tarabey as Board Chairman of the Tannourine Public Hospital.
2. The Cabinet also discussed the status of unlicensed buildings in the Baalbeck-Hermel and similar regions, and reiterated the previous decisions it took in this regard, along with the two-month period granted by the Ministry of Interior to settle the violations.
3. The Cabinet then commenced discussing the items listed on its agenda, and decided to postpone taking a decision with regard to the draft degree aiming at approving the zoning and city planning ordinance for the Tripoli and the Mina zone real estate zones. On the other hand, the Cabinet approved the draft law aiming at approving the zoning and city-planning ordinance for the industrial zone in the Babiliya real estate area.
4. The Cabinet also discussed the subject of the war-displaced citizens. In this regard, Prime Minister Hariri said it was necessary to ask the National Fund for Displaced citizens to prepare an itemized table showing how the funds were distributed according to sectarian affiliations. Regretting this had to be done, Hariri said the matter was necessitated by the accusations made with regard to sectarian-based distributions. Relating tables presented by the Fund showed that up to September 2, 1997, Christians received half of the total funds distributed for renovations and evictions. The figures said LP 410 billion was paid for evictions, LP 279 billion for renovations, and LP 65 billion for infrastructure works, bringing the total to LP 754 billion (about US$ 490 million).
5. Following that, the Cabinet approved modifying the custom duties it recently levied on imported cars. The modified percentages are as follows: 20 percent on cars costing up to LP 20 million; 50 percent on cars costing between LP 20 million and LP 60 million; and 100 percent on cars costing over LP 60 million. Earlier, the percentages approved by the government were as follows: 20 percent on cars worth LP 15 million, 50 percent on cars worth between LP 15 million and LP 50 million; 100 percent on cars worth between LP 50 million and LP 100 million; and 200 percent on cars worth over LP 100 million.
6. The Cabinet also took note of a decision by the Finance Ministry to increase the prices of foreign tobacco by 10 percent.
After the session, Interior Minister Michel Murr told reporters that he has already prepared seven files pertaining to new taxes. These taxes, Murr explained, will not create any financial burdens for ordinary people. The proposals made by Murr include settling the seaside land-violations fines and selling car plates comprising 3 or 4 digits.
In the same context, State Minister for Financial Affairs Fouad Seniora said some taxes could be harmful, including those levied on imported cigarettes. He said even if the tax on cigarettes is raised to 100 per cent, it would not bring revenues because most of the imported cigarettes are re-exported. Seniora also said that levying additional taxes on alcohols would harm tourism, and concluded that the envisaged increase of gasoline prices is inevitable.
Former Prime Minister Selim Hoss said the law on naturalizing immigrants is still valid, and that there is no need for a new law. Hoss said article 2 of the January 31, 1946 law establishes that Lebanese expatriates can obtain Lebanese citizenship if they establish a permanent residence in Lebanon. A decree to that effect could be issued by the council of ministers giving them that right. He however said that "if the aim of the new law is to annul the condition of residence in Lebanon, it will be a wrong move". He further said that granting the Lebanese identity to all Lebanese expatriates should not be simply approached, because the number involved is threefold the number of those residing in Lebanon.
-The Council of the Maronite Bishops under Patriarch Sfeir yesterday said that Lebanon is the only country whose people are being killed in south Lebanon, especially in Jezzine, and that it is the only state that lacks sovereignty, independence and free resolve.
-The National Gathering after a meeting under Dori Chamoun called the US secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place Lebanon as a major station during her visit to the Middle East. The Gathering said the US should contribute to achieving Lebanon's invariable principles, including independence and the implementation of UN resolutions 425 and 520 which lead to the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese troops and forces.
-Batroun Deputy Butros Harb criticized the exclusion of Lebanon from Albright forthcoming visit to the region, and said he "does not think the tour will be successful and fruitful if it does not include Lebanon, the arena of battle and confrontation with Israel".
-Bekaa Deputy Assem Qansu, a pan Arab Socialist Baath Party figure, said in a press interview that there currently is no dialogue between Syria and the Christians.
-The Jezzine Gathering reiterated yesterday its appeal to the government to work rapidly on reopening the Kfarfalous crossing, and called all those who have lately evacuated the area to come back soon.
-The Constitutional Council postponed until Monday a final ruling on an appeal lodged by 14 deputies against extending the term of municipalities until 1999.
- Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continued for the third consecutive day their hunger strike off the UNRWA Headquarters at Bir Hassan in protest against the agency's reduced services. Other Palestinians staged sit-ins in all the Palestinian camps, and sent cables to UN officials.
-The Lebanese football team Al Ansar won today its match with the Arabi Kuwaiti at Bourj Hammoud's stadium. Ansar is qualified now to move to second round.
-Three Egyptian tennis players were qualified to play for the finals in the international beginner's tournament held at AUB Alumni Club.
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