In Beirut, New Year's eve witnessed simultaneous parties to allow guests of different religious backgrounds to celebrate Ramadan, New Year's eve, or both together. The sea-side Summerland Hotel for example yesterday hosted a New Year's Eve celebration with an open bar and a belly-dancing show, and at the same time the traditional Ramadan tents where some Moslems usually go after breaking their fast at sunset. Many other hotels also provided simultaneous parties to accommodate what otherwise could have been a sticky choice for Beirutis. This year Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting, began just one day before New Year's Eve. Such a coincidence of dates occurs only once every few decades. Today, Beirut resounds with the noise of a city in the midst of a reconstruction boom and the prospect of holding two celebrations at once was a remarkable characteristic this year.
French Defense Minister Alain Richard arrived in Beirut this morning for a one-day official visit. At Beirut International Airport, the French minister told reporters he expected a stronger European role next year in the Mideast peace talks. He also expected his country to provide technical and financial assistance to the Lebanese army in the coming year. Richard also reiterated France's support to Lebanon and its sovereignty. Richard celebrated New Year's Eve with French peacekeepers during a brief visit to South Lebanon. Richard had lunch with the troops at the Naqoura headquarters of the United nations Interim Forces in Lebanon and paid tribute to the work of the peacekeepers. Richard earlier held talks with the peacekeepers commander, Fijian General Konorote. The 225-man French contingent guards the headquarters and provides logistic support for UNIFIL, which has been based in South Lebanon since 1978 following Israel's first invasion of the country. The minister later left by helicopter for Beirut where he was to meet Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul before returning to France alter today.
Discussion are expected to center on the situation in the South and recent development in the region and the Mideast peace process.
A Palestinian group opposed to the peace process with Israel said it killed and wounded Israeli troops today in the zone Israel occupies in the South.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said it carried out the attack in Wadi Al-Hujair in the central sector of the
occupied zone that killed and wounded members of an Israeli patrol. The group said its men returned safe to their bases. Once against the group led by Ahmed Jibril said it will neither hold a dialogue with nor recognize the Zionist enemy.
Fighting in 1997 on the last active Arab-Israeli front-line killed 179 people in South Lebanon including 39 Israeli soldiers, the heaviest Israeli death toll in Lebanon since the year 1985 when the Jewish state set up an occupied border zone in the area. In 1996, 255 people were killed in the South. the 1997 Lebanon deaths included 22 Israeli allied militiamen, 65 Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas, 47 civilians and six Lebanese army soldiers. Twelve Israeli soldiers died in the failed commando operation last September in Ansariyeh north of the zone Israel occupies in the South.
The 1997 Israeli death figure was its highest annual toll in Lebanon since 1985 when Israel pulled out the bulk of its 1982 invasion force and set up a border occupation zone. In 1996, 155 civilians were killed. The high 96 civilian toll was caused by a 17-day Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in April that killed about 200 people mostly civilians. In one attack, Israeli shelling killed about 100 civilians sheltering at a UN peacekeepers base in the Southern village of Qana. Despite the April understanding that ended the 1996 blitz and banned both Hizbullah and Israeli troops from targeting civilians, civilian deaths remained high in 1997.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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