Parliament continued today its discussions on the draft 1998 state budget during a session headed by House Speaker Nabih Berri and attended by Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and a number of ministers and deputies. The session was held amidst demonstrations outside parliament held by the General Labor Confederation and a number of Lebanese university teachers and students. On the side-lines of today's session, House Speaker Nabih Berri held talks with a GLC delegation headed by Ghaniem al-Zhoghbi. The delegation handed Berri a memo of their demands listing as basic the ratification of the pay scales draft law. Among the demonstrators were also a big number of Lebanese University teachers and students who were protesting the reduction of the budget allocated to their university.
Today's parliamentary session was opened by deputy Wadih Akel who spoke on behalf of the National Struggle Front. Akel stressed the importance of administrative reform and the necessity of separating administration from politics and activating the role of government control agencies. Akel also announced the front will not vote for the budget project. Deputy Marwan Faris said budget discussions must also tackle the policy of loans in particular. For his part, MP Hassan Alawiyeh stressed balanced development should prevail in the different areas of the country. Deputy Michel Faroun praised the efforts paid by the government and the parliamentary budget and finance committee to reduce the budget deficit. These debates were followed by those presented by deputies Faysal Dawood, Pierre Daccache, Fayez Ghosson, Nohad Saayd and many others. Sources close to parliament expected the discussions to continue until Saturday.
During an Iftar he held at his palace in Kraytem last night, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri stressed the 1998 state budget project is the result of extensive and long-term discussions held by cabinet and parliamentary committees, mainly the budget and finance committee headed by deputy Khalil Al-Hrawi. He told a gathering of North officials and deputies, one should never ignore the state of the Lebanese economy before the current government took office. The premier also stressed discussion as the best way to reach appropriate solutions to the different economic problems faced by the country.
On the side-lines of today's parliamentary session, prime minister Hariri received a delegation from parliament's North bloc for development and change. After the talks, the delegation said Hariri promised to specify the North area with more development projects during this year.
Israeli fighter planes rocketed today suspected Hizbullah targets in South Lebanon. Sources said two Israeli planes fired a total of two rockets into Nabea Attaseh in the hills of Iqlim Al-Touffah, north of the zone Israel occupies in the South. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the air raid, the third into Lebanon since the beginning of the year. Israeli shells fell today on the outskirts of Sojod and Rihan launched from outposts in Zaffateh. Mock Israeli air raids were also carried out on the village of Nabatieh and the Iqlim Al-Touffah area. Earlier today, Hizbullah guerrillas clashed with Israeli troops in the Sojod area inside the occupied zone. A statement by Hizbullah said the group scored direct hits in the attack. An Israeli allied militia source in the South said one Israeli soldier was wounded in the attack. This brought to 10 the number of Israeli soldiers wounded in the South since the beginning of the year.
The recently freed detainee Abdel Karim Al-Ali today joined mothers and families of Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails in their weekly sit in front of the International Red Cross Headquarters in Beirut. Al-Ali was freed three days ago after 11 years of detention. He spoke of his hardships and suffering during his 11 years in Israeli prisons. Al-Ali also called on the Lebanese government and parliament to pay more attention to their cause and to consider him and his detained brothers as real soldiers in this country and as part of the Lebanese army. The head of the follow-up committee for Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails called on all the mothers of prisoners to gather on the first Thursday of February in front of the Lebanese parliament and hold their sit in there. Safa also said another sit-in is expected to be held either in Beirut's International Airport or at the Lebanese foreign ministry on the scheduled day of the arrival of the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to Beirut. The follow-up committee is expected to hand Annan a memo explaining the suffering of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli detention centers where torture is systematic and health conditions are very bad.
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