Parliamentary consultations between President Emil Lahhoud and Lebanese deputies started this morning and will continue over a period of two days. The meetings would enable the president to designate the next Prime Minister. The outcome of these consultations will be known tomorrow.
The president is to meet the different parliamentary blocs headed by House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, the Armenian bloc, the Syrian Social National Party's bloc, several MPs, and the blocs of outgoing ministers Michel Al-Murr, Elie Hobeika and Walid Jumblatt. It is believed that most of the parliamentary blocs would vote for Hariri.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nabih Berri yesterday reportedly expected the next government would be made up of 16 ministers. The current cabinet consists of 30. The speaker had asserted Tuesday that, as the head of the Amal Movement, he would accept not being represented in a reduced cabinet if this would also apply to all other parties in the country.
At Baabda Palace, President Emil Lahhoud today received the head of the United Nations Monitoring Truce Committee in Lebanon. The UN official, along with an accompanying delegation, later headed to the Army Command in Yarzeh where they met Deputy Army Commander, Samir Al-Qadi.
President Lahhoud also received today a letter from Lebanese detainee Samir Al-Qentar congratulating Lahhoud on his presidency on behalf of all Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. In his letter, the detainee said he and his inmates took pride in listening to Lahhoud's speech from prison.
Al-Qentar finally hoped the president would give their case enough attention.
Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz today received a letter from his British counterpart, Robin Cook. The message is related to the Wye Plantation Agreement and London's support for the signed accord. The letter also highlights bilateral efforts between the British government and the European Union that are aimed at kick-starting peace negotiations on the Syrian-Lebanon tracks.
The British Ambassador to Lebanon, David Ross MacLenin handed Boueiz the letter at noon today during a meeting at Boustros Palace. The British ambassador later told reporters the message also discusses the general situation in the region especially the Middle East peace process. In his letter the British Foreign Minister described the Wye River Accord as a positive step towards achieving peace in the region.
An Israeli military spokesman today admitted two Israeli soldiers were killed, including an officer, in a roadside bomb explosion planted by the Lebanese resistance late last night near the village of Markaba on the border.
The Hizbullah Resistance Movement earlier announced the operation killed and wounded a large number of Israeli soldiers. A resistance statement added the roadside bomb targeted an Israeli patrol, which was on its way to an Israeli outpost in Qebbaye near the international border.
The Israeli Radio today reported the Israeli force was on its way to carry out military activities inside the occupied zone when a roadside bomb exploded near Markaba killing the head of the unit and another soldier. The radio also said Israeli army officers immediately started their investigations into the attack. The officers justified the success of the operation by saying resistance men were aided by heavy fog which enabled them to come to a close distance from the border.
Escalating resistance roadside bomb attacks appears to be posing a serious threat to Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon. Almost two-thirds of Israel's fatalities this year in the south were caused by roadside bomb explosions. This created a controversy inside the Jewish State.
Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres today said a decision should be taken regarding the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 and the eventual pullout of Israeli forces to the international border. Peres added the mechanism of implementing such a decision does not require a prior agreement with Lebanon.
For his part, Israeli Minister Isaac Levy said recent developments in South Lebanon would be discussed during an Israeli cabinet meeting next Sunday. Meanwhile, the head of the Labor Party Bloc in the Knesset said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resume peace negotiations with Syria from where they left off. He added the only solution lies in Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon.
However, some Israeli government officials had opposite views in this regard. The head of the security and foreign affairs committee in the Knesset called on carrying out military operations against Lebanon. For his part, the coordinator of Israeli activities in the occupied zone, Uri Lubrani said a unilateral withdrawal is similar to an escape from reality adding this will lead to a comprehensive war. Lubrani stressed the problem cannot be solved without a political settlement.
Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi today said a project to upgrade public transport in Tripoli is currently being implemented. He added this needs time. Miskawi had earlier signed a contract to buy some 12 busses to be employed in Tripoli and the North.
The Transportation Minister also signed another accord whereby a rehabilitation project of the infrastructure of Al-Bahsas station would be funded.
A delegation representing the water sector in Britain is expected to arrive in Beirut next Monday. Their five-day visit aims at inspecting work opportunities in Lebanon.
The delegation will be headed by the British Minister of Environment and Transportation. It will also include representatives of British companies specialized in water industry and sewage water systems.
The British experts will also evaluate water resources in the country and try to assess the problem of environmental pollution.
US Minister of Health and Humanitarian Affairs, Donna Shalala, who is of Lebanese descent, will visit Lebanon at the beginning of next month as the personal delegate of US President Bill Clinton. A statement issued by the White House today said Shalala will be the first US Administration envoy to visit the country during the term of President Emil Lahhoud.
The White House statement added Shlala's visit stresses the importance of the Lebanese-US partnership. During her visit, the US Minister is scheduled to meet President Lahhoud. She will also tour a number of health care institutions in the country and give a lecture at the American University in Beirut.
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