News from Beirut December 29  1998 ...Search

Lebanon files a complaint to the monitoring group over demolitions in Arnoun

In his capacity as Foreign Minister, Lebanon's Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss has filed a complaint to April Understanding Monitoring Group over Israel's demolition of six homes and olive fields in the village of Arnoun.

Israeli occupying troops accompanied by allied militiamen entered the village late Sunday and bulldozed six houses without warning. Nearby olive fields were also destroyed in the operation.

Hoss added the situation in South Lebanon would top the agenda of talks during cabinet's next session, which is scheduled to be held Wednesday at the Baabda Palace headed by President Emil Lahhoud.

Israeli allied militia withdraws from positions near Jezzine

Reports from South Lebanon said the Israeli Allied Militia has suddenly withdrawn its forces from a number of outposts near Jezzine. The reports added militiamen withdrew from a position in Annan to another in Roum. Israel also reported the withdrawal from two outposts in the area of Jezzine stressing the step had only tactical purposes.

Meanwhile, Israeli attacks continued today on southern villages intensifying on the areas of Baraasheet, Ayta Al-Jabal, Mazraat Al-Hamra, Yohmor-Shkeef, and the outskirts of Sojod and Jabal Al-Zaatar. Israeli bombardment also targeted the hills of Abu-Rashed, Berkat Jabbour, and Toumat Niha in the Western Bekaa. The shelling inflicted material loss in civilian properties.

For its part, the Lebanese Resistance retaliated by attacking Israeli allied militia positions in Dabshe, Bir Kallab and Baraasheet scoring direct hits in the operations.

A second meeting of the Israeli inner security cabinet again failed yesterday to take any decision on the fate of Israeli troops in South Lebanon.

Lahhoud stresses he will not sue any journalist during his term

President Emil Lahhoud today pledged he would not sue any journalist during his term in office stressing the will to preserve public liberties especially the freedom of the press. Lahhoud was speaking to a visiting delegation from the Press Syndicate headed by Mohammed Al-Baalbacki. For his part, Baalbacki expected the public opinion in Lebanon to give the new authority enough chance to fulfill its promises.

Baalbacki added the Lebanese media has the right to monitor how the Lebanese government would go about liberating the South and the Western Bekaa from Israeli occupation. He added the media will also keep a close eye on the government's efforts to deal with the budget deficit and administrative reform in addition to all the files mentioned in the president's inaugural address.

Lahhoud promises to overcome economic difficulties

"To remedy the economic situation, the government will not impose taxes that may affect lower-income groups", President Emil Lahhoud told a visiting delegation of Arab journalists. Instead, Lahhoud added, Lebanon will try to follow the lead of other countries in an attempt to reach a 70:30 ratio between direct and indirect taxes.

The president also vowed that the government would prosecute officials found guilty of embezzling state funds. "If there are state funds that have been embezzled, the government will not remain silent and will work to retrieve them," he pledged.

Lahhoud also made similar financial promises to a visiting delegation from the Lebanese Industrialists' Association. The president was determined to revive the country's industrial sector and remove all obstacles blocking this revival.

Berri continues official talks in Cuba

House Speaker Nabih Berri, who is currently on an official visit to Cuba, today held talks with the head of the International Relations Committee at the Cuban National Assembly. Discussions centered on the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa, in addition to the US embargo on Cuba.

During his visit, Berri also held talks with a number of Cuban officials on the possibility of increasing bilateral trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. Berri demanded that Lebanese and Arab investment in Cuba should be allowed unfettered access to the Communist island state.

Responding to a question on the possible implications of the Israeli allied militia withdrawal from positions near Jezzine yesterday, Berri said the move does not mean anything at all. He added what is required is an unconditional Israeli pullout from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa.

The speaker is expected to meet Cuban President Fidel Castro later this week. But no date has been set yet for the meeting as the Communist leader keeps his appointments secret until the last minute for security reasons.

Lebanon and Syria to abolish customs duties over four years

During the meeting of the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Committee yesterday in Beirut, the two countries signed an agreement to gradually abolish customs duties on locally made goods over four years. A 25% reduction of duties on industrial products would be in effect starting January 1, 1999.

But the two sides have yet to agree on the exchange of some products such as ceramic, alcoholic drinks, beverages and juices. Another sticking point is the issue of agriculture. The Lebanese side had objected to including the exchange of agricultural products in the economic agreement, because local farmers cannot face competition from low-cost Syrian produce.

Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss and his Syrian counterpart Mahmud Al-Zohbi agreed that final discussions on the outstanding issues will take place at a later date. Before leaving Beirut, Zohbi briefed President Emil Lahhoud on the terms of the agreement.

Saiidi praises Lebanese-Syrian economic agreement

Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry Nasser Al-Saiidi today described the Lebanese-Syrian economic talks held yesterday during the joint Higher Committee meeting as the beginning of a strategic economic relationship between the two countries.

Saiidi also stressed customs duties on the exchange of locally produced goods between Lebanon and Syria will be reduced by 25% starting January 1, 1999. Saiidi added this was a very positive step, which will be developed in the near future. The Lebanese minister also said joint economic committees between the two countries would follow up what was agreed upon.

Information Minister warns unlicensed media to cease transmission

Following the government's decision to reconsider the audiovisual media law and revoke a previous distribution of radio frequencies and television channels which prompted a return to a number of airwaves, Information Minister Anwar Al-Khalil warned unlicensed media to immediately and voluntarily cease transmission.

Al-Khalil added despite the cabinet decision, the regulations in force still governed the sector stressing that officials "were committed to implementing laws whether or not they are amended, abolished or improved."

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