Monday's withdrawal of the Israeli allied militia from two outposts near the Jezzine enclave prompted numerous reactions among Lebanese officials. The militia had dismantled frontline positions in the enclave, evacuating the Dahr al-Mashnaqa and Anan positions, and re-deployed the militiamen in the village of Roum. The military movements came after 30 militiamen refused to stay in the two positions for they lacked reinforcements.
The withdrawals today topped talks during the Lebanese cabinet's last session this year. President Emil Lahhoud had stated the new deployments "will only make us more attached to UN resolutions, the unity of the Lebanese-Syrian peace tracks, and the country's right to resist Israeli occupation."
For his part, House Speaker Nabih Berri told reporters during an official visit to Cuba the withdrawals mean nothing at all adding what is required is a complete and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa. Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss also renewed calls for a full implementation of UN Resolution 425.
Meanwhile, the Hizbullah Resistance Movement stressed it would not move into the vacated areas. A Hizbullah official said the Lebanese Army is solely responsible for filling the vacuum created by any withdrawal of Israeli troops or their allied militia. But the official described the move as a mere redeployment. He added the resistance will continue its operations against the enemy from occupied territories. Lebanese military sources said the Lebanese Army took precautions to face the new developments in Jezzine.
The Israeli Allied Militia had downplayed the importance of its withdrawal from the two positions saying the move had only tactical purposes. A militia spokesman said their forces were carrying out redeployment in the area of Kfar Falous as part of a military plan that could be implemented at any time. Last September, the militia had evacuated the Toumat Niha outpost south of Jezzine.
Two days before the end of the year, cabinet this morning held its last session during the year 1998 at the Baabda presidential palace. Headed by President Emil Lahhoud, the meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss and the ministers. 11 articles were on the agenda of discussions.
President Emil Lahhoud opened the meeting by condemning the latest Israeli attack on the village of Junta in the Eastern Bekaa killing a mother and her six children from the Othman family. Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss also denounced the aggression and further condemned the razing of six homes in the village of Arnoun.
During the meeting, Minister of State for Administrative Reform Hassan Shalaq presented to ministers a report he prepared on how to achieve administrative reform more effectively. The minister's report included ways to halt the squandering of public funds, re-energize the bureaucracy, reactivate complaints offices in public departments, and boost the control of supervisory bodies over public administrations.
Cabinet later charged Minister Shalaq of preparing another report within a period of five days on the opinion of concerned administrative councils regarding the conditions of public administrations.
Cabinet also charged Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr with forming a ministerial committee to study the situation of public institutions, committees and councils. Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss will also form another committee to study a draft law to regulate the privatization process. Another ministerial committee was charged with studying the electoral law.
At the presidential palace in Baabda, President Emil Lahhoud received representatives of Lebanese media in the palace on the occasion of New Year. Lahhoud reiterated his defense of public liberties and especially the freedom of expression. He also vowed never to sue any journalist who might attack him during his term in office.
Also among the well-wishers who visited the president today was Army Commander General Michel Suleiman, in addition to a number of army officers and high-ranking officials at the presidential palace.
House Speaker Nabih Berri today continued his official talks in Havana. Speaking to reporters there, Berri compared the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon to the US embargo on Cuba. The speaker likened Cuba's economic constraints under US sanctions to those Lebanon and the Arab countries were subjected to because of pressure from Israeli occupation.
Berri also briefed Cuban officials on the ongoing suffering of the residents of South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa as a result of the Israeli occupation. The Lebanese House Speaker will meet Cuban President Fidel Castro during the first days of the coming year.
Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss today received the Assistant Secretary General of the International Labor Organization's Department for Arab Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Souss.
The ILO official extended the best regards of the ILO Secretary General and reported the organization's readiness to cooperate with Lebanon and its government. He added the international organization aims at participating in developmental projects in the country.
Al-Souss also revealed the ILO will organize in Beirut a regional conference on child labor next April and another symposium on hiring employees in September. Preparatory meetings for these events will be held in the Lebanese capital next month.
Former Minister of the War Displaced, Druze MP Walid Jumblatt held a long day of talks yesterday in the Syrian capital. During a four-hour meeting with Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, Jumblatt discussed recent regional and bilateral issues. He also met Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam. Details of his talks in Damascus were not disclosed to the press.
Jumblatt's visit to Damascus followed comments he made during a TV interview Monday during which he accused President Emil Lahhoud of seeking to "monopolize" ties with Syria. "The president will have to excuse me, but relations with Syria are not a monopoly on his part," he said during the interview. Jumblatt was referring to a remark made by the president in his inaugural address when he said that relations with Syria should not be through individual politicians serving their own interests.
In the live TV interview, Jumblatt also criticized what he described as signs of the "militarization" of the political system following General Lahhoud's accession to the presidency of the republic. The Druze leader also renewed his opposition to the government of Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss describing the new cabinet as "colorless and tasteless".
The Israeli Radio this morning quoted Israeli sources in Marjayoon as saying one Israeli soldier was killed and two others injured "by mistake" during fighting between members of the same Israeli Golani unit near the village of Taibeh. But the Lebanese Resistance issued a statement saying Israeli casualties fell in an attack against Israeli soldiers in Taibeh last night.
The Lebanese resistance this morning attacked Israeli outposts in Bir Kallab, Kassarat Al-Aroush, Rshaf, Sojod, and Jabal Hmayyed. Resistance statements said direct hits among Israeli soldiers and their allied militiamen were scored in these operations. Another statement reported that a resistance group detonated two roadside bombs on the road leading to Arnoun, scoring casualties among soldiers of an Israeli patrol that was passing on the road.
For its part the Amal Resistance Movement announced one of its groups attacked an Israeli patrol injuring three of its soldiers in a road-side bomb explosion on the road linking Qalaat Shkeef and Arnoun.
Tension still prevails along the southern border due to the continuing Israeli aggressions. Israeli shells today fell on the outskirts of Yater, Zibkeen, Majdel Zoun, Majdel Selem, Qabreekha, Wadi Al-Hujeir and Harees.
Mazraat Al-Hamra and Hima Arnoun in the district of Nabatieh were also subject to Israeli bombardment originating from the position in Zaffateh.
In another development, the Israeli allied militia late yesterday prevented the convoy of the Indian ambassador to Lebanon from entering the occupied village of Hasbayya. The convoy was stopped for one and a half hours for "security reasons" before it was allowed to return to the village of Arqoub, where the ambassador inspected the work of the Indian battalion working under the UN Interim Force in the South.
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