UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today arrived in Beirut coming from Cairo. Annan, who arrived at Beirut International Airport at 11:30 this morning, told reporters he will discuss with Lebanese officials Security Council Resolution 425 and the possible ways of its implantation. Annan expressed concern for the implementation of all international resolutions issued by the UN. Annan also expressed happiness at being in Lebanon praising the strong will of the Lebanese to build their country. The UN chief who was received at the airport by foreign minister Faris Boueiz, then moved to the backyard of the central reception lounge where he met a gathering of families of Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails. The families carried banners calling for the implementation of international resolutions and the preservation of human rights. Annan promised the families he will do his best to ensure the entrance of International Red Cross Committees and Representatives to the Israeli detention camp in Khiam.
The UN chief and his accompanying delegation immediately headed to Boustrous Palace where he held talks with Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz in the presence of some officials at the ministry. Annan later told reporters his visit to Lebanon and the region aims at encouraging efforts to push forward the peace process. He said he reviewed with Boueiz the future of the Mideast peace process adding discussions also centered on UN Resolution 425 and the possibilities of implementing it. The UN chief also said he will visit Israel to discuss in details their views in this regard.
Responding to a question as to the possibility of him playing the role of the mediator in Mideast peace talks in a way similar to his recent mission in Iraq, Annan said the United States is the peace mediator in the Middle East. He also stressed the necessity of implementing UN resolution 425 adding the UN Interim Forces In Lebanon will have to play an important role in South Lebanon if the resolution is implemented and so will Israel and Lebanon. For his part, the Lebanese foreign minister described Annan's visit as historic and explained to reporters the subject of his discussions with the UN chief. Boueiz also highlighted the important role of diplomacy in solving world problems.
Following his talks at Boustrous Palace, Annan headed to the UN headquarters in Lebanon where he met heads of UN agencies operating in the country. Later today, he is due to inaugurate the ESCWA headquarters in downtown Beirut. This evening, Annan held talks with House Speaker Nabih Berri at his residence in Ain Al-Teeneh and later visited Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri also at his residence in Kraytem whereby a dinner will be held to honor the UN Chief. Tomorrow morning, Annan will visit the United Nations Interim Forces headquarters in Naqoura in South Lebanon. He earlier said he will discuss with UNIFIL officials their future missions in the South. Annan's is expected to leave the country tomorrow night.
During a miniature Israeli cabinet meeting today, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon presented their views on an Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. Mordechai said his plan dictates the withdrawal of his forces from Lebanon after reaching a certain agreement with Lebanon whereby Lebanon bears full responsibility for the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area. Mordechai also stressed the important role France can play in the process of reaching an agreement with Lebanon adding International Forces need not interfere in the South. For his part, Sharon proposed a plan for a gradual and unilateral withdrawal adding Israel will consider the Lebanese government responsible for the areas which will be part of the withdrawal plan. Sharon warned Israel will then retaliate violently to any attack aimed at its forces by striking Lebanon's infrastructure. Sharon also viewed the 1996 April Truce Accord as imposing restraints on the Israeli Army. The miniature Israeli cabinet will continue its discussions in this regard after a period of two weeks.
A number of ministers today issued statements regarding the recent cabinet vote on ratifying a bill on optional civil marriage. After meeting President Elias Al-Hrawi at Baabda today, Agriculture Minister Shawki Fakhoury told reporters the ratification of the bill was not an act of infiltration as Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa earlier described it.
Fakhoury said President Hrawi used his constitutional right in suggesting any topic for discussion which might not be listed on cabinet's agenda of talks. The Agriculture Minister added the issue was subject to discussions in cabinet. For his part, Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa reacted to Fakhoury's Baabda statements saying no one was arguing about the president's conditional rights but he added the right of the prime minister and the ministers to have some knowledge about the timing of the proposal should not be ignored too. Sabaa stressed the main disagreement lies in the timing and the way of presenting such a vital issue for discussion.
Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi today issued a statement saying political sectarianism should be first abolished from the minds and spirits of Lebanese officials adding the issue of civil marriage should be handled first through its political perspective. Minister of Administrative Reform Bshara Merhej the bill was only ratified in principle adding it was not discussed clause by clause as the law dictates. He further stressed the necessity of the formation of a national higher committee to discuss ways that can lead to abolishing political sectarianism in the country. Merhej stated more vital issues in the country should be discussed first.
Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani today held talks with the head of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Sahmseddine at Dar Al-Fatwa. Both clerics agreed to coordinate efforts with other religious communities in Lebanon to reiterate their disagreement on the subject of civil marriage. Kabbani and Shamseddine issued a joint statement after the meeting stressing civil marriage contradicts with the nature of Islam and the instructions of Islamic Law or Shariaa. The statement refused claims that assert a law of optional marriage would help abolish sectarianism in the country, saying it can only induce a series of family, social and national problems threatening thus national reconciliation and the country's higher interests.
Visitors of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir at Bkirki today quoted him as voicing solidarity with any stance taken by Islamic leaders which is based on preserving national interest and coexistence.
Sfeir reportedly posed a question mark on the timing of the civil marriage proposal. He was also quoted as saying abolishing political sectarianism can be subject to many conditions such as the ratification of new election law, the full implementation of the Taef Accord, and the formation of a government based on national reconciliation.
The World Bank today offered Lebanese a loan of 63 million US dollars. The loan will be used to develop the educational system in the country. A statement was issued by the World Bank today saying the project is based on rehabilitating the networks of public schools in Lebanon. The loan agreement will also be used to develop and expand technical and vocational training in the country.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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