The Southern occupied village of Taibeh today witnessed a partial lifting of the Israeli siege. Only those residents above 40 were allowed to leave the village. Some villagers said Israeli forces yesterday detained two residents of Taibeh, Mohammed Hussein Kazan and Samira Sharafeddine, and led them to the Khiam detention center. Israeli intelligence forces also broke into the village of the Khiam searching the house of the civilian Ali Hussein Saad for guns but found nothing.
In another development today, Israel hit the outskirts of Sojod, Rayhan and Mazraat Okmata in Iqlim Al-Touffah. Israeli warplanes also carried out mock air-raids over Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Touffah.
Meanwhile, the resistance in the South attacked Israeli outposts in Sojod and Bir Kallab. The resistance issued a statement saying scored direct and certain hits in both attacks.
House Speaker Nabih Berri was today quoted by his visitors as saying the main disagreement today is not on the subject of optional civil marriage but on other issues. Visiting deputies also quoted him as stressing the necessity of the formation of the national committee for abolishing political sectarianism which, he reportedly said, does not have the right or the duty to abolish sectarianism adding it only presents views and suggestions which can help in diminishing the sectarian atmosphere in the country in a bid to abolish it completely. Berri reportedly said he agreed with Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir that the issue should be abolished from the spirit of the Lebanese first.
At the government palace, the National Bloc Party today announced after meeting Prime Minister Rafik Al- Hariri that the party supported his objection on the timing of the civil marriage proposal reiterating his call for directing more attention to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425. The party's secretary general Ibrahim Istfan said discussions also centered on the war-displaced file quoting the prime minister as stressing municipal and mayoral elections will be held on time.
The premier later held talks with Labor Minister Assaad Hardan who said after the meeting both the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister are held responsible for the country's institutions and they are the best informed about the subject of civil marriage. The minister discussed with the premier a number of social issues such as the formation of the board of directors for social security and stressed that the public sector pay scales project will be discussed in cabinet within the scheduled time frame before sending it to parliament.
The secretary general of the foreign ministry ambassador Zafer Al-Hassan today visited prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri and updated him on the nature of bilateral ties between Lebanon and the European Union. Hariri also met the ambassador of Yemen Mohammed Ahmad Al-Motawakel who handed him an official invitation from his Yemeni counterpart to visit his country.
Hariri accepted the invitation adding the date of a possible visit to Yemen will be scheduled later. Hariri also discussed bilateral ties between Lebanon and Algeria with the Algerian ambassador to Lebanon who visited him at the government palace. He also met a German economic delegation. Discussions centered on the economic situation in Lebanon and the possibilities of the participation of German businessmen in the country's reconstruction drive.
A delegation from the General Labor Confederation this morning held talks with Prime Minister Rafik AL-Hariri at the government palace. GLC leader Ghaniem Al-Zoghbi later described the meeting with the prime minister as very positive adding discussions centered on the social security file.
Al-Zoghbi said an agreement was also reached on the necessity of the formation of the Socio-economic council. He told reporters the prime minister promised the project will be ratified soon. Concerning the public sector pay scales draft law, Zoghbi said the prime minister promised to send the project to parliament on April 15 for ratification.
After meeting Education Minister John Obeid this morning, the head of the Teachers' Syndicate George Saadeh considered the decisions issued yesterday by the parliamentary education committee as positive. A meeting for the executive council of the syndicate of private school teachers will be held this evening in light of these. Saadeh today thanked Minister Obeid and the Head of the Education Committee deputy Bahiyyah Al-Hariri for their positive stance conveyed during their meeting yesterday in parliament.
Saadeh added this will allow the syndicate's executive council to adjust its previous decision which called for a strike to be held on the 31st of this month. Saadeh expected the dominant trend will be towards suspending the strike adding private school teachers were given their demands yesterday and they should suspend their strike.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri is expected to arrive in Vienna at 8:30 this evening (Beirut Time). During his two-official visit, the premier will be accompanied by Industry Minister Nadim Salem, Acting Finance Minister Fouad Sanyoura and a number of advisors. Vienna is expected to be appointed president of the European Union on July 1st. This gives the premier's visit a political dimension in addition to the general economic aspect of his visit. During his talks with Austrian officials, Hariri will stress Lebanon's stance which insists on the necessity of achieving a comprehensive and just peace in the region, a stance which also rejects recent Israeli suggestions concerning resolution 425 and a conditional withdrawal from South Lebanon in return for security guarantees. Hariri will meet also top businessmen in Vienna and Sanyoura is expected to hold talks with his Austrian counterpart. Official sources at Vienna recently revealed the Austrian Ambassador to Lebanon intends to take up residence in the country as of the beginning of next year. This will reiterate the will to boost ties and promote cooperation between the two countries. Bilateral ties between Lebanon and Austria are those of friendship which date back to the 19th century.
At the presidential palace in Baabda, President Elias Al-Hrawi today met Senegal's chancellor in Lebanon Antoine Akiki. Akiki later said he told the Lebanese president that Senegal's first lady who is of a Lebanese origin will visit Lebanon next June. She is expected in the country between the 11th and 14th of that month. In another development, President Hrawi also met the former head of the Bankers Association in Lebanon, Francois Bassil.
Discussions centered on a number of current economic issues prevalent in the country.
Officials at the French national carrier Air France yesterday announced the company will increase its flight to and from Lebanon. This was announced yesterday during a press conference held by Air France's Lebanon director, Jacques Coquet. Thus travelers from Beirut will soon be able to reach 69 destinations in the world and the company is expected to open a special lounge at Beirut International Airport's new terminal. Coquet also told the conference Air France was making good profits in Lebanon with 80% of flights fully booked.
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