Israel once again violated the 1996 April truce understanding. A Lebanese child, Atef Ahmad Al-Assad was injured in the village of Mashghara in the Western Bekaa. Israel early this morning shelled civilian areas at the village wounding the child a damaging a civilian car.
The area of Jezzine today witnessed severe clashes between the Lebanese Resistance and members of the Israeli army and their allied militia in South Lebanon. This was accompanied by Israeli shelling and extensive over-flights by Israeli warplanes on the area. Jezzine sources said the shelling targeted both Northern and Western outskirts of the area. The sources added a number of Israeli shells fell on the outskirts of the village of Sfaray, only a few meters away from the Kfar Falous border crossing inflicting tension on the border. For its part, the resistance carried out six operations targeting Israeli and Allied Israeli outposts in the Jezzine area. The following outposts were targeted: Ain Tgherra, Bater-Jezzine, Kroum Al-Arez, Thakanet Jezzine, Amaliyaat Jezzine and Toumat Niha.
The resistance released a statement claiming responsibility for all six operations adding it scored direct hits in the attacks. Meanwhile, Israel announced two Israeli militiamen were wounded during the clashes.
For the first time in Bkirki, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today held extensive and comprehensive talks with Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir and top religious leaders of the Maronite Christian sect in Lebanon. Today?s talks were marked as a very remarkable step in Hariri's consultation bid. The premier arrived at Bkirki at 9:00 a.m. in the morning along with two of advisors Nuhad Al-Mashnook and Dawood Al-Sayegh. Hariri first held a closed-door meeting with the Maronite Patriarch. This was followed by the premier's extensive talks with 12 Maronite Archbishops and five other officials.
Discussions centered at the following points read by archbishop Youssef Bshara at the beginning of the meeting: the implementation of the Taef Accord, the government's taxation policies, the economic situation in the country, the war displaced file, special bilateral relations with Syria. Bkirki sources described the talks as outstandingly frank. A second round of discussions which addressed a number of political issues was held after a short lunch break. In their message to the premier, Maronite officials also suggested a reduction in the number of unproductive ministries and government employees. They also stressed the necessity of activating government control agencies. For his part, prime minister Hariri addressed a number of economic issues stressing the importance of the recent economic agreement signed between Lebanon and Syria. He also tackled the different problems faced by the war displaced. Bkirki is expected to issue a statement regarding today's talks.
President Elias Al-Hrawi today resumed his meetings at the presidential palace in Baabda. He held talks this morning with former minister Fouad Boutrous on current issues in the country. He later received the head of the Industrialists Association Jacques Sarraf. Meanwhile, Baabda today issues a statement saying the president wishes to thank all those who hoped him quick recovery from a bout of illness that he overcame recently. Hrawi expressed his deep appreciation for their sincere wishes.
At the Syrian-Lebanese border, more Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons jailed since the war years today arrived at their mother country. Twenty one freed prisoners were handed over to Lebanon's military police at the Masnaa border. Syria yesterday transferred 131 prisoners to the Lebanese authorities. Judicial authorities are now trying to determine if any is wanted in connection with crimes in Lebanon before being freed. Prosecutor General Adnan Addoum yesterday said any prisoner who proves to be wanted by the judicial authorities will be treated according to Lebanese law. The release of the prisoners was ordered by Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad and in response to mediation by president Elias Al-Hrawi.
Recent opinion polls in Israel revealed an Israeli wish for a pullout of Israeli troops from South Lebanon. One poll released by the Israeli daily Yadioth Ahronoth also indicated that 63% of Israelis believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is doing nothing in the direction of a withdrawal. In anther poll published by Maariv, 73% object to a unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon and another 22% support an unconditional withdrawal from the South. Meanwhile, Netanyahu and top Israeli officials are still marketing their recent proposals concerning UN resolution 425. Netanyahu today held talks in Germany following similar meetings in Spain. Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai is in Paris where he held talks with his French counterpart Alain Richard. Mordechai said Israel will not pullout its troops from Lebanon unless security guarantees from the Lebanese government and the international community are ensured. The French side, however, insisted on a comprehensive peace agreement that includes both Syria and Lebanon. France also reiterated its readiness to participate in a peacekeeping mechanism in South Lebanon.
Deputy House Speaker Elie Al-Ferzli expected the Israeli maneuvers regarding Resolution 425 will not succeed in causing any breach in the Syrian-Lebanese tracks. He stressed the strong historic and political ties between the two countries as a basis for this unity. Al-Ferzli today told reporters in the Bekaa Lebanon will explain his clear stance in this regard to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during his expected visit to the county on March 20. He also reiterated Lebanon's insistence on the implementation of resolution 425 without any conditions. But Al-Ferzli added Annan is not commissioned from the UN Security Council to discuss 425 during his visit to the country.
Acting Finance Minister of State Fouad Sanyoura today held talks with the British ambassador to Lebanon David MacLenin at the finance ministry. MacLenin said he hoped a Lebanese delegation will be sent to participate in the Conference for Mediterranean European Markets to be held in London at the end of this month. MacLenin also stressed the importance of such a conference in enabling Lebanon to present its views and aspirations to participants from many countries of the Mediterranean basin.
The head of the Lebanese Central Bank Riyad Salameh today announced the bank will next week choose the financial institution to be in charge of organizing its program of foreign currency loans. He added the Central Bank received offers from five international organizations in this regard.
Salameh also expected the treasury bills' revenues to exceed those of the American treasury by 2.5%. Speaking at St. Joseph's University in Ashrafiyeh, Salameh pointed out that foreign confidence in the country's debt instruments remained firm adding that the government would be able to raise $2bn from the international market in five trenches of eurobonds over an 18 month period to finance the country's budget deficit.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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