Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri is expected in Damascus later today for talks with top Syrian officials over his recent visits to the US and France. Hariri will brief the Syrian leadership over his discussions with US President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York and French President Jacques Chirac in Paris. The Lebanese premier's talks tackled the Middle East Peace Process, the implementation of UN Resolution 425, and bilateral ties with the two countries. Hariri last night briefed Lebanese President Elias Al-Hrawi and House Speaker Nabih Berri on the outcome of his talks with American and French officials.
US President Bill Clinton has decided to remove restrictions previously imposed on US citizens who wish to travel to Lebanon. The restrictions have been implemented since July 1985. The decision was signed by Clinton on June 19 and it was distributed in Lebanon today by the American embassy.
The statement said American travel agencies now have the right to sell travel tickets to Lebanon to American and non-American citizens. The American administration had allowed on September 1995 non-American citizens and especially Lebanese living in the US to buy tickets to Lebanon through non-American airlines.
Deputy Prime Minister Interior Minister Michel Al-Murr today headed a meeting of the central security council to discuss the security situation in the country following a series of recent explosions in the Dora area and close to the American embassy in Awkar. The meeting was attended by the general director of the Lebanese internal security forces, Rafik Al-Hassan, the director general of public security Rimon Roufayel, Prosecutor General Adnan Addoum, the governor of Beirut Nicola Saba and a number of security and judicial officials in the country. The meeting discussed the results of investigations into the recent explosions in a bid to identify the parties behind the attacks.
Joint Parliamentary committees were today in session at parliament. The meeting was headed by deputy House Speaker Elie Al-Firzli and attended by Acting Finance Minister Fouad Sanyoura and around 65 deputies. The session discussed the public sector pay scales draft law. Sanyoura stressed the importance of balance between fair pay and the government's capabilities.
Parliamentary sources said the project costs an estimate of 415 billion Lebanese Liras.
Sources at the Amal Movement today revealed the swap operation has entered its final phases adding an agreement was reached to increase the number of detainees and bodies of martyrs to be handed over. The sources added the number of detainees to be freed have reached 75 instead of 60.
House Speaker Nabih Berri last night reportedly said the Amal movement will not hand over the remains of an Israeli soldier who died during the failed commando operation in Ansariyeh unless the swap operation includes a list of 27 detainees whose names were specified by the movement. Sources close to the house speaker said he conveyed his demand to prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri during their meeting last night at Berri's residence in Ain Atteeneh. The sources added that the speaker insisted those 27 detainees under the list who were held longest should be included in the exchange.
Meanwhile, Hizbullah sources said the deal is expected to proceed soon. The Amal Movement is holding the head of the Israeli Sergeant Itamar Ilya while Hizbullah is in possession of other parts of the body.
Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul today returned to Beirut after a five-day official visit to Saudi Arabia. He was received this morning at Beirut's International Airport by the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Ahmad Al-Kouhaimeh and other officials at the embassy. Dalloul told reporters at the airport his talks with Saudi officials centered on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the area. The Lebanese defense minister also held discussions with his Saudi counterpart on ways to boost coordination between the two ministries and to increase cooperation on the logistic levels between the two countries.
Norwegian foreign minister today visited the UNIFIL headquarters in the village of Naqoura in South Lebanon. The Norwegian minister held a meeting with the general commander of UNIFIL troops in the South, Jeremy Konrote on issues related to the role of the UNIFIL in the South. The Norwegian official later visited the base of the Norwegian contingent in Ibil Assaqi.
Around 600 Norwegian troops are serving under UNIFIL in the area of Arkoub inside the zone Israel occupies in the South. Norway recently decided to reduce the number of its troops to 200. The decision is expected to be carried out at the end of this year.
In another development, Europe's Mideast envoy Miguel Angel Moratinus arrives in Beirut this evening in a bid to hold talks with Lebanese officials on recent developments in the Middle East Peace Process.
Moratinus is believed to be carrying some European ideas to kick-start the Lebanese and Syrian peace tracks.
The five-nation cease-fire monitoring group meets today at the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura. The panel will look into an Israeli complaint lodged over the killing of one Israeli allied militiamen and his five-year-old boy in Jezzine. Fouad and Dany Abu-Zeid were killed in a roadside bomb blast on the road between Jezzine and Mashmoushe last Friday.
Jezzine officials have condemned the killing of children expressing fears of renewed violence in the area.
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