The major political event covered today in Lebanon is the expected summit between French President Jacques Chirac and his Syrian counterpart Hafez Al-Assad to be held later today in Paris. Assad will arrive to Paris this afternoon accompanied by a delegation of five ministers. He will be officially received by the French President at the airport. Lebanon's press and TV reports today stressed the importance of Assad's visit describing it as exceptional and historic. It is the first official visit by the Syrian leader to France in 22 years. It also takes place in light of a dangerous atmosphere surrounding the Middle East Peace Process.
In Paris, all official preparations to host the Syrian leader have been completed. Assad will meet Chirac later today and is also expected to hold talks with French premier Lionel Jospin and other top officials tomorrow.
During his three-day official visit, Assad is also scheduled to visit the Arab World Institute in Paris.
Although talks between Chirac and Assad will be topped by the current deadlock in the Middle East Peace Process, the two leaders will also discuss a number of bilateral issues including ways to boost political and economic cooperation between their countries. The visit is after all held under the title "Strategic Partnership". The two leaders will also tackle the situation in Iraq, developments in Iran, and ties with Turkey in addition to detailed discussions regarding Lebanon.
Before leaving to the French capital, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad reiterated during a press interview his recognition of the sovereignty of Lebanon adding Syria is there to support Lebanon and not to take its place.
Assad also voiced support for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 without any conditions. Assad further warned of possible future wars in the region if fair and comprehensive peace were not achieved. The Syrian leader also called on France and the European Union to play a greater role in the Middle East.
Israel today continued its escalation in South Lebanon. Israeli shelling targeted the village of Haddatha where four civilian homes were destroyed. Two air raids were also carried out this morning on Mazraat Okmata and Sojod in the Iqlim Al-Touffah area just north of the zone Israel occupies in the South. Israeli warplanes also carried out mock air raids on Nabatieh and villages in Iqlim Al-Touffah.
Meanwhile, an Israeli allied militiaman was killed during a resistance attack on the position of Shkeef Annamel. A number of Lebanese Resistance operations also targeted the outposts of Beit Yahoon, Haddatha, Sojod, and Baraasheet in the South.
A second batch of Lebanese families today visited their loved ones in the Israeli-run Khiam detention center. A convoy of the International Red Cross carried the families to the prison through the Kfar Falous border crossing east of Sidon which was opened today after recent closure. Around 33 family members visited 14 detainees in Khiam today. This is the second family visit to Khiam this year. The visits resumed following the recent swap operation with Israel.
President Elias Al-Hrawi yesterday dedicated a special thanks to US President Bill Clinton and his administration for supporting Lebanon on a variety of levels. The Lebanese president especially referred to the lifting of the US travel ban on Lebanon and some other travel restrictions.
The president was speaking during a graduation ceremony held at the American University in Beirut. Hrawi also called for a necessary modernization of democracy and its various institutions in Lebanon adding a healthy democracy in Lebanon is the key to the region's stability and progress. The president denounced political sectarianism calling on all citizens to reinforce and preserve national unity. Hrawi also stressed the necessity of achieving more cooperation between the different universities of the country.
At government palace today, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri received a delegation of old military personnel. The head of the delegation reported Hariri's promise of fair retirement pensions to be secured for them as part of the public sector pay scales project.
The premier also met today the head of the Red Cross in Lebanon George Harrouk and a delegation from the War Displaced Central Fund headed by the fund's vice president Abdel Hamid Nasser.
During its ordinary session yesterday afternoon, cabinet decided to renew the mandate of the three vice governors of the Central Bank. Cabinet also renewed the presidency of Assaad Diab over the Lebanese University for an unspecified period of time. Ministers had earlier listened to an explanation from Health Minister Suleiman Franjieh regarding allegations of corruption in the national bureau of medicines. Franjieh said he would hold a meeting with the bureau members next week. Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa told reporters after the meeting cabinet decided to postpone discussing the issue of granting licenses to two Armenian radio stations to the next session.
A conference on Arab press freedom was opened today at the Bristol Hotel in Beirut under the patronage of President Elias Al-Hrawi. The event, held over a period of three days, is organized by the Freedoms Committee of the Arab Journalists' Union. During the opening session, speakers tackled the future of freedom of the press in the Arab World. Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa stressed the important role of the press in Lebanon. Also among the speakers were the president of the Arab Journalists' Union, Ibrahim Nafeh, the president of the Lebanese Journalists' Union Melhem Karam, and the head of the press syndicate in Lebanon Mohammed Al-Baalbacki.
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