A war of words escalated over the weekend between House Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. During a ceremony held to honor tobacco farmers in the South, the House Speaker yesterday launched a campaign of verbal attacks targeting the premier. Accusing Hariri of acting like a "prince", Berri clearly implied that the premier was ignoring parliament, state bodies and laws. Their feud mainly centers on the issue of opening an extraordinary session in parliament to ratify the public sector pay scales draft bill. Berri also told his visitors yesterday Hariri was concerned only with monopolizing the decision-making process in the country at the expense of legitimate democratic bodies. For his part, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri's office today replied to the House Speaker's statements calling them as "unsuitable".
Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam today stressed the importance of unity in the Lebanese leadership. He added the current situation requires solidarity and cooperation between all the leaders instead of the exchange of insults in a way that harms the country most. This was reported by Lebanese MP Wajih Baarini who visited Khaddam in Damascus. On the issue of the upcoming presidential elections, Baarini also quoted the Syrian official as saying the issue is still under study, adding it was still early to present names of candidates.
President Elias Al-Hrawi today received a message from his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak in reply to a previous letter sent by Hrawi on the occasion of the memory of the July 23 Revolution. In his letter, Mubarak praised the ties of cooperation and brotherhood that bond the Lebanese and Egyptian peoples. The Egyptian President also hoped Lebanon ongoing progress and prosperity.
Gabon's President, Omar Bongo, this morning left the country concluding a three-day official visit. In Lebanon, Bongo held meetings with his Lebanese counterpart Elias Al-Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. Over the weekend, Bongo, his wife, and the accompanying official delegation visited the site of the Qana massacre in the South.
Today, an official farewell ceremony was held at Beirut's International Airport attended by State Minister Elias Hanna, who represented the Lebanese President, a number of Lebanese government officials, and a delegation representing the Lebanese community in Gabon. Last night, Prime Minister Hariri hosted a dinner reception in his honor at the premier's residence in Kraytem. Bongo today headed for Kuwait for a similar official visit to the Gulf country.
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutrous Sfeir held talks today with deputy Ahmad Fatfat at his summer residence in Deeman. Fatfat later quoted the Maronite Patriarch as saying the coming president of the country should be an open-minded leader who does not only represent people of his own sect but all the Lebanese. He should also work for a state of institutions. The new president must have faith in the judicial authority and must defend it, Sfeir reportedly added. For his part, Fatfat hoped the upcoming presidential elections will free Lebanon from the war mentality on the road of building an institutionalized state.
Violence escalated last night in South Lebanon as 100 Israeli shells targeted several villages in the Iqlim Al-Touffah Mountain Ridges. The shelling caused serious damage in electricity networks. A number of civilian homes were also targeted in Arab Saleem and some civilian cars were destroyed. This morning, Israel heavily bombarded the outskirts of Kafra and Yater. No casualties were reported.
Meanwhile, the French News Agency today quoted an Israeli military spokesman in Jerusalem as saying one Israeli soldier was wounded last night in Iqlim Al-Touffah during a resistance attack on his patrol. The Lebanese resistance also attacked yesterday Israeli outposts in Radar, Sojod, Al-Hardoun, and Kantara. A statement by the resistance said the operation on the Sojod outpost killed two Israeli soldiers and that on the Radar position killed at least two others there.
For its part, the Islamic Resistance announced one of its groups attacked an Israeli patrol in Jabal Bassil injuring and killing most of its members.
The five-nation cease-fire monitoring group is currently in session at the UNIFIL's headquarters in Naqoura. The group looks into two complaints filed by Lebanon and Israel over violations of the April understanding. The Lebanese complaint centers on the injury of Lebanese civilian, Mohammed Meree, during recent Israeli shelling of the village of Majdel Zoun. For its part, the Israeli side to the panel presents a complaint accusing the Lebanese resistance of shelling the outskirts of Al-Abbad outpost on the Lebanese-Palestinian border.
The unusual heat wave that is currently striking the country led yesterday to widespread fires across 70 forests. Civil Defense teams as well as local residents cooperated to set off the blazes. But new fires blazed today in the areas of Zouk, Kayfoun, Jbeil and Shibbaneih. Civil Defense teams managed to extinguish them. They are currently on the alert to watch out for any possible fires in these areas. Other areas in Mount Lebanon, the South, the North are also being affected. Weather sources in Lebanon today predicted the current wave of searing heat, unbearable humidity on the cost and dry winds in the mountains and in the Bekaa would recede starting this evening.
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