Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, right, speaks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

  • Conference will tackle extremism, missile programs, proxy groups

BEIRUT: Lebanon will refuse to attend a Middle East security conference expected to focus on countering Iran’s malign role in the region, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Monday.

The ministerial talks in Poland begin on Wednesday, jointly hosted by the US and attended by about 80 countries.

The US State Department says the Warsaw conference will address issues such as terrorism, extremism, missile development, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.

Bassil announced Lebanon’s boycott during a visit to Beirut by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 

“Lebanon will not attend the conference in Warsaw because of Israel’s participation and because Lebanon has adopted a policy of disassociation,” he said.

Zarif welcomed the Lebanese decision, and repeated earlier offers of economic and military assistance. 

“Iran is always fully ready to cooperate with Lebanon in all vital and available fields because … this would serve the national interest of the two countries and would not negatively impact any of the parties.” 

Bassil said there was “no embarrassment in any economic cooperation with Iran as long as it is within frameworks that protect Lebanon,” a reference to US economic sanctions on Iran. 

Meanwhile, the two-day conference in Warsaw is also expected to yield an early look at US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

In addition to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US will be represented in Poland by presidential adviser Jared Kushner, a key driver of the Trump proposals.

Palestinian leaders, suspecting a betrayal, have turned down a US invitation to the talks and called for a boycott by Arab states. 

The leading Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said the Warsaw conference was “an attempt to bypass the Arab Peace Initiative and destroy the Paestinian project.” 

The Palestinians had “not mandated anyone to speak on behalf of Palestine,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to deal with the Trump administration since December 2017. It believes the aim of the Warsaw conference is to normalize relations between Israel and some Arab countries. 

Normalization is also an element of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but only after Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.


Palestinians to cut civil servant salaries after Israeli tax freeze

Updated 21 February 2019
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Palestinians to cut civil servant salaries after Israeli tax freeze

  • Israel's security cabinet on Sunday approved the freezing of $138 million (122 million euros) over the PA's payments to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis
  • Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday he would not accept anything but full payment of the tax transfers owed by Israel

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian finance minister on Thursday announced salary cuts for civil servants, days after Israel said it would withhold tens of millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
Israel's security cabinet on Sunday approved the freezing of $138 million (122 million euros) over the PA's payments to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis.
Israel, which collects taxes on behalf of the PA, says the payments encourage further violence.
The PA claims they are a form of welfare to families who have lost their main breadwinner.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday he would not accept anything but full payment of the tax transfers owed by Israel.
The PA, which is already running a deficit, will "pay the salaries of civil servants in time, but they will be reduced", said PA finance minister Shukri Bishara after a meeting with EU representatives in Ramallah.
The cuts will not apply to salaries "paid to pensioners and families of martyrs, wounded or prisoners", he added, adding that wages below 2,000 shekels ($550) would also not be affected.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel. Palestinian leaders often venerate them as martyrs.
Under a 1994 agreement, Israel collects around $190 million each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
The money it then transfers to the PA is the authority's most important source of revenue.
The Palestinians want EU countries to pressure the Israeli government to rescind its decision, said Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy of Abbas's Fatah party.
Palestinian leaders will take steps to "boycott Israeli goods", he said, adding they had already prepared "a list of Israeli products that have local (Palestinian) equivalents".