Lebanon’s cabinet postpones final budget meeting

After decades of civil war and repeated political crises made it one of the world’s most indebted countries, Lebanon is drafting its “most austere” budget to secure billions of dollars in international aid. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 May 2019
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Lebanon’s cabinet postpones final budget meeting

  • Lebanon is drafting its 'most austere' budget to secure billions of dollars in international aid
  • The small Mediterranean country has promised donors to slash public spending as part of reforms to unlock $11bn in aid pledged at a conference in Paris last year

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s cabinet delayed until Friday its last session on the 2019 draft budget, a minister said, pushing back a critical meeting to finalize plans for cutting the deficit.
Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, and long-stalled reforms are seen as more pressing than ever after years of low economic growth.
President Michel Aoun, in a speech late on Tuesday, urged the Lebanese to end protests and make sacrifices to rescue the country from economic and financial crisis.
Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri has said this may be the most austere budget in Lebanon’s history.
Ministers who convened on Wednesday afternoon had been due to meet again at night to agree the budget before sending it to parliament for approval.
“There will be no second session tonight,” Health Minister Jamil Jabak told reporters at the Grand Serail, the government headquarters in Beirut.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for speeding up efforts to complete the budget, lawmakers from his Amal Party cited him as saying after a meeting.
Fears that the budget will include wage or pension cuts have sparked protests by public sector workers and retired soldiers.


Israel eases Gaza fishing restrictions after truce

Updated 6 min 49 sec ago
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Israel eases Gaza fishing restrictions after truce

  • Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles
  • The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election

GAZA CITY: Israel announced Tuesday it had eased fishing restrictions off the blockaded Gaza Strip after a cease-fire with Hamas ended a deadly escalation earlier this month.
Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles, said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election.
Gaza fishing union official, Zakaria Bakr, however told AFP on Tuesday morning it had yet to be informed of any changes.
COGAT did not provide further details, but in April the limit was set at six nautical miles in the north near the Israeli border, 12 off central Gaza and 15 in the south near the Egyptian border, according to the fishing union.
Israel banned fishing completely when the two-day flare-up of violence began earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following the truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit is the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities did not say the move was linked to the truce reached earlier this month with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip.
But Palestinian officials said at the time of the May 6 cease-fire that it included Israel taking steps to ease its blockade.
Israel media reported late Monday that the cease-fire, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, is a six-month deal that includes the expansion of the fishing zone as well as the transfer of medicines and other aid to Gaza.
Negotiations are to also take place on issues including Gaza’s severe electricity shortage and border crossings, the reports said.
In return, Hamas would calm protests along the border and halt maritime demonstrations aimed at breaking the blockade.
Hamas denied the reports and Israel did not immediately comment.