Lebanese Cabinet finally to meet after feuding Druze leaders reconcile

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, center, meets with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, left, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug 9, 2019. Hariri has announced that the Cabinet will finally convene after violence between two political rivals that brought the government to a standstill for weeks has been resolved. (AP)
Updated 10 August 2019

Lebanese Cabinet finally to meet after feuding Druze leaders reconcile

  • Cooperation agreement by Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan ends six-week political stalemate

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet will finally convene on Saturday. It follows a reconciliation meeting on Thursday during which two feuding Druze leaders in Mount Lebanon agreed to cooperate with each other to end a political crisis that paralyzed the nation’s government for more than a month.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Lebanon’s dollar-dominated bonds and 2030 Eurobond rallied to their highest levels in a week after Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, head of the Democratic Party, agreed to meet to settle their differences. Their meeting was held at Baabda Palace at the invitation of President Michel Aoun, who chaired the talks. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri also attended.
In a televised address after the meeting, Hariri confirmed that the two men had reconciled and the Cabinet will convene on Saturday. He added: “From today, there will be a new page and we will all cooperate together in the interests of the country and in the interests of Lebanese citizens.”
The stand-off between Jumblatt and Arslan sparked a political crisis that lasted almost six weeks. It began on June 30 when two aides to government minister Saleh Al-Gharib, an ally of Arslan, were shot and killed in Kabreshmoun. Both sides blamed each other for the gunfire, and were at odds over who should investigate the incident. Hariri said that it was agreed during the reconciliation meeting that it will be investigated by a military court.
Berri described the outcome of the meeting as “an achievement.” Jumblatt nodded to show that he was content, while Arslan smiled.
The reconciliation meeting was preceded by a gathering of top officials to discuss the economy. Lebanon has public debt valued at about 150 percent of gross domestic product, one of the highest levels in the world.
Before the meetings, Khalil had warned that “there will be no financial or economic stability without political stability” and predicted that “credit will be affected by the meetings.”
After the finance meeting, Riad Salamé, governor of Bank of Lebanon, said that the discussions were very good.
Hariri said: “The financial meeting stressed the necessity of committing to maintaining political stability, and the attendees reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound.
“The attendees agreed on steps to be implemented in the next phase to contribute to strengthening the economy and commencing with the McKinsey plan.” This was a reference to a 1,274-page plan to revamp the Lebanese economy, which was compiled by US consulting firm, McKinsey and Co.
Hariri continued: “The basic steps include approving the 2020 budget, implementing the 2019 budget, developing a detailed plan to launch investment projects amounting to $3.3 billion, implementing the Cedar projects, fully implementing the power plan, adopting reform laws — particularly those related to public tenders and tax and customs evasion, coordinating with the committee for modernization of laws, activating the ministerial work committees, completing judicial reform steps, strengthening the work of oversight bodies, curbing waste and corruption, and reviewing useless institutions.”
Reacting to the meetings, former MP Fares Souaid said: “Lebanon has succeeded in overcoming the rifts, and Walid Jumblatt succeeded in lifting the siege around him by mobilizing the majority of his community and the Sunni community, as well as winning Christian sympathies.
“The raised tone of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the President of the Republic has diminished due to external pressure.
“I hope we will not return to clashes of a different kind and that all hearts will find peace. I also hope we reach a conclusion so that no one would dare harass anyone. What happened means that in Lebanon, no matter how glorious a sect or an armed party is, they cannot impose their views because the border of each sect ends where the borders of the other sects begin, and everyone realizes that we are all in the same boat.”


UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

Updated 22 August 2019

UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

  • Donors have pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis
  • But UN humanitarian chief Lise Grande says less than half the amount has been received so far
UNITED NATIONS: The UN humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the UN was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a “staggering” 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a UN pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
“When money doesn’t come, people die,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, “but much of this is about to stop” because only 34% of the UN’s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019.
Grande said the UN is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine “conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation.”
But she said of the 34 major UN humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
“Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive,” she said. “All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.”