US, UK warn against escalating sectarianism in Lebanon

Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Updated 07 August 2019

US, UK warn against escalating sectarianism in Lebanon

  • US supports a fair and transparent judicial review free of any political influence

BEIRUT: The US Embassy in Lebanon warned that “any attempt to exploit the tragic incident that took place in Kabreshmoun on June 30 to promote political objectives must be rejected.”

The statement comes during Lebanon’s escalating political crisis, which has been ongoing for more than two months. 

The crisis has peaked during the last 48 hours, where efforts aimed at reaching a political consensus on the judicial measures for the Kabreshmoun shooting have failed.

There was open confrontation between the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), with the PSP including the Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the judiciary in its accusations.

“The US supports a fair and transparent judicial review free of any political influence. We clearly expressed to the Lebanese authorities that they are expected to handle the incident in a manner that achieves justice without inciting sectarian and regional conflicts with political backgrounds,” said the US Embassy.

“Lebanon’s stability is a priority to us,” said Britain’s Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling as he visited Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. 

“We urge everyone to focus on economic development at this stage. The adoption of the state budget was an important first step but still needs a lot of work,” Rampling added.

The shooting took place when the head of the FPM, Gebran Bassil, visited the site of massacres between Christians and Druze during the civil war.

Supporters of the PSP staged protests to prevent the visit, triggering a shootout after the arrival of the minister of the displaced, Saleh Al-Gharib. Two of his bodyguards were killed.

Minister Al-Gharib is a member of the PSP’s rival party and an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The incident received significant political and judicial attention, which has paralyzed the government for over a month. The PSP accused the FPM of wanting to eliminate it by pressuring the military judiciary to manipulate the investigation.

Aoun affirmed his “commitment to the judiciary, which has the authority to act firmly and punish according to the laws,” as he received a youth delegation on Wednesday.

Berri said that he “will not allow anything that could divide the Lebanese people,” and that “political, security and financial stability is required from everyone, as international financial institutions are concerned about Lebanon’s situation.

“A complete and comprehensive reconciliation is necessary to hold government sessions. There is no need for panic as it will vanish with the government’s first session.” 

An international report on Lebanon’s financial classification is expected to be issued on Aug. 23, with the Lebanese Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh rejecting suggestions that the country is bankrupt.


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.