Lebanese parliamentary panel to approve 2020 budget this year, committee head says

This picture taken on November 27, 2019 shows a banner in Arabic reading "we will not pay the price" hanging outside the headquarters of the Banque du Liban (Lebanese Central Bank) in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2019

Lebanese parliamentary panel to approve 2020 budget this year, committee head says

  • Treasury revenues had been almost non-existent for the last 45 days, but assured Lebanese that public-sector salaries would be paid, committee head Ibrahim Kanaann said
  • Protesters are demanding that the country’s ruling elite be replaced, blaming them for failures in years that followed the 1975-90 civil war

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament’s budget and finance committee will approve the 2020 budget by the end of the year and the next government must adopt it, committee head Ibrahim Kanaan said on Thursday.
Lebanon has been grappling with the worst economic conditions in decades, amid protests that prompted Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to resign on Oct. 29, leaving the country in politically deadlocked.
Kanaan said the committee must quickly finalize a budget needed to restore confidence in the country and take account of bruising economic conditions.
“Before the end of next month, the holiday season ... we will have finished the debate and approval of the 2020 budget,” Kanaan said in a televised news conference. “It is not possible for the new government not to adopt this budget because when this budget is approved it will become a law.”
Kanaan said treasury revenues had been almost non-existent for the last 45 days, but assured Lebanese that public-sector salaries would be paid.
Lebanon is hoping to enact urgent economic reforms that can convince donors to disburse some $11 billion in aid pledged at a conference last year.

Meanwhile,  Lebanon paid back a Eurobond worth $1.5 billion that was scheduled to mature Thursday, a Finance Ministry official said, pacifying concerns of a first-ever default on its debt amid the worst financial crisis in three decades.
The tiny Mediterranean country’s economic emergency has ignited nationwide protests against widespread corruption and mismanagement, bringing the country to a standstill for over a month. The protests were initially sparked by new taxes, but have snowballed into calls for the entire political elite to step aside.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October, meeting a key demand of the protesters. But that has plunged the country into further uncertainty, with no clear path to resolving its economic and political problems.
The Eurobond announcement came as a top Arab League official arrived in Lebanon, expressing readiness to help the country solve its political stalemate.
The repayment was being widely watched in Lebanon, which has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at $86 billion or 150% of the GDP. There were concerns that Lebanon, which always paid back its debt on time, might default. Lebanon has in recent weeks imposed unprecedented capital controls.
The Finance Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, gave no further details about the repayment. Local media reported that the payment was made from the reserves of the Central Bank.
The office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said he discussed political and economic conditions with visiting Arab League assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki. Aoun has not set a date for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier. Hariri, who was Aoun’s and the militant group Hezbollah’s favorite to lead a new Cabinet, withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday.
Politicians have failed to agree on the shape and form of a new government. Hariri had insisted on heading a government of technocrats, while his opponents, including Hezbollah, want a Cabinet made up of both experts and politicians.
Furthermore, the protesters are demanding that the country’s ruling elite be replaced, blaming them for failures in years that followed the 1975-90 civil war. The protests have remained overwhelmingly peaceful, resorting to road closures and other tactics in an effort to pressure politicians into responding to their demands.
But in recent days, scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between protesters and Aoun and Hezbollah supporters, leaving dozens of people injured. As tempers flare, there are real concerns Lebanon could be sliding toward a prolonged period of instability.
“The current situation cannot take conditions and counter-conditions. We should all work together to get out of the crisis in what serves the interest of the Lebanese people,” Aoun said in comments released by his office Thursday. He added that Arab support “should be translated into actual steps regarding assistance to improve the deteriorating economic conditions.”
Zaki told reporters said there must be solution for the Cabinet formation crisis, adding that “it is important so that Lebanon avoids negative effects on its economic conditions and civil peace.”
Scores of Lebanese businesses have closed in recent months and thousands of employees were either laid off or are getting half their salaries amid the crisis. Local banks have imposed capital controls worsening the economic conditions amid a liquidity crisis and shortage in US dollars.
Since 1997, the Central Bank has kept the pound stable at 1,507 to the dollar thanks to heavy borrowing at high interest rates but on the black market, the price of the dollar reached in recent days 2,100 pounds, a 40 percent over the official price. * with AP 


Netanyahu warns foes after Israeli retaliatory strikes in Syria

Updated 50 min 8 sec ago

Netanyahu warns foes after Israeli retaliatory strikes in Syria

  • Israel launched air strikes on military targets in southern Syria late Monday
  • Monday’s actions were in response to an increased threat from the Iran-backed Hezbollah

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday pledged a tough response to any threats against Israel after the Jewish state struck Syrian military targets in retaliation for an attempted attack in the occupied Golan Heights.
“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves,” he said during a tour of a military facility in central Israel.
“These are not vain words; they have the weight of the State of Israel and the (military) behind them and this should be taken seriously,” the veteran premier added.
Israel launched air strikes on military targets in southern Syria late Monday. The army said it was retaliating after an attempt to lay explosives in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Syrian state-run news agency Sana said Israeli helicopters rocketed Syrian army positions near Quneitra in the south but caused only material damage. It also said air defenses had gone into action near the Syrian capital.
Tensions are already high between bitter rivals Israel and Syria.
Last month, Israeli army helicopters struck military targets in southern Syria in retaliation for earlier “munitions” fire toward Israel.
Earlier Monday, the Israeli army said it had killed four men laying explosives near the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights.
Several Israeli media outlets reported that Monday’s actions were in response to an increased threat from the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which has a significant presence in Syria.
Last month, five Iran-backed fighters were killed in an Israeli missile strike south of Damascus, according to Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Then last Monday, Israel said it had thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by up to five Hezbollah gunmen, a claim denied by the Iran-backed group.
Israel reported an exchange of fire that forced the “terrorists” back into Lebanon. It said it fired artillery across the heavily guarded border for “defensive” purposes.
Since 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria, targeting government troops and allied Iranian and Hezbollah forces and vowing to end Iran’s military presence in Syria.