Lebanese foreign minister quits over slow reforms, Aoun adviser takes over

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti gestures during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 6, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 03 August 2020

Lebanese foreign minister quits over slow reforms, Aoun adviser takes over

  • Charbel Wehbe has been appointed as foreign minister
  • Hitti’s resignation is a blow to Hassan Diab’s government

BEIRUT: Lebanon named the president’s diplomatic adviser as new foreign minister on Monday after Nassif Hitti quit the post, blaming a lack of political will to enact reforms to halt a financial meltdown which he warned could turn Lebanon into a failed state.
Foreign donors have made clear there will be no aid until Beirut makes changes to tackle state waste and corruption, which are behind the crisis that is the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since a 1975-1990 civil war.
“Will this cry of deep frustration move Lebanon to finally work on reforms, on measures taking care of the Lebanese, sinking every day deeper into poverty and desperation?” tweeted United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis.
In his resignation statement, Hitti cited “the absence of an effective will to achieve structural, comprehensive reform.”
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab accepted the resignation and appointed Charbel Wehbe, Aoun’s diplomatic adviser since 2017, as foreign minister.
Wehbe, 67, is a former secretary general of the ministry.
“MULTIPLE BOSSES“
Hitti, a former ambassador to the Arab League, was appointed in January when Diab’s cabinet took office with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies.
“I took part in this government to work for one boss called Lebanon, then I found in my country multiple bosses and contradictory interests,” Hitti said. “If they do not come together in the interest of rescuing the Lebanese people, God forbid, the ship will sink with everyone on it.”
Hitti also had differences with Diab and was frustrated at being sidelined, sources close to the ministry said. Diab appeared to criticize France’s foreign minister for tying aid to reforms and a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when visiting Beirut last month.
A spokesperson for Diab’s office said the cabinet was focused on moving ahead with a forensic audit of the central bank and “a wide range of other reforms.”
Talks with the IMF, which the heavily indebted state entered in May after a sovereign default, are on hold due to a row over the scale of vast financial losses between the government, the banking sector and lawmakers from the main parties.


Israeli cabinet tightens coronavirus lockdown as infections climb

Updated 13 min 28 sec ago

Israeli cabinet tightens coronavirus lockdown as infections climb

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet decided on Thursday to tighten Israel's coronavirus lockdown after he voiced alarm that a surge in infections was pushing the nation to "the edge of the abyss".
Israel went back into lockdown, its second during the pandemic, on Sept. 18. But over the past week, the number of daily new cases has reached nearly 7,000 among a population of 9 million, severely straining the resources of some hospitals.
"We reached a decision to pull the handbrake," Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said on Israel Radio about the cabinet decision, without giving precise details of the restrictions.
Israel Radio and several Israeli news sites said the revised edicts, due to take effect on Friday pending parliamentary ratification, will allow fewer businesses to operate, and only in "essential" sectors such as finance, energy, health, technology, agriculture and food sales and production.
The current 1,000-metre (0.6-mile)- limit on travel from home, except for activities such as grocery and medicine shopping and commuting to work, will now also apply to attendance at street protests, the news reports said.
The revised edict was likely to put a damper on demonstrations outside Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence, where protesters, many of them from outside the city, have been calling for his resignation over alleged corruption.
He has denied charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a trial that resumes in January, and rejected allegations from protest activists that a tougher lockdown was essentially aimed at quashing the demonstrations against him.
"In the past two days, we heard from the experts that if we don't take immediate and difficult steps, we will reach the edge of the abyss," Netanyahu said in public remarks to the cabinet, which met for about eight hours.
Schools will remain closed, but the cabinet decided against shuttering synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, next week, media reported. The number of worshippers, however, will be limited.
Infection rates in close-quarter ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods and towns in Israel have been high, but religious parties in the coalition government had opposed shuttering synagogues.
Since the outbreak began, 1,316 people have died in Israel and some 200,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported.
The current second wave of infections followed an easing in May of a lockdown imposed in March.