Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

France said it regretted that Lebanese leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to Macron. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

  • Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion
  • Beirut’s chief prosecutor charged four people with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port

BEIRUT: France said on Wednesday it regretted that Lebanese political leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to President Emmanuel Macron, but that it was not too late to do so.
The statement by Macron’s office came after Lebanese politicians missed a 15-day deadline to form a crisis Cabinet, with many remaining deadlocked on Wednesday on which political faction gets to have the key portfolio of the finance ministry.
The deadline was set as part of a French initiative by President Emmanuel Macron who has been pressing the leaders in Lebanon to form a Cabinet made up of specialists who can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract the country from a devastating economic and financial crisis.
The crisis has been worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port caused by the detonation of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates, which killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and caused losses worth billions of dollars.
“It is not yet too late: everyone must assume their responsibilities and finally act in the sole interest of Lebanon by allowing Moustapha Adib to form a government that reflects the seriousness of the situation,” the French statement said, referring to the Lebanese prime minister-desginate.
The French leader has described his initiative, which includes a road map and a timetable for reforms, as “the last chance for this system.”
While initially committing to the plan and naming a new prime minister-designate who promised to deliver a Cabinet within two weeks, Lebanese politicians have been unable to meet the deadline amid divisions over the initiative itself and the manner in which the government formation is being carried out, away from the usual consultations and horse-trading among political factions.

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Adib’s French-supported efforts to form a government of experts without party loyalists hit snags the last few days, particularly after the US administration slapped sanctions on two former Cabinet ministers and close allies of Hezbollah, including the top aide to the powerful Shiite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Shiite Amal movement, is now insisting on retaining hold on the Finance Ministry, which has been held by a Shiite close to Berri and Hezbollah for the past 10 years. He has also objected to the way the Cabinet formation was being undertaken, apparently angered that Adib has not been consulting them.
A government opposed by Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups would find it difficult to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.
Local reports said Adib, a Sunni according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system and former diplomat who is supported by Macron, got the backing of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and was appointed to form a Cabinet on Aug. 31. Local reports said he was inclined to step down if no breakthrough was achieved in the next 24 hours.
Hariri, in a tweet, said the Ministry of Finance and other ministerial portfolios “are not an exclusive right for any sect” and that the insistence on retaining the ministry for one sect was undermining “the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Walid Joumblatt, a leading politician and head of Lebanon’s Druze sect, said some people “do not understood or do not want to understand that the French initiative is the last chance to save Lebanon and prevent its demise.”
Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port.
Lebanon, a former French protectorate, is mired in the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. It defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time ever in March, and the local currency has collapsed, leading to hyperinflation and soaring poverty and unemployment.
The small, cash-strapped country is in desperate need of financial assistance but France and other international powers have refused to provide aid before serious reforms are made. The crisis is largely blamed on decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.
Also on Wednesday, Beirut’s chief prosecutor, Ziad Abu Haidar, charged three Lebanese and a Palestinian with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port that badly polluted the air and traumatized the city’s residents, still reeling from the August explosion. The fire also heavily damaged a warehouse where the International Committee of the Red Cross stores thousands of food parcels and cooking oil, the state-run National News Agency reported.
There were no casualties in the blaze, which was the second fire at the port since last months massive blast. Two of the three Lebanese and the Palestinian were ordered arrested, the report said, without elaborating.


Israel returns to virus lockdown as cases mount

Updated 5 min 54 sec ago

Israel returns to virus lockdown as cases mount

  • The three-week lockdownwill include the closure of many businesses, strict limits on public gatherings
  • Israel has reported a total of more than 175,000 cases since the outbreak began, including at least 1,169 deaths

JERUSALEM: Israel is set to go back into a full lockdown later Friday to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has steadily worsened for months as its government has been plagued by indecision and infighting.
The three-week lockdown beginning at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) will include the closure of many businesses, strict limits on public gatherings, and will largely confine people to within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes. The closures coincide with the Jewish High Holidays, when people typically visit their families and gather for large prayer services.
In an address late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that even stricter measures may be needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. There are currently more than 46,000 active cases, with at least 577 hospitalized in serious condition.
“It could be that we will have no choice but to make the directives more stringent,” Netanyahu said. “I will not impose a lockdown on the citizens of Israel for no reason, and I will not hesitate to add further restrictions if it is necessary.”
Israel has reported a total of more than 175,000 cases since the outbreak began, including at least 1,169 deaths. It is now reporting around 5,000 new cases a day, one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world.
Israel was among the first countries to impose sweeping lockdowns this spring, sealing its borders and forcing most businesses to close. That succeeded in bringing the number of new cases to only a few dozen per day in May.
But then the economy abruptly reopened, and a new government was sworn in that was paralyzed by infighting. In recent months authorities have announced various restrictions only to see them ignored or reversed even as new cases soared to record levels.
The occupied West Bank has followed a similar trajectory, with a spring lockdown largely containing its outbreak followed by a rise of cases that forced the Palestinian Authority to impose a 10-day lockdown in July. The PA has reported more than 30,000 cases in the West Bank and around 240 deaths.
The Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, was initially insulated from the pandemic. But authorities detected community spread last month, and there are now more than 1,700 active cases in the impoverished territory of 2 million, straining its already fragile health system. At least 16 people have died.
In Israel, the government has come under withering criticism for its response to the virus and the economic crisis triggered by the earlier lockdown. Netanyahu, who is also on trial for corruption, has been the target of weekly protests outside his official residence. Israel’s insular ultra-Orthodox community, which has a high rate of infection, has also been up in arms about the restrictions, especially those targeting religious gatherings.
In Tel Aviv, hundreds of people protested the renewed lockdown on Thursday, including doctors and scientists who said it would be ineffective.
Dr. Amir Shahar, head of an emergency department in the city of Netanya and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the lockdown is “disastrous” and would do “more harm than good.”