France intervenes to stop Hezbollah and Amal Movement from thwarting government formation

The French side, which overlooked the assignment of Adib to head the government and the formation process, extended the deadline that President Macron set for forming the government for two additional days after the expiration of the two-week deadline. (AFP)
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Updated 18 September 2020

France intervenes to stop Hezbollah and Amal Movement from thwarting government formation

  • Hezbollah’s position coincided with the US Treasury’s announcement of a “second package of sanctions against Lebanese officials.”

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Amal Movement attempted on Thursday to see off a French initiative to form a Lebanese government of non-political technocrats not associated with the parties in power and which rotates the ministries among the country’s sects.

The Hezbollah parliamentary bloc held “the extremely negative American role” responsible for “striking all efforts to form a Lebanese government that would carry out the tasks of the current stage.”

Hezbollah’s position coincided with the US Treasury’s announcement of a “second package of sanctions against Lebanese officials.”

The new sanctions included Hashem Safieddine, head of Hezbollah’s executive council — imposing a ban on his property and interests — in addition to sanctioning two Lebanon-based construction companies, Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction, for their association with Hezbollah.

The Hezbollah bloc accused “some of those forming the government in the shadows” of “confiscating the decision of the other components after preventing the prime minister-designate from consulting with the blocs, preventing the components from naming their ministers, and disturbing the balance by taking the financial portfolio from us.”

Sources close to former PM Saad Hariri told Arab News: “Hariri’s stance has been clear from the beginning, and it is to agree to the points in the initiative that French President Emmanuel Macron brought to Beirut in early September regarding the formation of a new Lebanese government of non-political technocrats and the rotation of portfolios. All political parties agreed to these provisions, including the principle of rotation. This approval was communicated by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to the appointed head of government, Mustapha Adib, after his assignment.”

Internal and external communications intensified in an attempt to keep the French initiative alive. Two Hezbollah and Amal representatives met Adib. The political assistant to the Speaker of Parliament, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil, said after the meeting that he and the Hezbollah representative “informed the prime minister-designate that we support the French initiative with all its components, as agreed upon at the residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon.”

Hassan Khalil, who has been recently targeted by US sanctions for his links with Hezbollah and for corruption, said “the door to dialogue with Adib is still open, but we insist on our proposal to give Adib names to choose from for the Ministry of Finance.”

The powers of the Ministry of Finance include the government reform plan, the fate of the governance of the Banque du Liban, the forensic audit of the Banque du Liban, and the capital control bill. The French side, which overlooked the assignment of Adib to head the government and the formation process, extended the deadline that President Macron set for forming the government for two additional days after the expiration of the two-week deadline. These two weeks elapsed without reaching a solution to the finance ministry issue.

President Michel Aoun held consultations with the parliamentary blocs over two days to reach a solution to the problem, but the situation remained unchanged.

Adib’s sources confirmed that the task he was assigned “was the outcome of the agreement of the majority of the Lebanese political forces.” He said: “The goal was neither to predominate the opinion nor to target one of the political components, but rather to form a government of technocrats. Any other proposal would impose a different approach to the new government, and this is incompatible with the task for which I was assigned.”

Sources close to the consultations told Arab News: “The problem has become complicated after the US Treasury announced sanctions against former Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, the political assistant to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Berri believes this move targets him. Rotating ministerial portfolios comes as a soft coup to withdraw the strong cards from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement and weaken them in the government.”

A call took place between French President Macron and Saad Hariri as part of efforts to find solutions to the Ministry of Finance problem.

A meeting was held on Wednesday night between French Ambassador Bernard Foucher and Hezbollah’s international relations official, Ammar Al-Moussawi, in an attempt to resolve the issue.

France called on Lebanese politicians to “assume their responsibilities.” It regretted “the failure to respect the pledges they made during Macron’s visit to form a rescue government capable of implementing an urgent reform program that meets the needs of Lebanon and the aspirations of the Lebanese within 15 days.”

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, warned in a tweet that “the French efforts to pull Lebanon out of its crisis is the last chance to save the country, and unless reforms are implemented, Lebanon will face the danger of disappearing.”

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic is spreading, especially in the overcrowded Roumieh Central Prison, where the number of cases rose from 30 to 223 in two days.

Doctors Syndicate chief, Sharaf Abu Sharaf, said: “There are over 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the prison, and the main problem is that inmates are not cooperating with the prison’s health administration and do not comply with the necessary health measures. This is a serious matter. The infection will spread and affect everyone.”
 


Iran again breaks its single-day record for coronavirus deaths

Updated 19 October 2020

Iran again breaks its single-day record for coronavirus deaths

  • Fatalities have soared in recent weeks, as authorities struggle to contain the virus’s spread months into the pandemic
  • Current spike comes just weeks after schools nationwide welcomed back its 15 million students for in-person instruction

TEHRAN: Iran recorded its worst day of new deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 337 confirmed dead on Monday.
The grim milestone represents a significant spike from the previous single-day death toll record of 279. The Health Ministry also announced 4,251 new infections, pushing the total count to 534,630.
Fatalities have soared in recent weeks, as authorities struggle to contain the virus’s spread months into the pandemic. Health officials say the capital, Tehran, has run out of intensive care beds.
The Islamic Republic emerged early in the pandemic as a global epicenter of the virus and has since seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with a death toll that topped 30,000 this week. The government has resisted a total lockdown to salvage its devastated economy, already weakened by unprecedented US sanctions.
As the death toll skyrockets, eclipsing the previous highs recorded in the spring amid the worst of its outbreak, authorities have started to tighten restrictions. The government ordered shut recently reopened schools and universities, as well as museums, libraries, beauty salons and other public places in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.
Underscoring authorities’ contradictory response, the current spike comes just weeks after schools nationwide welcomed back its 15 million students for in-person instruction.
The virus has also sickened senior Iranian officials, including an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and most recently the country’s atomic energy agency and its vice president in charge of budget and planning.
The timing of the pandemic has proved particularly difficult for Iran’s economy. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after its unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. The nation’s currency plunged to its lowest-ever level last week following the US administration’s decision last week to blacklist Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed American sanctions.