BEIRUT: As the UN hosted a second International Conference on Assistance and Support to Beirut on Wednesday, there was growing impatience among donors with Lebanese politicians.
The virtual event, chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, aimed to coordinate international aid efforts in support of the Lebanese people as the country continues to face political, economic and social challenges.
The participants — including heads of state, international organizations, donors, NGOs and civil-society representatives — discussed the results of the first conference, which was organized by France after the Beirut port explosion and held on Aug. 9. It resulted in pledges of aid worth about $300 million in a fund managed by the World Bank that will be channeled through UN agencies and NGOs rather than Lebanese state institutions.
However, delegates expressed impatience with the failure of political factions in Lebanon to resolve their differences and work together for the good of their country. Four months after the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut, and the subsequent resignation of Hassan Diab’s government, a new government has yet to be formed, delaying the economic and political reforms needed to begin efforts to resolve the financial crisis.
According to Reuters, the French presidency on Wednesday said: “No measures required in the French road map for Lebanon have been implemented and the Lebanese Central Bank’s accounts haven’t been audited.”
It added: “American sanctions imposed on the Lebanese political class have not had any effect so far and will not help in forming a government.”
This came after the leak of a conversation in which Dorothy Shea, the US ambassador to Lebanon, asked Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, to “distance himself from Hezbollah.” She also hinted that “Washington will reject any government in which Hezbollah is represented and there won’t be any foreign aid without radical change.”
Lebanese politicians met on Wednesday in an attempt to agree financial support for basic goods and services in light of declining state reserves. Lebanon subsidizes fuel, wheat and medicine but Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said on Tuesday he has the means to “continue subsidizing products only for the next two months.”
The atmosphere was tense as factions argued over how to maintain reserve requirements and the danger of lifting subsidies. The meeting ended with a request from the caretaker government for a report on subsidies.
Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, called for the swift formation of a new government. He warned against waiting to see whether the presidential transition in Washington will improve Lebanon’s situation.
“Signs show that the country is heading to the abyss if the formation of the government is not fixed as soon as possible,” he said. “If the concerned parties agree on any government, the world will deal with it, and so will America.”
Meanwhile, several students at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon were injured in clashes between supporters of the Lebanese Forces (LF) party and Hezbollah during student elections on Wednesday. Three people were arrested. The LF blamed the violence on “armed groups who are not affiliated with the university.”
Also on Wednesday, prosecutors filed corruption charges against eight security forces officers, including army chief, Gen. Jean Kahwaji.
In another case, Gen. Mohamed Fahmy, the caretaker interior minister, appeared before the prosecutor general, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, to answer Supreme Judicial Council allegations that he had defamed the judiciary.
After the meeting, Fahmy said he “did not intend to offend the judicial authority” and praised the close relationship between security forces and the judiciary.
Fahmy said during a TV interview that 95 percent of judges are corrupt, prompting protests by the judicial body and a one-day strike by Bar Association members.
Meanwhile, Lebanese president Michael Aoun said on Wednesday he wants maritime border talks with Israel to succeed, and that disagreements during the previous round of negotiations last month can be resolved based on international law. His comments came during a meeting with John Desrocher, the US mediator for the negotiations.
The fourth round of talks, due to take place Wednesday, were postponed until further notice, officials said. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides. Each nation claims about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean. During the second round of the talks, Lebanon pushed for another 1,430 sq km.
(Additional reporting by AP)