Dispute between Aoun and Hariri escalates in Lebanon

Dispute between Aoun and Hariri escalates in Lebanon
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 12, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Dispute between Aoun and Hariri escalates in Lebanon

Dispute between Aoun and Hariri escalates in Lebanon
  • Deadlock continues as country awaits formation of new government

BEIRUT: The rift between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the formation of Lebanon’s new government widened on Friday.

Hariri was instructed to form a new government on Oct. 22, but no progress has yet been made, leaving the country in a political deadlock to add to its economic woes and the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video footage was broadcast on Jan. 11 of a meeting between Aoun and the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, in which Aoun accused Hariri of lying when he claimed that his proposed government lineup had been approved. Commentators have claimed that, in doing so, Aoun insulted the office of prime minister and head of government, thus widening the gulf between the president and the prime minister-designate. Over the past 10 days, several attempts to bridge that gap have failed.

On Friday, Aoun’s media office issued a statement in response to what it described as “analyses and articles suggesting that the president is the one who is putting obstacles in the face of the PM-designate to obstruct the government formation process.”

“The president did not ask for the obstructing third in the government,” the statement said, adding that “the head of the Strong Lebanon bloc, MP Gebran Bassil, did not obstruct the formation of the government, nor was he involved in this process at all.” Bassil is the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and Aoun’s son-in-law.

The media office also denied that Hezbollah is “putting pressure on the president in the government formation matter.”

The statement said that “naming, nominating, and distributing the ministers to ministerial portfolios is not an exclusive right for the prime minister-designate, based on two articles in the Constitution,” adding that the president “has a constitutional right to approve the entire government before signing.”

“The president does not have to repeat his call on the prime minister-designate to go to the Baabda Palace, which is waiting for his arrival with a government lineup that takes into account the standards of fair representation in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, especially in light of the extremely pressing circumstances — on more than one level — to form the government,” the statement continued.

Hariri’s media advisor, Hussein Al-Wajh, said he was “surprised” by the statement issued by the presidency, and questioned whether it had been issued “on behalf of Gebran Bassil and not the president.”

Al-Wajh told Arab News: “No one is arguing about the powers of the president, but this has to do with issuing a decree to form the government in agreement with the prime minister-designate and signing the formation decree after the prime minister conducts parliamentary consultations to form the government.”

He continued: “Since the circumstances are extremely pressing, perhaps those concerned should go with the prime minister-designate’s (suggested) government lineup, which takes into account fair representation according to the constitution, not according to political and partisan quotas.”

Al-Wajh indicated that Hariri would not be willing to change his proposed lineup. “His aim is to form a government based on the standards of the constitution, the national interest, and the rules laid down by the French initiative. The problem is not with Hariri, but with Aoun, who objects and says he does not agree to this or that name, but gives no reason for his objections.”

MP Sami Fatfat, a member of the Future parliamentary bloc, said: “We have arrived at a deadlock between us and the president and we cannot overcome it. The president has the right and duty to debate all the names proposed in the formation process, but instead of debating, he has presented a proposal that is not based on the constitution.”

He went on to accuse the president of failing to act in accordance with the protocols of his position. “President Aoun must know that 65 MPs have assigned Hariri to head the government,” he said. “The president today acts as a party and as a head of a political party, not as a president entrusted with the constitution.”

Elsewhere on Friday, the regional director of the Mashreq department at the World Bank Group, Saroj Kumar Jha, stressed that the bank remains committed to discussions with Lebanon’s leaders about ways to strengthen the country’s economy and improve the lives of the many people in Lebanon who are living below the poverty line.

“The World Bank is greatly concerned and feels a responsibility to help to form the government,” Jha told Lebanon’s Central News Agency. “Things are getting worse every day.”


Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 14 April 2021

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 54 min 35 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.