Lebanon forms government after 13 months

Special Lebanon forms government after 13 months
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Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati attends Friday prayers before meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, at a mosque in Beirut, Lebanon, September 10, 2021. (Reuters)
Special Lebanon forms government after 13 months
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Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 10 September 2021

Lebanon forms government after 13 months

Lebanon forms government after 13 months
  • PM Mikati tells nation to ‘fasten seatbelts for emergency landing’
  • The breakthrough followed intense pressure exerted by the French

BEIRUT: Lebanese leaders on Friday agreed to form a 24-minister government led by Najib Mikati after a 13-month vacuum.

The breakthrough followed intense pressure exerted by the French on Thursday night while consulting with the Iranian and US sides.

Mikati said: “We are now on a plane making an emergency landing. Everyone must fasten their seatbelts and hope that we can soon change the course of this plane. The situation is difficult and our money has dried up, and there is no money for us to keep subsidies.

“Let’s put politics aside and work for the people. No one will disrupt our work and whoever wants to do so can see themselves out. We have a lot of work to do. Let us raise the morale of the people; a gentle word can be merciful.”

Mikati wept in front of the journalists, saying: “The situation is difficult. We will work with hope and determination and will contact all international bodies to secure the basic life necessities. We are here to serve the country as a whole; not one group without the other. I will knock on the doors of Arab countries because we need to rebuild the burned bridges. Lebanon belongs to this Arab world.

“I hope we can put an end to the current collapse, address the people’s demands and bring prosperity back to Lebanon. The government is made up of experts with political affiliations. We have a deadline until the May elections to accomplish our mission.”

Mikati said that the former prime ministers gave him their confidence. “I work under the umbrella of the Taif Agreement, and what they care about the most is forming a government.”

Asked whether the government would hold parliamentary elections, Mikati said: “I most certainly pledge to hold the elections on time, on May 8, as well as the municipal elections.”

Addressing the possibility of the government communicating with Syria, Mikati said: “This government is here to serve Lebanon’s best interests; we will communicate with anyone except Israel.”

Immediately after the government was announced, the Lebanese pound exchange rate dropped to less than 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market. On Friday morning, it was trading at 18,400 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.  

A well-informed source told Arab News: “Several factors have accelerated forming the government. Among them is the change taking place in the region and the international community’s insistence on preventing a total collapse in Lebanon. The internal factor was Mikati’s behavior and how he managed to round the edges throughout the whole process.

“The international community has exerted so much pressure because a government needs to be formed in order for it to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund and donor countries.”

The source said: “Given the French pressure, a government was supposed to be formed on Sept. 5. Yet, some Lebanese leaders tried to buy some time to insist on certain demands, but the pressures increased and they understood that they were now forced to form the government.”

“We’re still not clear on the assurances President Michel Aoun got to finally agree after insisting on obtaining the blocking third in the government. But this will be discussed later on, not today.”

Mikati headed to the Baabda Palace after performing Friday prayers at the Al-Omari Mosque in downtown Beirut and waved the government formation paper at journalists as he walked in, indicating that the mission had been accomplished. 

The 19th meeting was held between Mikati and Aoun, and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri joined them half an hour later.

The obstacles impeding the formation process remained unresolved until the last 15 minutes but were eventually removed. Those obstacles were related to the Ministry of Economy and naming the two Christian ministers; it was agreed that they would be from outside the parties’ share and approved by both Aoun and Mikati.

After the meeting, Berri said: “Very good work.”

Mikati’s government is the first of its kind in Lebanon. It includes four judges and only one woman, while the previous government included six female ministers.

The judges are Abbas Al-Halabi for the Ministry of Education, affiliated with the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt; Henry Khoury for the Ministry of Justice, former State Shoura Council head and close to Aoun; Bassam Al-Mawlawi for the Ministry of Interior, former head of the Criminal Court in the North, affiliated with Mikati; and Mohammed Mortada for the Ministry of Culture, affiliated with Hezbollah.

Senior central bank official Youssef Khalil took over the Ministry of Finance and former ambassador to the US Abdallah Bouhabib took charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Firas Abiad, director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, affiliated with former PM Saad Hariri, was named health minister. 

Nasser Yassin, AUB professor of policy and planning, was named environment minister.

Amin Salam, affiliated with Mikati, was named economy minister.

Saade Shami was named deputy premier and is affiliated with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, an ally of Hezbollah. 

Maurice Slim was named defense minister, Najla Riachi state minister for administrative reform, Jonny Korm communications minister, and Walid Nassar tourism minister.

The Ministry of Energy was given to Walid Fayyad, affiliated to Aoun, the Ministry of Labor to Mustafa Bayram, the Ministry of Agriculture to Abbas Hajj Hassan, and the Ministry of Works to Ali Hamiya.

George Kordahi was assigned the Ministry of Information, George Debakian the Ministry of Industry, and Hector Hajjar the Ministry of Social Affairs.


Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity. (File/AFP)
Updated 8 sec ago

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
  • Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs support former Conservative cabinet ministers urging changes to the new draft agreement

LONDON: Three former British cabinet ministers are set to warn that a renegotiated Iran nuclear deal would destabilize the Middle East, in a warning shot to government support for the agreement.

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, and former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb are all backing a motion to be debated in Parliament that lists a string of proposed changes to the draft they say will impede Tehran’s drive towards nuclear weapons.

The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity and taking a tougher approach to policing Iran’s “destabilizing” activities.

The motion to be debated today states: “This House expresses grave concern at the imminent prospect of a nuclear armed Iran; calls on the Government in its ongoing negotiations in respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement to seek to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, and expand its scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities in the region.”

The Tory MPs and supporters from opposition parties Labour and the Liberal Democrats are understood to be concerned by the current reworked agreement, which remains subject to negotiations, and is looking to replace the 2015 deal that the US withdrew from under former President Donald Trump.

That original Iran nuclear deal, termed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed with the UK, the US, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU, and saw Tehran agree to curb its nuclear development in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Jenrick said: “The JCPOA was an inadequate response to Iran’s nuclear programme back in 2015. Why would we return to the deal when it has singularly failed to curtail Iran’s uranium enrichment?

“At this critical juncture, the West urgently needs to change tack in its strategy. Weakly tolerating Iran’s aggression and flagrant breaches out of fear of talks collapsing has led us down a dangerous path. It is time for a more robust approach, reimposing snapback sanctions on Iran and tightening the economic screw until Iran is willing to countenance serious proposals.”

He added: “The UK should follow in the footsteps of the US and proscribe the Iranian revolutionary guards corps a terrorist organisation.”


UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
Updated 30 June 2022

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
  • There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria

DUBAI: The UAE has dispatched a plane carrying 52 metric tons of food supplies to support Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria, Emirates news agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.

The aid comes as part of efforts “to alleviate the humanitarian impact faced by Ukrainian refugees” in nearby countries, the statement read.

There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, the UAE sent a plane carrying 27 tons of food and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Since the outset of the war in Ukraine, the country has dispatched six planes to Poland and Moldova, carrying 156 tons of food and medical aid and ambulances, as part of a $5m donation.


Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
Updated 30 June 2022

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
  • The patient has an immune system deficiency
  • Virus identified in over 50 new countries outside Africa

ISTANBUL: Turkey has detected its first case of monkeypox in a 37-year-old patient who is in isolation, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.
The virus has been identified in more than 50 new countries outside the countries in Africa where it is endemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) says cases are also rising in those countries, calling for testing to be ramped up.
“Monkeypox has been detected in one of our patients. The patient is 37 years old and has an immune system deficiency,” Koca wrote on Twitter.
He said the patient was in isolation and contact follow-up had been conducted, with no other case found.
There have been more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox, and one death, since the outbreak began in May, according to a WHO tally. There have also been more than 1,500 cases and 66 deaths in countries this year where it more usually spreads.
Last week, the WHO ruled that the outbreak did not yet represent a public health emergency, its highest level of alert.


Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
Updated 30 June 2022

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
  • The final dissolution bill ends year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett
  • Bennett said he will not stand in the Nov. 1 election, which will see Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power

JERUSALEM:Israeli lawmakers dissolved parliament on Thursday, forcing the country’s fifth election in less than four years, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set to take over as caretaker prime minister at midnight.
The final dissolution bill, which passed with 92 votes in favor none against, ends the year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett, who led an eight-party coalition that was backed by an Arab party, a first in Israeli history.
Following the vote, Lapid and Bennett immediately swapped seats in the parliament — the Knesset — and Lapid was embraced by members of his centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
Bennett said late Wednesday that he will not stand in the upcoming election set for Nov. 1, which will see veteran right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power.
Netanyahu has promised that his alliance of right-wingers, ultra-nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties will win the upcoming vote, but opinion polls show he may also struggle to rally a parliamentary majority.
Bennett will host Lapid for a handover ceremony later Thursday, the prime minister’s office said.
The outgoing premier will also hand the leadership of his religious nationalist Yamina party to his long-time political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu’s main challenger will likely be long-time foe Lapid, a former celebrity news anchor who has surprised many since being dismissed as a lightweight when he entered politics a decade ago.
Bennett’s motley alliance formed with Lapid in June 2021 offered a reprieve from an unprecedented era of political gridlock, ending Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years in power and passing Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
As pair announced plans to end their coalition last week, Lapid sought to cast Netanyahu’s potential return to office as a national threat.
“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within,” Lapid said.
Bennett led a coalition of right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists from the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government since the Jewish state’s creation.
But the alliance, united by its desire to oust Netanyahu and break a damaging cycle of inconclusive elections, was imperilled from the outset by its ideological divides.
Bennett said the final straw was a failure to renew a measure that ensures the roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Some Arab lawmakers in the coalition refused to back a bill they said marked a de facto endorsement of a 55-year occupation that has forced West Bank Palestinians to live under Israeli rule.
For Bennett, a staunch supporter of settlements, allowing the so-called West Bank law to expire was intolerable. Dissolving parliament before its June 30 expiration temporarily renews the measure.
In the weeks before his coalition unraveled, Bennett sought to highlight its successes, including what he characterised as proof that ideological rivals can govern together.
“No one should give up their positions, but it is certainly possible and necessary to put aside, for a while, ideological debates and take care of the economy, security and future of the citizens of Israel,” he said in his farewell address Wednesday, which did not rule out a eventual return to politics.
Bennett will stay on as alternate prime minister responsible for Iran policy, as world powers take steps to revive stalled talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Israel opposes a restoration of the 2015 agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Lapid will retain his foreign minister title while serving as Israel’s 14th premier. He will find himself under an early microscope, with US President Joe Biden due in Jerusalem in two weeks.


Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes
Updated 30 June 2022

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes
  • Clashes left 64 injured Palestinians, most of them suffering from effects of tear gas inhalation

JERUSALEM: Three Israelis and dozens of Palestinians were wounded in overnight clashes after militants fired on a Jewish pilgrimage to a shrine in the occupied West Bank, the army said Thursday.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said it treated 64 injured Palestinians, most of them suffering from the effects of tear gas inhalation.
The Israeli army “escorted the entrance of hundreds of worshippers to Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus. During the event, heavy fire was shot at the worshippers by Palestinian gunmen,” it said in a statement.
Two pilgrims and a commander of the army’s Shomron Brigade were injured, the statement said.
The tomb, which is believed by some to be the last resting place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, is a flashpoint for violence in the West Bank, and revered as a holy site by some Muslims.
The Israeli army provides security for monthly pilgrimages by Israelis. In May, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in clashes at the tomb.
The army said it had arrested 12 people in separate operations across the West Bank on Wednesday night, the latest raids in a crackdown triggered by intensifying violence.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.