Lebanon forms government after 13 months

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)
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.


Ten oil workers killed in attack in Syria’s Deir Ezzor — state news agency

Ten oil workers killed in attack in Syria’s Deir Ezzor — state news agency
Updated 6 sec ago

Ten oil workers killed in attack in Syria’s Deir Ezzor — state news agency

Ten oil workers killed in attack in Syria’s Deir Ezzor — state news agency
  • Ten oil workers were killed and one was injured in an attack that targeted a bus carrying them in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor

CAIRO: Ten oil workers were killed and one was injured in an attack that targeted a bus carrying them in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor countryside, state news agency SANA said on Thursday.
The workers are employees at Al-Kharata oilfield, according to the agency.


Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA
Updated 02 December 2021

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

TOKYO: Japan’s Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa on Thursday urged Iran to make serious efforts towards the immediate return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a telephone conversation with Dr. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Foreign Minister of Iran, Minister Hayashi also expressed his intention to cooperate with Minister Amir Abdollahian “to further strengthen and expand the historically friendly relationship between Japan and Iran in a wide range of fields.”

In response, Minister Amir Abdollahian expressed Iran’s intention to further deepen the long-established relationship between Japan and Iran, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo.

The ministers exchanged candid views on the JCPOA in light of the talks among relevant parties that are taking place in Vienna.

In the talks, Minister Amir Abdollahian explained Iran’s stance on the nuclear issue, and both sides agreed to continue close communication on this matter.

Both ministers exchanged views on regional issues including the situation in Afghanistan, and confirmed that Japan and Iran will continue to cooperate towards the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

This story originally appeared on Arab News Japan


Iran gives drafts on sanctions, issues to European nuclear deal parties

Iran gives drafts on sanctions, issues to European nuclear deal parties
Updated 52 min 59 sec ago

Iran gives drafts on sanctions, issues to European nuclear deal parties

Iran gives drafts on sanctions, issues to European nuclear deal parties
  • A European diplomat confirmed draft documents had been handed over

VIENNA: Iran has provided European powers involved in its tattered nuclear deal with drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said on Thursday, as world powers and Tehran try to reinstate the pact.

The announcement came on the fourth day of indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the deal. The talks resumed after a five-month hiatus prompted by the election in June of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, an anti-Western hard-liner.

“We have delivered two proposed drafts to them ... Of course they need to check the texts that we have provided to them. If they are ready to continue the talks, we are in Vienna to continue the talks,” Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters.

A European diplomat in Vienna confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Under the pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy, in exchange for relief from US, European Union and UN economic sanctions.

But in 2018, then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.

Estimating that 70-80 percent of a draft agreement was completed when Iran and world powers last met in June, a senior European diplomat said on Tuesday that it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off.

While Bagheri Kani had said everything negotiated during six rounds of talks between April and June was open for discussion, a member of Iran’s delegation said “elements in the previous unapproved draft that were in conflict with the nuclear deal were revised and gaps were filled” in Iran’s submitted drafts.

Israel, which opposed the original 2015 pact as too limited in scope and duration, urged world powers on Thursday to halt the talks immediately. It cited a UN nuclear watchdog report that Tehran has begun enriching uranium with more advanced centrifuges in its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, where any enrichment had been banned under the deal.

Iran had started the process of refining uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow.


Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions
Updated 02 December 2021

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions
  • Israelis are still allowed to fly to other countries and must quarantine when they return
  • Bennett was attacked by political rivals and everyday Israelis itching to return to normalcy

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett came under fire Thursday after his wife and children flew abroad just days after the Israeli leader urged citizens to avoid international travel because of the new coronavirus variant.
Gilat Bennett and her children took off Wednesday on a personal visit, triggering a storm of criticism against the prime minister for not following his own guidelines.
Their trip comes after Israel tightened travel restrictions in light of the omicron variant. Israel closed its border to foreign visitors and barred travel to much of Africa but Israelis are still allowed to fly to other countries and must quarantine when they return.
The episode drew comparisons to incidents at the beginning of the pandemic, when former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spent the Passover holiday with members of their family who lived outside their residence, even as they urged Israelis to celebrate away from their relatives. That sparked an outcry and raised questions about the public’s trust in leaders at a time of a major crisis.
Bennett was attacked by political rivals and everyday Israelis itching to return to normalcy.
“It’s a testament to his behavior, to his responsibility to the public, to the lack of personal example. He thinks he can do what he wants,” opposition lawmaker Israel Katz told Israeli Army Radio.
Israelis took to social media to berate the prime minister on his social media pages, questioning his leadership.
“Send regards to the family abroad while we are all languishing here with the restrictions,” a user named Anna Gechtman wrote.
In a Facebook post Wednesday answering questions about the new variant, Bennett was asked about his family’s trip and said they were not violating the new travel rules. He said they were expected to fly to a country that subsequently was banned to travel for Israelis and then changed their destination. He also said more had been revealed about where the virus has spread since his decision to limit travel.
“I understand the criticism,” Bennett wrote. “Everyone is leaving while following the restrictions and will of course quarantine as is required.”
Bennett on Friday announced the tightened measures in a press conference on Friday. He counselled Israelis not to bother booking holidays because he expected more countries to be added to the no-travel list.
“If you ask me, I don’t recommend flying abroad right now with such a level of uncertainty,” he said.


Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
Updated 02 December 2021

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
  • Operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies
  • The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada

DUBAI: The Arab coalition on Thursday carried out air strikes on military targets in Yemen’s Sanaa and Saada, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
It further called on civilians not to approach the targeted sites.
The coalition said the operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies. “In east of Sanaa, we destroyed two sites under construction as warehouses for military use,” it said.
The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada.
Earlier on Wednesday, the coalition said they intercepted and destroyed a drone over Amran province after it was launched from Sanaa International Airport.
The Iran-backed Houthis have repeatedly target Saudi Arabia with explosive-rigged drones, mostly without causing much damage because of the Kingdom’s air defenses.
The coalition has carried out multiple sorties against targets in Sanaa, particularly hitting the airport after surveillance pictures and videos showed it has been converted into a military base for experts of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.