Mikati suspends discretionary financial incentives following public sector protests

Special Mikati suspends discretionary financial incentives following public sector protests
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil and Najib Mikati. (Official Website/Najib Mikati)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Mikati suspends discretionary financial incentives following public sector protests

Mikati suspends discretionary financial incentives following public sector protests
  • Najib Mikati has asked Finance Minister Youssef Khalil to stop paying the additional incentives allocated to some public administration employees
  • Retired military personnel have also resumed their protests, closing the doors to the Old Serail in Zahle, and blocking access to the Saida Serail

BEIRUT: A new wave of protests has swept Lebanon as employees have turned on the government — the Ministry of Finance in particular — for providing discretionary financial incentives to some public administration employees while leaving out thousands of others.

The Cabinet at its last meeting agreed to allocate a financial advance of 36 billion Lebanese pounds ($2.4 million) in the form of financial incentives to employees of the Ministry of Finance, the Central Inspection, the Court of Audit, the Grand Serail (Government Palace), and the Presidential Palace.

This move outraged employees at other government institutions.

Protests were expanded on Thursday and saw the participation of employees from other public administrations and institutions.

Protesters called on the Cabinet to issue “an immediate decision to suspend the advance decree in order to redistribute it fairly and equally.”

Institutions to stop working on Thursday included the National News Agency, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Information, and the Ministry of Agriculture, along with others.

In the face of the protests, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has asked Finance Minister Youssef Khalil to stop paying the additional incentives allocated to some public administration employees.

The matter is to be discussed during the government session on Friday, as an item outside the agenda.

Retired military personnel have also resumed their protests, closing the doors to the Old Serail in Zahle, and blocking access to the Saida Serail.

Retired soldiers in Tripoli protested in front of the central bank’s branch in the city and blocked access to the administrative complex.

A statement from protesters expressed their “rejection of the gross discrimination against the public sector’s military and civilian employees and retirees.”

They added that “they are committed to the strike to defend justice and equality, and to reject the Ministry of Finance’s policy of discrimination approved by the prime minister.”

Workers at North Lebanon Water Establishment demonstrated before the headquarters of the institution in Tripoli. They called for “prioritizing” their demands so they can “continue to offer potable water.”

They added: “Our salaries are no longer sufficient to ensure continuity of life.”

Lebanon has been suffering from an economic crisis since 2019, which has led to a collapse in the exchange rate from 1,500 Lebanese pounds per dollar to about 90,000 pounds at present.

The World Bank has said the monetary poverty rate in Lebanon during that time has gone from 28 percent to 55 percent, while international organizations say that the country’s citizens are facing multidimensional poverty which is affecting 82 percent of Lebanese families.

Retired army personnel say that the minimum wage of retired soldiers is $150 based on current exchange rates. It was around $1,200 per month before 2019.

Their demands include calculating a unified percentage of the actual value of the pre-2019 salaries for all of the public sector and canceling all of the increases, bonuses and funds that have been given to certain categories of public sector employees.

The supply of food is also in question after employees at the Ministry of Agriculture went on strike, along with consumer protection inspectors.

The Union of Butchers and Cattle Farmers fear that an open-ended strike will affect the regular entry of cattle ships before the holy month of Ramadan.

The Food Importers’ Syndicate has also expressed its concern regarding the interruption of the entry of goods through border crossings and ports, particularly those that require testing by the Ministry of Agriculture, and inspection.

It also fears a severe shortage of goods which would impact on the month of Ramadan.

Joseph Al-Kosseifi, the head of Lebanon’s Syndicate of Editors, said: “The National News Agency, Radio Lebanon and the Directorate of Studies and Publications are the backbone of the Ministry of Information.

“The employees have never shied away from their duties, even under the most difficult circumstances. Therefore, they should be treated fairly. It would have been better for the officials to deal with the deteriorating sector more inclusively and fairly so that the other employees do not feel this unjustified discrimination against them.”

Beshara Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, stressed support for employees, especially “when it comes to getting an acceptable raise that would be integrated into their basic salaries, helping them avoid the daily suffering and bear the costs of coming to work.”

He added: “It is necessary for the proposed and implemented increases to include all of the independent departments, public institutions, municipalities, unions of municipalities and public hospitals, or they will move to organize protests and strikes like the employees of the ministries and public administrations.

“It is important to treat all employees equally and fairly.”


Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief

Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief
Updated 56 min 21 sec ago
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Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief

Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief
  • Israel has carried out operations against nuclear sites in the region before
  • Israel accuses Iran of wanting to acquire an atomic bomb, something Tehran denies

United Nations: Iran temporarily closed its nuclear facilities over “security considerations” in the wake of its massive missile and drone attack on Israel over the weekend, the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog said Monday.
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a UN Security Council meeting, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi was asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of an Israeli strike on an Iranian nuclear facility in retaliation for the attack.
“We are always concerned about this possibility. What I can tell you is that our inspectors in Iran were informed by the Iranian government that yesterday (Sunday), all the nuclear facilities that we are inspecting every day would remain closed on security considerations,” he said.
The facilities were to reopen on Monday, Grossi said, but inspectors would not return until the following day.
“I decided to not let the inspectors return until we see that the situation is completely calm,” he added, while calling for “extreme restraint.”
Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel overnight from Saturday into Sunday in retaliation for an air strike on a consular building in Damascus that killed seven of its Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.
Israel and its allies shot down the vast majority of the weapons, and the attack caused only minor damage, but concerns about a potential Israeli reprisal have nevertheless stoked fears of all-out regional war.
Israel has carried out operations against nuclear sites in the region before.
In 1981, it bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, despite opposition from Washington. And in 2018, it admitted to having launched a top-secret air raid against a reactor in Syria 11 years prior.
Israel is also accused by Tehran of having assassinated two Iranian nuclear physicists in 2010, and of having kidnapped another the previous year.
Also in 2010, a sophisticated cyberattack using the Stuxnet virus, attributed by Tehran to Israel and the United States, led to a series of breakdowns in Iranian centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.
Israel accuses Iran of wanting to acquire an atomic bomb, something Tehran denies.


’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift

’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift
Updated 16 April 2024
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’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift

’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift
  • Israel’s military said it intercepted 99 percent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the overnight attack caused only minor damage
  • Israel has killed at least 33,797 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

TEHRAN: Iran’s missile and drone barrage against Israel was the first act of a tough new strategy, Tehran says, warning arch foe Israel that any future attack will spark “a direct and punishing response.”
This spells a dramatic shift from past years in which the Islamic republic and Israel have fought a shadow war of proxy fights and covert operations across the Middle East and sometimes further afield.
Iran from late Saturday launched hundreds of drones and missiles, including from its own territory, directly at Israel, to retaliate for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus.
Israel’s military said it intercepted 99 percent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the overnight attack caused only minor damage.
Iran said it had dealt “heavy blows” to Israel and hailed the operation as “successful.”
“Iran’s victorious... operation means that the era of strategic patience is over,” the Iranian president’s political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi wrote on X.
“Now the equation has changed. Targeting Iranian personnel and assets by the regime will be met with a direct and punishing response.”
President Ebrahim Raisi said the operation had “opened a new page” and “taught the Zionist enemy (Israel) a lesson.”
Iran said it acted in self-defense after the Damascus strike levelled the consular annexe of its embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals.
Western governments denounced Iran’s retaliation as “destabilising the region.”
Iran, however, insisted the attack was “limited” and urged Western nations to “appreciate (its) restraint” toward Israel, especially since the outbreak of the Gaza war on October 7.
Regional tensions have soared amid the Israel-Hamas war which has drawn in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Several IRGC members, including senior commanders, have been killed in recent months in strikes in Syria which Iran has also blamed on Israel.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has frequently called for Israel’s destruction and made support for the Palestinian cause a centerpiece of its foreign policy.
But it had refrained from directly striking Israel until Saturday, an attack on a scale which appeared to catch many in the international community by surprise.
For decades, Iran relied on a network of allied groups to exert its influence in the region and to deter Israel and the United States, according to experts.
A 2020 report by the Washington Institute said that Tehran had adopted a policy of “strategic patience,” which had “served it well since the inception of the Islamic republic in 1979.”
Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani was a staunch defender of the strategy, especially following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal, advocating for Tehran not to take immediate countermeasures and taking a longer view.
Even after the 2020 US killing of Qasem Soleimani, an IRGC commander revered in Iran, Tehran gave prior warning to Washington, US sources said, before it launched missiles against two American bases in Iraq, and no soldiers were killed in the attack.
After Saturday’s attack on Israel, Guards chief Hossein Salami also said Iran was “creating a new equation.”
“Should the Zionist regime attack our interests, our assets, our personnel and citizens at any point, we will counterattack it from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
The attack was also hailed as a “historic” success by Iranian media, with the government-run newspaper Iran saying the offensive “has created a new power equation in the region.”
The ultra-conservative daily Javan said the attack was “an experience Iran needed, to know how to act in future battles” and that it would make Israel “think long before (committing) any crime” against Tehran.
The reformist Ham Mihan newspaper said the attack “ended the status quo and broke the rules of the conflict that pitted the two sides against each other for 20 years and pushed the situation into another phase.”
“This is no longer a shadow war,” it said.
 

 


Lebanese officials charge Mossad killed Hamas financier

Mohammed Srour. (X/@HasanDorr)
Mohammed Srour. (X/@HasanDorr)
Updated 16 April 2024
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Lebanese officials charge Mossad killed Hamas financier

Mohammed Srour. (X/@HasanDorr)
  • A Lebanese judicial official and a security source told AFP that Mossad likely masterminded Sarur’s killing, both speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press

BEIRUT: A Lebanese minister and two senior officials said preliminary findings suggest Israel’s Mossad spy agency was behind the killing of a US-sanctioned Lebanese man accused of sending Iranian money to Hamas.
The body of Mohammad Sarur, 57, was found riddled with bullets in a villa in the Lebanese mountain town of Beit Mery last Tuesday.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told Al-Jadeed TV late Sunday that, “according to the data we have so far, (the killing) was carried out by intelligence services.”
Asked whether he was referring to Mossad, Mawlawi confirmed.
AFP has requested comment from Israeli government officials but has received no response so far.
The US Treasury said in August 2019 that it had sanctioned Sarur for funnelling “tens of millions of dollars” from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards “to Hamas for terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip,” through Lebanon’s Hamas-allied Hezbollah.
The Lebanese group has been exchanging near daily cross-border fire with the Israeli military since October 7 when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Israel, triggering the war in Gaza.
A Lebanese judicial official and a security source told AFP that Mossad likely masterminded Sarur’s killing, both speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.
“The preliminary results of the investigation indicate that the Israeli Mossad was behind the assassination,” the security official told AFP.
Initial findings “suggest the Mossad used Lebanese and Syrian agents to lure Sarur to a villa in Beit Mery,” the official said, adding that they had wiped fingerprints from the crime scene and used silenced weapons.
The judicial official also told AFP that preliminary information pointed to Mossad, but that the probe was ongoing, with investigators collecting evidence “especially from communications data.”
The US Treasury said Sarur “served as a middle-man” for money transfers between the (Revolutionary) Guards and Hamas “and worked with Hezbollah operatives to ensure funds were provided” to Hamas’s armed wing.
Sarur “has an extensive history working at Hezbollah’s sanctioned bank, Bayt Al-Mal,” the Treasury said.
In January 2019, the Lebanese army said it had arrested a suspected Mossad agent over a failed bid to assassinate a Hamas official in the country’s south a year earlier.
In the 1970s, Israel launched a targeted assassination campaign against Palestinian militants in retaliation for the killing of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, leaving several militants dead in Beirut.
 

 


Israeli military pledges response to Iran attack amid calls for restraint

Israeli military pledges response to Iran attack amid calls for restraint
Updated 16 April 2024
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Israeli military pledges response to Iran attack amid calls for restraint

Israeli military pledges response to Iran attack amid calls for restraint
  • Iran mounted its attack after the April 1 killing in Damascus of seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders
  • Israel has killed at least 33,797 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military chief said on Monday his country would respond to Iran’s weekend missile and drone attack amid calls for restraint by allies anxious to avoid an escalation of conflict in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned his war cabinet for the second time in less than 24 hours to weigh how to react to Iran’s first-ever direct attack on Israel, a government source said.
Israel’s military Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said the country would respond, but provided no details.
“This launch of so many missiles, cruise missiles, and drones into Israeli territory will be met with a response,” he said at the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel, which sustained some damage in Saturday night’s attack.

The head of the military, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi (C), attending early on April 14, 2024 a meeting at the Israeli Air Force Operations Center in Kirya in Tel Aviv with the commanding officers of the Israeli Air Force, the operations directorate and the intelligence directorate. (AFP)

Iran’s attack — launched in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 — has increased fears of open warfare between Israel and Iran and heightened concerns that violence rooted in the Gaza war is spreading further in the region.
Wary of the dangers, President Joe Biden told Netanyahu the United States will not take part in any Israeli counter-offensive against Iran, officials said on Sunday.
Since the start of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Israel said four of its soldiers were wounded hundreds of meters inside Lebanese territory overnight.
It appeared to be the first such known incident since the Gaza war erupted, although there have been months of exchanges of fire between Israel and Lebanon’s armed group Hezbollah.
“We’re on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron made similar appeals. Washington and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have also issued calls for restraint.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined on Monday to say during a briefing whether Biden urged Netanyahu in talks on Saturday night to exercise restraint in responding to the attack.
“We don’t want to see a war with Iran. We don’t want to see a regional conflict,” said Kirby, adding that it was up to Israel to decide “whether and how they’ll respond.”
Countries including France, Belgium and Germany summoned the Iranian ambassadors. The French foreign ministry said France was working with its partners to de-escalate the situation.
Russia has refrained from criticizing its ally Iran in public over the strikes but expressed concern about the risk of escalation on Monday and also called for restraint.
“Further escalation is in no one’s interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Iran mounted its attack after the April 1 killing in Damascus of seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders. Israel neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack.
Iran’s retaliatory attack, involving more than 300 missiles and drones, caused modest damage in Israel and wounded a 7-year-old girl. Most were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan.
In Gaza itself, where more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive according to Gaza health ministry figures, Iran’s action has drawn applause.
Israel began its campaign against Hamas after the Palestinian militant group attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages by Israeli tallies.

G7 MULLS SANCTIONS
In Washington, Biden reiterated US commitment to Israel’s security ahead of a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
Sudani, speaking alongside Biden, said their views may be divergent about what is happening in the region but they wanted to stop the conflict from expanding.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Group of Seven major democracies were working on a package of coordinated measures against Iran.
“I spoke to my fellow G7 leaders, we are united in our condemnation of this attack,” Sunak said in parliament.
Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7, said it was open to new sanctions against individuals engaged against Israel.
In an interview with Reuters, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said new sanctions would need the backing of all the G7. He suggested any new measures would be focused on individuals rather than whole nations.
“If we need to have more sanctions for people clearly engaged against Israel, supporting for example terrorism, supporting Hamas, it is possible to do it,” Tajani said.
Iran’s attack has caused travel disruption, with at least a dozen airlines canceling or rerouting flights, and Europe’s aviation regulator reaffirming advice to airlines to use caution in Israeli and Iranian airspace.
Iraqi Airways announced a resumption of flights between Iraq and Iran on Tuesday.
Israel remained on high alert, but authorities lifted some emergency measures that had included a ban on some school activities and caps on large gatherings.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States that the attack on Israel would be limited and for self-defense, and that regional neighbors had been informed of the planned strikes 72 hours in advance.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, however, that no pre-arranged agreement was made with any country prior to the weekend attack.
Kirby said that Iran did not warn the United States in advance of the attack’s timeframe or targets, calling reports that Tehran had done so “categorically false.”

 


Peace hopes for Yemen must not become collateral damage of other regional conflicts, UN envoy says

Peace hopes for Yemen must not become collateral damage of other regional conflicts, UN envoy says
Updated 16 April 2024
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Peace hopes for Yemen must not become collateral damage of other regional conflicts, UN envoy says

Peace hopes for Yemen must not become collateral damage of other regional conflicts, UN envoy says
  • Hans Grundberg warns of acute need for regional deescalation amid concerns about rising food insecurity and reemergence of cholera in Yemen
  • US deputy ambassador Robert Wood repeats ‘call for Iran to stop these illegal weapons transfers and to stop all activities that facilitate the Houthis’ reckless attacks’

NEW YORK CITY: The UN’s special envoy for Yemen on Monday said that while it is clear that the war in the country has connections to other conflicts in the region, “we owe it to the Yemenis to ensure that resolving the conflict in Yemen is not made contingent upon the resolution of other issues.”

Hans Grundberg added: “We cannot risk Yemen’s chance for peace becoming collateral damage” caused by other conflicts.

Speaking during a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the latest developments in the country, he said the threat of further attacks the Red Sea persists in absence of a ceasefire in Gaza, the urgent need for which was underscored by the latest escalation in hostilities between Israel and Iran.

Since the war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza began in October, attacks by the Iran-backed, Yemen-based Houthis on international shipping have continued to cause disruption to trade routes in the Red Sea. The militant group has threatened to continue the attacks until Israel ends its assault on Gaza. The UK and the US began to launch retaliatory military strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen in January.

There is an acute need for a deescalation of conflicts on a broader regional basis, Grundberg said as he warned: “If we leave Yemen’s political process in the waiting room and continue down this path of escalation, the consequences could be catastrophic, not only for Yemen but also for the wider region.”

Grundberg lamented that in contrast to last year, there was not much to celebrate this year during Eid Al-Fitr in Yemen.

“Detainees we had hoped would be released in time to spend Eid with their loved ones remain in detention,” he said. “Roads we had hoped to see open remain closed.

“We also witnessed the tragic killing and injury of 16 civilians, including women and children, when a residence was demolished by Ansar Allah individuals in Al-Bayda governorate,” he added, using the official name for the Houthis.

Briefing council members on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, Edem Wosornu, the director of operations and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted the rising levels of food insecurity in the country over recent months.

She said the situation deteriorated further after the World Food Program suspended the distribution of food aid in areas controlled by the Houthis in December 2023. This pause followed disagreements with local authorities about who should receive priority assistance, and was compounded by the effects of a severe funding crisis on WFP humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

It comes as greater percentage of households in southern Yemen struggle to obtain sufficient supplies of food compared with those in the north, in part because of the historically low exchange rate of Yemeni rial against the US dollar in areas controlled by the internationally recognized government.

“The most vulnerable people — including women and girls, marginalized groups such as the Muhamasheen, internally displaced people, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and persons with disabilities — still depend on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said Wosornu.

She also voiced concern about an increase in cases of cholera in Yemen amid the continuing deterioration of public services and institutions.

“The reemergence of cholera, and growing levels of severe malnutrition, are telling indicators of the weakened capacity of social services,” she told the council.

“Almost one in every two children under 5 are stunted, more than double the global average: 49 per cent compared to 21.3 per cent.

“Emergency stocks of essential supplies are almost depleted. And water, sanitation and hygiene support systems need urgent strengthening.”

The humanitarian response plan for Yemen is only 10 percent funded, with funding of its food security and nutrition programs standing at just 5 percent and 3 percent respectively, according to an informal update presented to the Security Council by the OCHA this week. Wosornu appealed to the international community to take urgent action to help fill the funding gaps.

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, urged council members to persist in their demands that the Houthis halt attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

“We must also do more to underscore the council’s concern regarding the Iranian origin of weapons used by the Houthis, and the ongoing violations of the arms embargo,” he added.

“It is no secret that Iran provides weapons to the Houthis in violation of the UN arms embargo. We repeat our call for Iran to stop these illegal weapons transfers and to stop all activities that facilitate the Houthis’ reckless attacks.

“Iran’s continuous efforts to foment instability and terror in the region, as demonstrated through this weekend’s unprecedented attacks by Iran against the State of Israel, need to be strongly condemned by this council.”