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.”


Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine

Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine
Updated 5 sec ago
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Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine

Arab League chief praises UN Special Rapporteur Albanese for stand on Palestine
  • Aboul Gheit met Albanese at the headquarters of the Arab League General Secretariat in Cairo
  • Discussion centered on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, given continued Israeli violations against the civilian population

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese discussed the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

Aboul Gheit met Albanese at the headquarters of the Arab League General Secretariat in Cairo.

The discussion centered on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, given continued Israeli violations against the civilian population over the past several months.

Albanese is the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Gamal Roshdy, the secretary-general’s spokesperson, conveyed Aboul Gheit’s commendation for the special rapporteur’s work and her courageous stance as a global conscience amid the “silence and indifference of many nations toward the atrocities committed by the occupying forces, which constitute acts of genocide.”

Roshdy quoted Aboul Gheit as affirming during the meeting that Israeli crimes could not be justified as mistakes or collateral damage from military operations.

“They are deliberate acts aimed at collectively punishing the population and depriving Palestinians of their fundamental right to live on their land.”

Aboul Gheit expressed his solidarity with Albanese in the face of incitement campaigns and accusations of antisemitism against her.

He said that the motives behind these campaigns were clear, highlighting Israel’s efforts to silence any independent voices that exposed the reality of the civilian massacre unfolding in the Gaza Strip. 

He said that Israel engaged in character assassination against individuals who revealed its falsehoods and deception to global public opinion.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Albanese discussed the condition of human rights and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories on Sunday.

Shoukry received Albanese in Cairo, where they called for an immediate end to Israeli attacks on Gaza in compliance with international laws and demanded the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.


Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says
Updated 22 April 2024
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Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

Drone attack targeted US forces in Iraq, US official says

BAGHDAD: US forces stationed at Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base were targeted in an armed drone attack that caused no damage or casualties, a US official said, in the second attack on US troops in the region in less than 24 hours.
The attacks follow a near-three month pause in the targeting of US forces in Iraq and Syria after months of near-daily rocket and drone strikes by Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed factions over US backing of Israel’s Gaza campaign.


Israel fails to provide evidence for allegations against UNRWA staff so far, Colonna report finds

Israel fails to provide evidence for allegations against UNRWA staff so far, Colonna report finds
Updated 8 min 43 sec ago
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Israel fails to provide evidence for allegations against UNRWA staff so far, Colonna report finds

Israel fails to provide evidence for allegations against UNRWA staff so far, Colonna report finds
  • The report said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its claim that a significant number of UNRWA staff were members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad

LONDON: Israel has not provided evidence to support claims that staff members of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, participated in the Oct. 7 attacks, an independent review led by the former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna revealed.

The Colonna review, drafted with the assistance of three Nordic research institutes, underscores the lack of substantiation for broader allegations made by Israel in March, accusing numerous UNRWA employees of affiliating with Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Major donors cut their funding to the agency in January, which is the primary source of humanitarian aid not only to Gaza but also to Palestinian refugees throughout the region, following Israel’s allegations.

This was despite the critical circumstances of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, the majority of whom have been displaced by Israel’s war since Oct. 7 and are struggling to access water, food, shelter, or medical care.

The report found that UNRWA has consistently supplied employee lists to Israel for vetting and that “the Israeli government has not informed Unrwa of any concerns relating to any Unrwa staff based on these staff lists since 2011.”

A more detailed assessment was sent to the UN by the three Nordic research bodies — the Swedish-based Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the Norwegian Chr Michelsen Institute, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

“Israeli authorities have to date not provided any supporting evidence nor responded to letters from Unrwa in March, and again in April, requesting the names and supporting evidence that would enable Unrwa to open an investigation,” the report stated.

The Colonna report deemed UNRWA indispensable for providing essential humanitarian aid and services, the Guardian reported.

“In the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Unrwa remains pivotal in providing life-saving humanitarian aid and essential social services, particularly in health and education, to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank,” it said.

“As such, Unrwa is irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development. In addition, many view Unrwa as a humanitarian lifeline.”

The Colonna review proposes several enhancements to neutrality safeguards for UNRWA’s staff of over 32,000, including expanding the internal oversight service, increasing in-person training, and boosting support from donor countries. However, it acknowledges that UNRWA’s current measures are already more stringent than those of many similar organizations.

“The review revealed that Unrwa has established a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles, with emphasis on the principle of neutrality and that it possesses a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities,” it said

One common criticism from Israel is that UNRWA schools throughout the region use Palestinian Authority textbooks containing antisemitic content, the Guardian reported. However, the technical report by the Nordic institutions found little evidence to support these allegations.

“Three international assessments of PA textbooks in recent years have provided a nuanced picture,” the report said. “Two identified presence of bias and antagonistic content, but did not provide evidence of antisemitic content. The third assessment, by the (German-based) Georg Eckert Institute, studied 156 PA textbooks and identified two examples that it found to display antisemitic motifs but noted that one of them had already been removed, the other has been altered.”

The recent resumption of funding by most donor nations, pending the Colonna report, reflects ongoing developments, while US financial support remains permanently banned due to the allegations.

A separate investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services into the Oct. 7 attack continues, the Guardian reported.


Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
Updated 22 April 2024
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Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
  • Aharon Haliva becomes the first senior Israeli figure to step down over Hamas’ attack
  • Hamas fighters rampaged through Israeli territories unchallenged, killing 1,200 on Oct. 7

TEL AVIV: The head of Israel’s military intelligence directorate resigned on Monday over the failures surrounding Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, the military said, becoming the first senior figure to step down over his role in the deadliest assault in Israel’s history.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva’s resignation sets the stage for what’s expected to be more fallout from Israel’s top security brass over Hamas’ attack, when militants blasted through Israel’s border defenses, rampaged through Israeli communities unchallenged for hours and killed 1,200 people, most civilians, while taking roughly 250 hostages into Gaza. That attack set off the war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

The military said in a statement that Haliva had asked to end his service “following his leadership responsibility.” Shortly after the war, Haliva had publicly said that he shouldered blame for not preventing the assault at the head of the military department responsible for providing the government and the military with intelligence warnings and daily alerts.

The military said in the statement that the military chief of staff accepted Haliva’s request to resign and thanked him for his service.

Haliva, as well as other military and security leaders, were widely expected to resign in response to the glaring failures that led up to Oct. 7 and those that made it such a devastating attack.

But the timing of the resignations is unclear because Israel is still fighting Hamas in Gaza and battling the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the north. Tensions with Iran are also at a high following attacks between the two enemies.

While Haliva and others have accepted blame for failing to stop the attack, others have stopped short, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he will answer tough questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged any responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold.


Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine

Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine
Updated 22 April 2024
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Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine

Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine
  • Tehran’s nuclear program banned the development of nuclear weapons in a fatwa

DUBAI: Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s nuclear doctrine, the country’s foreign ministry said on Monday, days after a Revolutionary Guards commander warned that Tehran might change its nuclear policy if pressured by Israeli threats.
“Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program only serves peaceful purposes. Nuclear weapons have no place in our nuclear doctrine,” ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said during a press conference in Tehran.
Following a spike in tensions with Israel, the Guards commander in charge of nuclear security Ahmad Haghtalab said last week that Israeli threats could push Tehran to “review its nuclear doctrine and deviate from its previous considerations.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on Tehran’s nuclear program, banned the development of nuclear weapons in a fatwa, or religious decree, in the early 2000s.