Lebanon breaks deadlock for new government, first since 2020 port blast

Cabinet headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati will face massive job of passing major reforms to pull country out of economic tailspin and secure rescue package

Motorcycle drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP/ Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanese factions formed a new government on Friday, breaking a 13-month deadlock that saw the country slide deeper into financial chaos and poverty.

Lebanon has been without a fully empowered government since the catastrophic August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut port, which forced the resignation of then prime minister Hassan Diab’s government.

Rival political groups had been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since then, hastening the country’s economic meltdown.

The new cabinet of 24 ministers headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was announced by the president’s office, and later by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Mahmoud Makkieh.

Ministers were handpicked by the same politicians who have ruled the country for the past decades and whose corruption and mismanagement many blame for the country’s current crisis.

The new government announced Friday faces a mammoth task that few believe can be surmounted, including undertaking critically needed reforms. Among its first jobs will be overseeing a financial audit of the Central Bank, and resuming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package to stem the country’s collapse. The new cabinet is also expected to oversee general elections scheduled for next year.

Mikati, a businessman tycoon from the northern city of Tripoli and one of the richest men in Lebanon, was tasked with forming a new government in July. He is widely considered to be part of the same political class that brought the country to bankruptcy. He served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013.

It was not immediately clear what last-minute compromise resulted in the breakthrough Friday. The announcement of a new government comes after recent US and French pressure to form a cabinet, after Lebanon’s economic unraveling reached a critical point with crippling shortages in fuel and medicine threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and the country’s internet.

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Lebanon gets new government amid deepening crisis

A new government has been announced in Lebanon over a year after the previous administration quit following the devastating Beirut port explosion.

Najib Mikati – Lebanon’s richest man – becomes prime minister, a position he has held twice before.

His appointment, along with the naming of a new cabinet, ends months of political paralysis.

It comes as Lebanon grapples with some of the severest domestic crises it has faced in its history.

The value of the currency has collapsed, unemployment and inflation have soared, electricity, fuel and medicines are in short supply, and the country has been rocked by nearly two years of protests calling for wholesale political reforms.

Lebanon had been without a proper functioning government since then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast on 4 August 2020 destroyed Beirut port and the surrounding area.

 

The explosion, caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed 203 people, injured at least 6,000 others and left billions of dollars of damage.

The disaster – coming in the midst of the pandemic – triggered a wave of outrage against the government and Lebanon’s political system. Protesters blamed the blast on corruption, incompetence and a system of patronage where jobs are given in return for political support.

The event compounded growing anger which had been building since the start of the financial crisis in late 2019. In the last few months alone the Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value, while three quarters of the population are now living below the poverty line.

Speaking to the BBC after announcing the new cabinet, Mr Mikati said one of his first priorities would be to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund to secure a financial rescue package.

“You know what a critical situation we are in,” he said, noting the growing strain on the education and healthcare sectors, as well as the increasing numbers of people leaving the country.

He added that despite his own wealth, he was able to understand the impact of the current crisis on people’s lives: “I have three children… outside Lebanon. So I feel with people. I feel the kind of poverty, the kind of hunger they are in, the fear they have of the future. So this is not just a matter of money or not [having] money.”

 

Lebanon’s delicate sectarian power-sharing system had stymied repeated attempts to form a government in the wake of Hassan Diab’s resignation.

Since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, political power has been delicately balanced between its many sects, with the president a Christian, prime minister a Sunni Muslim and Speaker a Shia Muslim. An inability to come to an agreement on the nomination of ministers to the satisfaction of various factions and blocs held up the process.

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IDF fires mysteriously timed flares near Gaza, Lebanon border – reports

IDF artillery allegedly fired flares near the borders with both Lebanon and Gaza around the same time on Monday evening, according to reports by Israeli and Arab media.
 
At 9:30, the Palestinian Safa Press Agency tweeted a picture of an alleged flare which their correspondent claimed was fired toward the Kissufim area of southern Israel, east of the Gaza city of Khan Younis.
 
Fewer than 10 minutes later, a reporter for the Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar tweeted a picture of his own, which he claims fell near the Israel-Lebanon border.
 
According to Israeli media, the flares in northern Israel were fired due to fears of an intrusion into Israeli territory in the area of the Manara Cliff in the Upper Galilee, to aid the soldiers conducting searches.
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Cabinet okays tax revenues transfer to Abbas, holds back some for ‘pay to slay’ Ministers decide to withhold some NIS 600 million out of 2.4 billion total to compensate for PA payments to terrorists and their families

The security cabinet authorized late Sunday the transfer of some NIS 2.4 billion ($725 million) in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians after the Palestinian Authority decided to renew cooperation earlier this month.

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Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian leader Abbas meet, hope Biden revives peace process

AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and both leaders set high hopes that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will revive peace talks over a two-state solution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict, officials said.

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In their first phone call, Abbas urges Biden to intervene, stop Israeli attacks

US president opposes Sheikh Jarrah evictions, PA leader’s office says; two leaders discuss ceasefire efforts, two-state solution

US President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Saturday night with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time since the former took office in January, both said in statements.

According to Abbas’s office, the two presidents discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

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Hezbollah on military alert ahead of massive IDF drill

Lebanese based Hezbollah terror group was put on high alert ahead of a month-long IDF drill that will begin on Sunday.
 
Israel’s military maneuver will imitate the outbreak of war on multiple fronts including missile fire at civilian population areas.
 
Lebanon media reports Hezbollah increased preparedness in South Lebanon and on the Syrian Golan Heights.
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Beast in the Middle East! Snow blankets Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and Syria amid freezing temperatures caused by a weakened polar vortex

Snow falls in Jerusalem over the Dome of the Rock for the first time in years after a polar vortex brought freezing conditions across many Middle Eastern countries

Workers make their way through the streets of Istanbul earlier this week after parts of Turkey were blanketed in thick snow which also hit large parts of the Middle East
Snow up to six inches deep fell in mountainous regions of southern Syria near the border with Israel (pictured, the Quneitra border between the two countries
The northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah is seen covered in snow last month after unseasonably cold air brought snow to parts of the Middle Eastern country

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Gantz: Hezbollah will be ‘fatally wounded’ if Israel drawn into a war in Lebanon

Defense minister warns of possible difficult days for home front after terror group head Nasrallah said it will bomb Israeli cities in response to any attacks in Lebanon

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday that Hezbollah will be “fatally wounded” if Israel needs to go to war in Lebanon, after the terror group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Israel following an Israel Defense Forces exercise simulating war with the terror group.

“If we have to go to battle, Lebanon will tremble and Hezbollah will be fatally wounded,” Gantz said at a ceremony to honor soldiers who fell in battle and whose burial places are unknown.

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Prominent Hezbollah critic shot dead, Lebanese security official says

Lokman Slim, who went missing Wednesday evening en route to Beirut, was regularly criticized by terror group’s supporters, media

Lokman Slim in an interview with MTV Lebanon News on July 27, 2013. (Screenshot: YouTube)

A prominent Lebanese publisher and vocal critic of the Shiite Hezbollah terror group was found dead in his car Thursday morning, shot multiple times at close range, security and forensic officials said.

Lokman Slim, a 58-year-old longtime Shiite political activist and researcher, was found in his car on a rural road near the southern village of Addoussieh.

A forensic coroner on the scene said Slim was shot in his chest, head and neck, killing him on the spot. Blood was splattered over the passenger seat of a rental car, where his body had apparently fallen.

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