Perspectives - December 11, 2020

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Sentences Hezbollah Member

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was established to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, sentenced Salim Jamil Ayyash, a member of Hezbollah, to five life sentences in prison on Friday. They stemmed from five charges, including conspiring to commit an act of terrorism; criminal association; committing acts of terrorism; intentional homicide with premeditation; and attempted intentional homicide with premeditation. A new international arrest warrant was also issued for Ayyash, who was tried in absentia.

Hezbollah to Sue Baha Hariri Over Beirut Port Blast Accusation

Hezbollah is suing Baha Hariri, the estranged brother of the country’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, after he accused the militant group of being responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port earlier this year, a TV station reported Wednesday. The move came a week after Hezbollah said it was suing former Christian lawmaker Fares Souaid and the website of the right-wing Lebanese Forces party for accusing Hezbollah of being responsible for the blast on August 4 that killed more than 200 people and wounded thousands.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Former Ministers Charged Over Beirut Blast

Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers have been charged with negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds and injuries to thousands in the massive August Beirut port explosion. Fadi Sawan, the judge investigating the blast, on Thursday charged Diab, former Public Works Ministers Ghazi Zaeiter and Youssef Fenianos, and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil with criminal negligence, a senior judicial source told Al Jazeera. The charges were later confirmed by state media.


Donors Say Beirut's Recovery Will Cost $2.5 Billion

International donors laid out a $2.5-billion response plan to the devastating port blast in Beirut in August, urging reforms in the crisis-hit country. The European Union, United Nations (UN), and World Bank published the plan four months after the country’s worst peacetime disaster on August 4 that killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands, and ravaged a huge part of Beirut. They said the roadmap for the next 18 months was to both help the most vulnerable people with international grants and focus on reconstruction funded by loans and private funds together with sweeping reforms. “The priority needs of the people-centered recovery track amount to $584 million, of which $426 million are needed for the first year,” said a report on the roadmap. “The costs for the reform and reconstruction track are estimated at $2 billion.” But those behind the plan warned international support for the reconstruction would “depend on the government's ability to demonstrate credible progress on reforms.”


Lebanon Cabinet Formation May Not Be Imminent, Despite Hariri’s Optimism

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Wednesday struck an upbeat note about forming a new Cabinet soon to enact reforms and halt Lebanon’s economic collapse. Hariri spoke to reporters at Baabda Palace after meeting with President Michel Aoun to present him with his first draft Cabinet lineup since he was designated to form a new government on October 22. “I presented to the president a complete Cabinet lineup of 18 ministers based on specialization, competence and without partisan affiliation. He promised me to study the [proposed] lineup and we will return to meet again. The atmosphere is positive,” Hariri said.


Hariri’s optimism may have been premature, given Aoun’s counter-proposal to the designated premier’s draft Cabinet lineup. A source said that shortly after Hariri Wednesday presented Aoun with a complete Cabinet lineup of 18 ministers of specialists, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Gebran Bassil, the president’s son-in-law, intervened and voiced his rejection of the proposed lineup. Bassil, who heads the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc, the largest in Parliament with 24 MPs, had been accused in the past of delaying Cabinet formation for months with his insistence on key ministerial portfolios being allotted to his bloc.

The rejection of Hariri’s proposed Cabinet lineup was reflected in the statement issued by the presidency Wednesday night, nearly two hours after the premier-designate left Baabda Palace. The presidency’s statement said, “President Aoun handed the prime minister-designate a complete Cabinet proposal containing a distribution of portfolios on the basis of clear principles.” “The president agreed with the prime minister-designate to study the presented proposals and continue consultations to deal with the disparity between these proposals,” the statement added.

Asked whether the Cabinet formation process returned to square one following Aoun’s counter-proposal, the same source said: “Hariri is waiting for Aoun’s response to his draft Cabinet lineup to determine whether there is an intention to obstruct the Cabinet formation before deciding on the next step.”

As Lebanon Subsidy Crunch Looms, UN Agencies Warn of Social Catastrophe

The removal of subsidies in Lebanon without guarantees to protect the vulnerable would amount to a social catastrophe, two UN agencies said on Monday, warning there is no parachute to soften the blow. With Lebanon deep in financial crisis, the Central Bank has been subsidizing basic goods by providing hard currency to importers at the old exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar even as the currency fell by 80% from the peg. Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said last week the subsidies could be kept for only two more months, urging the state to come up with a plan.

“The impact of removing price subsidies on the country’s most vulnerable households will be tremendous and yet there is almost nothing in place to help soften the fall,” UN officials wrote in an op-ed. “It is critical to realize that for Lebanon to fly off another cliff now, without first putting in place an inclusive system of social guarantees, would be to inflict a social catastrophe on the country’s most vulnerable people, sacrificing their wellbeing, and that of the country as a whole, for many years to come,” they wrote.

Lebanon Renews Calls for Israeli Withdrawal From Occupied Territories

Lebanon stressed Monday, during a routine tripartite meeting with Israeli military officials and the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon, on the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from all occupied territories. The call for a pullout included areas adjacent to the north of the Blue Line, the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba hills, the northern part of Ghajar, and the B1 UN acknowledged point, which is the first land point of the Blue Line. Lebanon also reiterated the necessity of including the occupied B1 point in future UN reports and resolutions, similar to how the rest of the occupied territories are mentioned.

Mob Seizes U.N. Peacekeeper Equipment in South Lebanon

A mob seized equipment from a UNIFIL convoy in south Lebanon after blocking its route, the UN peacekeeping force said of its latest run-in with the local population. The incident, which required the intervention of the Lebanese Army, took place last Friday as the UNIFIL convoy passed through the village of Kaouthariyet al-Saiyad on the way back to its base, according to the statement. “A large group of civilians...dispossessed the UNIFIL patrol of items and equipment,” the statement said, without specifying what was taken.