Rear View – Lebanon in review (18 July 2021)
14 July: Lebanese Interior Ministry will not revoke immunity for accused government officials
Mohammad Fahmi, Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister, has affirmed that he will not reconsider his refusal to lift the judicial immunity of General Security Director-General Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
Fahmi rejected the claim that his current position would interfere with the integrity of the judicial process, arguing that if that were true the judiciary would never have asked for his opinion.
Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into the Beirut Port explosion, sought to lift the immunity granted to Major General Ibrahim as a senior security official, as well as the other officials, ministers, and lawmakers he seeks to prosecute.
Fahmi’s refusal to rescind Ibrahim’s immunity has fueled public outrage at the lack of accountability being attributed for the blast. For days, families of the victims have been protesting outside parliament as well as the houses of Fahmi and other accused government officials, including former ministers Nohad El-Machnouk and Ghazi Zaiter.
Fahmi’s response to how he would handle the anger was, “I’ll meet it with the law.”
14 July: Violence erupts in Beirut between protestors and security forces
Only July 13th, hundreds of protestors, including relatives of the victims of the Beirut Port explosion, tried to storm caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi’s residence in Beirut.
In a demonstration lasting over three hours, protestors tossed stones and tomatoes at the house, threw coffins over the fence and smashed glass at the building’s entrance.
The building was being guarded by Internal Security Forces (ISF), who fired tear gas at the protestors as the violence escalated. Some protesters spray-painted “$50” on shields carried by the security forces, saying: “This is what the value of your salaries has become because of these killers. Do not defend them; stand with us.”
Both sides reported injuries, including 20 armed ISF soldiers. At least 10 unarmed civilians were suffocated by the tear gas, while several others sustained injuries from the ISF’s use of batons and shoving them away from the venue. Three journalists were injured in the confrontation.
A video posted by the ISF on Twitter announcing the number of injuries amongst its troops was met with a flood of replies of photos of the victims of the Beirut Port explosion on August 4th 2020.
15 July: UNICEF launches new financial assistance program in Lebanon
In its new Haddi (Next to Me) humanitarian initiative, UNICEF aims to provide financial assistance to 70,000 families with vulnerable children deprived of appropriate education and healthcare, and who are at risk of child labor, violence, and early marriage.
The program comes after a report by the Thomas Reuters Foundation revealed that between a third and a half of all UN aid sent to Lebanon (at least $250 million USD) is lost to Lebanese banks. The unfavourable American-Dollar-to-Lebanese-Lira exchange rates adopted by the banks cause the aid money to lose a significant amount of its value by the time it is passed onto Lebanese consumers as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
Haddi will use money transfer services instead of banks to distribute cash to participating families. Transfers will be provided in USD in amounts of either $40, $60, or $80, depending on the number of children in the family.
15 July: Hariri steps down as PM-designate
Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister-designate, announced his decision to step down following President Michel Aoun’s rejection of his proposed Cabinet on July 15th. Hariri’s suggested Cabinet aimed to deliver the country from a crisis by including 24 non-partisan ministers.
“God help this country,” Hariri said. “Aoun requested fundamental changes to the cabinet lineup I had presented to him on Wednesday, related to the naming of Christian ministers. He told me that we would not be able to reach an agreement.”
In response, Aoun’s office claimed that Hariri “was not ready to discuss amendments of any kind.” Aoun is set to arrange parliamentary consultations as soon as possible to determine who will next be tasked with forming a government.
Hariri’s dramatic move will plunge Lebanon further into political and economic turmoil. Immediately following the announcement, the Lebanese pound plunged to yet another record low: LBP21,150 to the dollar. Protests have broken out in the cities of Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and Baalbek, some of which have turned violent and resulted in the destruction of property and clashes between civilians and soldiers.
The international community received the news of Hariri’s resignation with concern. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described it as “disappointing” and stressed the critical urgency of Lebanon’s need for a government. French ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo announced a third international conference to support the Lebanese people to be hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron on August 4th, the one year anniversary of the Beirut Port explosion.
15 July: Israel reveals alleged Hezbollah weapons warehouse next to Lebanese school
The Israeli Defence Force tweeted the coordinates to and a photo of an alleged Hezbollah weapons storage warehouse in the village of Nabatieh in Lebanon. The warehouse is across the road from what is confirmed to be a public school.
The picture alone shows no clear evidence that the building is being used as Israel claims.
Israel claims that Hezbollah have various hidden weapon stockpile sites in residential and densely populated areas of Lebanon, especially Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon. In the event of a future conflict with Hezbollah, Israel stated it would be necessary to attack these locations.
In March of this year, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz revealed to Fox News in America that the IDF has a map of Hezbollah ground forces, storage sites, command offices, and missile launch sites.
“This is a target map. Each one of them has been checked legally, operationally, intelligence-wise, and we are ready to fight,” Gantz said.
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