Rear View – Lebanon in review (19 September 2021)

Rear View – Lebanon in review (19 September 2021)

16 September: Judge Bitar issues arrest warrant for ex-minister

After former Public Works Minister Youssef Finianos failed to appear for court questioning, Judge Tarek Bitar – the lead investigator into the August 4th Beirut Port Explosion – issued an arrest warrant for him.

Bitar subpoenaed various top government officials for the investigation back in July including Finianos, whom Bitar’s predecessor Judge Fadi Sawan had accused of negligence. All have denied wrongdoing.

Sawan was removed from the lead investigator post in February after a court granted a request for his dismissal by two other former ministers he had charged with negligence for the disaster – Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter.

Former PM Hassan Diab is due to be questioned on September 20th, after failing to show up for questioning on August 26th. It is currently unclear whether he will attend, after he left Beirut on September 14th for the United States.

16 September: EU considers sanctions if new Lebanese government fails

The EU Parliament will consider imposing sanctions against Lebanese politicians who impede the progress of the new government, a statement said. Despite the formation of a government after over a year of political gridlock, the EU Parliament said pressure on the country must be maintained for now.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell stated that sanctions were no longer necessary after September 10th because of the government’s formation. However, in a landslide vote, the Parliament agreed that now was the time to urge Lebanese politicians “to keep [their] promises and be a functional government”.

The parliament voted 575 in favour and 71 against, with 39 abstentions.

EU lawmakers warned that “the introduction of targeted sanctions for obstructing or undermining the democratic political process remains an option.”

The EU agreed in June to prepare travel bans and asset freezes for Lebanese politicians accused of corruption and obstructing efforts to form a government, financial mismanagement and human rights abuses.

No names have been formally raised, but with financial collapse, hyperinflation, electricity blackouts and food shortages blighting the country, the parliament hopes its call will focus the minds of Lebanese politicians, many of whom have assets in the EU.

16 September: Lebanon’s Cabinet pledges reforms, resumes IMF talks

Lebanon’s new cabinet has pledged in a draft policy statement to implement reforms and resume talks with the IMF to rescue the nation’s crumbling economy. It will also review its debt restructuring negotiations with creditors after its default last year.

Reforms have been a key demand from international donors intending to send aid to Lebanon.

The move by the Cabinet, coming a week after it was sworn in, opens the way for a Parliamentary vote of confidence based on the government’s internal and external policies, including its priorities and plans for dealing with the most severe economic and financial crisis since the Civil War (1975-1990), including critical food, fuel, and medicine shortages.

According to media reports, Speaker Nabih Berri plans to set up a parliamentary session soon – either on Monday or Tuesday – for MPs to discuss the government policy statement before a vote of confidence takes place.

16  September: The first Iranian fuel tankers reach Lebanon

The first shipment of Iranian fuel has arrived in Lebanon to hopes it will alleviate the raging energy crisis and fears it will trigger US sanctions. The 31,000 tons of oil will increase the number of hours of electricity in Lebanon to about four or five per day.

The fuel was tested to determine if it met the required specifications and the results were positive. To supply Lebanon’s electricity plants with fuel, a tender will be held each month under the agreement and contract signed by former Minister Raymond Ghajar with the Iraqi Finance Minister and with General Abbas Ibrahim. During the first week of October, another tender will be held.

Lebanon’s government has said political party Hezbollah did not ask permission to import the fuel. Critics have long argued that the heavily armed Hezbollah acts as a state-within-a-state in Lebanon. With this move, the organisation may become more politically dominant, as thousands of vulnerable Lebanese receive long-awaited access to fuel and electricity resources.

In recent days, the US has reiterated that sanctions remain in place on Iranian oil sales. However, it has not said whether it will take action against Hezbollah, which it considers a terrorist group, or Lebanon as a whole.

A second shipment of B-grade fuel is scheduled to arrive from Iran next week.

17 September: Hezbollah supporters cause destruction while celebrating the arrival of Iranian fuel

A house in Baalbek, Eastern Lebanon was severely damaged after Hezbollah supporters fired an RPG-7 rocket that landed on its roof. The rocket was to commemorate the arrival of Iranian fuel through Syria and destroyed the roof of the house and damaged its interior.

Videos of men firing celebratory gunfire into the air as trucks carrying the fuel pass through the streets have also been circulating on social media.

Apart from concerns over its quality, the Iranian fuel has raised fears of repercussions, particularly sanctions from the US, due to the fact that Iran and Syria are both sanctioned countries.

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