BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Cabinet okays Saudi grant, keeps mum over missing troops

From left, Ministers Gebran Bassil, Nouhad Machnouk and Ramzi Joreige attend a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet approved Thursday a Saudi grant for buttressing the Army and security forces ability to counter terrorism, and re-endorsed the decision to issue passing certificates if teachers fail to grade official exams.

“The Council of ministers accepted the in-kind donation which consists of equipment and weapons for the Army and the security forces worth $1 billion offered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said after the meeting.

“The Cabinet reiterated endorsement of its previous decision to issue passing certificates to salvage the school-year and the students’ future after all attempts in that regard have failed,” Joreige said, reconfirming a Saturday deadline served by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab to start issuing the certificates if teachers continued to boycott grading exams.

The Unions’ Coordination Committee has escalated its protest in the last days, refusing to budge on its decision to boycott correction of the exams until Parliament approves a new salary scale.

Ministerial sources told the Daily Star that the Saudi donation will not be transferred to the Central Bank to fund the endeavors for which it has been allocated, as usually is the case for public grants.

Instead, it will be spent to buy the equipment directly by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has been entrusted by the Saudi government to ensure the proper disbursement of the aid, the sources said.

According to the sources, the mechanism for using the grant was suggested by Riyadh to ensure the money was spent in the right place and for the right purpose. As such, the government does not need to approve the grant, but rather accept the “in-kind assistance.”

Joreige also said the Cabinet reviewed the painful developments in Mosul and called on the international community to act quickly to stop the spate of killings and displacement taking place in north Iraq and to protect all components of the Iraqi people

“Lebanon appealed to countries of the world to take all necessary decisions to protect populations from crimes against humanity,” Joreige said in allusion to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) onslaught against Christians and members of the Yezidi faith.

Although no public statement was made on the missing Army and security forces personnel believed to be held by takfiri militants from Syria, discussion of the issue took centre stage at the meeting.

"The issue of the kidnapped troops will be the top file to be discussed from outside the regular agenda,” Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi had told reporters before walking into the session.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour echoed Rifi’s comment, saying “the government’s priority is to secure the release of the kidnapped soldiers” and noted that “a certain move in that direction” was underway.

Both ministers refused to give further details, with Rifi saying the a news black-out on information related to the case, will better serve negotiations for freeing the captives.

Negotiations to free the military and security personnel believed to be held by Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State for Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have reportedly hit an impasse over the militants’ demands to exchange the soldiers for Islamist prisoners and militant leader Imad Ahmad Jomaa, whose arrest on Aug. 2 triggered the fighting in Arsal.

Some 19 troops in addition to 17 Internal Security Forces personnel were also captured and believed to be held by the Syrian rebels.

Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said in comments published Thursday that some of the missing soldiers were feared to be dead.

 

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Summary

The Cabinet approved Thursday a Saudi grant for buttressing the Army and security forces ability to counter terrorism, and re-endorsed the decision to issue passing certificates if teachers fail to grade official exams.

Both ministers refused to give further details, with Rifi saying the a news black-out on information related to the case, will better serve negotiations for freeing the captives.

Some 19 troops in addition to 17 Internal Security Forces personnel were also captured and believed to be held by the Syrian rebels.

Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said in comments published Thursday that some of the missing soldiers were feared to be dead.


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