TRIPOLI, Lebanon: “Tripoli needs to show that it is a friendly and moderate city” said Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, arguing that a moderate character will create an environment that is open to investment and that can attract support and attention from Arab states.
He added that such efforts are “essential to reviving the city, and consolidating [Tripoli’s] growth rates with growing rates in the rest of the country.”
Speaking during a Future Movement-organized conference tackling the development of Tripoli, Siniora pointed out that the city has been the victim of administrative neglect, accusing the government of not allocating it enough resources or attention. “It is no wonder then that Tripoli has one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country” he added.
Siniora condemned attempts to distort Tripoli’s image and efforts to distance the northern city from the framework of the state. He hailed citizens who refused to go down the path of extremism and fanaticism, and condemned terrorist groups who tried to weaken the city.
Siniora vowed that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will finance the reconstruction of Syria road, which separates the warring Tripoli neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, a predominantly Alawite area that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, and mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh, which backs the Syrian uprising.
He called on the private sector, the public sector and Lebanese civil society to cooperate in reinvigorating the coastal city, stressing the need for a “clear vision that joins all efforts to rebuild Tripoli.”
Siniora proposed that the private sector harvest natural gas and revive oil projects in the district. He also urged the reopening of transportation agencies that facilitate the transport between Tripoli and Syria.
He said that initiatives should also concentrate on expanding the seaside harbor in order to stimulate touristic endeavors in Tripoli, alongside efforts to establish museums and cultural centers.
The former PM pointed out that development projects should aim to make the city an attractive center for Lebanese citizens and business men, pointing out that “ Tripoli is distinguished from other coastal cities with its unique features"
Siniora expressed hopes that joint efforts exercised by all public and private sectors alongside an active civil society would allow for a large number of job openings and new opportunities.
While speaking at the event Siniora also touched on the ongoing presidential vaacum, urging the March 8 alliance to come forth with their candidate for the presidential election after the March 14 announced Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as their candidate.
Siniora also said the Future parliamentary bloc was ready to resume “serious” discussions of the thorny issue of the salary scale.
“We are ready for a serious discussion of the salary scale while avoiding any monetary adventures and safeguarding the country’s economy of dangers it cannot handle,” he said.
The Future bloc argues that ratifying the wage hike in its current form will have disastrous repercussions on the country's economy.
Siniora highlighted that the Future bloc was looking to keep the Parliament fully- functional and productive, adding that Cabinet should be able to operate and manage the country in light of the looming dangers - a result of the presidential void and deteriorating security situation in the region.
He maintained that the primary goal of the Cabinet was to work on holding the presidential election, but also to work on arbitrating complications that might emerge in the meantime.
“We think that government work should be revived so as to ward off the dangers in light of the violence surrounding us in the region,” he said. “This [national unity government] is a chance for the Lebanese. It should work on solving emergencies and demonstrate the [political] maturity of its components.”
The lawmakers’ failure to pick a successor to Michel Sleiman has raised fears of a prolonged vacuum in the presidency, an issue that has already paralyzed Parliament legislation and is casting its shadow on government work.
Following Parliament’s failure in two separate sessions this week to elect a new president and discuss the public sector’s salary scale bill due to a lack of quorum, Speaker Nabih Berri warned that the disruption of Parliament sessions on the pretext of the presidential void would lead to the disruption of Cabinet sessions, thus bringing all constitutional institutions to paralysis.
Siniora once again called on Hezbollah to immediately put an end to the party’s intervention in Syria and bring back its forces to Lebanon so as to put an end to its involvement in regional conflicts.
“ Lebanon is surrounded by raging conflicts fueled by regional and international powers and we should avoid coming near strife or opening the doors for it,” he said.
Lebanese leaders struggled Friday to stave off any adverse repercussions of the fast-moving developments in Iraq on the security situation in Lebanon, calling for national unity and the swift election of a new president.
The major military gains made by militants from the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have sent shockwaves across the political landscape in Lebanon, which is already suffering from a bloody spillover of Syria’s civil war.
The Lebanese Army Friday arrested six Syrian terror suspects during a series of raids in the Bekaa Valley which aimed at preventing possible fallout from recent dramatic developments in Iraq.
Speaking to The Daily Star, an Army source described the raids as a pre-emptive operation in order to thwart potential security incidents in Lebanon.
Lebanese concerns over the events in Iraq stem from the fact that ISIS and other Al-Qaeda-linked groups claimed responsibility for the deadly car bombings and suicide attacks earlier this year that targeted areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa region, in response to the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad.