BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament endorsed Thursday a draft law demarcating the county’s maritime borders with Israel and Cyprus during the second day of a two-day legislative session.
The move, which Prime Minister Najib Mikati praised as a “great achievement,” comes amid a dispute between Lebanon and Israel over territorial waters, believed to be rich with oil and natural gas resources.
Last month the Israeli government proposed maritime borders which Lebanese officials argue infringe on the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone by 854 square kilometers.
The draft law was endorsed after introducing an amendment to Article 6, as proposed by Mikati. The article specifies the borders of Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We discussed this matter with international legal experts … a company specializing in topographic matters will determine the coordinates of the [Exclusive Economic Zone] next week,” he said, adding that the EEZ coordinates would be stipulated in a Cabinet decree.
Metn MP Sami Gemayel complained that there had not been adequate time to go through the draft law distributed to lawmakers Wednesday.
But Speaker Nabih Berri said the law was “special, ” adding, “It has been discussed for a period of time, and Israel and Cyprus have already started to extract [offshore] oil and gas. We are trying to get this law done.”
For his part, Tyre MP Nawwaf Mousawi called for mentioning in the draft law that disputed point 23, the point on the extreme southwest of Lebanon’s proposed borders, lies in Lebanon’s EEZ.
A number of other draft laws were also endorsed by Parliament.
A law introducing for the first time penalties for human trafficking saw a heated debate among MPs before it was endorsed with several amendments.
The amendments include a stricter interpretation of trafficking when minors are involved. According to the amended law, the exploitation of minors through recruitment and transferring, without the use of force or threats, will be considered human trafficking. Some amendments were also introduced regarding trial procedures.
MPs also passed a proposal increasing punishment for so-called “honor crimes.” The law calls for canceling an article in the penal code that grants a commutation of sentence for anyone who kills a wife, husband or close family member caught in the act of adultery, under the pretext that the act was driven by extreme anger.
Lawmakers endorsed a draft law prohibiting personal exploitation of information in capital trading markets along with another one related to financial markets.
In addition, the legislature passed a draft law which promotes full-time teachers in public secondary schools and teachers in the General Directorate for Vocational and Technical Training by four pay levels.
MPs resumed the discussion of a draft law on promotions and benefits within army ranks after it was debated Wednesday. But Berri sent the draft law to parliamentary joint committees, citing a “contradiction” in the positions of the committees that studied it.
Mikati requested that a draft law be withdrawn from discussion that would modify the calculation of retirement benefits and end of service indemnities in favor of retired army personnel.
A proposal allowing the government to sign the optional protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was also sent back to parliamentary joint committees.
After a heated debate, Parliament killed a draft law to make one year of a prison sentence equivalent to nine months, in a bid to reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
Gemayel said that the draft law “solves a problem by causing another.”
“The problem [of overcrowding] is solved by building prisons, hastening trial procedures and deporting [arrested] foreigners,” Gemayel said.
MP Ghassan Moukheiber argued that the draft law would have contributed to ameliorating prison conditions.
Parliament referred an urgent draft law granting amnesty for some crimes committed before Dec. 31 last year to Parliament’s Administration and Justice committee, and Berri urged committee members to finish studying it within one week.
“I was told by the interior minister that prisoners would make trouble if there was no outcome from this session. But this makes me more determined not to legislate under threats,” Berri said, as lawmakers responded to his position with a round of applause.
Parliament referred to the Administration and Justice committee an urgent draft law allowing the Central Bank governor and his deputies to remain in their posts until the appointment of successors.
The legislature voted down a draft law on the amendment of some articles in the penal code relating to the forging of certificates.
Despite his well-known sense of humor, Berri was stern in managing the session. He had to use his gavel several times to end side chatting between the MPs.
“Weigh your words carefully when you speak to me,” he told Baabda MP Alain Aoun angrily, after the latter complained that the speaker was not granting him permission to speak.
MPs appeared tired toward the end of the session and Minister of State Nicolas Fattoush called for hastening the endorsement of the draft law under discussion, saying, “It is 2:30 and we are hungry.”
Echoing Fattoush, Batroun MP Butros Harb called upon Berri to adjourn the session, but the speaker responded jokingly, saying, “You are not fasting.”
After wrapping up the session, Berri called for a new one on Aug.10 to discuss the remaining draft laws.
Among draft laws still on the agenda is one to secure funds in the 2011 budget to establish new prisons in north and south Lebanon.
The legislature will also debate a draft law to begin work to increase Lebanon’s electricity production by 700 megawatts, as well as one approved by the Justice and Administration committee which would ban all advertisements that promote tobacco products and smoking in indoor public places.
Speaking to reporters on his way out of Parliament, Mikati praised the drafting of the law on delineating maritime borders with Israel, describing it as “a great achievement.”
The prime minister also said that questions that were posed to the Cabinet during the legislative session would be answered according to rules and regulations. Lawmakers had questioned the government’s role in investigating a number of recent security incidents including the kidnapping and release of seven Estonian tourists and an explosion last week in Beirut’s southern suburbs, which Hezbollah attributed to a gas canister, along with a dispute over land ownership in Lassa, Jbeil.
Responding to remarks by March 14 officials that the Cabinet was not well-informed on many of the debated laws, Mikati said that the Cabinet had a stance on every draft law discussed during the session, despite the fact that they were prepared by previous Cabinets.
He also said the legislative session was “excellent.”