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Lebanon News

Cabinet set to meet as security deteriorates

President Michel Sleiman, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda , east of Beirut, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet is scheduled to meet Monday against the backdrop of major security developments, including the killing of two Lebanese by Syrian gunfire on the border over the weekend, an abortive attempt to assassinate Batroun MP Butros Harb and rising tension in the northern district of Akkar.

The Cabinet session, to be chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, comes as the opposition March 14 parties launches blistering attacks on the government over its failure to improve the deteriorating security situation.

The session will also serve as a new test of ministerial solidarity after Parliament’s approval of a controversial draft law that made electricity contract workers full-timers threw the Cabinet and the legislature into disarray.

“The security situation and the [draft] 2012 state budget will dominate the Cabinet session if it is held,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Sunday.

The source could not confirm whether the 10 ministers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, who thwarted a Cabinet session with their boycott last week, would attend Monday’s meeting.

Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, one of 10 ministers from Aoun’s bloc, said the decision to attend or stay away from the Cabinet session has not been taken yet. “The decision will be taken tomorrow morning,” Abboud told The Daily Star. Asked about the chance of attendance, he said: “It’s a 50-50 chance.”

However, a ministerial source in Aoun’s bloc told The Daily Star that the bloc was leaning toward participating in the Cabinet session.

Sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that the premier was making contacts with the main parties represented in the Cabinet in order to ensure that the meeting would be held with the presence of all ministers.

“The security situation will be the main topic on the agenda of the Cabinet session if it is held, in addition to the [2012] budget and other issues,” a source told The Daily Star.

The source said that Mikati’s decision to call the Cabinet meeting after consulting with Sleiman was motivated by a desire to take an appropriate stance on security developments in Beirut and the north. “Mikati hopes the Cabinet session will take fruitful decisions to deal with the security developments,” the source said.

Mikati received a phone call from United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who briefed him on the results of last week’s conference on Syria held in Geneva.

The security situation was shaken Thursday by an failed attempt to kill Harb, a leading figure in the March 14 coalition. Explosive detonators were found on the ceiling of the elevator in the Badaro building housing Harb’s law office. Three men suspected of planting the devices escaped.

The March 14 coalition held the government responsible for the attempted assassination, because it had withheld telecommunications data necessary for security bodies to uncover such plots and called for its resignation.

The next day, tension ran high in Akkar as residents and masked gunmen blocked a number of roads to protest the release of three Army officers and eight soldiers allegedly involved in the May 20 killing of two sheikhs at an Army checkpoint in the district.

In the latest of deadly incidents on the increasingly tense Lebanese-Syrian border, two Lebanese, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed Saturday and 10 were wounded in north Lebanon in separate incidents resulting from shelling from the Syrian side of the frontier. Last week, Syrian forces briefly kidnapped two General Security personnel at the Bqayaa border crossing in the north of the country.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, lambasted the Mikati government, saying it cannot be trusted to run public affairs because of its “record of failures.” He accused the government of “complicity” with criminals targeting March 14 politicians.

“This government cannot supervise the [2013] parliamentary elections ... We cannot accept this government as it is incompetent, lax and turns a blind eye to killers and is complicit with whoever is committing crimes and assassinations,” Siniora said in a speech at a mass rally held by the Future Movement in the village of Majdalyoun near the southern city of Sidon Saturday.

He renewed March 14’s calls for the formation of “a salvation government” before it is too late.

Siniora slammed the government for withholding telecoms data from security agencies, saying this amounted to a decision to kill all those who opposed Hezbollah’s arms and the government.

“Those who tried to assassinate MP Butros Harb did not land from the moon, nor did they vanish in the sky. They have gone to their homes and we want to know who are they, who is protecting them and who ordered them,” he said.

“We will not keep silent on violating Lebanese sovereignty. We will not accept to be false witnesses to the assassination of March 14 leaders and the assassination of the country,” Siniora added.

Also, speaking at the rally, Sidon’s MP Bahia Hariri said: “We voice our fear for the nation, the state, national unity, coexistence and legitimate institutions and for our economy.”

Former President Amin Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Party, also lashed out at the government, calling it “the worst government in Lebanon’s history.”

Speaking at the opening of a Kataeb branch in the village of Lebaa, east of Sidon, Gemayel said a solution for the crisis in Lebanon lay with the resignation of the government and finding a quick and radical solution for the issue of illegitimate arms, a reference to Hezbollah’s weapons.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said Aoun’s bloc was not boycotting the Cabinet meetings, adding that the absence of its ministers from last week’s two sessions was to protest Parliament’s endorsement of a bill to make contract workers with Electricite Du Liban full-time employees.

“We don’t want to topple or paralyze the government. But we don’t want sessions for the sake of holding sessions,” Bassil told LBCI TV.

Christian MPs from both the March 8 and March 14 camps have strongly opposed the EDL contract workers law, claiming that it would lead to the underrepresentation of Christians in the public sector. MPs from the Future bloc, Amal and Hezbollah teamed up to support the law.

MPs from Aoun’s bloc, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb party boycotted a Parliament session last week in protest against the endorsement of the law. Also, Aoun’s 10 ministers thwarted a quorum for a Cabinet session last Tuesday for the same reasons.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 09, 2012, on page 1.

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