08/04/2020, 16.51
LEBANON
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Foreign Minister resigns, says ‘Lebanon is going bankrupt’

by Pierre Balanian

The international community has no faith in Lebanon. Even France prefers to manage aid for Lebanese schools through its embassy in Beirut. Two more people take their own life because of the economic situation. Many fear Netanyahu will start a war from the south. Others fear war in the north where Sunni extremists armed by Ankara are ready to take revenge for Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. The International Tribunal will release its final verdict on Friday, likely against Hezbollah and Syria.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – In a surprise move, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned three days ago (pictured) from the country’s “technocratic" government.

Led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the latter has been known more for its silence and inaction, completely isolated inside the country, and kept at distance by former allies and friends like the EU, the US and the Arab Gulf states.

Since he took office, the now former foreign minister never made any visits abroad, nor received any foreign colleagues, except for one official visit by the French Foreign Minister, who came to save Lebanon’s French-Language schools, which like all Lebanese schools may not reopen come next school year due to the COVID-19, but also to the country’s disastrous economic situation.

Even so, Prime Minister Diab criticised the French minister's visit because the US$ 17.5 million allocated to French-speaking schools, for the first time, will not go to the Lebanese government, but will be managed directly by the French embassy in Lebanon at the request of individual schools.

This is a clear sign of distrust towards Lebanon and its political establishment, which has run the country for the past three decades and more.

To justify his flight from what the local press calls "the sinking boat", Nassif Hitti said very little, except: “Lebanon is going bankrupt . . . and there is no will to introduce reforms.”

"What is the use of a foreign minister in Lebanon, whose diplomatic relations are now only with Syria, Iraq and Iran, which Hezbollah already conducts?” tweeted Georges Hayek, an intellectual with the Lebanese Forces, a Christian-based political party, with a wide following.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun reacted immediately, appointing his adviser, Charbel Wahbe, a Christian and a former Lebanese ambassador to Venezuela, as the new foreign minister.

Soon afterwards, it was announced that Kuwait invited the new minister to make an official visit, even though the country is closed for Eid Al Adha celebrations. However, no Kuwaiti source has confirmed the information.

Against this background, more and more people are taking their own lives. The latest are a Lebanese man and a foreign worker, an Ethiopian woman, both of whom hanged themselves. The situation is getting so absurd that the media is barely reporting such stories whilst the general public is largely apathetic.

COVID-19 cases are also significantly up, putting the health system and ordinary people at risk since, because of widespread poverty, food is taking precedence over protective masks. And when people do buy masks, the cheapest, go for at least a US dollar a piece.

Two other factors are also raising great concern. First of all, in Israel, anti-Netanyahu protests might push the Israeli leader to start a war in southern Lebanon. Such a move might help him avoid grassroot anger, reduce tensions at home, and unite Israelis behind him in a show of national unity against an external danger that threatens the "very survival of Israel".

The second factor that is troubling the Lebanese is the final verdict of the International Tribunal, expected this Friday, against those responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to rumours, Hezbollah and the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad are likely to be blamed. In this case, well-armed Sunni groups in Tripoli (picture 2) and northern Lebanon might take revenge, aided by Syrian mercenaries and Islamic State fighters who have been arriving from Turkey over the past few months. The latter are being taken from Idlib (Syria) to Turkey, then transported by sea to Tripoli in Lebanon along with weapons and money.

At present, everyone is waiting to see the televised address Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah (picture 3) is supposed to deliver tomorrow evening at 8.30 pm, before the sentence.

Meanwhile, grassroot protests by hungry Lebanese tentatively resumed yesterday evening with some rallies held in downtown Beirut (picture 4) and Sidon.

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