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The Lebanese Army arrested protesters after tensions escalated at a demonstration outside the Justice Palace Monday evening. Protesters were calling for the release of two activists who were arrested for their participation in last Wednesday’s Blom Bank holdup. Protesters blocked a road near the Justice Palace in Beirut, decrying the arrest of Abdel Rahman Zakaria and Mohammad Rustom, who aided Sali Hafez as she held up a Blom Bank in Beirut’s Sodeco neighborhood. Protesters in northern Lebanon made the same demands. In Akkar, protesters shut down public administrations on Monday. A lawyer for the two detainees, Ali Abbas, said their cases were transferred to the General Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation in Beirut. “The officials want to show some severity in order to protect the banks,” Abbas told L’Orient Today. The pair’s expected release last Friday did not occur because five other banks were held up the same day. Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi announced on Friday “a strict plan … to protect depositors and citizens,” without providing further details. Tuesday marks the second day of a three-day strike held by banks in response to the holdups.
“The negotiations on the maritime border [between Lebanon and Israel] are in their final phase,” President Michel Aoun said Monday after a meeting with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, in Baabda. “There is still work to be done,” US mediator in the indirect negotiations Amos Hochstein said earlier in the month during a brief visit to Beirut, where he reportedly presented “new proposals.” Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab also relayed an agreement between Israel and US officials regarding the “necessity of reaching an agreement this month or next month.” Lebanon’s energy ministry announced Monday it will take over Russian gas company Novatek’s 20 percent share in a consortium licensed to explore two offshore blocks. Novatek pulled out of the consortium in recent weeks, according to Energy Minister Walid Fayad. Last Friday, the Israeli energy ministry announced the imminent start of the “next stage” of its Karish field gas exploration project. Tensions between Lebanon and Israel have been high since the arrival of a floating production and storage vessel to the Karish field in June, which some consider an encroachment on Lebanon’s waters.
The lira hit a new low on Monday, trading at LL39,000 to the dollar that evening amid protests decrying Lebanon’s deteriorating living conditions. Fuel prices also increased following the complete removal of subsidies last week. Demonstrators blocked the Beddawi highway in North Lebanon Monday, protesting declining living conditions and water shortages in the area. Lebanon’s state electricity provider Electricité du Liban has faced supply deficits amid fuel shortages while rising fuel prices have contributed to the increased costs of living. On Monday, the Iranian embassy in Beirut announced that a donated fuel shipment will depart for Lebanon in “one or two weeks.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati traveled to New York Monday ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, after attending Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London. Mikati replaced Aoun as Lebanon’s representative at the UN assembly, scheduled for Wednesday, to avoid costing “the public treasury a fortune,” a source close to the presidency told L’Orient-Le Jour. The source claims the premier is traveling at his own expense. A source close to Mikati told L’Orient Today that the prime minister will give a speech addressing “economic reforms and refugees, as well as collaboration between Beirut and the UN.” Earlier in the month, Mikati addressed a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres expounding “the repercussions of the Syrian displacement crisis and its cost on the Lebanese economy.” The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR previously denied involvement in a plan promoted by Lebanese government officials to mass repatriate displaced Syrians, prioritizing “respect [for] the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return.”
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “What do you risk when you hold up a bank to claim your own money?”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz