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The caretaker cabinet completed its review of the 2024 budget draft law within the constitutional time frame for the first time since 2002 yesterday. The text will be sent for parliamentary committee review by the end of the week, caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil announced yesterday. A government source told L'Orient Today that the final text scrapped a planned increase to value-added tax (VAT). Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that a provision to collect certain taxes in dollars was also canceled in line with advice from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation that visited the Grand Serail on Monday. The IMF's 2022 staff-level agreement with Lebanon set the adoption of credible budgets among the preconditions for unlocking a multibillion-dollar aid package.
A precarious calm prevailed in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Saida where only minor ceasefire violations were recorded yesterday after ongoing clashes since Thursday had killed at least 11 people and injured more than 100 others. Yesterday’s clashes pitted Fatah against the “Muslim Youth” and Jund al-Sham groups in the al-Tiri district, Ras al-Ahmar, Hatine, Baraxat and Safsaf areas. On Monday, General Security called for a ceasefire after meeting with the Joint Palestinian Action Committee. Fatah and affiliated groups are demanding that the Islamists hand over the alleged killers of the camp’s former security chief and four of his bodyguards — after their slaying in late June sparked several days of deadly clashes in the camp.
French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian backed Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal to precede open parliamentary presidential election sessions with a week of dialogue joining different political parties after the first of several scheduled meetings with Lebanese officials. According to a statement published by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office after their meeting, Le Drian said the dialogue could be the “beginning of a solution” to the presidential vacuum in effect since Oct. 31. Le Drian also met with Berri as well as the heads of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Marada Movement. Today, he is scheduled to hold meetings with opposition MPs, former presidential candidate Michel Moawad, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai, army chief Joseph Aoun along with the leaders of the Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces.
The interruption of driving license issuance since October 2022 has left more than 50,000 people awaiting their permits, according to requests filed at 225 driving schools, driving instructor syndicate head Afif Abboud claimed. Abboud claimed the number of unlicensed drivers would be even greater if not for a measure extending the validity of driving licenses until the end of the year. Vehicle registration centers closed for several months after mass arrests linked to a corruption investigation. No driving licenses have been issued, and no tests for new drivers have been conducted since.
The US Treasury announced sanctions against seven alleged Hezbollah members and financial facilitators, including an alleged drug trafficker and a purported perpetrator of two bombings in 1992 and 1994 in Argentina. The Office of Foreign Asset Control said the newly designated individuals had been operating a network that “generates revenue for Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and enables the terrorist group’s presence and nefarious activities in Latin America.” The Treasury accused one of the designated individuals of having been involved in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded more than 30 others, as well as the Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires in 1992. Based on L’Orient Today’s analysis of 20 years of US sanctions designations, the number of Lebanese individuals and entities under current US sanctions has recently risen to 273 — the largest figure in at least 20 years.
Estonian ride-hailing company Bolt announced the suspension of its motorcycle service in Lebanon in response to taxi drivers’ complaints over perceived unfair competition. A spokesperson for Bolt told L'Orient Today that it “will continue to offer our other licensed taxis.” Taxi drivers called for intervention against motorcycle taxis and unlicensed cab drivers during a May protest. The caretaker interior minister the same month called for Bolt to be suspended pending a review of its activities. However, the decision was not implemented.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Behind the Ain al-Hilweh conflict, a plan to hand the camp to Islamists?”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz