28 November 2009

* Customs revenues on the rise, up 83% in 2009

Customs revenues reached $1.53bn in the first 10 months of 2009, up 83% from $837m in the same period last year, Byblos Bank’s Lebanon This Week stated. Custom revenues reached $165.8m in October 2009 compared to $156.5m in September and to $104.8m in October 2008.
The Port of Beirut continues to be the main point of customs receipts, accounting for 89% of the total in October 2009, and was followed by the Hariri International Airport with 5.8%, the Port of Tripoli with 2.5%, and the Masnaa crossing point with 1.8%. Overall customs receipts reached $2.68bn year-to-October when including revenues from the value-added tax that totaled $1.15bn over the covered period.

15 November 2009

* IDF Chief Rabbi: Troops who show mercy to enemy will be 'damned'

The Israel Defense Forces' chief rabbi told students in a pre-army yeshiva program last week that soldiers who "show mercy" toward the enemy in wartime will be "damned."

Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki also told the yeshiva students that religious individuals made better combat troops.

Speaking Thursday at the Hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron , Rontzki referred to Maimonides' discourse on the laws of war. That text quotes a passage from the Book of Jeremiah stating: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord with a slack hand, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood." 

In Rontzki's words, "In times of war, whoever doesn't fight with all his heart and soul is damned - if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his enemy when no mercy should be shown."

Rontzki's remarks came during a ceremony to celebrate a new Torah scroll at the yeshiva. The service was held in commemoration of Yosef Fink, one of two yeshiva students kidnapped by Hezbollah in 1986.

Their bodies were returned 10 years later in a prisoner exchange.

Rontzki also referred specifically to the Israel Defense Forces' conduct during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. "Apropos all that we've heard in the media of late, thank God that the people of Israel has united recently around the simple understanding of how it must fight. One of the major innovations of that offensive was the conduct of war - not as some kind of mission or detention."

"We all remember the beginning of the war, with a major attack of 80 planes bombing various places, and then artillery, mortar and tank fire and so forth, as in war," he said. "Everyone fought with all their heart and soul, and that includes bravery of course, but also fighting with all the resources one has - to fight as if to truly determine the mission."

Rontzki also referred to the qualities of the ideal combat soldier.

"In Israel's wars, warriors are God-fearing people, righteous people, people who don't have sins on their hands," he said. "One needs to fight with an understanding of what one is fighting for." 


09 November 2009

* Government Formation List by Political Colour

* Lebanon Government Formation List by PM Saad Hariri

مراسيم تأليف الحكومة الجديدة برئاسة سعد الدين الحريري
صدرت مراسيم تشكيل الحكومة الجديدة برئاسة الرئيس سعدالدين الحريري، وقبول استقالة الحكومة الحالية الرئيس فؤاد السنيورة، وقد أذاع المراسيم الأمين العام لرئاسة مجلس الوزراء سهيل بوجي، وجاء في نص المرسوم رقم 28837 اعتبار حكومة الرئيس فؤاد السنيورة مستقيلة، ثم جاء في المرسوم الرقم 28838 تسمية سعد الدين الحريري رئيساً لمجلس الوزراء.

ثم تلا بوجي المرسوم رقم 28839 القاضي بتشكيل الحكومة الجديدة، وجاء فيه:

سعد الحريري رئيساً لمجلس الوزراء

الياس المر نائبا لرئيس مجلس الوزراء ووزيراً للدفاع الوطني

زياد بارود وزيراً للداخلية والبلديات

شربل نحاس وزيراً للاتصالات

فادي عبود وزيراً للسياحة

ابراهام دديان وزيراً للصناعة

ريا الحفار وزيراً للمال

غازي العريضي وزيراً للاشغال العامة والنقل

أكرم شهيب وزيراً للمهجرين

علي الشامي وزيراً للخارجية

محمد جواد خليفة وزيراً للصحة

محمد فنيش وزير دولة لشؤون التنمية الإدارية

علي العبدالله وزيرًا للشباب والرياضة

ابراهيم نجار وزيرًا للعدل

بطرس حرب وزيرًا للعمل

طارق متري وزيرا للاعلام

سليم الصايغ وزيرًا للشؤون الاجتماعية

حسن منيمنة وزيرًا للتربية

سليم وهبة وزيرًا للثقافة

محمد الصفدي وزيرًا للاقتصاد والتجارة

محمد رحال وزيرًا للبيئة

حسين الحاج حسن وزيرًا للزراعة

يوسف سعادة وزير دولة

جان أوغسبيان وزير دولة

عدان القصار وزير دولة

وائل أبو فاعور وزير دولة

ميشال فرعون وزير دولة لشؤون مجلس النواب

منى عفيش وزير دولة

عدنان السيد حسين وزير دولة

* The Shia of Beirut

Reuters reports that agreement was reached on 6 November on the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon, which would include Hizbullah and other opposition elements. A new government is expected to be formed in the next two days.

We are grateful to John Marsh for bringing to our attention the report below on the Shia suburbs of south Beirut published by the Iranian AhlulBayt News Agency. The author is a journalist who has published widely in the Los Angeles Times and other international media. We have not attempted to correct some imperfections in the text.

The claim that the Shia now represent half the population of Lebanon is well beyond the generally accepted figure. 28% might be more widely accepted.

Beirut's Shia bastion revives after '06 war

The district, called simply Dahiyah - meaning "the suburb" in Arabic - is the stronghold of Hezbollah, and was heavily targeted by Israel during its war with the Shia group three years ago. The bombardment leveled Hezbollah's headquarters as well as entire blocks across the neighborhood.

Now dozens of newly built or repaired apartment blocs stand in place of those destroyed, the result of a reconstruction program led by Hezbollah, which doesn't receives millions of dollars a year in aid from its ally Iran or other allies.

Property prices are soaring. The district's main streets are congested bumper-to-bumper with cars, while uniformed Hezbollah members direct traffic. Commerce is thriving, restaurants are packed.

"Dahiyah will be more beautiful than it was before," read billboards at the construction sites that remain.

Beyond the district's ties to Hezbollah, Dahiyah is a source of pride for Lebanon's Shias. For them, it exemplifies how the community has shaken off years of discrimination at the hands of the country's traditional powerbrokers - Christians and Sunni Muslims - and has established itself as a powerful political force.

Literally, Dahiyah brought Shias closer to the center of power: It grew from nearly nothing over 30 years to become a densely packed region of apartment towers and homes for 700,000 Shias on the southern doorstep of Beirut.

"In Beirut, people are arrogant and think the world of themselves," said Nagat Gradah, a bookstore employee in the district who, like many of its residents, migrated from Lebanon's mainly Shia south. "But Dahiyah? It's very special."

Dahiyah's revival comes as Hezbollah is seeking to bolster its credentials as a mainstream political power.

For months, it has been in negotiations with Sunni-led pro-Western parties over the creation of a new government, in which Hezbollah and its allies would have a sizable role. The negotiations have been deadlocked by suspicions in the pro-Western bloc.

Hezbollah is strongly backed by Syria and Iran, and it has a powerful armed guerrilla force. But the movement also runs an extensive social welfare network and is the main political representative for Lebanon's Shias, who make up about a half of the country's population of 4 million.

Dahiyah itself may be a sign that Shia power as Hezbollah's opponents fear.

Despite its undisputed lock over Dahiyah, Hezbollah has not tried to enforce its strict interpretation of Islamic teachings in the district.

Billboards advertising women's couture compete for space with billboards of bearded clerics and images of the young Hezbollah guerrillas who Martyred fighting Israel over the years.

Women in tight pants and low-cut tops shop at boutiques with names like "Pascale" and "La Verna" where bikinis, miniskirts and hot shorts are on display in windows - much like in the more liberal districts of Beirut.

"Here in Dahiyah, we have managed to have resistance, freedom and fashion all at the same place," said Hussein al-Zein, a 40-year-old resident who runs a women's casual wear store.

"People think Lebanon is about fighting Israel. In Dahiyah, we have freedom" he said at his store.

That said, the majority of women in Dahiyah dress in Islamic headscarves in public. There are no bars or liquor stores and certainly no nightclubs. European nonalcoholic beer ads in the streets don't mention the word "beer," using instead the term "barley drink."

Hanein Estiatieh, a graphic design student, says she has no worries about going out in jeans and a tight top in Dahiyah, her birthplace.

"I will cover up only when I marry," declares the 18-year-old.

"I don't mind her not covering up," said Aliyah Sohoura, daughter of the owner of the women's clothes store where Estiatieh works. "But I pray for her to see the light of faith," added Sohoura, who wore a headscarf and a bulky coat. The two giggled.

Dahiyah was not always a Shia stronghold. It was once an area of small villages south of Beirut that were home to Christians and some middle-class Shias. During Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, tens of thousands of Shias migrated into the area, more rural south and east to flee fighting. The Christians largely moved out, though pockets remain.

Beirut itself is sharply divided between Sunni and Christian districts, with very few mixed areas. In the 2006 war, Israel almost exclusively targeted Dahiyah and Shia areas in the south and east, while largely steering clear of Sunni and Christian regions - which in turn fed distrust between the sects.

Shias' sense of solidarity in Dahiyah is reinforced by what residents see as neglect from the central government. The district gets only 12 hours of city electricity a day, compared to 19 in Beirut. Authorities blame large-scale power in Dahiyah, while residents call it discrimination.

"We don't try to be a substitute for the state but we just try and come up with solutions," said Hezbollah official Ghassan Darwish.

(mec international)

05 November 2009

* Lebanon real estate projected to rise 10 to 15% per year until 2013

Real estate values in Lebanon have increased by 9% in the first eight months of this year and are projected to rise by 10 to 15% each year until 2013.

Wealthy Lebanese expatriates and Arab property investors fed up with the slump in places like Dubai, are among the heaviest investors in the country, it is claimed.

The value of property transactions reached more than $4.3 billion in 2008 and this year is expected to be even higher.

‘We expect this growth to continue,’ said Bilal Abdallah Alayeli , the head of the Orders of Engineers in Lebanon.

According to real estate brokers most of the apartments that are sold in Beirut and Mount Lebanon are small to medium in size and the property boom in Lebanon is only natural because the county’s size is very small compared to the population.

One reason that demand for apartments is likely to continue rising is that the Central Bank has given incentives to commercial banks to increase house loans at very competitive rates. Banks are offering 20 to 30 year housing loans at interest rates 5.9% and under.

The latest official figures from the Directorate of Real Estate back up the trend. They show that there were 7,740 operations during August, up by 3.9% compared with July, their highest value in 2009 so far.

But the property market in Lebanon has been affected by the global downturn as well.

The August figures are still 2.3% lower than they were in August 2008 when the real estate boom was at its peak.

The news is encouraging to developers who are increasingly looking to Lebanon as a prime market in the gulf region. Venus Real Estate Development which has just launched its Venus Towers project said it attracted $100 million in off-plan sales in just 48 hours with about 25% of investors coming from the Gulf states.

Stimulated by attractive off-plan prices, significantly lower than those set for the construction period, the intense demand was unprecedented in Lebanon’s real estate sector.

‘We are delighted to see such enthusiastic demand from investors and future residents at Venus Towers, resulting in an exceptional volume of sales from the very first day.

It shows the high level of confidence in the future of Beirut and Lebanon.

This response consolidates our belief in the strength and stability of the real estate sector in Lebanon,’ said Venus general manager Mohamad Qassem.



Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.