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Lawmakers convene late, after power cut, generator breakdown

Lebanon’s new PM vows to take back land it sees as occupied by Israel

Najib Mikati says ‘Lebanese citizens have the right to oppose Israel’s occupation, and to respond to its attacks’; he also demands UNIFIL end Israel’s ‘invasions’

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during a parliament session to confirm Lebanon's new government at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace, so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic, on September 20, 2021. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during a parliament session to confirm Lebanon's new government at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace, so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic, on September 20, 2021. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati vowed on Monday to reclaim territories it sees as occupied by Israel, while warning that the country has the right to respond to any aggression.

Lebanese lawmakers convened on Monday to confirm the country’s new government, following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the parliament session.

During the session, Mikati said that “Lebanese citizens have the right to oppose Israel’s occupation, and to respond to its attacks,” according to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster.

Mikati pledged that his government would continue to work to liberate territories it sees as occupied by Israel, according to the report.

The Shebaa Farms — known in Hebrew as Mount Dov — is a small patch of land captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Lebanon maintains that the strip of land is a part of Lebanon, despite it having been under Syrian control from the 1950s until it was captured and later annexed as part of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1981.

Neither Israel, Syria or the United Nations recognize Mount Dov as Lebanese territory.

At the same time, Mikati said that his new government supports UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. But he added that he would demand it “end Israel’s invasion of Lebanese sovereignty — land, sea, and air.”

A general view shows a base of the UN peacekeeping force in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura, Lebanon, on October 14, 2020. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Mikati also said that he plans to resume the indirect talks with Israel over their maritime disputes, which the United States is mediating.

The talks began in October but stopped a few weeks later, and resumed for a final time in May this year. During that break, Lebanon submitted much more aggressive maritime claims.

The small Mediterranean country is eager to resolve the border dispute with Israel, paving the way for potential lucrative oil and gas deals, as it faces a major financial crisis.

Last week, Mikati pledged to gain control of one of the world’s worst economic meltdowns, saying that he was willing to cooperate with any country except for Israel.

Asked during a press conference if he would be willing to cooperate with Syria to address the economic crisis, Mikati responded that the government “will deal with anyone for the sake of Lebanon’s interest, with the exception of Israel, of course.”

Israel and Lebanon do not have diplomatic relations. The Israeli military and Iran-backed Hezbollah, which holds sway over state decision-making in Lebanon and denies Israel’s right to exist, fought a devastating war in 2006.

From 1982 to 2000, Israel occupied a strip of southern Lebanon — totaling about 10 percent of Lebanese territory — in order to defend northern Israel from terrorist attacks.

Parliament meets to confirm Lebanon’s new government at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace, so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic, on September 20, 2021. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

A new government headed by billionaire businessman Mikati was finally formed earlier this month after a 13-month delay, as politicians bickered about government portfolios at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.

Lawmakers are set to debate the new government’s policy statement before a vote of confidence is held on Monday evening — a vote which Mikati’s proposed Cabinet expects to win with the support from majority legislators.

Mikati, who hails from the impoverished northern city of Tripoli, was tasked with forming a new government in July. He was twice prime minister — in 2005 and again from 2011 to 2013 — and is widely considered to be part of the same political class that brought the country to bankruptcy.

The country of six million is experiencing its worst-ever financial crisis, with a currency that has lost around 90% of its value, people’s savings trapped in banks, and qualified labor emigrating in droves.

Motorcycle drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 31, 2021. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The Lebanese pound has slightly increased in value from around 18,000 to 14,000 to the dollar on the black market since the new cabinet was announced on Friday, according to the monitoring website lirarate.org, but still lingers far below its official peg of 1,500.

Mikati became a favorite for the post earlier this year after he was endorsed by most of Lebanon’s political parties, including Hezbollah and the other major Shiite party, Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Mikati was also endorsed by former Sunni prime ministers including former prime minister Saad Hariri, who abandoned efforts to form a government earlier this year after failing for over eight months to agree with President Michel Aoun on the cabinet’s makeup.

The international community has refused to help Lebanon financially before wide reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption and mismanagement.

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