Middle East

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BEIRUT: Pope Francis has called on “all the Lebanese to cooperate to save their country so that it can restore its role as a model for dialogue and convergence between East and West.”

The pope on Thursday received Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who visited to seek guidance from the Vatican in light of the difficulties Lebanon is facing.

Mikati quoted the pope as stressing “how crucial the Lebanese’s role and interaction with their Arab environment are to keeping Lebanon a pioneering, unique country.”

He said that Pope Francis told him that he “will make the necessary efforts in all international forums to help Lebanon pass this difficult stage and restore peace and stability.”

Mikati said: “We both agreed on the importance of activating Islamic-Christian relations.”

The prime minister is counting on the pope’s ability to promote the Lebanese cause with other countries.

“In these difficult times, we are in dire need of the support of our friends,” Mikati said following the meeting.

He added: “The more Christians in Lebanon feel safe, the more this will be reflected on all Christians in the East. I am confident that the Holy See can play a great role in this respect.”

Mikati said Christians in the East “have been among the pillars of freedoms, human rights and freedom of belief, and have always found a haven in Lebanon.”

Mikati also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“Lebanon is essential to the Christian presence in the East, and it has always been an example to the world about how societies can coexist,” Mikati’s media office quoted Parolin as saying.

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He continued: “Lebanon receives special attention from the Holy See.

“Any credible government ought to secure the country’s obligations, especially with the international community.”

Parolin expressed concerns about the economic and social situation in Lebanon.

“The Vatican will make efforts to support Lebanon in international forums,” he said, stressing “the need for Lebanon to maintain the best relations with its Arab surroundings and the international community.”

Following the meetings, Mikati said he detailed “the government’s plans to address the challenges facing Lebanon,” to Vatican officials.

Mikati said he felt that the pope was pleased with the efforts “we are making in maintaining security and stability in Lebanon, addressing the enormous difficulties facing the country, and continuing to adhere to the national choices upon which the Lebanese unanimously agree, as well as strengthening relations between Lebanon and the world.”

The prime minister added that that Pope Francis “is fully aware of the Lebanese situation and the prevailing conditions, and stressed the need for everyone to cooperate to preserve the Lebanese message and stop the massive emigration from all sects.”

Lebanon is currently attracting broad international attention, with influential countries monitoring the behavior of the Lebanese forces on constitutional requirements, the first of which are the parliamentary elections.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to visit Lebanon in December. The Vatican’s Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher is also expected to visit in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, there have been developments in one of the crises that has attracted global attention. The families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion made significant accusations as they held a sit-in at the Palace of Justice in Beirut in solidarity with Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the blast probe.

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William Noun, brother of explosion victim Joe Noun, said: “Documents revealed that on July 20, 2020, i.e. two weeks before the explosion, the Lebanese army was informed of the dangerous quantities of ammonium nitrate that were stored at the port.”

Noun claimed that the army “knew, just like the president, the prime minister and the public prosecutor, all of whom have fallen short in their duties.”

Noun named an army general, saying that he “continues to provide false information for the investigation and the judiciary.”

On Thursday, the General Authority of the Court of Cassation rejected lawsuits to dismiss Bitar filed by a group of politicians accused of being involved in the port explosion.

While there are no internal political solutions for the Cabinet impasse and the crisis with the Gulf, Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Al-Shami announced on Thursday that the technical negotiations with the International Monetary Fund were almost over.

Al-Shami said: “We have entered the negotiation stage on monetary and economic policies to start negotiations in earnest with the IMF team, which we hope will visit Lebanon soon.”

He said: “Every minister is working on the files within their jurisdiction, provided that the government’s plan is announced as soon as it is completed,” stressing that the Cabinet needs to convene to approve the plan.

“Our goal is still to reach a preliminary agreement before the end of the year, after which we can reach a final agreement in January 2022,” Al-Shami said, adding: “We also need to address the exchange rate, monetary policy, and the banking and financial sector, and we are preparing a vision for how to solve this issue, which we will announce upon completion.”

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Speaking about the impact of the parliamentary elections on the negotiations with the IMF, he noted: “The IMF will not associate any issue to the elections, but they can sometimes affect the negotiations.”



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