December’s essential headlines
> Ola Mithqal alOqaily, the wife of Islamist commander Anas Sharkas, was detained alongside ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ex wife Saja Dulaimi. The latter has been formally arrested over terrorism charges, while Oqaily is in the custody of General Security. The government has announced that it is prepared to arrange a swap deal to secure the release of dozens of servicemembers captured by jihadist militants in Arsal in August 2014.
> After news of Oqaily and Dulaimi’s arrest broke, Jabhat al-Nusra announced that it had killed Lebanese police officer Ali Bazzal, captured during clashes between the security forces and Islamist militants in Arsal earlier last year. The announcement heightened tensions between local communities and Syrian refugees, with assailants setting fire to a refugee camp in northern Lebanon and shooting a child refugee dead.
> Militants ambushed a Lebanese Army patrol on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek in early December, killing six soldiers and leaving one injured. The attack comes amid ongoing clashes between the army and militants from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in the country’s northeast.
> Speaking during a four day official visit to Paris, Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam urged France to expedite the delivery of weapons funded by a $3 billion Saudi grant. The grant, announced in December 2013 by then President Michel Sleiman, is aimed at helping the country’s armed forces face Islamist militants.
> Banque du Liban Governor Riad Salameh released statements noting that the decrease in global oil prices is the largest obstacle facing Lebanon’s economy, as it reduces remittances from the Gulf states. This comes following a $1 billion stimulus package for 2015 aimed at stimulating loans, announced by Salameh in October 2014.
> A several months long strike by Électricité du Liban (EDL) workers came to an end after Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian and Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb announced that a deal had been reached between workers and the EDL administration. The agreement, brokered by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, sought to reconcile differences over how many contract workers would be offered full time jobs.
> The UN World Food Program announced that it had stopped providing food vouchers to nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq due to a depletion of funds. The agency said the assistance could be restarted shortly if a recently launched funding campaign succeeds in raising the necessary money. Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas warned that the cut could result in a “real catastrophe” for Lebanon, which currently hosts about 1.2 million Syrian refugees.
> UNHCR head Antonio Guterres said that 28 countries have agreed to resettle more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, speaking after a conference in Geneva aimed at garnering pledges to assist in the displacement crisis. Regional countries welcomed the announcement, with Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas pointing to the “terrible plight” the crisis had resulted in for Lebanese and Syrians alike.
> The UN has announced that Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag will replace Derek Plumbly as the organization’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. Kaag had previously served as head of the OPCW– UN Joint Mission to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program.
> Judges from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) announced that the prosecution would be allowed to summon Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to testify. The
STL, established in 2007, is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
> Former Economy Minister MP Marwan Hamade testified before the STL, telling the court that Syria’s former intelligence chief Marwan al-Zein had ordered Lebanese authorities to close an investigation into an October 2004 car bombing targeting Hamade’s motorcade.
> Speaking during an International Criminal Court session in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Lebanese MP Ghassan Moukheiber urged the Lebanese government to adopt the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty and called on the ICC to prosecute those responsible for war crimes in the country.
> Lebanese MPs failed to elect a president for the 16th time, after Parliament failed to achieve a two thirds quorum in a session held in early December. The post has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman’s mandate ended in May 2014.
> Health Minister Wael Abu Faour called for the closure of a dairy factory and a number of restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country, amid a food sector scandal that erupted in November 2014 when Abu Faour publicly named and shamed multiple establishments that the Ministry of Public Health claims are not adhering to proper safety standards.
> According to a Byblos Bank report, consolidated balance sheets of commercial banks in the country showed total assets reaching $171.3 billion at the end of October 2014, a 6.6 percent rise from a year earlier. > Parliament Speaker
Nabih Berri vowed to take serious steps to defend the country’s petroleum resources, after he claimed to have received credible information that Israel was siphoning gas from a Lebanese maritime reserve near the country’s southern border. The government has repeatedly postponed licensing rounds for offshore exploration as a result of political disagreements, sparking fears that international companies would reassess their interest in investment.
> Figures from Lebanese Customs show a rise in the trade deficit over the first 10 months of 2014, reaching $14.66 billion. The steady flow of imports is necessary to offset weakened production and respond to increased demand resulting from the high number of Syrian refugees in the country.
> Lebanon ranked 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, regressing nine places from last year’s report. The country came in 13th place out of 19 MENA region countries, receiving a score of 27 out of 100, significantly below the global average of 43.2.
> Lebanon’s gross public debt amounted to $66.2 billion at the end of October 2014, constituting a 4.3 percent rise year-onyear, according to a Byblos Bank report.
> Thousands of Lebanese citizens took part in gatherings to bid farewell to musical legend Sabah, who died in late November at the age of 87. Just two days after her death, Lebanon lost renowned poet, writer and playwright Said Akl.
The ex wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (pictured) was detained by Lebanese authorities
Walid Jumblatt will be summoned to testify at the STL
Prime Minister Tammam Salam
Thousands attended the funeral of Lebanese singer Sabah
Wael Abou Faour kept up the offensive over food safety standards