February’s essential headlines
> An explosion on February 1 ripped through a bus transporting Lebanese Shiite pilgrims to religious sites in Damascus, leaving at least six dead. While Jabhat al-Nusra claimed on Twitter that a member of the group had carried out a suicide attack, Syrian state media reported the bombing was caused by an explosive device planted on the bus.
> A joint force comprising the army, the Internal Security Forces and General Security launched a security plan in the Bekaa Valley, expanding operations and raids aimed at detaining fugitives. According to army reports, the crackdown has resulted in the arrest of over 150 suspected criminals, in addition to the confiscation of illegal drugs, light weapons and unregistered cars.
> Hezbollah and the Future Movement continued talks aimed at resolving outstanding disputes between the two sides, holding their sixth dialogue session at parliament speaker Nabih Berri’s Beirut residence. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who took part in the talks, said that a counterterrorism strategy was on the agenda.
> Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon to deliver a speech marking the 10th anniversary of his father Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Speaking at the BIEL complex on February 14, Hariri stressed that “Lebanon does not belong to any regional axis” and urged Hezbollah to end its participation in the fighting in Syria.
> Speaking just two days after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, the party’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah revealed that the group has a “limited presence” in Iraq and is engaged in the ongoing fight there against ISIS. Nasrallah addressed those demanding the group end its participation in the fighting, calling instead for them to “go together [with us] to Syria.” He also criticized Gulf states and Jordan for supporting Jabhat al-Nusra while at the same time engaging in the fight against ISIS.
> MP Khaled Daher suspended his membership in the Future bloc, following earlier reports that he had been kicked out. The lawmaker sparked controversy after making statements that some deemed offensive to the country’s Christians. Following North Lebanon Governor Ramzi Nohra’s order to remove all political and religious insignia from public locations in Tripoli, Daher told a group of protesters objecting to the removal of Islamist banners from a Tripoli square, “If they want to remove [religious insignia], let them start with the Christ the King statue and posters of saints.”
> Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi took part in a meeting in Riyadh bringing together military commanders and chiefs of staff from countries participating in the US led coalition against ISIS. While Lebanon has not joined the coalition in Syria and Iraq, it has been confronting the organization along the Syrian border.
> In a statement released on February 17, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on General Security to immediately reveal the whereabouts of two Syrian nationals who disappeared in Lebanese custody, amid fears that they had been deported to Syria. HRW’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Nadim Houry said that Lebanon’s refusal to disclose their location made the authorities “complicit in any harm that comes to them.”
> Quoting UNHCR sources, The Daily Star reported that the Lebanese Army ordered about 17,000 refugees in the eastern Bekaa Valley to vacate their informal tented settlements.
> A February report commissioned by the International Labor Organization, UNICEF and Save the Children estimates that over 1,500
children work on the streets of Lebanon, often subjected to various forms of exploitation. According to the report, the most prevalent forms of work were begging and street vending, accounting for about 80 percent of the examined cases.
> In late January 2015, Lebanon’s Ministry of Labor rejected a proposal to create a union for migrant domestic workers, after the National Federation of Labor Unions had endorsed the move. According to a statement released by the ministry, “advanced laws would solve the problems that the sector is suffering from, not the formation of groups under the guise of a syndicate.”
> Lebanon’s top three banks have released financial results for 2014, all showing steady growth despite the economic situation in the country. Bank Audi reported assets of $42 billion at the end of December 2014, a 15.9 percent year on year growth. Meanwhile, Blom Bank and Byblos Bank reported asset increases as well, to $27.98 billion (7 percent) and $19 billion (3 percent) respectively.
> Lebanon’s gross public debt reached $66.6 billion at the end of 2014, representing a 4.9 percent increase year on year.
> According to recent statistics released by the Port of Beirut, activity growth saw a modest increase in 2014, with a 0.2 percent rise in aggregate freight handled, compared to 14.4 percent in 2013.
> The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization sent a delegation to inspect the Beirut slaughterhouse in Karantina. The facility was ordered closed in November 2014 by Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib after inspections revealed numerous health and sanitation violations. Beirut’s main fish market, also located in Karantina, has recently reopened after renovations were made to address violations.
> According to figures released by the Association of Automobile Importers (AIA), 2,436 new passenger cars were sold in January 2015, a 2.7 percent increase from the 2,372 cars sold in the same month of 2014.
> The annual survey of the advertising market in the Arab world, carried out by research firm Ipsos and ArabAd magazine, showed that real advertising expenditures in Lebanon rose 1.9 percent from 2013 to 2014, increasing from $185.5 million to $189 million.
> Figures released by Beirut International Airport showed a 11.4 percent year on year increase in the number of passengers for January 2015, while total freight handled by the airport decreased by 16.4 percent.
> In its annual survey assessing the state of press freedom in 180 countries, Reporters Without Borders ranked Lebanon second in the MENA region, behind Kuwait, and 98th globally, rising eight places from last year’s rankings.
> Lebanon ranked 94th out of 186 in the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Economic Freedom Survey. The survey assesses the state of economic freedom in a country on the basis of four categories: rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency and market openness.
The wreckage of a bus that was hit by an explosion while transporting Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in Damascus
Saad Hariri delivered a speech during the 10th anniversary of his father’s assassination
January car sales show a modest increase on last year
Beirut Port’s 2014 growth is significantly lower than in 2013