Beirut, Weekly Report # 7, March 06th, 2020

by Yves

Headlines have been mainly about the Syrian crisis and internally about a decision to freeze financial assets of 21 Lebanese bank directors and its unexpected suspension. 

The initial decision of the financial state attorney Ali Ibrahim to freeze all financial assets of 21 Lebanese banks has been a surprise and the quick decision Thursday 5 March of the State general attorney Ghassan Oueidate to suspend it even more so. As the former is said to be close to Shiite Parliament President Nabih Berry and the latter to be close to Sunni former prime minister Saad Hariri’s party, there is much speculation whether both decisions have been a technical measure or a political one. 

The second topic which has been closely followed up for the last three weeks is the fighting in Syria and especially in the town of Sarakeb which is of great strategic importance as it is a hub where highways M4 and M5 cross. Both are providing strategic itineraries linking for the former Lattaquié to the Irak border (East to West) and the latter Jordan to Alep (North to the South). 

At least, 33 Turkish soldiers, 90 Syrian soldiers and 12 Hezbollah would have been killed during the week while eight helicopters, 72 howitzers, and six Air defence systems and three Syrian combat aircraft would have been destroyed during the fighting. Following a meeting between President Poutine and Erdogan in Moscow a truce was brokered and common Turkish-Syrian patrolling will be set up in the disputed city.

Finally, there is still much speculation about what decision the government will be taking on Saturday 7 and whether it will pay a first batch of Eurobonds to its creditors or not. The decision is due on Monday 9 March and represents a value of 1,2 billion dollars. The government has reportedly the necessary cash reserve but it would be full of heavy consequences on the economy as there are two more deadlines to meet this year.

On Wednesday, there are now officially 16 recorded cases of Coronavirus in Lebanon mostly from people travelling back from Iran while it has risen to 80,000 in China. One case would have been reportedly cured at Rafic Hariri hospital Tuesday although she still needs another test. 

On a lighter note, on Saturday 29 February the well-known Lebanese-French writer and a member of the Académie française, Amin Maalouf has been decorated with one of the Ordre du Mérite highest award of Grand Officier by French President Macron.

To conclude, Monday 2 March’s last statement of Prime minister Diab in front of the Consular Corps stating that “the State is in a situation of decline which is close to impotence” adding the “Lebanese state is no longer in a position to protect the Lebanese people and provide them with a decent life “ was widely commented and criticized by some members of the opposition.

This small town which had been taken and temporarily released by Syrian troops were in the process of being recaptured by Turkish troops and was held mostly by fighters of the elite «al-Radouane», Hezbollah unit.