A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For February 26-27/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 133th Day


A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For 26-27/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 133th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
February 27/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 26-27/2020
President delivers speech marking launch of drilling works for first offshore oil well in Lebanon
President Michel Aoun met US Ambassador on farewell visit
Aoun briefed on arrangements to launch drilling of first oil well in Lebanese territorial waters, tomorrow.
Meeting at Presidential Palace in preparation for Lebanese-Cypriot-Greek Tripartite Summit
STL Prosecutor Concludes a Working Visit to Lebanon
Lebanese Demand Flight Ban from Virus Infected Countries
Berri during Wednesday Gathering: People’s bank deposits are sacred
Diab meets S. Korean ambassador, AlShawabkeh, ISF chief
Diab meets Tarraf, Army command, Total delegation
Hitti holds cooperation talks with diplomats, interlocutors
IMF Urges Lebanon to Regain World’s Confidence
Lebanese FM to Meet Le Drian in Paris as Economic Crisis Continues
Search for offshore oil and gas to begin on Thursday: Lebanon’s Aoun
Second coronavirus case in Lebanon: Health ministry
Parliament’s Joint Committee agrees to legalize medicinal marijuana
US sanctions Lebanese entities that funnel funds to Hezbollah militants’ families/Joyce Karam/The National/February 26/2020
US targets individuals, entities linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Moucharafieh talks general situation with ambassadors of Australia, Norway, Germany
Hassan, Hoballah discuss activating cooperation in pharmaceutical industry, food safety
Akar holds diplomatic talks with Ambassadors of Turkey, Spain, Belgium
Kidnapped Mohammad Ramadan set free
Sens. Cruz, Shaheen Announce Biting Sanctions Against Lebanese Officials Complicit in the Unlawful Detention and Abuse of U.S. Citizens

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 26-27/2020
President delivers speech marking launch of drilling works for first offshore oil well in Lebanon
NNA/February 26/2020
The following is an address by His Excellency President of the Lebanese Republic, General Michel Aoun, upon
launching of the drilling works for the first offshore oil well in Lebanon:
“My fellow Lebanese ladies and gentlemen,
We are a few hours away from launching officially the drilling of the first oil well in Lebanon, at a point of our territorial waters, facing our shores and in front of our mountain peaks which will bear witness to the importance of this event. Lebanon will witness indeed a historic day tomorrow, a turning point between what came “before” and what will come “after”. It will separate between “before” and “after”. Lebanon’s present and future will evoke it as The Day when our nation entered officially the club of oil countries, the countries rich with one of the most important sources of energy in the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries for the economies of contemporary humanity. It gives me great pleasure that this event is taking place in the year during which the Lebanese Republic is commemorating the centenary of the creation of the Greater Lebanon. Since my return to Lebanon in 2005, after the years of exile, I have been conscious that the dream of many faithful citizens must be fulfilled. Through the “Change and Reform” parliamentary bloc that I had presided over for years, and through the ministries that we have held, in particular the Ministry of Energy assumed by Minister Gebran Bassil and those who succeeded him, we have been committed to working day and night, relentlessly, in order to fulfill this dream that I will be launching tomorrow with much pride. This event was supposed to be kicked off in 2013 but internal and political difficulties prevented it. How can we forget that it was sometimes hindered by the turmoil of the region and sometimes by events that have stormed our nation? Too often did covetousness, will and maneuvers stand in the way of its fulfilment. We must as well avail ourselves of this occasion to express the due gratitude to all those who contributed to this achievement.
My fellow Lebanese ladies and gentlemen,
As we are going through the toughest economic and financial crisis in the modern history of Lebanon, I am confident that this event is of paramount importance, not the least at the geopolitical level, and it affirms our active presence and the elements of our strength and steadfastness.
Our destiny is not to remain exposed to crises that generate each other, making us desperate about our nation, thus driving us to desert it, emigrate from it or deny it. Today, more than any time before, we are determined to shoulder the responsibility of facing wrong economic policies as well as successive and numerous accumulations, and to put an end to them in view of stopping this downward path that has brought us to this point decades ago. We have the will to confront, for the sake of Lebanon’s survival and perpetuity, to revive peace of mind and bring the cycle of life back to normal. Although the event that we will be celebrating tomorrow comes amid circumstances of suffering that we are going through together, it will stand out as a cornerstone to get out of the abyss, and a decisive milestone to transform our economy from a rentier, utilitarian economy, to a productive one to which everyone contributes and by which everyone benefits; an economy where our young potentials are formed, with all their enthusiasm, knowledge and strong willpower, are the engine, the foundation and the objective; and thousands of new and promising job opportunities have been opened for them.
My fellow Lebanese ladies and gentlemen, Our oil and gas resources belong outspokenly to all the Lebanese. Their revenues constitute a sovereign wealth that can neither be the object of squandering nor corruption, and can neither be controlled by one party nor seized by anyone. It is also a trust for the present and future of our generations, and we shall protect it with all our solidity, tenacity and strength. We shall not squander them, and as we defended and are defending our legitimate right to every inch of our precious soil, so shall we defend, with the same fierceness, our right to every drop of our territorial waters which hold our oil and gas. I promise you that this will not be the object of concession or dependence.As we shall celebrate together launching the drilling of the first oil well in Lebanon, I call on you all to open a window of hope in the wall of the crisis that we are going through. I am confident that we shall  overcome it with our willpower and resolve, so that we get out of it stronger, after ridding ourselves from its repercussions, in order to bring back to our years and to the future of our children their well-deserved bliss.
*Presidency Press Office

President Michel Aoun met US Ambassador on farewell visit
NNA/February 26/2020
President of the Republic General Michel Aoun, received the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, today at the Presidential Palace, on a farewell visit to mark the end of her diplomatic missions in Lebanon. President Aoun thanked Ambassador Richard for her efforts in enhancing Lebanese-US relations. After the meeting, Ambassador Richard confirmed, through a statement, that the United States stood by Lebanon’s side and considered that Lebanon is standing in front of a turning point, and that this is the appropriate time for all Lebanese citizens to address governance issues and economic ones. Richard also stressed that “Tough decisions must be taken, and everyone will bear some burden”, expressing her belief that everyone understands that the regime was not working properly, in the past few decades, therefore this is a historic opportunity for the Lebanese people to turn to a new page”.
Richard continued by describing the people of Lebanon as “The greatest power in the country”.
Ambassador Richard Statement:
“Good morning, everybody.
I’m here today to talk about my departure from Lebanon. As my time in Lebanon comes to a close, I want to thank the people of Lebanon for the kindness, the hospitality, and the warmth that they have all shown me and the whole U.S. Embassy team for the three and a half years that I have been here. It’s been a privilege and an honor to represent the United States in a place where we have such a long and historic and important relationship and interests.
We established a diplomatic presence in Lebanon in 1833, and ever since, Americans have been by Lebanon’s side, willing and engaged as a partner for the future. We were here to support the founding of the Lebanese American University in 1835 and the American University of Beirut in 1866, and we continue to support their role as beacons to Lebanon and to the entire region. Freedom of thought and expression, creative and critical thinking, and civic responsibility and leadership are qualities that are needed in this country, today more than ever before.
Lebanon is at a turning point. In October, citizens from all sects and all geographic regions went to the streets to demand better from their government. And they are right. There is no reason a country this blessed with so many gifts, including incredible human resources, does not have in 2020 a modern waste management system, 24/7 electricity for everyone, a single armed force under the control of the state, and a growing economy.
The United States has been with the Lebanese people consistently. We are active in all eight governorates of Lebanon and in most of its 1,100 municipalities, engaging with Lebanese citizens to identify areas of shared concern and working to help them to find solutions.
But we as outsiders cannot alone fix what is not working. This is the time for all Lebanese citizens to address the issues of governance and economy head on. Difficult decisions have to be made, and everyone will bear some of the burden. But I believe everyone recognizes that the system of the last few decades is no longer working. So, this is a historic opportunity for the Lebanese people to turn the page. It is a chance to chart a new course that will see this country realize its full potential as a modern and flourishing member of the international community. The success that so many Lebanese emigrants achieve in countries like the United States is testament to the fact that such success is possible here too.
The people of Lebanon are the country’s greatest strength, and we have seen them act in remarkable unity to express legitimate concerns about their future. You hold the power to turn these dreams for your country into reality, and the United States stands with you in a pursuit of such a bright future. I am confident you will find incoming U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea to be an outstanding representative of the United States and a friend to Lebanon, leading our Embassy team and working closely with all of you to nurture and build our relationship. And I trust that you will welcome her with the same open arms which you extended to me upon my arrival several years ago. With that, thank you very, very much. I bid farewell to all of you. And I look forward to a very, very bright future for Lebanon.
Thank you”.
*Presidency Press Office

Aoun briefed on arrangements to launch drilling of first oil well in Lebanese territorial waters, tomorrow.
NNA/February 26/2020
“Tungsten Explorer” ship will start drilling the first oil well in Lebanese territorial waters, during the next few hours, on Block No.4, on the coast of Kesrouane-Jbeil. In preparation for this important national and economical event, President Michel Aoun received Energy Minister, Raymond Ghajar, Head of Lebanon’s Petroleum Administration, Walid Nasr, and a delegation of officials in Total company, which is undertaking the drilling process, including: Middle East and Africa President, Stephen Michel, Vice President, Elias Kassis, delegate, Emmanuel Nahas, General Manager of the company in Lebanon, Daniel Alvarez, and General Manager of production in Lebanon, Ricardo Darray.
The delegation briefed President Aoun on the arrangements done to start drilling within the next few hours, and the measures taken to do so. They also thanked the facilities provided by the Lebanese state for starting drilling, which will last around two months. Mr. Michel affirmed that Total’s participation in this important work underlines the depth of Lebanese-French relations.
President Aoun thanked the delegation for the contribution to achieving the dream of the Lebanese people in extracting oil and gas from land and water, pointing out that “This will positively affect the national economy, and limit negative repercussions on it”.
After the meeting, Minister Ghajar, Mr. Michel and Mr. Nasr spoke to the media.
Mr. Ghajar said: “We, along with Total Company, and the Petroleum sector’s chairman, paid a protocol visit to His Excellency, the President of the Republic, before starting to dig the first well in Block No. 4, which will be taking place in the coming hours.
Then, Mr. Michel said:
“It gives me great pleasure to be in Lebanon. I came here about two years ago to sign licenses for exploration. Today, we are witnessing the realization of all efforts which we exerted from two years ago till today, with the arrival of the drilling ship and the start of its work as scheduled during the coming days. I take the opportunity to thank the Lebanese state and various departments concerned and the ministries of energy, environment and finance, for all the work done two years ago. And if there is an impression that the drilling process is easy, it is not so at a depth ranging between 1500 and 2000 meters of sea depth. This is very complicated, in addition to that we had to do in a country where all the legal frameworks were prepared, in addition to the preparation of multiple and complex licenses. We are proud to have helped Lebanon take this path in an effective and expeditious manner, if I have to compare it with other countries. We hope that things will go faster, but I bear witness that everything that has happened has been done in a similar manner, transparent and very effective. We will start digging and we will do our best to accomplish everything in the best possible way. Meaning that it will be completed in a safe way for people and the environment, because it is a complex process. We will return after a while to you, after about two months or a little more, for the results to show. But I will not add anything now because it remains that the most important priority for us is to accomplish this work in the best way possible for Lebanon, and Total. In the end, we will invest a lot of money, believing in the results of what we are doing”.
Then, Mr. Nasr spoke: “The work carried out by the Ministry of Energy and the Petroleum Sector Administration Authority in the past six or seven years, will culminate tomorrow with the start of drilling in Block no.4, as a result of all laws and decrees that have been taken and the logistical and administrative preparations which have been completed. I take the opportunity to thank all Ministries and departments which have followed up with us during the past year in a very fast pace, in order to ensure that Total can reach the drilling ship, tomorrow and start work. Also, all required environmental licenses were secured in the required time. This is an integrated work accomplished by a very large team from all ministries concerned in order to reach tomorrow’s date. The authority will follow up the drilling process on a daily basis through the presence of a working group on board the drilling ship, in addition to the presence of members of the Lebanese Army, General Security and Customs on board to secure all requirements for the drilling operations. A daily report on these operations will be issued by the authority, and the public will be informed of all developments which will take place. We hope that the result will be positive, so we find oil or gas in preparation for the second stage by drilling new wells and assessing the quantities which may be present. We may not find the opportunity in the first well for a positive result, but we will continue and learn from this well in order to dig new wells in the future in Block 4. Knowing that the same preparations are taking place for Block No.9, which will be drilled in year 2020 as well”.
Minister Ghajar was then asked whether the start of drilling operations in Block 9 will be at the end of summer, knowing that its location is somewhat sensitive. Ghajar replied: “So far neither the date nor the location were determined with respect to Block No.9, and in the coming period, Total will work with the commission to determine the location of the well and the date, then drilling begins. Because the ship which carries out drilling operations has a work program distributed to several countries. To perform the operations of locating the well and then reserving an appointment for it to come as it happened with us now, we cannot contact the company and ask the ship to come tomorrow. From here, according to the ship’s work program, it can come at the end of the summer, not at the beginning”.
In response to a question about the possibility of obstacles surrounding drilling operation in Block 4, Mr. Nasr replied: “We have made all necessary preparations, and Total has accomplished everything necessary to carry out drilling operations. Sometimes technical obstacles may occur during these operations, but we hope it will not happen. She is one of the companies which have much experience in the field of well drilling, and all preparations have been completed. The staff knows exactly how he should complete his work. We all hope that there will be no complications”.

Meeting at Presidential Palace in preparation for Lebanese-Cypriot-Greek Tripartite Summit
NNA/Wednesday, 26 February, 2020
In preparation for the Lebanese-Cypriot-Greek Tripartite Summit which will be held in Nicosia on the 3rd of March, 2020, a meeting was held today at Baabda Palace, which included a number of general managers of concerned ministries, in addition to representatives of the Lebanese Army and security forces. At the beginning of the meeting, the Director General of the Lebanese Presidency, Dr. Antoine Choucair, welcomed the attendees, focusing on the importance of preparing for the summit that falls within the framework of strengthening relations between the three countries in all fields, especially in the issues that Lebanon sees interest in presenting at the summit, and the Greek and Cypriot roles in providing possible economic and financial assistance. The representatives of the ministries and security apparatuses attending, presented the most prominent points which could be included in the agenda of the summit, including joint economic interests and tourism linkage, and the possibility of tripartite cooperation in various sectors, and in security and stability in Eastern Mediterranean. In addition to ensuring Lebanon’s right in its territorial waters and sovereignty within its international borders, dealing with emergencies and fighting fires, also the possibility of signing the international agreement for the establishment of a “Human Academy for Meeting and Dialogue” in Lebanon.

STL Prosecutor Concludes a Working Visit to Lebanon
Naharnet/February 26/2020
The Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Norman Farrell, concluded on Wednesday a working visit to Lebanon, during which he held meetings with the Minister of Justice, State Prosecutor General and the Prosecutor’s staff in the Beirut Office, STL said in a press release. During the visit, Prosecutor Farrell, joined by his Deputy, met with their Lebanese counterpart Prosecutor General Ghassan Oueidat. It was an opportunity to discuss legal matters of common interest related to the mandate of the Office of the Prosecutor. “This fruitful visit was another opportunity to continue strengthening my direct interaction with my Lebanese counterpart and thank my Deputy, my team in Beirut for their excellent work and dedication”, the Prosecutor said.

Lebanese Demand Flight Ban from Virus Infected Countries
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 26/2020
Lebanese protesters on Wednesday rallied outside the health ministry premises demanding a halt to flights from countries infected with the deadly coronavirus that caused 28,000 deaths globally according to WHO. “Flights from countries infected with the virus should have been suspended first hand on Friday when a plane coming from Iran and another from Italy carried infected passengers,” one protester told MTV station reporter. The protesters stressed that authorities must suspend flights from any country where sharp rise in cases and geographical spread of the virus are recorded. Last week, Lebanon recorded its first virus infection in a 45-year-old woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran.The Cabinet on Tuesday decided to restrict travel to countries witnessing major coronavirus outbreaks and to order a halt to pilgrimage trips. Iran has emerged as another hotspot, with 19 deaths out of nearly 139 reported infections, including the deputy health minister. Italy has recorded 11 deaths and more than 300 coronavirus cases.The viral outbreak began in China and has infected more than 80,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the Coronavirus that causes it.

Berri during Wednesday Gathering: People’s bank deposits are sacred
NNA/February 26/2020
House Speaker Nabih Berri said during his weekly meeting with MPs on Wednesday that the hopes of the Lebanese are pinned on oil resources, noting that these hopes must be accompanied by all mechanisms capable of saving Lebanon, its economy and its people from current crises.
On the Eurobonds’ issue, Speaker Berri stressed that the decision in this regard “must be national, not subject to outbidding or differences, out of keenness on Lebanon and the Lebanese interests.” He also said that people’s bank deposits are sacred. On the other hand, Berri received the Water and Energy Minister, Raymond Ghajar, accompanied by a delegation from the French company Total, who informed the Speaker about the date for the start of drilling of the first oil well in the offshore block 4, expected in the coming few hours.
On emerging, Minister Ghajar said the visit came to announce the start of the exploration phase of the first oil well in Block 4 in the Lebanese territorial waters, with the arrival of the drillship in Lebanon yesterday.
Ghajar said the drilling works will last 60 days or less, to be followed by results’ analysis. Later, Berri met with the Minister of Finance, Ghazi Wazni, and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Finance Committee, Ibarhim Kanaan, with whom he discussed the general situation in the country, especially the monetary and economic situation. On emerging, MP Kanaan described the meeting with the Speaker as “useful and fruitful,” saying they discussed financial dossiers and the required legislations at the national level, namely those pertaining to the fight against corruption, recovery of public looted money, lifting bank secrecy, illicit enrichment law and other laws.

Diab meets S. Korean ambassador, AlShawabkeh, ISF chief
NNA//Wednesday, 26 February, 2020
Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Diab received on Wednesday at the Grand Serail, the Ambassador of South Korea, Yong De Kuan, with talks reportedly touching on most recent devlopments on the local and international arena, especially the coronavirus issue.
On emerging, Ambassador Kuan said they discussed the bilateral relations between the two countries, especially diplomatic ties. Discussions also covered means of bolstering relations in the fields of education, culture, business, trade, environment and agriculture, the Ambassador said.
Premier Diab then welcomed the Secretary-General of the Arab Parliamentary Union, Fayez Al-Shawabkeh, in the presence of the PM’s Advisor Khodor Talib. On emerging, Al-Shawabkeh said he congratulated the Premier on the government’s gaining of the vote of confidence, expressing faith in the Lebanese people and officials’ capability to achieve the country’s recovery. Diab also met with Internal Security Forces chief, Imad Othman, accompanied by a delegation of the ISF Directorate, with the country’s security situation and tasks undertakeb by the ISF featuring high on their talks.

Diab meets Tarraf, Army command, Total delegation
NNA/February 26/2020
Prime Minister, Dr. Hassan Diab, welcomed this evening at the Grand Serail European Union Ambassador to Lebanon, Ralph Tarraf, at the top of a delegation. Premier Diab also met with a delegation of the Army Command, led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Aoun, who congratulated him on the government’s gaining of the vote of confidence. The delegation also dicussed with the Premier the current security situation and the measures adopted by the army. Diab later met with a delegation of the French company Total in the presence of Water and Energy Minister, Raymond Ghajar, who briefed him on the preparations for the start of the drilling operation in the first exploratory well in the offshore block 4, tomorrow [Thursday].

Hitti holds cooperation talks with diplomats, interlocutors
NNA/February 26/2020
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Nassif Hitti, on Wednesday held talks with UNHCR representative, Mireille Girard.
Hitti later held talks with Tunisian Ambassador to Lebanon, Karim Boudali, who said in the wake of the meeting that discussions with his host featured high on the horizons of cooperation in several fields.
The diplomat also disclosed having extended an invitation to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Tunisia. Minister Hitti separately met with head of the national committee for women’s affairs, Claudine Aoun Roukoz. The meeting stressed the revitalization of women’s participation in decision-making and the consolidation of their role at all levels. Minister Hitti later received an economic and banking delegation, which handed him a financial rescue plan of ten articles.Moreover, Hitti welcomed a delegation from the Lebanese Diaspora Council, chaired by Nasib Fawaz, who called on him to involve Lebanese expatriates in Lebanese economic, financial, and medical affairs, in order to help the country. The Minister also met with the Ambassadors of Argentina Mauricio Alessio, of Mexico Jose Ignacio Madrazo, of Uruguay Ricardo Naro, of Serbia Emir Alvic, and the Chargé d’affaires of the Iraqi Embassy in Lebanon, Amin Al-Nasrawi.

IMF Urges Lebanon to Regain World’s Confidence
Beirut – Mohamed Choucair/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 February, 2020
A Lebanese official, who attended the meetings of the International Monetary Fund delegation in Beirut, said that the IMF experts have not advised the government on the payment of Eurobonds maturing in March, asserting that it was up to the Lebanese authorities to decide what action to take. The official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, stressed that the IMF delegation had a “technical advice-giving” mission. “The Lebanese government raised a series of questions on the economic and financial situation, which is heading towards a further collapse, and received from the experts clear, unambiguous answers,” he said. The official quoted the IMF experts as saying that the major challenge was Lebanon’s ability to restore the international community’s confidence, which was shaken following Beirut’s failure to commit to the pledges made at the CEDRE Conference held in Paris in 2018.
He denied, however, claims that the IMF mission had recommended in its meetings an economic and financial plan that could salvage Lebanon if the government implemented it swiftly. Lebanese officials are aware of the country’s problems and have promised to undertake administrative and financial reforms, but their pledges have remained ink on paper, according to the official. The delegation was keen to evoke a series of crises that a number of countries were able to overcome, and the mistakes to be avoided in due process. The IMF mission emphasized that Lebanon should prove its commitments this time with immediate actions, starting with the electricity sector. This must be based on securing permanent solutions to stop the depletion of state resources, the official quoted the experts as saying.

Lebanese FM to Meet Le Drian in Paris as Economic Crisis Continues
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 February, 2020
Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti is expected to travel to Paris this week for talks with his French counterpart.
Lebanese official sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meeting with Jean-Yves Le Drian will take place on Friday. Discussions will focus on Lebanon’s severe economic and financial crisis. France will be clear in underscoring its commitment to the pledges made during the 2018 CEDRE conference that was hosted by Paris. Lebanon has yet to fulfill the economic and financial reform pledges it made at the conference. Paris’ assistance to Beirut in ending its crisis hinges on its implementing the much-needed reform. Foreign governments and donor institutions pledged $11 billion in financing to Lebanon for a 12-year infrastructure investment program at CEDRE, on condition that it carries out reforms. Given the massive challenges the Lebanese government is facing and fearing its inability to cope with them, France tasked Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire with discussing its crisis with his counterparts during the G20 meetings in Riyadh last week. He met with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and several Arab officials. They discussed setting up a Paris-based investment fund for Lebanon if the government implements the necessary reform. A Lebanese diplomatic sources urged through Asharq Al-Awsat Prime Minister Hassan Diab to speed up reform measures, starting with the electricity sector and combating corruption. “France always stands ready to help Lebanon. It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future…” Le Maire said Sunday at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies. “If there is any help required from Lebanon, France will be there.”Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis spiraled last year as the country’s capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite. A foreign currency liquidity crunch has forced banks to impose tight restrictions on access to hard currency and transfers abroad and the Lebanese pound has slumped. As the crisis deepens, hitting ordinary Lebanese hard, there is no sign of foreign aid. Western and Gulf Arab states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance. Mnuchin told Reuters in an interview that Washington was keeping a close eye on the situation. “It’s something we’re monitoring – both the political and economic issues there,” he said. “Our interest is in the people of Lebanon. We want there to be safe environment where they can succeed economically and live as they want to.”An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team has discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials, who are seeking technical advice for tackling the crisis as Beirut mulls a plan for dealing with fast-approaching debt payments.

Search for offshore oil and gas to begin on Thursday: Lebanon’s Aoun
Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Lebanon’s search for offshore oil and gas will begin on Thursday, President Michel Aoun announced in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, as the country grapples with an unprecedented financial crisis. “We are going through the harshest economic and financial crisis of Lebanon’s modern history,” Aoun said in his televised speech. Aoun hailed the country’s first exploration as a “historic” step that would “represent a cornerstone to rise from the abyss” and transform the economy.“Our will is to…revive (confidence) and restore the cycle of life to normal,” he said. The chairman of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) said earlier on Wednesday, that the results from the first exploratory well are expected in the next two months. “We’ll get results in the next two months. If they are positive, we’ll move to the second phase of appraisal,” LPA Chairman Walid Nasr said during a press conference earlier at the presidential palace with a delegation from Total. Raymond Ghajar, the energy and water minister, said good results will be positive for Lebanon’s ratings but noted it could be years before any find can be extracted. “There are too many ifs. First, we need to drill, then find (oil or gas), then see the amount, then see what we can extract after two, three or four years,” he said. Lebanon is on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009, including near the disputed marine border with Israel. A consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek signed an agreement with Lebanon in 2018 to explore for oil and gas in two offshore blocks. An energy discovery would be a major boost for the battered Lebanese economy but it could take several years for revenues to reach the treasury. The much-delayed search will start with the first well to be drilled in Block 4 and preparation is underway to drill wells in Block 9 later this year.

Second coronavirus case in Lebanon: Health ministry
AFP, Beirut/Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Lebanon’s health ministry said Wednesday a second case of coronavirus was confirmed in a woman who entered the country on the same flight from Tehran that carried the first case. “A second laboratory-confirmed case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was recorded,” it said. The ministry said the patient was a woman who had been visiting religious sites in Iran and returned to Lebanon on February 20. The authorities had said when announcing the first case last week that two other suspected cases were being investigated. The woman infected with the second case was hospitalized on Monday, the ministry said, adding that her condition was stable. A week after Tehran announced its first two deaths from the virus, the death toll in Iran has climbed to 19 and the country is scrambling to contain what is the deadliest outbreak outside China. The worldwide death toll is now at more than 2,700, while the number of infections has topped 80,000, although the number of new cases in China, where the virus was first reported late last year, is falling.

Parliament’s Joint Committee agrees to legalize medicinal marijuana
Perla Kantarjian/Annahar/February 26/2020
Over the years, the illicit cannabis production and trade industry in Lebanon has mostly been in the hands of Bekaa Valley farmers, near the Syrian border.
BEIRUT: The legality of the medicinal cannabis industry in Lebanon has been under discussion for years, and based on a recent update on the matter, may very soon materialize. According to various sources, the Lebanese Parliament’s joint committee has agreed to legalize the local medicinal cannabis industry on Wednesday 26, February. The draft law will be transferred to the Lebanese National Assembly for approval, as affirmed by Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli. As told to Annahar by Dr. Fadi Alame, member of the subcommittee, “Cannabis Committee for Medicinal Leaves”, dedicated to the orchestration of this law; this topic has “been in the works for about eight months.”“We will hopefully start the essential discussions in the coming few weeks, since the actualization of this law will have a very good economic impact, which Lebanon is currently in dire need of,” Alame added.
Over the years, the illicit cannabis production and trade industry in Lebanon has mostly been in the hands of Bekaa Valley farmers, near the Syrian border. Cannabis is one of the world’s ancient crops and is being increasingly utilized for its wide-ranging medicinal products and advantages.
Additionally, according to a new report by Grand View Research, the global legal marijuana market size is expected to reach USD 73.6 billion by 2027. Lebanon, suffering from the repercussions of a struggling economy, is one of the world’s top five cannabis resin (known as hashish or hash) producers, and now could be legitimately patting itself on the back for that.

US sanctions Lebanese entities that funnel funds to Hezbollah militants’ families
Joyce Karam/The National/February 26/2020
Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker said US sanctions aim to cut Hezbollah’s tentacles in the Lebanese economy
The US Treasury Department ramped up pressure on the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah on Wednesday, sanctioning 15 Lebanese entities and individuals linked to the group’s Martyrs Foundation.
The sanctions were announced simultaneously by the Treasury and the State Department, targeting twelve Lebanon-based entities affiliated with the Iran-based Martyrs Foundation, which is accused of funnelling money to the families of the group’s suicide bombers.
They are:
Atlas Holding
Medical Equipment and Drugs International Corporation (MEDIC)
Shahed Pharm
Amana Fuel Co.
Amana Plus
Al Kawthar
Amana Sanitary and Paints Company LTD,
City Pharma SARL.
Global Touristic Services SAL.
Sanovera Pharm Company SARL
Capital SAL
Most of the entities are seen as arms of Atlas Holding which “controls at least ten companies in numerous sectors in Lebanon, including fuel, pharmaceuticals, tourism, and clothing,” the Treasury said.
The US also blacklisted three Lebanese individuals affiliated with these companies that it said support the Martyrs Foundation. They are:
Kassem Mohamad Ali Bazzi, identified as a leader or official of Atlas Holding;
Jawad Nur Al Din, identified as a leader or official of the Martyrs Foundation
Sheikh Yusuf Aasi, identified as a leader or official of the Martyrs Foundation
In the statement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “Hezbollah profits from the sale of goods vital to the Lebanese peoples’ health and economy, such as pharmaceuticals and gasoline.”
He added that the Trump administration stands with the Lebanese people, and is “committed to exposing and holding accountable” Hezbollah’s funding scheme.
According to the US Treasury, Atlas Holding “banked freely at [the now liquidated] Jammal Trust Bank (JTB), despite their open affiliation with previously designated Hezbollah entities”.
It said the bank facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions through the Lebanese financial system on behalf of Atlas Holding and its subsidiaries, and aided Hezbollah officials in evading scrutiny on these accounts from Lebanese banking authorities.
Sources familiar with the decision said the new sanctions bundle was expected after targeting JTB last August, but was delayed due to the anti-government protests in Lebanon.
Speaking to The National, Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker defined the goal of these sanctions as cutting Hezbollah’s tentacles in the Lebanese economy and ultimately shutting down these entities.
“You are going to see developments on the ground especially that little less than two per cent of Lebanese gas stations [which are those targeted] should disappear,” Mr Schenker said in a phone call on Wednesday. He explained that these sanctions will freeze the accounts of the entities and cripple their ability to make transactions.
The US government, he added, will work with the “Lebanese Central Bank who is responsive” to reach this end goal. The Jamal Trust Bank, which was designated by the US last August, shut down in September.
Mr Schenker said the timing of the designations is related to a process of collecting evidence, intelligence information on forensics, and financial information that “would withstand scrutiny within the US government.”
But with Lebanon forming a government that is closer to Hezbollah than any previous cabinet since 2005, Mr Schenker set the same expectations for its members. “The expectations are that the government of Lebanon will cooperate… we are withholding judgement on their performance, despite their budget having a tenuous relation with reality.”
The senior US official did not rule out more anti-corruption sanctions targeting a broad set of political figures in Lebanon under the Global Magnitsky Act. “It is something important for us and something we are working through right now,” he said.
Asked about the negative impact of these sanctions on Lebanon’s dwindling economy, Mr Schenker pushed back, arguing that expunging Hezbollah from the Lebanese economy would increase confidence in those sectors.
Hanin Ghaddar, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where she studies Hezbollah, saw significance in targeting the pharmaceutical sector. “Iran has been flooding Lebanon with Iranian medicine, which is thriving due to the shortage of approved medicine in the midst of the economic crisis,” Ms Ghaddar told The National. “Iranian products are thriving, they’re cheap and available.”
On targeting gas stations, she referenced gas smuggling through Syria. “Smuggling operations via Syrian routes have been bringing Hezbollah loads of money and thus putting more emphasis on these outlets.”

US targets individuals, entities linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Reuters/Wednesday 26/02/2020
The Treasury Department blacklisted Atlas Holding for being owned or controlled by the Martyrs Foundation, which it said funnels financial support to militant groups, including Hezbollah.
WASHINGTON -The United States on Wednesday added a host of Lebanese individuals and entities it said were linked to the Martyrs Foundation to its designated “global terrorists” lists, according to a notice on the US Treasury Department’s website.
US officials have previously targeted the Lebanon-based Martyrs Foundation, an organisation the department has said channels financial support to several militant groups, including Hezbollah.
The US Treasury Department said in a statement that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had blacklisted Atlas Holding for being owned or controlled by the Martyrs Foundation, as well as senior Atlas official Kassem Mohamad Ali Bazzi, and 10 Atlas-affiliated companies.
Jawad Nur-al-Din and Sheikh Yusuf Aasi were also designated for being leaders or officials of the Martyrs Foundation, which was designated for supporting terrorism in July 2007. Mirath S.A.L., which is owned or controlled by Jawad Nur-al-Din, was also designated.
As a result, all property of those targeted that fall under US jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC, whose rules generally bar all US persons from dealing with them. Further, those blacklisted are subject to secondary sanctions under which OFAC can penalise foreign financial institutions which deal with them.

Moucharafieh talks general situation with ambassadors of Australia, Norway, Germany
NNA/February 26/2020
Social Affairs Minister, Professor Ramzi Moucharafieh, on Wednesday welcomed respectively in his office at the Ministry Norwegian Ambassador to Lebanon, Leni Stenseth, Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Rebecca Grindley, and German Ambassador to Lebanon, Jorg Berglin. Discussions reportedly touched on the general situation and means of cooperation between their respective countries and the Ministry at the level of modernizing a social safety net, in addition to the humanitarian dossier and affairs related to the displaced in light of the difficult circumstances that Lebanon is passing through.

Hassan, Hoballah discuss activating cooperation in pharmaceutical industry, food safety

NNA/February 26/2020
A work meeting was held on Wednesday at the Public Health Ministry between Minister of Public Health, Dr. Hamad Hassan, and Minister of Industry Dr. Imad Hoballah, to discuss activating cooperation between both ministries in the fields of pharmaceutical industry and food safety.Both Ministers agreed to hold subsequent periodic meetings to outline the details on cooperation mechanism.

Akar holds diplomatic talks with Ambassadors of Turkey, Spain, Belgium
NNA/February 26/2020
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Zeina Akar, on Wednesday held talks with Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, Hakan Cakil, over the means to boost cooperation between both sides. The Minister later held bilateral talks with Spanish Ambassador to Lebanon, Jose Maria Ferre de la Pena. In the wake of the meeting, the Spanish diplomat confirmed the continued support of his country to Lebanon.The Minister finally received Belgian Ambassador to Lebanon, Hubert Cooreman.

Kidnapped Mohammad Ramadan set free
NNA/February 26/2020
Young man, Mohammad Ramadan, who was kidnapped last Friday in Beirut’s southern suburbs and transferred by his captors to Syrian territories, has been released, NNA reporter said on Wednesday. Ramadan arrived at 4:30 p.m. at the Jaafarite Dar al-Fatwa in Bir Hassan, where he was received by Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan, General Security General Director, Abbas Ibrahim, and other religious figures and dignitaries. Ramadan was released upon the dauntless endeavors of Major General Ibrahim and the Jaafarite Dar Al-Fatwa, in cooperation with the competent Syrian authorities.

نص مشروع القانون الذي قدمه عضوي مجلس الشيوخ الأميركي تد كروز وجين شاهين لفرض عقوبات شديدة على كل مسؤول لبناني له دور في عملية الإعتقال الإعتباطية واللاقوانونية في لبنان للمواطن اللبناني الأميركي عامر فاخوري
Sens. Cruz, Shaheen Announce Biting Sanctions Against Lebanese Officials Complicit in the Unlawful Detention and Abuse of U.S. Citizens
February 24, 2020 | 202-228-7561
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced new legislation that would impose sanctions against Lebanese officials who are involved in the unlawful detainment, arrest or abuse of any United States citizen in Lebanon. The senators’ legislation – the Zero Tolerance for Unlawful Detentions of U.S. Citizens in Lebanon Act (Zero Tolerance Act) – comes in response to Lebanese officials’ refusal to free United States citizen and Dover, New Hampshire resident Amer Fakhoury, who has been illegally detained in Beirut since September 2019 and is suffering from stage 4 cancer.
Amer Fakhoury, a well-known and well-liked small business owner from Dover, New Hampshire, was visiting Lebanon in September 2019 when his U.S. passport was confiscated. Soon after, he was taken into custody and tortured by Lebanese security officials and has since been illegally detained in Beirut. While in prison, it was discovered that he was suffering from stage 4 cancer-his symptoms exacerbated by the beating he received at the hands of Lebanese security officials looking to extract a false confession related to his time working against Hezbollah as a young, South Lebanon Army officer in Lebanon. Earlier this year, the Lebanese military court charged Amer with unsubstantiated crimes that carry a punishment of death without producing any material evidence to back these allegations. Amer’s case has unfortunately been exploited by the terrorist organization Hezbollah in order to exacerbate ethnic and political tensions in Lebanon during this critical time in the country’s history.
“Protecting American citizens both at home and abroad is the most fundamental responsibility of our government, and there is nothing I take more seriously,” Sen. Cruz said. “The taking of American hostages is completely unacceptable, and I’m committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure that this vital bipartisan legislation is signed into law.”
“The U.S. Government has provided ample opportunity for Lebanese officials to free Amer Fakhoury. However, Amer is fighting for his life and time is running out. Lebanon’s officials know that their behavior – which is motivated by Hezbollah’s desire to sow discord in Lebanon – are illegal even under their own laws. There must be consequences for this flagrant disregard of international norms and human rights. Anytime a U.S citizen is wrongfully arrested, detained or abused by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to bring that person home and ensure they are not used as pawns in political games. That’s why today I’m introducing bipartisan legislation with Senator Cruz to impose visa bans and asset freezes against those culpable in Amer’s illegal imprisonment,” Sen. Shaheen said. “It’s past time for Amer Fakhoury to be released, reunited with this family and brought home to the United States to receive the medical treatment he desperately needs.”
“Amer Fakhoury is a husband, father, small business owner and beloved member of his community. He is an American citizen being held hostage on outrageous, fictitious charges. His health is deteriorating and time is of the essence to bring him home. We appreciate Senator Shaheen and Cruz’s advocacy and are encouraged by this latest effort to hold Lebanese officials accountable and push them to release Amer so he can be with his wife and daughters as he fights for his health. Understanding the urgency of the situation, we hope this bill moves quickly through Congress before it’s too late,” the Fakhoury family said.
Specifically, the Zero Tolerance Act would authorize visa bans and/or asset freezes on any current or former officials of the Lebanese government or Lebanese judiciary system who are involved in or facilitated the wrongful, unlawful or inhumane arrest, detention or abuse of a U.S citizen in Lebanon. The sanctions could also be extended to family members and associates of these individuals.