Lebanon News

Cabinet fills key vacancies, appoints oil committee

President Michel Sleiman chairs Wednesday's Cabinet session at Baabda Palace. (The Daily Star/Dalati&Nohra,HO)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet made 10 key appointments Wednesday, including the police chief and the state prosecutor, and formed a ministerial committee to study the designation of Lebanon’s offshore blocks for oil exploration.

The government appointed Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous as director general of the Internal Security Forces after he served as acting director general.

Acting State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud also became a full-fledged state prosecutor.

The breakthrough in appointments came two days after a stormy session over the issue and is expected to pave the way for filling the scores of vacant senior posts in the public sector.

The government, which convened under President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, also appointed Mansour Daw as governor of the south, Faten Youness as director general of political and refugee affairs in the Interior Ministry and Judge Ahmad Hamdan as head of the Court of Accounts.

The Cabinet renewed the term of Kamal Hayek as a director general of Electricite du Liban and appointed Habib Merhi a general inspector at the Health, Agricultural and Social Inspection Department at the Agriculture Ministry.

Hanna al-Amil became the director general of the Sugar Beet and Cereals Department and Lana Dargham the director general of the Lebanese Standards Institution.

It also appointed Johny Abu Fadel as the director general of the National Employment Organization.

Wednesday’s appointments were divided equally between Muslims and Christians.

The ministers then listened to a presentation by members of the Petroleum Administration on dividing Lebanon’s territorial waters into blocks and on the specification book that companies should satisfy to be awarded tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration.

The government formed a ministerial committee to study the issue and present the Cabinet with a report at a later session.

Chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the committee is comprised of Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel, Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk, Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

The designation of offshore blocks for oil exploration has been a source of contention between Speaker Nabih Berri and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

The speaker has called for auctioning off all of Lebanon’s 10 blocks to bidding companies in one round in order to prevent Israel from exploiting any of Lebanon’s blocks near its borders.

But the Petroleum Administration has named only five blocks, a move supported by Bassil, who argues that approving all the blocks for drilling in one batch is not a transparent act.

The Cabinet was briefed by Moqbel and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk on the security plan the Lebanese Army began implementing in Tripoli Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after the session, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said the Cabinet stressed that the plan was permanent and that its implementation had proven that the Army and the ISF operate with high levels of coordination and were able to relieve residents of Tripoli.Tripoli has witnessed rounds of deadly fighting between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and rivals in the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh since the start of Syria’s war in March 2011.

On his way to the Cabinet session, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told reporters that the security plan in his home city of Tripoli was very satisfying.

“Bringing peace back to Tripoli is a challenge. It is important to see our children happy carrying their school bags again,” he said. “God willing, the atmosphere will continue as such and Tripoli will only be a city of coexistence and peace.”

Rifi did not rule out the possibility that he would visit Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, saying residents of both neighborhoods “are my people.”

Rifi said he planned to actively resume contacts with Hezbollah to protect the country, which he said was exhausted from Sunni-Shiite tension.

The Cabinet will meet again Tuesday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2014, on page 1.




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