Lebanese press round-up: December 17, 2008

Press round-up for Wednesday, December 17th from the morning edition of Lebanon’s An-Nahar, Al-Akhbar, As-Safir, and Ad-Diyar newspapers.

  • Opening Titles

Berri says “hampering of and absence from the Council of Ministers are prohibited.”

The majority asserts that Doha is a compromise while Taif is the accord.

Al-Murr and the “major surprise”: 10 Russian MiG-29 planes for the army.

  • Local News

Defense Minister Elias al-Murr announced a “big surprise” represented by Russia’s decision to provide the Lebanese Armed Forces with 10 MiG-29 planes, adding that negotiations were held regarding T90 tanks, modern armored vehicles and missiles.

Majority sources revealed that, during his meeting with Russian PM Vladimir Putin, MP Saad Hariri had gained knowledge of Russia’s readiness to spare no expenses regarding the LAF’s armament.

These sources quoted one of Putin’s advisors as saying at the time that “Syria has to acknowledge from now on that it shares border with an independent and sovereign country called Lebanon.”

The plenary parliamentary debate was initiated yesterday, and MPs are to appoint their quota of Constitutional Council members tomorrow. Speaker Berri sought to mitigate the tension after PM Siniora wondered what the opposition had aimed to achieve by [threatening to have] recourse to “the blocking third.”

Minister Gebran Bassil said: “We are not ashamed by what we have heard following the Council of Ministers’ session regarding the threat and use of the blocking third. We have fought for it so as to use it when need be, and we are ministers who participate [in decision-making], rather than onlookers.”

PM Siniora responded to the declarations made by MP Abdellatif al-Zein regarding the appointment of Judge Ghaleb Ghanem as president of the Higher Judicial Council, saying: “The government has not named anyone yet.”

An-Nahar asked Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah to clarify Minister Bassil’s allegation, whereby PM Siniora had asked both him and Chatah to tackle the issue of the land expropriation decree. Chatah said that Bassil “has no business tackling this issue with me.”

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale will arrive in Beirut in the next few hours in order to hold talks with Lebanese officials.

  • Opening Titles

Mountazer al-Zaidi is the talk of the hour worldwide from Caracas to Beijing.

MiG-29 planes in the Lebanese sky!

  • Local News

According to reports from Baghdad, Mountazer al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw a pair of shoes at US President George Bush, is now in a Green Zone hospital and suffers from broken bones and torture wounds. His case has been transferred to the Iraqi judiciary.

Defense Minister Elias al-Murr revealed that Russia has offered to provide the Lebanese Armed Forces with 10 MiG-29 planes, which are highly efficient modern fighters.

In a press conference held following his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, Murr said that the latter also proposed to him a “draft cooperation agreement, which will be discussed in the Council of Ministers upon his return to Lebanon.”

The draft cooperation agreement between Lebanon and Russia includes “training of LAF pilots on flying the MiG-29 planes and forming a military logistics team in order to assess how many such planes Lebanon needs.”

Russian journalists quoted the Lebanese Embassy in Moscow as saying that “the Lebanese army has heavy weapons asserting its capacity to take over Hezbollah with regard to defending the South and enabling the government to discuss the issue of Hezbollah’s disarmament.”

Russian officials have yet to confirm Minister Murr’s declarations regarding this aid. Minister Serdyukov, however, said that he received “a list of the LAF’s needs, and we are ready to discuss it.”

  • Opening Titles

Murr announces a $300 million donation and “the state” rejoices; Moscow does not confirm and no comment from Israel.

Who will pay for the MiG-29, who will protect them, and where will they be used?

The Iraqi judiciary takes legal action against Mountazer al-Zaidi on charge of attempting to assassinate Bush.

  • Local News

Defense Minister Elias al-Murr declared that Russia intends to donate to Lebanon 10 MiG-29 fighters. Interestingly enough, though, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, did not confirm the Lebanese announcement, merely indicating that “Russia has received a list of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ needs.”

This announcement raised several questions pertaining to its timing on the domestic and foreign level, the relevant “costs” and the period subsequent to the receipt of the 10 fighters.

Israel has yet to issue any comment regarding the “Lebanese news” coming from Moscow.

The Iraqi judiciary indicted journalist Mountazer al-Zaidi yesterday on the charge of “assaulting a president,” which is liable to 15 years of imprisonment.

Iran deemed that what happened with US President George Bush is tantamount to a message addressed to President-elect Barack Obama.

  • Opening Titles

Russian qualitative armament and US questions.

10 MiG-29 planes and T90 tanks offered; the parliamentary debate unconnected to the [concerns of the] people …

  • Local News

It appears as though Russia has agreed to offer Lebanon 10 MiG-29 planes, one of the most modern Russian fighter jets that travel at Mach 2 speed and are comparable to the American F-16s.

According to unconfirmed reports, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will pay for the new Russian arms.

Sources close to the United States told Ad-Diyar that the US was taken by surprise by the arms deal with Russia.

Parliament approved the minimum wage increase and retroactive wage payments yesterday, although the discussion was unproductive. The session resembled a farewell accountability session before the elections.

Speaker Berri denied threatening to use the opposition’s veto power and talked about the perfect attendance of its representatives, to which Minister Gebran Bassil added: “We didn’t gain the blocking third for fun, but to use it when needed.”