Hamas Dissolves its Government Amid Challenge of Forming National Unity Cabinet

Ramallah- Hamas announced on Sunday the dissolution of the so-called administrative committee that runs the Gaza Strip and said it has agreed that a national unity cabinet immediately comes to the territory to carry out its duties.

“Hamas invites the government of national accord to come to Gaza to practice its mission and carry out its duties in the Strip immediately, and it accepts holding the general elections,” the movement said in a statement released on Sunday.

Hamas said it took the decision in response to Egypt’s efforts, which it greatly praised.

Hamas also expressed readiness to restart dialogue with the Fatah Movement concerning the mechanisms to implement the 2011 Cairo Agreement and to form a national unity government that includes all factions that signed the deal.

Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad said the deal stipulates the fostering of the 2011 reconciliation agreement with no new items added on the list.

Observers believe that forming a national unity government constitutes the first challenge facing the new initiative, as Fatah wants to keep the program of its unity government while Hamas plans to introduce some amendments.

A series of meetings between Hamas and Fatah are expected to kick off next week in Egypt followed by talks with the rest of the Palestinian factions.

Al-Ahmed, who is currently in Cairo for the Egyptian-led reconciliation talks with Hamas told WAFA news agency that a bilateral meeting between Fatah and Hamas officials followed by a meeting of all the Palestinian factions that signed the reconciliation agreement in 2011 will be held in order to begin practical steps to implement the deal.

Al-Ahmed expressed great appreciation to Egypt’s efforts to end Palestinian division and achieve national unity.

Despite the welcoming statements released on Sunday by both Fatah and Hamas, the two movements are expected to face difficult talks concerning the employees of Hamas’ previous government, the plan of the upcoming national unity cabinet and its lineup in addition to which committees the new government should include.

Morocco: JDP Decides on Ministerial Candidates

Moroccow

Rabat – The Justice and Development Party (JDP) has decided on the candidates who will handle ministerial portfolios in the next government. Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani is expected to receive this Saturday lists in the names of ministers of the governing coalition parties.

While Othmani refused to reveal the ministerial portfolios to be granted to his party – JDP – some names were suggested to remain in their positions in the next government. The party has also nominated three women to play a role in the government.

Othmani restrained from announcing the ministerial portfolios that the party will insist on having and considered that this issue requires a dialogue with other parties.

Abdelilah Benkirane absented himself from the meeting of the secretariat and left the decision to Othmani to select the ministers given that the secretary general is also the prime minister.

The secretary general chooses one out of the three nominated names for each portfolio and he can also choose a figure from outside the list.

A member in the party told Asharq Al-Awsat that the party is willing to maintain the number of governmental positions as that in the previous government (11 portfolios).

PJD’s Spokesman Slimane Omrani stated that the secretary general of the party has held a long meeting on Thursday that lasted for six hours to examine the suggested names. Omrani continued that three names were added by the secretariat.

He added that three names were suggested for every ministerial portfolio and that “what is important in this process, whether the first meeting on Saturday or the second on Thursday, was the positive atmosphere.”

Omrani stressed that selection was made based on neutrality and on choosing the best candidate.

Tunisian Prime Minister Announces First-time Cabinet Changes

Tunisia

Tunis- Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed announced the implementation of the first ever partial amendment on ministerial portfolios. Khalil al Ghriyani was duly appointed as a successor to public service minister Obaid Buraiki.

Initial remarks made by Buraiki, a former labor party leader, on the ministerial change showed great surprise towards his unexpected relief from duties.

Buraiki added that he had hinted his resignation a day ahead of the ministerial reappointments, however did not send it in writing to the national unity government’s prime minister.

On the other hand, local protests took on a higher note against development projects considered a threat to the ecosystem and the environment. Take to streets demanded that the Chahed administration looks into rapid responses to emerging industrial polluting manufactures.

In the Gabès governorate, home to some 130,000 Tunisians, demanded that a local phosphogypsum factory be shutdown, protesting that no less than 25 tons of toxic waste is being disposed in the Mediterranean, causing great harm and damage to coastal areas.

Similar protests against hazardous industrial projects across Tunisia have been breaking out in the Gafsa Governorate, northern Tunisia and Sfax.

More so, Tunisia plans to sell stakes in three state-owned banks this year and cut up to 10,000 public sector jobs as part of reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has frozen the second tranche of a loan, the finance minister said.

Six years after its 2011 pro-democracy uprising, Tunisia is struggling to make economic progress. Last June, the IMF released the first tranche of a loan worth $320 million.

Finance Minister Lamia Zribi told Reuters in an interview a second payment had not been made.

“The IMF froze a second tranche worth $350 million scheduled last December because of lack of progress in reforms, including public sector wage bill, the public finances and state banks,” the minister said.

Zribi said an IMF delegation had been expected in Tunisia next month to discuss reforms and the third tranche of the loan, but the team will not come if they did not see reform progress.

Any official suspension of IMF installments of the loan could push other international partners to retreat from lending to the North African state.

Zribi said the government was ready to launch a new push on the reforms package in the public sector, the banking sector, state companies and taxes.

The minister said the government would immediately begin plans for a voluntary layoff program for state employees by encouraging early retirement, aiming to cut at least 10,000 public sector jobs in 2017 through the program.

Hariri: Government Prioritizes Budget Endorsement

Beirut-Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that endorsing the state budget tops the list of government’s goals, adding any new tax would take into consideration interests of both citizens and the economic sectors.

Hariri said that approving the ranks and salaries scale should be linked to administrative reforms and ensuring financial resources to finance them.

Speaking to a delegation from the economic bodies headed by former Minister Adnan Kassar, the Prime Minister said that a package of taxes and fees made headlines in the past few days, as it is expected to overwhelm citizens -mainly those with limited income-, and some sectors, including the banking sector.

The PM clarified that ongoing discussions on new taxes and fees in the cabinet, will secure the balance between interests of citizens and different economic sectors, and will ensure additional resources to finance the budget.

Hariri also noted that the country is battling hard economy conditions, and the government aims to hold a practical discussion to define the taxes and fees that should be applied, with the least impact on the economic growth and on the low-income class.

He added that discussions held in the cabinet are open to reach a balance between the needs of the private sector, citizens and the state. On the other hand, there is a package of incentives to motivate the private sector, which will likely be included in the draft state budget.

Hariri said that approving the ranks and salaries scale is being studied by the cabinet; in case it is approved, it should be linked to administrative reforms and suitable financial resources to finance them. Without reforms and commitment to implement them, the ranks and salaries scale cannot be approved, as it is not possible to increase wages without improving productivity in the public sector and activating public administration.

As for increasing the electricity tariff, Hariri said: “I personally believe that it is not permissible to increase the tariff before increasing and improving electricity hours.”

The Prime Minister concluded by saying that the government works on developing a new plan to deal with the Syrian refugee issue; it intends to benefit from the international support to develop the infrastructure used by the displaced Syrians especially roads, schools, universities, hospitals, electricity and water sectors.

Former Minister Adnan Kassar said that the visit to Hariri comes as part of the continuous consultation in all national issues. He revealed that the meeting focused on the economic situation in light of the cabinet’s discussion of the 2017 draft budget and the government’s directives.

The delegation praised the dynamism and vitality of the work of the government headed by Hariri and its efforts to control economic, socio-economic matters and security matters. They considered that the cabinet has been eager to approve the first budget since 12 years.

Hariri showed understanding of the concerns of the economic bodies regarding new taxes to finance the budget deficit, which would lead to further strains on the national economy. This economy already suffers from sharp recession driven by crises that emerged with the beginning of the presidential vacuum in 2014 and that persist due to the absence of foreign investments.

The delegation told Hariri that the first step to finance the budget deficit would be to stop the rampant waste in state institutions, improve tax collection and end squandering in public institutions. All this would be essential to the reform that has become urgent in light of the growing corruption.

Yemen Army Fortifying Western Coastal Advances, Cutting Insurgency Supply Routes

Yemen

Taiz- Pro-government forces in Yemen, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, continued recording sweeping advances in Taiz freeing militia-held pockets for two days in a row.

The operation sweeping the zone is denoted by “Operation Golden Spear”, and presents great significance as it frees coastal areas vital to economic pipelines from the hold of Iran-aligned Houthi groups, seeking to topple governmental authority.

Fierce clashes intensified between pro-government forces, composed of popular resistance groups and army units , and Iran-backed Houthis siding with combatant loyalists supporting former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Advances have been registered throughout western terrain reaching as far as the coastal port city of Taiz, Mocha.

Past 72 hours of continued advances restoring control over key positions, including a mountain Owaid and fort in Aelaidlh South Aloakhlud area, pro-government forces directed efforts to cut off main Hodeidah – Taiz supply routes. Army units then sought to secure the coastline stretching from Dhubab , Mocha through to Bab al-Mandeb strait, cutting off the chief artillery supply route.

The Golden Spear Operation restored stability to an international shipping line which coup militias repeatedly hindered its nautical safety, especially firing multiple attacks against commercial and military vessels.

Multiple casualties have been accounted for among coup ranks, both in artillery and personnel.

Army troops managed abort militia infiltration attempts that were accompanied with violent bombardment across eastern, southern and western fronts, as well as increased fighting in Jabal Habashi, west of Taiz.

Ongoing operations led by Yemen army forces, support by coalition airpower, are invested in the conclusive implementation of Operation Golden Spear, launched to liberate the national west coast, all the way to Mocha and Bab al-Mandeb, military sources reported to Asharq Al-Awsat.

Main supply routes pumping artillery to coup militias will be completely cut, they added.

Lebanese Government Passes Two Oil, Gas Decrees

Lebanon

Beirut – Lebanon’s new government passed its first obstacle after approving two decrees concerning oil and gas exploration blocks, as well as assigning a new OGERO Telecom chief, after more than two years of political deadlock.

In its first session after the confidence vote, the new Lebanese government approved the decrees that define the blocks and specify conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts. Ministers of the Progressive Socialist Party voiced their reservations over the approval of the decrees related to the oil excavation file.

Full details of the model exploration and production agreements have not yet been published.

It seemed that the preapproved positions between political blocs concerning stalled issues led to the swift approval.

Minister of State for Refugees Mouin al-Merehbi didn’t deny that the agreements on all the issues facilitated reaching this result. He also expected other decrees to be approved as easily as this.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the State Minister confirmed that there is nothing hampering the agreement on oil decrees, before referring it to the parliament for the vote.

“I don’t think there is something that would stop the authorization of all delayed matters … We hope others things will run as smoothly as this,” he added.

Merehbi pointed out that both the oil and gas decrees took about two and half hours of discussions, saying that the negotiations were technical and explored the Ministry of Finance’s censorial role.

Despite the government passing the decrees, Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh and Minister of State for Human Rights Ayman Choucair from the Democratic Gathering bloc were the only two ministers in the 30-member Cabinet who voiced their objections.

“We voiced initial reservations over the executive decrees because they failed to recognize the establishment of a national company to represent Lebanon in the agreements with the companies that will be tasked in the explorations and excavation of oil,” said Hamadeh.

“The Cabinet approved the two draft decrees pertaining to the delineation of sea waters falling under the jurisdiction of the Lebanese state into zones in the form of blocks, along with tender documents on the licensing rounds in sea waters and a model agreement on exploration and production,” Information Minister Melhem Riachi told reporters after the four-hour-long meeting.

Riachi said that the Cabinet also endorsed a decree pertaining to determining the expenses of the committee tasked with overseeing applications by Lebanese expatriates to regain Lebanese nationality.

The Cabinet also appointed Imad Kreidieh, 56, replacing Abdel-Moneim Youssef, as new head of Ogero.

Bassel al-Ayoubi has also replaced Youssef as the director-general of investment and maintenance at the Telecoms Ministry. Youssef held both positions.

Addressing the session, PM Saad Hariri proposed the formation of a ministerial committee to set guidelines for the Cabinet’s response during any emergency. The committee comprised of the foreign, health and interior ministers, will remain in contact with the president and the prime minister when the need arises.

President Michel Aoun, who chaired the session at Baabda Palace, started the meeting by denouncing the Istanbul attack on the New Year’s Eve where 39 people, including three Lebanese, were killed by a gunman during a shooting spree claimed by ISIS.

Aoun also hailed the security measures of the New Year’s Eve in maintaining peace and praised the efforts of the security forces in that regard.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil described the government as having done “extraordinary achievements” during its first session. He added: “Three congratulations are in order for Lebanon today: for the oil, telecommunication, and retrieval of nationality decrees.”

Change and Reform bloc MP Nabil Nicolas said on Wednesday: “There is an agreement inside the newly formed government,” adding that there is also a sort of openness among the ministers.

Government and Militants Blame Each Other For the Massacre in Darfur

Ten people were killed and more than 60 were injured as a result of bloody and violent incidents that took place in Nirtiti in Central Darfur state. The armed opposition and the government blamed each other for the incident in which innocent civilians were killed.

Press reports stated that armed forces carried out an attack on New Year’s Day in the town of Nirtiti which lies approximately 100 km east of Central Darfur state’s capital. Nine people were killed after a soldier was found dead in one of the town’s neighbourhoods. Government forces were accused of launching a huge attack on the town’s residents in which heavy and light weapons were used. However, Khartoum denied this version of events.

The Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur made a statement before official reports were released in which he accused “government militias” of committing the crime. However, the governor of the state Jaafar Abdul-Hakam said at a press conference yesterday that preliminary investigations carried out by local security authorities prove that a group affiliated to the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur were involved in what he called the “strife”.

The government website www.ashorooq.net quoted the governor of Central Darfur state Abdul-Hakam as saying that the attack occurred after it was reported that an army soldier was found dead in a woodland area on Friday. His corpse was moved to one of the city’s neighbourhoods and the next day, a doctor was beaten and robbed. Reports on the two incidents confirm that 6 armed individuals belonging to the Sudan Liberation Movement were involved in the attacks.

Lebanon’s New Government: “Elections” Mission And Unrepresentative Lineup

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda

Beirut- After waiting for more than one and a half months to form the new cabinet, Lebanese were not surprised by the new cabinet lineup, which remained “an identical picture” of previous governments at several levels.

Some ministers were given portfolios that have nothing in common with their field of expertise. New ministries were created to please some political parties. Only one woman out of the 30-member cabinet was appointed minister despite all the slogans raised by politicians supporting women’s empowerment.

And what is clear to everyone is that the mission of the current government is almost restricted to preparing the upcoming parliamentary elections, expected to take place in around six months. Even several officials do not hide the fact that they do not rely on the achievements of the new ministers, whose majority aim to also run for the parliamentary elections.

Legal expert and head of the JUSTICIA nongovernmental institution Paul Morcos described the first government of President Michel Aoun as the “cabinet of anticipation” because it was formed in a way to serve the task of preparing for the parliamentary elections,” if parties agree on a new electoral law.

However, Environment Minister Tarek Khatib, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement and who is also running for the upcoming parliamentary elections told Asharq Al-Awsat: “A minister willing to work would reach a result whether in six days, six months or a year, and the opposite is true.”

Khatib said that although the current government has a mission to prepare for the next elections, ministers should also work on other issues to fulfill their tasks. The new environment minister admitted he has a difficult mission to treat the garbage crisis, but said: “Nothing is impossible.”

Khatib defended ministers who wish to also run for the upcoming elections: “A minister running for parliamentary elections does not contradict his mission if he fulfills his promises without expecting anything in return.”

However, Morcos said the current cabinet should have included experts who can manage the electoral process. He said the cabinet’s current loose form with its portfolios and representations place several question marks particularly on whether political forces want to extend its term by postponing the parliamentary elections or hold these elections based on a “pre-packed” electoral law.

Speaking at the constitutional level, Morcos said the new cabinet is formed by several ministries without portfolios, which means ministries lacking the human, financial and administrative factors that would allow them to function. Therefore, Morcos said those ministries without portfolios are nothing but “honorary” positions to please some political forces.

He said the current government lineup remains a blatant proof that ministerial appointments are based on sectarian, regional and clientelism factors, and not based on the expertise of ministers.

Kuwait’s New Cabinet Takes Oath

Kuwait

Kuwait – The newly elected government took oath before Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and is expected to wait for confidence-vote from the National Council.

The 34th government is chaired by Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak and formed of 15 ministers.

Sheikh Sabah hosted the newly-formed Cabinet at the Amiri Airport, where Sheikh Jaber presented the new ministers.

The Amir praised the tremendous efforts exerted by the prime minister to form the new Cabinet, and the efforts exerted by the ministers for bearing such a responsibility with all dedication and loyalty, hoping they will be successful in performing their duties.

Sheikh Sabah addressed the new ministers saying:“Great responsibilities and ambitious economic aspirations sought by the homeland and citizens are awaiting you, which requires tremendous efforts to be harnessed to speed up the pace of development in the country”.

Sheikh Sabah added that this will only be achieved through working as a team, positive cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities as well as mutual keenness to tackle issues of citizens’ concerns.

The Amir expressed his confident in the ministers’ ability to bear the responsibility, urging them to work on resolving problems affecting the citizens and facilitating tasks, according to laws and regulations. 

The Cabinet comprises of the following ministers: Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Anas Nasser Al-Saleh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Humoud Al-Sabah, Minister of Information and Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Hind Barrak Al-Sabeeh, Minister of Social Affairs and Labor as well as Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Yaser Abul, Minister of State for Housing Affairs and Minister of State for Utilities, Jamal Mansour Al-Harbi, the Minister of Health, Khaled Nasser Abdullah Al-Roudan, the Minister Commerce and Industry, Abdulrahman Abdulkareem Al-Mutawa’, the as Minister Public Works, Essam Abdulmohsen Al-Marzouq, Minister Electricity and Water as well as the Minister of Oil, Faleh Abdullah Al-Azeb, Minister Justice and the Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs, Mohammad Abdulatif Al-Fares, Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education, Mohammad Nasser Al-Jabri, Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs as well as Minister of State for the Municipality.

The newly-formed cabinet, named by the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah Saturday, is the 34th in the history of Kuwait since 1962 and the Premier’s sixth since he was named Prime Minister in December 2011.

According to Article 56 of the Kuwaiti Constitution: “The Amir shall appoint the Prime Minister after the traditional consultations and shall relieve him from his post. He shall also appoint the Ministers and relieve them from their posts on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.”

“The entire number of Ministers shall not exceed one third the number of the members of the National Assembly,” Article 56 reads.

The first cabinet in the history of Kuwait was chaired by the late Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah in January of 1962.

The second, third and fourth cabinets were chaired by the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah – the 12th ruler of Kuwait – from January 1963 to November 1965.

The 13th ruler of the country, the late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, was in charge of the cabinet from December 1965 to December 1977. In his duration, he covered the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth governments.

The late Father Amir Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah governed 11 governments – the longest ruling of a prime minister in the history of the country.

Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah chaired the 10th to the 20th cabinets in a period that extended from 1978 to 2001.

In 2003, the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah took charge of the 21st government.

This followed by the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th cabinets that were under the presidency of Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah – from 2006 to 2011.

Since December 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak have been head of the government. He chaired the 29th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd and newly-named cabinet – the 34th.

The smallest cabinet in the history of Kuwait was that of 2011. It comprised of only 10 ministers. While the largest cabinet in the history of the country was that of 1990, consisting of 22 ministers.

The new cabinet is required to be submitted to a vote of confidence in parliament.

Washington is Concerned About Moscow’s Support For the Taliban

CNN TV reported yesterday that officials at the US State Department have said that the Department is in contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding news that the Russian government is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and is investigating the matter.

Last week, the commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission General John W Nicholson accused Russia of supporting the Taliban. Yesterday, the news agency Reuters said that “Afghan and American officials are increasingly worried that any deepening of ties between Russia and Taliban militants fighting to topple the government in Kabul could complicate an already precarious security situation”.

The agency also reported that Russian officials deny providing any assistance to Taliban fighters whom the agency described as “fighting in large areas of the country and causing heavy casualties”. These Russian officials also said that there is only “limited communication” with the Taliban and that the goal of this is to “push the Taliban to the negotiating table”.

Reuters also quoted statements made by senior officials in the Afghan government in which they said that Russian support for the Taliban “seems mostly political so far”. However, the officials added that meetings held recently in Russia and Tajikistan which borders Afghanistan alarmed Afghan intelligence and defence officials because direct support including arms and money are being provided. A senior Afghan security official described Russian support for the Taliban as “a dangerous new direction”.

Last week, the commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission General John W Nicholson told reporters in Washington that Russia has joined Iran and Pakistan to become a country that has a “malign influence” in Afghanistan, and that “Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban”.

Reuters also quoted the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova as saying that Nicholson’s comments are “naive and inaccurate”. Zakharova said “We have repeatedly said that Russia does not hold secret talks with the Taliban and does not provide them with any kind of support”. She added that Russia “prefers to achieve peace in Afghanistan through negotiations and this cannot happen without establishing relations with all parties, including the Taliban”.

An official from the Taliban told Reuters that the group has had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007, but added that Russian involvement did not extend beyond “moral and political support”. The official added “We had a common enemy…We needed support to get rid of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, and Russia wanted all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible.”