International donors pledge over €250m in aid to Lebanon
Most of the UK media continue to report on the fallout from the explosion in the port of Beirut last week. The BBC, Times, Associated Press and Telegraph note that international donors have pledged over €250m in aid for Lebanon, with the UK so far promising to donate £25m, larger than any European country. However, the pledged funds fall way short of what officials estimate is the total damage of the explosion, £11.5bn. President Emmanuel Macron, speaking from his summer residence in southern France for the donor summit, also called for “an impartial, credible and independent inquiry” into how the disaster was allowed to happen.
The Telegraph and The Guardian report that two Lebanese ministers have resigned from the country’s government on Sunday in protest at the explosion in Beirut that left at least 158 people dead. Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad and Environment Minister Demianos Kattar, one of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s closest advisers, both announced they were stepping down from the government, which is accused of gross negligence and failing to prevent the deadly blast. Their resignations came as protestors clashed with security forces for a second day in Beirut, with security forces firing tear gas and – according to some reports – live ammunition.
The Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian lead on the protests in Lebanon that have stormed Beirut’s city centre, from the parliament building to the street where the Great Mosque and the Christian Maronite cathedral stand side by side. The protestors show particular venom towards the uneasy alliance between Lebanon’s largest Christian-majority party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and the Iran-backed Shia militia Hezbollah, which dominates the government. “Hang Michel Aoun!” they shouted, a reference to the President, whose son-in-law is the FPM party leader. Others chanted a slogan that rhymes in Arabic: “Beirut is free, Iran go away,” in reference to Hezbollah. Richard Spencer adds in The Times that the endemic corruption in the country’s political establishment means no fresh leaders are likely to emerge.
Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant still plans to pay $75bn (£57bn) to its shareholders this year even as the impact of the coronavirus caused its profits for the last quarter to plummet by 73 per cent, according to reports in The Financial Times and The Guardian. The global slowdown in oil demand during the pandemic pushed Saudi Aramco’s net income for the second quarter down to $6.57bn, from $24.7bn in the same period last year and $16.6bn in the first quarter of 2020.
In the Israeli media, Kan Radio News reports on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) striking a Hamas observation point last night in the northern Gaza Strip in response to the explosive-rigged balloons that were sent over the border into Israel yesterday. Palestinian sources reported that a Hamas position was attacked. The bombs caused two fires in the area of the Beeri Forest in the western Negev.
Writing in Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon says that even if it isn’t very clear as to why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to vote for a bill to postpone passing the state budget in its upcoming preliminary reading, what is clear is that elections have only been deferred. “The situation is less one in which Likud and Blue and White have been given time to overcome their differences and more that Netanyahu has been given time to conceive of his next tricks and shticks, the ones that he promised that he would not resort to in his agreement with Gantz.”
Ben Caspit argues in Ma’ariv that a fourth election in Israel “will be a catastrophe on an unimaginable scale in every sense. Netanyahu can avert that within the space of half a minute. He doesn’t have to keep his commitment to a two-year budget. He can append to the budget bill and the arrangements bill an amendment that would correct the lacuna in the coalition agreement. The amendment should read as follows: If, in the course of 2021, the state budget is not approved, elections will be held while the alternate prime minister (Gantz) is the prime minister of the transitional government. That same clause exists in the coalition agreement, but it doesn’t apply to the instance of the state budget failing to be approved. So add that amendment to make it apply. That will plug the hole through which Netanyahu can break out to elections next year and that will allay Gantz’s concerns. That is the entire story.”
A new poll in Ma’ariv shows that the right-wing bloc would not have a 61-seat majority in the Knesset to form a new government were elections to happen today. The poll found that the Likud would win 29 seats, Yesh-Atid-Telem 19 seats, Yamina 14, the Joint List 14, Blue and White 13, UTJ 9, Meretz 8, and Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu 7 seats each. None of the other parties are expected to cross the electoral, according to the poll. In terms of blocs, the poll found that the right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc is projected to win 59 seats.
A comment piece by Gad Laior in Yediot Ahronot speculates on the economic impact of passing only a one-year budget for the rest of 2020: “A lowering of its credit rating exactly two years after it was raised to an all-time high … will lead to raised interest rates on the loans that Israel will have to take, the austerity measures that the government will have to impose on the public — new taxes and cuts in services — will cause more businesses to collapse, along with their owners, and the million mark of unemployed people may be crossed and more Israelis will plummet from middle class to beneath the poverty line.”
Kan Radio News reports on the latest coronavirus data from the Health Ministry, in which there are currently more than 24,800 active cases of COVID-19 in Israel, of whom 395 are in serious condition and 117 are on ventilators. The number of people in Israel who have died of the coronavirus stands at 600. Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is considering postponing the start of the new school year for fourth graders and up until after the High Holidays. That postponement may only affect areas that are defined as being red.