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Cabinet grants $6.6M to Arsal farmers.

Summary: Prime Minister Tammam Salam called on ministers to approve a state budget during Thursday's Cabinet meeting, as the body agreed to release funds to security apparatuses and compensate farmers from Arsal.

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam called on ministers to approve a state budget during Thursday's Cabinet meeting, as the body agreed to release funds to security apparatuses and compensate farmers from Arsal.

Ministers met for a Cabinet session in the absence of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who continued his boycott of the meetings.

Salam called on ministers to agree on a state budget for referral to Parliament. Lebanon has not approved a state budget since 2005 due to obstructive political wrangling among rival factions.

The Cabinet agreed to release funds allocated to the Army and other security agencies. A brief verbal spat broke out over the matter, according to the Cabinet statement read by Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi.

However, a source close to Salam denied any knowledge of the incident. "The decree was decided upon and the funds are to be released," the source said to The Daily Star.

The government also agreed to provide financial compensation worth around $6.6 million to help Arsal cherry farmers, who have been unable to harvest their fields because of the security situation on the border. The funding is meant to compensate farmers for the past three cherry seasons.

While ministers were meeting, a number of farmers from the northeastern border town assembled outside the Grand Serail for the second time this week. "We came here to make sure that our demands will be discussed at the Cabinet meeting. We will remain on our land and never leave," Arsal Mukhtar Hussein Karabeh said, according to the National News Agency.

The Lebanese Army and Hezbollah regularly target areas around Arsal near farmers' fields, due to the presence of militant groups Daesh (ISIS) and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front. The militant groups also clash with each other, and the fighting has made it difficult for farmers to harvest their crops.

Ministers also agreed to compensate poultry farmers nearly $400,000 for losses caused by bird flu, according to the Cabinet statement.

Ministers postponed discussions on extending the contracts of cellular providers and the appointment of a new governor for Mount Lebanon. There were 146 items on the agenda.

"The session was productive and we welcome all positive rhetoric, especially when it comes from the head of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah," Azzi told reporters, in reference to comments made earlier this week by the Hezbollah chief, in which he urged the reactivation of the government's work.

Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, did not attend because the situation has not changed, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab told reporters.

Bou Saab and allied Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian began boycotting Cabinet meetings in late August in protest of the extension of the terms of senior military officials, as well as what they say is the marginalization of Christians in key state posts. Both attended last week's Cabinet session in what Bou Saab called a "goodwill gesture."

Last week, Salam was forced to briefly halt the meeting after a war of words erupted between ministers over the appointment of officials.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Oct 14, 2016
Words:553
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