CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Cross-border hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel continued at high intensity as Israel stepped up pressure to secure Hizbollah’s withdrawal, highlighting risk of expanded regional conflict.

Amid deadly clashes, Israel warned of war. Lebanon continued to face spectre of all-out war as Israel’s campaign in Gaza continued (see Israel-Palestine). In notable escalation, Israeli strike 2 Jan killed senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri and six companions in Hizbollah-controlled area of southern Beirut; in retaliation, Hizbollah 6 Jan attacked Israel’s Meron air control base some 5km from border. Israel 8 Jan killed Hizbollah commander Wissam al-Tawil 10km from border, marking most senior party figure to be killed since 7 Oct; Hizbollah next day claimed to strike Israel’s northern command HQ in Safed city. Anti-tank missile from Lebanon 14 Jan killed two Israel civilians who refused to evacuate border community of Yuval. Hizbollah 23 Jan again struck Mount Meron base. Israeli strikes brought number of displaced residents to at least 82,000, many of whom crowded into nearby urban centres such as Tyre. Meanwhile, Israeli govt continued to face pressure to confront Hizbollah’s presence south of Lebanon’s Litani River, which violates UN Security Council Resolution 1701. As Israel continued to threaten war on northern front, U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein 11 Jan met Lebanese leaders in Beirut to discuss diplomatic options for calming border tensions that could both allay Israel’s security concerns and prove acceptable to Hizbollah. Without immediate diplomatic off-ramp, however, risk of all-out conflict between pair remains pertinent as Israel has signalled willingness to escalate militarily against Hizbollah unless diplomacy succeeds soon. Adding to pressure, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant 29 Jan warned Israeli forces will “very soon go into action” on northern front. 

Presidential vacuum persisted. Country’s presidential vacuum entered its fourteenth consecutive month in Jan with little prospect of breakthrough. Parliament 26 Jan approved budget within constitutional deadline for first time in twenty years but faced widespread criticism over its content. Unidentified hackers 7 Jan launched cyberattack at Beirut airport; Public Works Minister 12 Jan bemoaned 2024 budget’s paltry allocation to airport’s cybersecurity. 

December 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Lebanon continued to face spectre of war as deadly border clashes between Hizbollah and Israel continued to increase in frequency and intensity.

Hostilities resumed on border after temporary de facto truce. Hizbollah and Israel 1 Dec resumed attacks after collapse of so-called humanitarian pause in Gaza lasting seven days, which sides had unofficially observed in north (see Israel-Palestine). Israel expanded its range of targets in southern Lebanon to include residential areas, notably destroying many homes in Aitaroun village on 12 Dec and bringing number of displaced on Lebanese side to over 50,000; Hizbollah reportedly lost some 134 fighters, as of late Dec, while Israeli strikes killed several civilians and one Lebanese Armed Forces soldier. Hizbollah during Dec frequently claimed “direct hits” on Israeli military personnel and infrastructure; notably, Hizbollah strike 7 Dec killed Israeli civilian, marking first such non-military fatality near border since 7 Oct. Although Hizbollah and Israel have avoided large-scale escalation to date, Israeli government increasingly faces domestic pressure to confront Hizbollah’s presence along border, as tens of thousands of residents in northern Israel have been displaced. Israel Defence Minister Yoav Gallant 6 Dec assured Hizbollah would be forced away from border, either by diplomatic or other means. Gallant and Israeli PM Netanyahu 18 Dec reportedly informed U.S. they will allow some time for diplomacy but expect tangible progress; spectre of wider conflict will continue to loom so long as no general ceasefire is reached in Gaza and border hostilities continue, raising risk of escalation by accident or design. Following alleged Israeli assassination of deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut on 2 Jan, Hizbollah vowed retaliation.

Domestic crisis and executive vacuum persisted. Govt continued to struggle to secure funding for its national emergency plan to deal with spillover of Hamas-Israel war. Armed Forces 1 and 17 Dec announced it had rescued 110 and 50 refugees, respectively, off Lebanese coast on Europe-bound boats. Meanwhile, presidential vacuum entered its thirteenth consecutive month in Dec. Parliament 14-15 Dec convened on exceptional basis to extend term of army commander Joseph Aoun, who was scheduled to retire on 10 Jan.

November 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Deadly border clashes between Hizbollah and Israel expanded in scale and scope, further underscoring looming risk of full-scale war.

Hostilities continued in southern Lebanon amid risk of wider conflict. Border clashes persisted between Hizbollah and Israel throughout Nov, with intensity of fighting and casualty count increasing and operations from both sides penetrating deeper into other’s territory, although both appeared keen to avoid massive expansion of conflict; fighting since 7 Oct has killed over 80 Hizbollah fighters and at least ten Israeli soldiers, while displacing over 46,000 residents in south. Notably, Israeli strike in south 5 Nov killed four civilians, including three children. Israeli forces same day claimed Hizbollah killed Israeli civilian with anti-tank missile. Hizbollah’s cross-border attacks 12 Nov reportedly wounded seven Israeli military personnel and ten others. In sign of expanding theatre of fighting, Hamas 6 Nov claimed to have launched rockets from inside Lebanon towards Israeli cities of Haifa and Nahariya, and Israeli drones 11 Nov struck target more than 40km from border. In one of its largest salvos, Hizbollah 23 Nov fired some 50 rockets at Israel after Israel killed five fighters. Such strikes risk high number of casualties, which may unintentionally trigger spiral of escalation toward all-out war. Alternatively, either side may opt to escalate conflict intentionally: if Israeli campaign in Gaza were to pose existential threat to Hamas, Hizbollah’s stance may turn more aggressive, while Israel faces domestic pressure to confront Hizbollah. After ceasefire between Hamas and Israel 24 Nov began (see Israel-Palestine), Hizbollah signalled it would honour ceasefire as long as Israel did. Clashes between group and Israel also occurred in Syria (see Syria).

Executive vacuum and parliamentary paralysis continued. Presidential vacuum prevailing since 1 Nov 2022 persisted with little apparent prospect of resolution. Likewise, parliament remained at virtual standstill as several political parties argue it cannot meet for legislative sessions until it has elected new president. Leading Christian party Lebanese Forces 13 Nov proposed exceptional legislative session to parliament speaker solely to extend term of army chief Joseph Aoun, who is scheduled to retire on 10 Jan 2024.

October 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Border clashes between Hizbollah and Israeli forces killed dozens of militants and multiple Israeli soldiers; hostilities could open new front in Israel-Hamas war in coming weeks.

Lebanon faced spectre of major conflict. Following outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on 7 Oct (see Israel-Palestine), Hizbollah repeatedly stated its willingness to militarily intervene to support its ally Hamas. Border areas witnessed pattern of near-daily clashes between group and Israeli forces that killed around 50 Hizbollah fighters and at least eight Israeli soldiers during Oct, with intensity and casualty count inching upward and geographical scope of hostilities reportedly widening late Oct. While clashes appeared to remain manageable, sides ap-peared to be merely one bloody attack – by accident or design – away from triggering escalation that spirals into all-out war, or Hizbollah may intervene to support Hamas as Israeli ground operations in Gaza get under way. Notably, Hizbollah 8 Oct launched several guided rockets into disputed Shebaa farms; Israel 9 Oct killed three Hizbollah fighters in retaliation for alleged infiltration attempt by Palestinian fighters; pair over subsequent days exchanged missiles and shelling. Hizbollah strike 11 Oct allegedly killed Israeli. Israel 17 Oct reportedly killed five Hizbollah fighters in airstrikes.

Syrian refugees faced oppressive govt measures and threats to safety. In sign of rising hostility, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi 4 Oct claimed Syrians are responsible for 30% of crime and next day ordered authorities to crack down on Syrians without valid residency permits, close down Syrian-owned businesses operating without valid paperwork and enforce “categorical ban” on donations to support Syrian refugees. Large brawl 5 Oct erupted between Lebanese and Syrians in capital Beirut, while reports indicated bands of Lebanese roamed streets at night searching for Syrians to attack.

Presidential vacuum reached one-year anniversary amid economic crisis. No signs of progress emerged of filling presidency, which has been vacant since 1 Nov 2022, reflecting prevailing political deadlock. Economic crisis remained severe despite ongoing period of relative stability for Lebanese Lira, which may have been buoyed by substantial influx of hard currency but could soon face sharp devaluation.

September 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Fighting resurged between Palestinian factions in southern refugee camp, economic crisis and presidential vacuum persisted, and army raised alarm over uptick in irregular Syrian migrants.

Violent clashes continued inside southern Palestinian refugee camp. After period of uneasy calm following clashes in Aug, triggered by late July assassination of Fatah general and three of his bodyguards, intense fighting between Palestinian armed militants 7 Sept resurged in Ein el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south; combatants 12 Sept agreed to ceasefire, which collapsed next day before new ceasefire was announced 14 Sept that held thereafter. Fighting killed at least 18 during month, displaced hundreds of camp residents, and forced UN refugee agency UNRWA to suspend all services in camp.

Economic crisis remained severe. Interim Central Bank governor 4 Sept announced replacement of much-criticised Sayrafa platform – used by bank to inject U.S. dollars into market – with alternative system likely using “managed float” of Lebanese Lira; International Monetary Fund 15 Sept praised decision but nonetheless criticised “lack of action” on “urgently needed economic reforms”. Over 100 judges 1 Sept began open-ended strike, protesting devalued salaries. Human Rights Watch 13 Sept reported children in public schools had fallen between one and two years behind their curricula due to school closures. Households in capital Beirut and Mount Lebanon faced recurrent water shortages, as state could not pay for diesel needed to run pumping facilities.

Presidential vacuum entered eleventh consecutive month. French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian 11 Sept conducted three-day visit to try and break prevailing deadlock over election of new president, as parliament had not convened for presidential election session since June, but mission apparently failed to deliver tangible progress.

Concerns rose over irregular Syrian migration. Army 4 Sept claimed that it had stopped more than 1,000 Syrians trying to enter Lebanon over previous week. Caretaker FM Abdallah Bou Habib 6 Sept exhorted international community to provide aid to Syria, arguing deteriorating economic conditions there had sparked recent migration wave. Tensions could rise between host communities and Syrian refugees amid hostile rhetoric from political elites.

August 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Palestinian factions battled in southern refugee camp and Christian and Shiite groups clashed near capital Beirut; Hizbollah-Israel tensions remained high and presidential vacuum continued.

Intra-Palestinian fighting continued, Shiite-Christian hostilities erupted. After 30 July assassination of Fatah general, violent clashes early Aug continued inside Ein el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south, resulting in at least 13 deaths, destruction of 400 houses and displacement of several hundred families. Separately, vehicle allegedly carrying Hizbollah ammunition 9 Aug crashed in Kahaleh, Maronite Christian-majority village outside capital Beirut, triggering gunfight that killed resident and Hizbollah member; various Christian parties denounced incident as consequence of Hizbollah maintaining its independent weapons arsenal. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 14 Aug called for calm but warned that party’s rivals were seeking to push country into civil war. Leader of Lebanese Forces (LF) party Samir Geagea 14 Aug suggested that Hizbollah may be behind death of former LF coordinator in southern town of Ain Ibl.

Hostile rhetoric continued between Hizbollah and Israel. Following tensions in July over Hizbollah’s alleged build-up of military infrastructure along border, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant 8 Aug threatened to “return Lebanon to the Stone Age”; Nasrallah 14 Aug returned threat. Israel’s UN ambassador 30 Aug said Israel is closer to launching military action in Lebanon than at any time since 2006 war. Bellicose statements come after series of altercations at border, which have increased in regularity since mid-2022. U.S. Treasury 16 Aug designated Hizbollah-linked Lebanese NGO Green Without Borders as terrorist group.

Presidential vacuum entered its tenth consecutive month. Parliament speaker and Hizbollah ally Nabih Berri 8 Aug said Sept dialogue proposed by French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian is opportunity that “should not be missed”. Lack of president kept parliament at standstill, as body 17 Aug failed to secure necessary quorum to hold proposed legislative session.

Economic hardship persisted. Interim Central Bank governor, who succeeded Riad Salameh on 31 July, 17 Aug announced that total liquid foreign exchange reserves are down to around $7bn. Army 9 and 13 Aug announced that it had arrested dozens of people accused of involvement with irregular migration to Europe.

July 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Tensions picked up between Israel and Hizbollah as sides exchanged fire, economic crisis and presidential vacuum persisted, and deadly clashes erupted between militants in southern refugee camp. 

Mutual antagonism continued between Hizbollah and Israel. Following uptick in tensions late June when Israeli media reported Hizbollah had erected two tents housing armed militants in disputed Shebaa Farms area, Lebanese state media 5 July claimed that Israeli forces had breached border three separate times while carrying out construction work. Israel next day struck southern Lebanon with around 15 artillery shells in response to alleged rocket fire from Lebanon into northern Israel. Lebanese security source 12 July claimed that Israeli forces had lobbed three grenade-like explosives across border, wounding three Hizbollah operatives, while Israel said that it had used stun grenades. Meanwhile, Israel early July began constructing fence around northern half of Ghajar town, located in occupied Lebanese territory, prompting condemnation by Hizbollah as well as Lebanon’s caretaker govt. Tensions underscore risk that incident could trigger larger confrontation.

Economic crisis continued. Hardship remained severe despite period of relative stability for Lebanese Lira, due to continued intervention of Lebanese Central Bank and likely influx of hard currency during tourist season. Difficult economic conditions, however, continued to foment protest and public unrest. Several students 10 July reportedly attacked Education Minister’s convoy, blaming him for public-school year heavily disrupted by teacher strikes. Depositors on four occasions 10-20 July entered banks and forcibly withdrew their savings.

Presidential vacuum entered its ninth consecutive month. Parliament in July did not hold presidential election session, reflecting prevailing deadlock between various political factions. Concerns arose that vacuum could engulf Central Bank, given incumbent governor Riyadh Salameh’s term ended 31 July; several parties, including Christian Free Patriotic Movement, argue that caretaker cabinet cannot appoint new governor. Bank’s four deputy governors 6 July stated that they would collectively resign if govt failed to appoint Salameh’s replacement.

Militant factions clashed in southern refugee camp. Islamist militants 30 July shot dead Palestinian military general from Fatah and three escorts, sparking days of heavy clashes between factions in Ein el-Hilweh, country’s largest refugee camp near Sidon city, that killed at least eleven.

June 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Hardship from economic crisis continued to bite, fuelling protests and disorder, while presidential vacuum persisted with no end in sight and tensions surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel.

Difficult economic conditions continued to foment protest and public unrest. Public school teachers 3 June called week-long strike over their devalued wages and working conditions. Employees of state electricity provider Electricite du Liban 13- 23 June held limited strike in relation to delayed salary payments. Demonstrators 15 June vandalised four separate banks in capital Beirut’s Sin El Fil neighbourhood to protest lack of access to their deposits. During June, internet services cut intermittently in some areas as state telecommunications infrastructure operator struggled to secure enough fuel to power its plants. Meanwhile, UN’s International Organisation for Migration 13 June confirmed that in 2022 “an increasing number of deadly incidents took place after boats departed from Lebanon, destined for Greece and Italy”, recording at least 174 deaths.

Presidential vacuum entered its eighth consecutive month. Parliament 14 June convened to hold first presidential election session since Jan but again failed to elect new head of state; opposition’s preferred candidate Jihad Azour secured 59 of 128 votes (short of 86 required to win) in first round before MPs aligned with Shiite parties Hizbollah and Amal Movement frustrated quorum in second vote, where only 65 votes are needed. Political parties scaled up incendiary rhetoric around vote: referring to Azour, Shiite parties 11 June asserted they “would not accept a candidate imposed by Tel Aviv”, while Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Rahi accused Shiite parties of making mockery of democracy by obstructing second round. Parliament 19 June convened for ordinary session strictly limited to approving temporary benefits for public employees and retirees; Free Patriotic Movement party attended session, again relaxing its previous stance of opposition to non-electoral sessions.

Tensions persisted between Hizbollah and Israel. Israeli media 21 June reported that Hizbollah operatives had allegedly maintained at least two tents in disputed Shebaa Farms area for several weeks. Hizbollah 26 June claimed it downed Israeli drone that entered Lebanese airspace near Zibqin town in south.

May 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Central Bank and govt unveiled new measures likely to compound economic hardship for citizens, while presidential vacuum continued with no end in sight.

Economic crisis continued. Central Bank 7 May announced it would not renew scheme authorising so-called Sayrafa (Exchange) platform, policy tool bank uses to inject U.S. dollars into circulation, in attempt to slow down devaluation of national currency; exchange nevertheless remained operational amid signs of another sharp currency devaluation looming. Finance ministry 12 May announced that it would raise “customs dollar” – exchange rate used to calculate duty payable on imported goods – to 86,000 LBP to $1, up from 60,000 LBP, in effect making VAT payable on imported goods four to six times higher than official rate; move will worsen inflation and put further financial strain on households.

Executive vacuum showed few signs of breakthrough. Presidential vacuum entered seventh consecutive month as parliament in May held no election session, reflecting deadlock. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri 10 May publicly called for new president to be elected before 15 June, indicating that authorities will need to appoint new Central Bank governor when incumbent Riad Salameh’s term ends on 31 July. Suleiman Frangieh – preferred presidential candidate of Shiite parties Hizbollah and Amal – 11 May met with Saudi ambassador to Lebanon; observers argued that Frangieh’s candidacy must overcome opposition from Lebanon’s main Christian parties and perhaps from Riyadh, too. While Frangieh’s backers claimed that meeting indicated Saudi openness to his candidacy, his opponents claimed that Riyadh’s position had not materially changed.

Lebanon failed to hold municipal elections. After parliament in April extended mandates of municipalities and local public officials, due to expire on 31 May, Constitutional Council 30 May dismissed three appeals against mandate extension, citing need to prevent Lebanon’s local institutions from operating in legal vacuum. Postponement of elections will likely contribute to degradation of municipalities and essential services they provide, as elected council members resign, emigrate or pass away. Around 10% of municipalities countrywide are already officially defunct.

April 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Armed groups and Israel exchanged fire in most significant cross-border escalation since 2006 war; economic hardship continued and parliament postponed May municipal elections.

Cross-border hostilities flared amid Israeli raids in Jerusalem. Amid Israeli police brutality against Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque (see Israel-Palestine), militants in southern Lebanon 6 April fired 34 rockets into northern Israel in largest cross-border barrage since 2006 war, causing minor injuries and property damage; Israel blamed attack on Palestinian militant group Hamas and next day responded with early morning airstrikes in southern Lebanon and Gaza against alleged Hamas infrastructure. While calm subsequently returned, hostilities highlighted that Israeli actions at Muslim holy sites could trigger direct confrontation between Israel and Hizbollah or associated armed groups, echoing earlier warnings by Hizbollah and Hamas representatives in Lebanon.

Economic crisis continued amid worsening living conditions. Following dramatic collapse of Lebanese lira in late March, Central Bank intervention stabilised currency around 100,000 to $1 in April; another sharp devaluation remains likely given low foreign currency reserves. Ministry of Finance 4 April confirmed that govt had spent almost two thirds of $1.13bn worth of Special Drawing Rights from International Monetary Fund – one of its few remaining foreign currency sources. Living conditions continued to erode amid high fuel prices, shortages of essential imported products and public unrest. Notably, state electricity provider 3 April reported collapse of three electricity transmission towers in northern Bekaa due to theft of steel, jeopardising region’s electricity supply.

Presidential vacuum continued as parliament postponed municipal elections. Presidential vacuum entered sixth consecutive month as parliament in April held no election session. Underscoring prevailing deadlock, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea 1 April reiterated his party would block any candidate from Hizbollah’s axis. Caretaker cabinet 18 April convened to authorise public-sector wage and benefit increases, medication imports, and sanitation contracts. In first parliamentary session not aimed at electing president since vacuum began, MPs 18 April extended mandate of municipalities and local public officials for additional 12 months, in effect postponing municipal elections due by 31 May. Critics see decision as step toward indefinitely delaying long-overdue polls, eroding increasingly important institution.

March 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Economic crisis worsened as currency spiral continued, while deadlock persisted over presidential vacuum without end in sight.

Economic plight continued to worsen. Lebanese lira 14 March crossed threshold of 100,000 to $1 at parallel exchange range and 21 March dropped to 140,000, prompting Central Bank to announce injection of U.S. dollars that stabilised rate around 100,000. Increasingly devalued currency continued to contribute to worsening living conditions. Supermarkets 1 March began pricing goods in U.S. dollars, fuel prices continued to rise, while citizens increasingly struggled to purchase other essential imported products. State electricity provider EDL 13 March reported that 2,000 customers per day were applying to unsubscribe from public grid after sharp tariff hikes. Deteriorating conditions continued to cause unrest and security incidents as depositors demanded access to savings trapped inside illiquid banks: security guard 3 March shot and wounded depositor in capital Beirut; security forces 22 March used tear gas against protestors outside parliament. Despite calls on 5 March by several public teachers’ unions to end strike ongoing since Dec, many unions refused to return to work and demanded inflation-indexed salaries.

Double executive (president and cabinet) continued without end in sight. Presidential vacuum prevailing since 1 Nov continued as parliament in March held no presidential election sessions, reflecting deadlock. Leaders of Shiite parties Amal and Hizbollah 2 and 6 March respectively put forward Suleiman Frangieh as their preferred presidential candidate, leading House Speaker and Amal leader Nabih Berri to declare his preparedness to convene electoral session when opposing camp nominates “a candidate or two”. Christian party Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea, however, swiftly threatened to block Frangieh’s election by helping to frustrate quorum, alleging that Frangieh would unduly represent interests of Hizbollah and its allies. Free Patriotic Movement party also rejected Frangieh. Meanwhile, cabinet 27 March held meeting to discuss confusion over daylight savings time. France 18 March reportedly sought to convince Saudi Arabia – which retains influence over LF and Sunni MPs – to support proposal to elect Frangieh as president alongside new PM supported by opposition; Saudi Arabia, however, appeared unwilling to strongarm its close ally LF.

February 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Economic crisis deepened as currency reached new record low, sparking protests, while executive vacuums continued without end in sight and Hizbollah issued warnings over U.S. policy.

Economic strife worsened amid devaluing currency, fomenting public unrest. Lebanese lira 28 Feb reached new record low value of 85,000 to $1 at parallel exchange rate; accelerated devaluation from around 40,000 in early Jan may be related to significant decrease in U.S. dollars that Central Bank injects into market at subsidised rate, from around $40mn daily in Dec to $10mn in late Feb. Fuel prices continued to rise as other essential imported products grew scarce. Economy and trade ministry 8 and 28 Feb increased prices for Arabic bread. Clashes 10 Feb erupted in both capital Beirut and Tripoli between competing networks of private electricity generators. Widespread protests 16 Feb broke out countrywide against economic conditions and depositors’ continued inability to access savings trapped inside illiquid banks, leading to road blocks and arson attack on bank branch in central Beirut.

Double executive (president and govt) vacuum continued. Presidential vacuum since 1 Nov continued with little apparent prospect of resolution. Parliament held no electoral sessions during Feb, reflecting prevailing deadlock between various political factions. France, U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt 6 Feb warned they will reconsider “all ties” with Lebanon if vacuum continues indefinitely. Meanwhile, attempts to form new govt to replace caretaker administration have practically ceased. PM Mikati 6 Feb convened cabinet meeting to authorise spending on health, education and other sectors, which most Free Patriotic Movement-aligned ministers boycotted. Ineffectual executive action could jeopardise orderly succession of key executive positions, such as head of general security who is due to retire early March and Central Bank governor, whose term expires in June; municipal elections in May could also be delayed.

Hizbollah accused U.S. of destabilising country. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 16 Feb reiterated rhetoric blaming alleged U.S. “siege” for economic misery, warning of grave consequences – including conflict with Israel – if U.S. were to continue deliberate strategy to destabilise country and starve party’s base into submission.

January 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Executive vacuums continued without end in sight, economic hardship deepened, and tensions over land border surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel.

Double executive (president and govt) vacuum continued. Parliamentarians failed to elect new president, prolonging vacuum in place since 1 Nov. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri 19 Jan convened 11th parliamentary session to elect president, which failed to achieve breakthrough as political factions insist on electing their preferred candidates. Meanwhile, attempts to form new govt to replace current caretaker administration practically ceased. PM Mikati 18 Jan managed to convene cabinet meeting, which was boycotted by Christian party Free Patriotic Movement that sees cabinet meetings as unconstitutional without president. Meanwhile, General Prose-cutor Ghassan Oweidat 25 Jan ordered release of suspects held in relation to Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion and sued investigative Judge Tarik Bitar after latter attempted to resume investigation, frozen for year due to pending charges against Bitar; protesters against decision clashed with security forces near central courthouse.

Economic crisis persisted, fomenting pockets of public unrest. Lebanese Lira (LBP) 25 Jan reached new record low value of 60,000 to USD$1, contributing to worsening living conditions for many households. Fuel prices continued to rise and citizens increasingly struggled to purchase imported products, such as medicine. Health Minister Firas Abiad 10 Jan announced that infant milk would no longer be subsidized, removing one of few remaining state subsidies. Deteriorating conditions led public school teachers to announce week-long strike on 9 Jan; depositors 10 Jan conducted armed hold-ups of two separate banks to demand access to savings. Dozens of protesters 25 Jan burnt tyres outside Central Bank to protest devaluing currency.

Hizbollah and Israel exchanged hostile rhetoric over land border. Hizbollah 3 Jan released video purporting to demonstrate how group’s militant wing would invade northern Israel; several days later, Hizbollah reportedly announced that it had enlisted 9,000 new recruits to bolster military reserves. Israel same week announced plans to conduct military manoeuvres in disputed Shebaa Farms area. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 3 Jan said Israeli infringements to “status quo” at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade could trigger regional chaos, after Israel’s new national security minister visited site (see Israel-Palestine).

December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Efforts to elect new president faltered, security incidents proliferated amid economic deterioration, while gunfire killed UN peacekeeper in south.

Executive vacuum continued without exit in sight. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri during month convened three parliamentary sessions on 1, 8 and 15 Dec to elect president, which failed to achieve breakthrough like previous seven sessions held Sept-Nov. Anti-Hizbollah camp largely voted for candidate Michel Moawad, while Hizbollah and its parliamentary allies returned blank votes. Rift between Christian party Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hizbollah appeared to deepen after ministers considered loyal to latter 5 Dec attended controversial cabinet meeting called by caretaker PM Mikati, while FPM rejected meeting as unconstitutional amid current dual executive vacuum. Meanwhile, attempts to replace caretaker govt with empowered cabinet practically ceased during month.

Economic hardship continued to worsen amid insecurity. Lebanese Lira (LBP) reached all-time lows in Dec, trading at around 47,000 LBP to $1 on 26 Dec; central bank 27 Dec intervened to bring rate closer to 43,000 LBP, yet similar interventions in past have proved unsustainable. Fuel prices remained high and pharmaceutical manufacturers announced looming price hikes for medicines. Localised security incidents persisted: violent clashes erupted during Dec in northern city of Tripoli, prompting local MP to call for increased presence of state security in city, while depositors continued to hold up banks demanding access to their savings trapped inside illiquid banking system.

Shooting killed UN peacekeeper in south. Unknown assailants 14 Dec allegedly fired on UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern village of Al-Aaqbiya, killing Irish peacekeeper, after local residents reportedly responded in hostile fashion to UNIFIL vehicle entering village; incident follows UN Security Council’s renewal of peacekeeping mandate 31 Aug that included slight revision permitting UNIFIL to operate in south without coordination with Lebanese army, which Hizbollah had criticised as affront to Lebanon’s sovereignty.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Country entered presidential vacuum, which may persist indefinitely so long as political blocs fail to find compromise, while absence of new govt further impaired efforts to address economic crisis.

Country entered presidential vacuum, which could extend for months or years. Parliamentary blocs made no tangible progress on appointing replacement for outgoing President Michel Aoun, whose six-year term ended on 31 Oct. House Speaker Nabih Berri convened parliamentary voting sessions on 10, 17 and 24 Nov, but none made progress; Michel Moawad favoured by anti-Hizbollah camp in his best showing 10 Nov received 44 votes in first round, short of 86 required for outright first-round win, as pro-Hizbollah alliance continued to return blank votes and refrained from offering alternative candidate amid lack of agreement within bloc.

Presidential vacuum boded ill for forming empowered govt. Prospects of forming new govt without president’s election remained exceedingly dim, as politicians generally accept that caretaker govt exercising presidential prerogatives cannot approve new cabinet. Further weakening current caretaker administration, PM Mikati had late Oct announced that he will convene cabinet only “for urgent matters” during vacuum. Constant debates over presidential choices and constitutionality of govt activity could absorb most of political leadership’ already minimal policymaking capacity, allowing economic crisis to deepen.

State budget entered into force amid concern over worsening economic crisis. Country’s 2022 state budget 15 Nov came into effect, one of several International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements to unlock potential financial aid package. Notably, budget ended long-defunct official exchange rate of 1,507.5 Lebanese pounds to $1 and adopted significantly higher exchange rates for customs (15,000 pounds for $1); ten-fold increase in customs fees could fuel another bout of inflation, thereby reducing purchasing power and increasing poverty amid soaring energy prices at onset of winter; measure also raised concern that projected state revenue will be less than anticipated. World Food Programme 22 Nov announced it had earmarked $5.4bn in food assistance for next three years, noting food prices are 16 times higher than Oct 2019, when Lebanon’s economic crisis became widely apparent.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt and Israel signed maritime border deal, defusing potential flashpoint; political divisions prevented new president’s election and hampered govt formation amid economic crisis.

Israel and Lebanon signed maritime border deal. Govt and Israel agreed demarcation agreement for their shared maritime border following months of U.S.-led mediation efforts that intensified in recent weeks amid rising tensions between Israel and Hizbollah. President Aoun and Israeli PM Yair Lapid 11 Oct declared their satisfaction with deal’s terms, which demarcates border along “line 23”, leaving Karish gas field in Israeli waters and Qana prospect inside Lebanese waters; deal allows Lebanon to explore and potentially exploit Qana and entitles Israel to compensation for its share of Qana. Aoun and Lapid 27 Oct separately signed final agreement; later in day, Israeli and Lebanese delegations separately submitted signed copies to U.S. mediator Hochstein at UN Interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters. Earlier, Lebanon’s army claimed Israeli gunboats 16, 17 Oct repeatedly violated Lebanese territorial waters near border opposite Naqura, which Israel denied.

Parliament failed to elect new president, raising fears of constitutional uncertainty in Nov. Parliament made no tangible progress on electing new president to succeed Aoun, whose six-year term ended 31 Oct. Lebanon appeared poised to enter presidential vacuum from 1 Nov onwards, which will likely further hamper International Monetary Fund (IMF)-mandated reform processes and fuel political polarisation between sparring political camps, raising risk of violent confrontation; crisis will also raise question of whether caretaker govt can validly exercise president’s prerogatives. Similarly, govt formation efforts remained stalled, over five months after May parliamentary polls; Mikati and Aoun failed to settle on list of ministers, reportedly disagreeing over allocation of various ministries to different sectarian communities.

Economic hardship persisted amid limited reform progress. Passage of legislative reforms needed to unlock IMF financial bailout package remained grindingly slow. Parliament 18 Oct passed amendments to banking secrecy law but concerns remained that legislation will not meet IMF’s standards. Parliament is yet to approve formal capital control law, which IMF considers “crucial for boosting economic activity”, as Central Bank struggled to unify various exchange rates. Meanwhile, soaring energy prices before onset of winter threatens to deepen crisis and poverty.

September 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt formation remained stalled ahead of October expiry of President Aoun’s term and violent street clashes erupted amid deepening economic crisis.

Govt formation efforts made no progress. PM Mikati and President Aoun failed to reach breakthrough; new govt may remain unattainable during Aoun’s term, which ends 31 Oct. Parliament 29 Sept held first round of presidential elections, failed to elect new president; uncertainty persists that new president will be appointed before Aoun’s term ends. Parliament 26 Sept passed 2022 budget, which fell short of International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s standards for bailout package; IMF delegation 19 Sept visited capital Beirut to “accelerate” reform process, concluded progress was “very slow”.

Insecurity flared, notably in north Lebanon. Central Bank 12 Sept lifted last remaining fuel subsidies, fuelling further price hikes for gasoline and diesel. Lebanese lira weakened to all-time lows, trading at 39,000 to $1 on 19 Sept. In various regions – notably Tripoli, North and Bekaa Valley – street clashes over robberies and family issues led to deaths and injuries. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi 13 Sept announced govt would impose “sustainable” security plan for North Lebanon; 16 Sept reiterated need for state intervention after bank depositors held up seven banks across country within three days to gain access to their own funds trapped inside illiquid banks. Transport minister 23 Sept confirmed that days earlier boat carrying Lebanese en route to Europe sank off Syrian coast, killing over 100.

Govt and Israel inched closer to maritime deal, notwithstanding risk of escalation. U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein 9 Sept met separately with President Aoun, PM Mikati and House Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss Israel’s response to proposal in which govt renounces claims to Karish gas field – some 90km off coast of Lebanon and Israel – in return for exclusive rights to unexplored Qana prospect; Hochstein said that “very good progress has been made” but noted “work to be done.” After drilling company Energean 8 Sept announced it is ready to resume work “within weeks”, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 17 Sept reiterated previous warnings that Israel’s exploitation of Karish field before border negotiations conclude is “red line”.

August 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt formation efforts continued without breakthrough as economic crisis deepened, while hopes persisted of deal to resolve maritime dispute with Israel. Efforts to form govt following 15 May parliamentary elections made no progress. PM Mikati and President Aoun 17 Aug held consultative meetings after discontinuing such discussions after Mikati 29 June proposed cabinet lineup, citing lack of progress; progress has reportedly been hampered by disagreement on allocation of various ministries to different sectarian communities. As obstacles continue to beset legislated reforms required to unlock International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial bailout package, economic crisis continued to deepen. After intermittent bread shortages triggered fights at bakeries nationwide in mid-to-late July, civil servants during month conducted open-ended strikes for weeks, protesting their heavily devalued wages, which has brought most state institutions to standstill. In mid-month, pressure on Lebanese lira increased once more, with currency weakening from 31,000 to one U.S.-dollar on 10 Aug to 34,000 on 20 Aug. European vessel 6 Aug rescued over 75 Lebanese citizens near Turkish coast from sinking boat, on which they had been trying to reach Europe. Amid rising tensions between Israel and Hizbollah over maritime dispute, hopes continued during month of resolution after U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein late July met with Aoun, Mikati, and House Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as Israeli leaders. Govt reportedly offered to back down from its expanded claim (known as “line 29”), thus renouncing any claim to Karish gas field, in return for solution that adopts “line 23” (which places demarcation line further north) but awards Lebanon additional 80km² that includes Qana prospect – gas deposit of unproven worth; Israel reportedly expressed willingness to accommodate proposal, subject to receiving compensation for ceding 80km² pocket. Despite reported progress, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 19 Aug publicly accused Hochstein of wasting time, warning that “escalation will be inevitable” if negotiations do not conclude promptly and allow Lebanon to begin exploring its offshore natural gas reserves.

July 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Tensions rose between Hizbollah and Israel over maritime border dispute, while PM Mikati and President Aoun haggled over cabinet formation. Following arrival early June of floating production, storage and offloading facility operated by London-based company Energean in preparation to extract gas from Karish offshore natural gas field some 90km off Lebanon’s and Israel’s coast, Shiite armed group Hizbollah 2 July launched three unarmed drones toward Karish; Israeli army intercepted all three drones. Israeli Army 6 July claimed to have shot down another Hizbollah drone en route to Israel’s maritime areas. Israeli Defence Minister Gantz 7 July said Hizbollah’s threats were putting Lebanon at risk. Israel 11 July submitted official complaint to UN Security Council about Hizbollah’s drone launches, blaming Hizbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah for continuing to threaten and provoke Israel. Nasrallah 13 July vowed that Hizbollah would prevent gas exploitation by Israel even “beyond Karish” if Lebanon is prevented from exploiting its own maritime resources; Nasrallah described war with Israel over maritime boundaries as more “respectable option” than submitting to U.S., which it accuses of threatening international companies with sanctions to deter them from exploring for gas in Lebanese waters. Washington’s envoy Amos Hochstein 31 July visited Beirut to push for diplomatic solution between govt and Israel. Following President Aoun’s decision last month (with parliamentary support) to charge caretaker PM Najib Mikati to form next govt, Mikati and Aoun remained in discussions about potential cabinet formation, reportedly disagreeing over allocation of various ministries to different sectarian communities; observers during month raised prospect of no new govt being formed before presidential elections that are to be held within final two months of Aoun’s term, which ends on 31 Oct. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri 29 July said “miracle” was required for govt to be formed soon and next day asserted: “I will not call for a presidential election session until after the reform laws required by the [International Monetary Fund] have been adopted”.

June 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

President Aoun invited PM Mikati to form next govt, while tensions rose with Israel over disputed maritime border. President Aoun 23 June tasked incumbent PM Najib Mikati to form new govt after Mikati secured support of 54 out of 128 members of parliament – lowest level of support for any PM-designate since end of civil war in 1990; Mikati will likely face challenges to form govt that can rely on sufficiently strong parliamentary support to move forward with substantial reform, while most observers expect that no new govt can be formed before compromise is found over successor of Aoun, whose term expires on 31 Oct. Meanwhile, floating production storage and offloading facility operated by energy company Energean 5 June arrived at position near maritime border between Israel and Lebanon to prepare commercial extraction scheduled for Sept 2022 of gas from Karish gas field, which company acquired in 2016 with authorisation of Israeli govt; field is located some 90km off both countries’ coastline and has been area of dispute between govts. In response, Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah 9 June called upon all Lebanese political forces to unite in defence of country’s maritime resources, warned Energean against extraction activities and threatened group may take matter into its own hands. At invitation of govt, U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein 13 June arrived in capital Beirut seeking compromise to dispute following previous failed attempts this year; uncertainty persists around whether govt will adhere to official 2010 position of maritime border known as “line 23” or adopt expanded claim presented in 2020 known as “line 29” that claims part of Karish field. 13 MPs elected last month on platforms of opposition to established parties 16 June voiced support for “line 29”; despite heated public debate and many casting support of “line 29” as patriotic duty, Aoun resisted signing decree to officially modify govt’s 2010 position. Govt, UN and over 100 humanitarian partners 20 June announced $3.2bn appeal for 2022 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan aimed at providing support for 1.5mn Lebanese, 1.5mn displaced Syrians and more than 209,000 Palestinian refugees.

May 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliamentary elections resulted in no clear winner as reformists expanded presence and Hizbollah and its allies lost majority, while currency crisis continued to jeopardise critical imports. New political groups hailing from civil society and 2019 protest movement made significant inroads in parliamentary elections held 15 May, totalling 13 seats (up from one seat previously); Hizbollah and its allies lost parliamentary majority despite retaining all 27 seats reserved for Shiite MPs; Lebanese Forces party became single largest in parliament, stripping title from main Christian rival, Free Patriotic Movement. Election day saw several violent incidents. Notably, supporters of Lebanese Forces and Hizbollah-Amal movement allegedly clashed in Kfarhouna, south Lebanon. Early signs of political jostling that could complicate govt-formation efforts emerged, raising risk of violence between opposing camps. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea 15 May suggested his party would not accept re-appointment of Amal Movement head Nabih Berri as parliamentary speaker, view echoed by other key figures opposed to Hizbollah and allies; in response, head of Hizbollah’s parliamentary group Mohammad Raad evoked spectre of “civil war” if opposing political forces fail to approve consensus govt. Striking more conciliatory tone, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 18 May called on rival blocs to compromise. In first session since vote, parliament 31 May re-elected Berri as speaker. Meanwhile, extended queues 18 May emerged at gas stations due to fuel shortages allegedly caused by delayed payments in foreign currency to importers. Govt 18 May temporarily shut down Deir Ammar power plant, key facility for state-provided electricity, due to lack of available fuel oil. Industry leaders 18 May warned country faces another bread crisis, as flour mills and bakeries suffer from shortages of imported wheat due to lack of foreign exchange; World Bank 6 May approved emergency loan of $150mn to finance immediate wheat imports. Central Bank 18 May extended decree authorising Sayrafa (“Exchange”) Platform, through which Central Bank sells U.S. dollars some 10-15% below market rate to counter Lebanese lira’s depreciation, until end of July 2022; currency’s value sharply fell following polls, from around 27,000 to 31,000 on 19 May, and to all-time low of 35,600 by 26 May.

April 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Grain shortage triggered bread crisis, govt struck preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund (IMF), and ambassadors of Gulf countries returned after Oct 2021 diplomatic spat. Amid rising global commodity prices, country mid-month experienced dramatic grain shortage triggered by Central Bank refusal to continue previous policy of providing importers with U.S. dollars at highly subsidised exchange rate; Central Bank reportedly requested govt to sign formal loan agreement that would guarantee repayment of any amount disbursed for this purpose. Govt 12 April decided grain subsidies for importers would be covered by funds govt obtained by selling so-called “Special Drawing Rights”, which it received from IMF in Sept 2021. Lebanese lira continued to decline in value, trading at around 25,000 to U.S. dollar by mid-month; reports mid-month indicated long queues to get bread across country as many bakeries were forced to shut down. Govt and IMF 7 April signed “Staff Level Agreement” for institution to provide $3bn over period of four years; deal comes with stringent conditions and seen as trial that could lead to release of additional funding, particularly some $11bn pledged at 2018 donor conference; observers during month expressed concern about deal being used by govt as electoral ploy ahead of polls in May. Following diplomatic dispute that surfaced in Oct 2021 after then-Information Minister Georges Kordahi made critical comments about Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s war – leading some Gulf countries to suspend diplomatic ties – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and internationally recognised govt of Yemen 7 April returned ambassadors to capital Beirut. Boat licensed for 12 passengers carrying at least 60 irregular migrants that was headed to Italy 23 April capsized off coast near Tripoli city after attempted interception by Lebanese Navy; total number of dead unknown while 45 were rescued; passengers accused Navy of ramming vessel, while Navy blamed person steering vessel. Israeli tanks 25 April fired into southern Lebanon in response to rocket fired into northern Israel same day.

March 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

War in Ukraine exacerbated economic crisis, while candidates registered for May election. Lebanese lira mid-March again dropped some 20% in value, likely driven by spiking oil prices generated by war in Ukraine, as Lebanon imports all of its energy needs and remains exposed to market volatility; devaluation came despite ongoing Central Bank scheme to support exchange rate of Lebanese lira by providing banks with U.S. dollars at price significantly below market rate, which is rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves. Rising food prices also increased pressure on govt’s room to address economic crisis, and put further strain on fragile social cohesion. As country imports more than 80% of its grain from Ukraine, skyrocketing prices during month fuelled concerns that govt may struggle to continue subsidies for grain, which are critical to prevent public unrest; bread has become increasingly central for food security of rising number of Lebanese impoverished by enduring economic crisis. Judge Ghada Aoun 21 March charged Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh with illegal enrichment and money laundering, after ordering arrest of his brother and freezing assets of several banks; banking association same day announced two-day bank closure to protest decisions. EU 28 March announced assets totalling some $130mn belonging to Salameh were seized in France, Germany and Luxembourg. International Monetary Fund 2 March reportedly warned Lebanese leaders that demanded reforms necessary to unlock financial support would have to be real and “not only on paper”; Deputy PM Saadeh Shami 9 March warned that hole in financial system, currently estimated at $69bn, will continue to grow. Meanwhile, preparations continued for elections scheduled for 15 May; 1,043 candidates, including 155 women, registered candidacies by 15 March deadline. Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech 18 March categorically denied Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s assertions, made previous day, that Hizbollah fighters were supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine, saying: “These are lies that have no basis in truth.” Judge 24 March announced he had charged Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea in relation to deadly clashes in capital Beirut in Oct 2021.

February 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt held talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF), political infighting continued among political elite, and tensions surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel. Govt and Central Bank representatives 11 Feb concluded talks with IMF, which said “progress was made in agreeing on these necessary reform areas” but “more work is needed to translate them into concrete policies”, likely indicating that there is long way to go before deal is concluded; meanwhile, Central Bank continued attempts to stabilise exchange rate of Lebanese lira by injecting hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars into exchange market, further depleting country’s reserves. On political front, judge considered close to President Aoun 15 Feb requested Central Bank Governor Riyadh Salameh be brought in for questioning in investigation over alleged fraud; in sign of divisions among branches of security sector, Internal Security Forces (thought to be loyal to former PM Saad Hariri) reportedly prevented State Security (headed by Aoun’s ally) officers from entering residency where Salameh was present, raising spectre of clashes between branches owing to tensions between political leaders. After Kuwaiti FM Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah late Jan transmitted list of 12 demands from Gulf countries to restore relations between govt and Gulf, which inter alia reportedly called for Hizbollah’s disarmament, Hizbollah 15 Feb hosted public event of main Bahraini Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq in capital Beirut, likely intended to signal defiance. On regional front, Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah 16 Feb claimed group was producing drones domestically and would soon have capacity to turn rockets into precision-guided missiles. Israel 17 Feb reportedly downed Hizbollah drone violating its airspace. Hizbollah 18 Feb flew drone into Israeli airspace to undertake significant reconnaissance mission before drone returned; Israel confirmed foreign aircraft entered airspace and next day conducted overflights and staged mock raids above Beirut. U.S. senior official 8 Feb began new talks on demarcation of maritime border between Lebanon and Israel; FM Abdallah Bouhabib 18 Feb expressed positive position on new proposals.

January 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Currency continued to depreciate, prompting central bank to announce new scheme, while Hizbollah and Amal ended months-long boycott of cabinet. Lebanese lira continued to depreciate, with exchange rate reaching near 34,000 to U.S. dollar on 11 Jan, a record low. Central bank same day announced it would provide banks with unlimited amounts of U.S. dollars at rate about 30 per cent lower; in response, market rate rapidly fell. By 20 Jan, U.S. dollar traded around 23,000 in informal market, reversing losses that lira had suffered since early Dec. Deputy PM Saadeh al-Shami 24 Jan announced round of talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at establishing strategy to address “deep economic challenges”. Efforts continued to put in place schemes whereby country would be supplied with Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity via Syria, thereby improving dismal performance of public electricity grid, which currently supplies less than three hours daily. Energy ministers of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria 26 Jan signed agreement to deliver electricity to Lebanon via Syria; Lebanon now seeks to secure World Bank loan to finance deal. On political front, Shiite groups Hizbollah and Amal 15 Jan announced end to boycott of cabinet sessions in place since 12 Oct 2021 in attempt to force replacement of Judge Tarik Bitar who heads investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion, citing need to pass 2022 budget and push forward with economic reform and IMF talks. Diplomatic spat with Gulf countries failed to find resolution. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hiz-bollah, early Jan accused Riyadh of spreading extremist ideology and holding Lebanese citizens in Gulf “hostage”; PM Mikati immediately issued statement saying that Nasrallah’s comments did not represent the views of govt or Lebanese people. Hezbollah 12 Jan hosted conference for Saudi opposition figures in capital Beirut. Kuwaiti FM 27 Jan visited Beirut, reportedly conveying 12 conditions, assumed to be formulated by Saudi Arabia, for restoring relations between Lebanon and Gulf countries; conditions reportedly included end to Hizbollah’s regional posture and ban on political activities deemed hostile to Gulf countries in Lebanon.

December 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Amid ongoing political paralysis, Central Bank took measure prompting currency devaluation, and France sought to mediate Beirut’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. Cabinet meetings still on hold with little apparent prospect of resolution. Attempts to reach political deal ended in acrimony: PM Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met 20 Dec, but did not succeed in resolving disputed issues – including Hizbollah and its allies demanding removal of Judge Tarik Bitar from investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion, Free Patriotic Movement party asking modifications to mode of expatriate voting, and issue of reshuffling senior security positions. On economic front, currency fell to record low. Following 3 Dec resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi, whose comments on Saudi-led war in Yemen had caused frictions with Gulf countries, Lebanese lira improved by nearly 10% within less than 24 hours, reaching 22,000 to U.S. dollar. However, in unexpected move Central Bank 9 Dec raised amount of lira that depositors can receive for U.S. dollars from 3,900 to 8,000, triggering fears of inflation that sent lira to record lows at 29,000 to U.S. dollar on 14 Dec; currency stabilised at 27,000 after Central Bank same day announced injection of additional dollars into market. Shooting 12 Dec erupted at funeral procession in Palestinian camp Burj al-Shemali in Tyre city killing three Hamas members; Hamas blamed factions affiliated with Palestinian Authority (PA) while PA rejected allegations. During visit to Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, French President Macron 3-4 Dec sought to restore relations between Riyadh and Beirut; Macron’s attempt to arrange meeting reportedly failed but PM Mikati and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 4 Dec held telephone call during which they struck agreement on unspecified mechanism for humanitarian cooperation. After Shiite Bahraini opposition group Al-Wefaq 11 Dec held press conference in capital Beirut criticising Bahrain’s human rights record, Minister of Interior Bassam Al-Mawlawi 15 Dec ordered deportation of non-Lebanese members of Al-Wefaq in likely attempt to curry favour with Gulf Cooperation Council. UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 19-21 Dec visited Lebanon on “mission of solidarity”, met religious, civil society and political leaders.

November 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Standoff over investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion continued, while economic decline triggered protests across country. Shiite groups Hizbollah and Amal maintained demand to remove investigative judge Tarik Bitar. Cabinet meetings remained suspended since 12 Oct due to political divisions; attempt by Maronite patriarch to mediate compromise solution to standoff failed to achieve breakthrough and judiciary faced increasing paralysis while facing political pressure amid flurry of procedural objections and counter-suits by some of politicians Bitar seeks to question. Work on measures to alleviate worst symptoms of economic crisis, in particular to increase electricity supplies and release rationing card to support poorest citizens hit by removal of subsidies, continued throughout month but without significant breakthroughs. Govt also continued consultations with International Monetary Fund on financial assistance. Protesters 26 Nov broke into ministry of social affairs building in capital Beirut citing further economic decline and continuing currency collapse. Protesters 29 Nov constructed roadblocks in central Beirut, northern city Tripoli and southern city Sidon, calling on govt to act to address collapsing currency. UNICEF 23 Nov reported “dramatic deterioration of living conditions” as over 50% of families had at least one child who skipped meal by Oct 2021. After diplomatic spat late Oct erupted with Gulf states after footage emerged of Information Minister George Kordahi criticising Saudi-led war in Yemen, relations with Gulf continued to face strains and deepened govt paralysis. Affair worsened 2 Nov when leaked statements of FM Abdallah Bouhabib (appointee of President Aoun) revealed minister criticising Saudi positions. After Riyadh declared ban on all commercial transactions with Lebanon, govt faced prospect of obliterating export earnings from Saudi Arabia, which already fell from $250mn in 2020 to $100mn this year, thus increasing economic and financial hardship at home; Aoun 29 Nov expressed desire for reconciliation with Riyadh.

October 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion sparked divisions within govt and deadly sectarian clashes in capital Beirut. Investigative Judge Tareq Bitar 12 Oct issued arrest warrant for former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil, close aide to head of Shiite party Amal and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, for failing to appear for questioning over Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion; Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah previous day accused Bitar of “biased” and “politicised” investigation and demanded judge be replaced; Lebanese courts repeatedly turned down legal challenges by Khalil and other politicians against Bitar. Political row over investigation into port explosion forestalled cabinet meetings and govt work from 13 Oct, as Shiite ministers reportedly threatened walk-out if Bitar not removed. Dispute also triggered lethal fighting in capital Beirut. Hizbollah and Amal 14 Oct mobilised protest in front of Palace of Justice, located in Christian neighbourhood adjacent to Shia-populated areas; gunfire and three-hour-long street battle ensued, killing seven Shiite Muslims, in troubling reminder of sectarian clashes during civil war (1975-1990). Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 18 Oct accused Christian party Lebanese Forces of staging ambush, while Lebanese Forces blamed violent protesters; Nasrallah called for official investigation and warned: “We won’t leave the blood of our martyrs on the ground”. Meanwhile, power supplies across country marginally improved by mid-month as Central Bank further depleted currency reserves, while roll out of rationing card faced bureaucratic complications. Following collapse of talks in June 2020, govt 19 Oct resumed negotiations with International Monetary Fund on financial assistance. U.S. 14 Oct voiced support for plan to deliver gas and electricity to Lebanon via Syria and also pledged additional $67 mn for Lebanese Armed Forces. Parliament 19 Oct voted to bring elections, initially scheduled for 8 May 2022, forward to 27 March. Diplomatic spat late month erupted with Gulf states after footage emerged of Information Minister George Kordahi criticising Saudi-led war in Yemen; in move that could damage govt credibility and compound domestic crises, Riyadh, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates expelled Lebanese ambassador and recalled their ambassadors from Beirut, while Riyadh banned all Lebanese imports.

September 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliament approved formation of new govt led by Najib Mikati, ending 13-month period with caretaker authorities. Lebanese leaders 10 Sept agreed on formation of new govt under leadership of PM-designate and billionaire Najib Mikati; appointment ended extended stalemate that had left country without empowered govt since resignation of PM Hassan Diab on 10 Aug 2020 in wake of catastrophic Beirut port explosion. Parliament 20 Sept passed vote of confidence in new govt, with support of 85 out of 117 sitting members of parliament. Following dramatic deterioration in fuel crisis last month, long queues at gas stations and shortages of goods continued throughout month. Hizbollah during month realised its previous commitment to import fuel directly from Iran, in direct violation of U.S. sanctions; first deliveries of fuel reached country 16 Sept, after transiting Syria and crossing border without official knowledge or involvement of Lebanese authorities. Hizbollah-linked and U.S.-sanctioned Amana company distributed diesel fuel for electricity generation to public sector institutions and bakeries across country for free, while charging consumers about 25% below govt-mandated price ceiling. State electricity company 23 Sept said country risked total blackout by end of month as its fuel reserves dwindle. Some 300 protesters in capital Beirut 29 Sept protested govt’s decision two days earlier to suspend enquiry into port explosion. In highest-level contact in decade, govt delegation 3 Sept met Syrian officials in Syrian capital Damascus to discuss importing natural gas for power generation from Egypt through Jordanian and Syrian pipeline network. Israel’s 18 Sept decision to award offshore drilling contract to U.S. corporation Halliburton prompted PM Mikati and FM Abdallah Bou Habib to reiterate Lebanon’s claims over disputed maritime border with Israel; President Michel Aoun so far has refrained from signing amendment that would expand country’s claims to Exclusive Economic Zone by 1430 sq km, potentially affecting Israeli-claimed Karish gas field.

August 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Central Bank’s cut of subsidies dramatically worsened fuel crisis and sparked unrest; Hizbollah and Israel exchanged fire. On economic front, worsening fuel crisis led to drastic shortages. Central Bank governor Riyadh Salameh 11 Aug halted provision of heavily subsidised exchange rates to energy importers, citing foreign currency reserves reaching lowest legal limit; decision would have forced importers to impose five-fold increase on prices for gasoline, but ministry of energy refrained from adjusting tariffs, leading to severe supply and distribution disruption. Resulting shortages caused generator operators to cut further service hours, hospitals to issue warnings about inability to care for intensive-care patients and kilometres-long queues at gas stations, where gunfire caused several casualties during month. Notably, security forces 14 Aug raided fuel storage to prevent hoarding or smuggling of fuel to Syria, causing gas explosion that killed more than 30 civilians and soldiers and injured dozens more. In response, President Aoun, govt and Central Bank 21 Aug agreed to extend fuel subsidies until end Sept at lower level, limiting price increases. Reports late month indicated violent incidents related to shortages of gas and other goods continued, including in Maghdouche and Anqoun southern towns. Meanwhile, PM-designate Najib Mikati 5 Aug reported gradual progress toward formation of new cabinet and called meeting same day with Aoun “positive step forward”; Mikati and Aoun during month engaged in frequent direct negotiations on govt composition. By end of month, however, no breakthrough had been reached. Unclaimed rockets fired from southern Lebanon 4 Aug struck Israeli border town Kiryat Shimona; Israeli air force next day retaliated with air strikes in first such attacks inside Lebanon since 2013/2014. In response, Hizbollah 6 Aug launched 19 rockets at uninhabited areas of disputed Shebaa farms area, triggering Israeli mortar response. In incident underscoring lingering sectarian tensions, brother of teenager killed in Sept 2020 clashes near capital Beirut between Hizbollah and Sunni Arabs 31 July shot dead alleged Hizbollah-linked perpetrator in southern town of Jiyeh; relatives of teenager 1 Aug ambushed attendees at alleged perpetrator’s funeral, clashes left another five dead before army deployed to end confrontation.