Tehran terms Aoun presidency a ‘victory for Hezbollah’

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, sits at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
Updated 01 November 2016
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Tehran terms Aoun presidency a ‘victory for Hezbollah’

JEDDAH: Lebanese lawmakers ended a two-year political vacuum Monday by electing as president ex-army chief Michel Aoun, who promised to protect the country from spillover from the war in neighboring Syria.
The deeply divided Parliament took four rounds of voting to elect 81-year-old Aoun, whose supporters flooded streets across the country waving his party’s orange flag.
“Lebanon is still treading through a minefield, but it has been spared the fires burning across the region,” Aoun said after taking the presidential oath.
“It remains a priority to prevent any sparks from reaching Lebanon,” the Maronite Christian leader said.
Syria’s five-year war has been a major fault line for Lebanon’s political class, and analysts have warned Aoun’s election will not be a “magic wand” to end divisions.
The next challenge will be forming a government and that is expected to take months of wrangling.
Presidential media office chief Rafik Chlala said consultations to name a prime minister would begin Wednesday morning, with an announcement expected at noon Thursday.
It remains unclear if Lebanon’s perpetually ineffectual political class can solve key problems, including a trash crisis that has seen rubbish pile up in open dumps.
The Parliament that elected Aoun has twice extended its own mandate, avoiding elections because of disagreements over a new electoral law.
Aoun had long eyed the presidency, and his candidacy was staunchly backed by Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah, his ally since a surprise rapprochement in 2006.
But the key to clinching the post was the shock support of two of his key rivals: Christian Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Sunni former premier Saad Hariri.
Hariri, expected to be appointed premier, said his endorsement was necessary to “protect Lebanon, protect the (political) system, protect the state and protect the Lebanese people.”
Hariri and Geagea both oppose Syria’s President Bashar Assad, while Hezbollah supports Damascus and has dispatched fighters to bolster its forces.
That feud left MPs repeatedly unable to reach consensus on the presidency, a post reserved for a Maronite Christian.
After taking the oath, Aoun rode in a convoy of black cars to the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, where his wife and three daughters were waiting to congratulate him.
In Beirut’s majority-Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh, revellers lit fireworks and fired volleys of celebratory gunfire.
The atmosphere in Jdeideh outside Beirut was one of untrammeled joy, with thousands honking car horns and popping bottles of champagne.
“I’m so happy. After 25 years our dream has come true,” said 33-year-old accountant Giselle Tammam.
Assad congratulated Aoun on being elected, hoping it would contribute to “reinforcing stability” in Lebanon, Syria’s state news agency SANA said.
Syria’s Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said the election represents “the triumph of the resistance, of Syria and its allies.”
President Francois Hollande spoke of France’s “determination” to continue supporting Lebanon “to preserve its integrity and security,” his office said.
Syria’s President Bashar Assad congratulated his new Lebanese counterpart, hoping it would contribute to “reinforcing stability” in Lebanon, state news agency SANA said.
Iran welcomed the election of Aoun as a victory for the Shiite group Hezbollah, Tehran’s ally in Lebanon.
A message from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “We are certain that with your election, the resistance movement will be strengthened.” 
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also congratulated Aoun in a phone call.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby described Aoun’s election as a “moment of opportunity” to restore government institutions as Lebanon emerges from years of political impasse.
However, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has topped recent Israeli polls, said Israel should worry when Lebanon elects a president who has the backing of Hezbollah, adding that the militant movement is bound to turn its aggression toward Israel once the war in Syria comes to an end.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini both saw in the election a step that could pave the way for Lebanese politicians to close ranks in the national interest.
(With agencies)
 

 


UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

Updated 13 sec ago
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UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

  • The UN has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war
  • Martin Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi group to implement a first phase of troop redeployments

DUBAI: Yemen’s warring parties could start withdrawing forces from the main port city of Hodeidah within weeks, a move needed to pave the way for political negotiations to end the four-year war, the UN special envoy said on Thursday.
Martin Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi group to implement a first phase of troop redeployments, while discussions were still underway for the second phase.
The United Nations has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The two parties agreed formally to the concept of operations for phase one. What we are doing now is ... moving on as planned from there to agree on phase two,” Griffiths told Reuters in a telephone interview without elaborating, adding that talks would “intensify” in coming days.
“So we don’t have an exact date at the moment for the beginning of this physical redeployment,” he said. “It’s got to be weeks ... hopefully few weeks.”
Sources have told Reuters the first phase would see the Houthis leave the city’s ports and pro-government forces leave some areas on the city’s outskirts. In the second phase, both sides would pull troops to 18 km from the city and heavy weapons 30 km away.
The Hodeidah deal was a trust building step aimed at averting a full-scale assault on Hodeidah by the Arab coalition trying to restore the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and paving the way for political talks to set up a transitional government.
Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN observer team in Hodeidah, chairs a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) tasked with hammering out details not spelled out in the pact.
A cease-fire in Houthi-held Hodeidah has largely held but violence has escalated elsewhere in the country. The troop withdrawal was due to have been completed by Jan. 7 but stalled over disagreement on who would control the Red Sea port city.
Asked if that issue had been resolved, Griffiths said: “We have ideas on how to bridge the gap on the issue of the local security forces” but it would be up to the parties represented in the RCC headed by Lollesgaard to resolve it.
Three sources told Reuters last month that the first phase would see the Houthis pull back 5 km (3 miles) from the ports of Saleef, used for grain, and Ras Isa, for oil. Then the Houthis would quit Hodeidah port while coalition forces would retreat 1 km from the city’s “Kilo 8” and Saleh districts.
This would restore access cut off since September to the Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Programme grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people, and allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.
Hodeidah handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid supplies and is critical for feeding the population of 30 million people. It became a focus of fighting last year, raising concern that an all-out assault could disrupt supply lines and trigger mass starvation in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.
“I know we’re spending an enormous amount of time, and rightly so, on Hodeidah, but it’s the gateway to the comprehensive settlement and of course failure in Hodeida is not an option,” Griffiths said.
“The aim ultimately of an agreement which will resolve the conflict and end this war is to return governing of Yemen to politicians, to return to the people of Yemen accountable government.”