Gulf nationals exit Lebanon

A Saudia jet takes off from Beirut airport on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Gulf nationals exit Lebanon

BEIRUT: There has been an exodus of Gulf nationals from Lebanon. A Kuwaiti airliner arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut late Friday night in order to bring Kuwaiti citizens who are in Lebanon home to Kuwait.
The permanent representative of the National News Agency (NNA) in Lebanon told Arab News that Beirut airport had witnessed on Thursday night the departure of Saudi citizens on regularly scheduled Beirut-Riyadh flights.
She also noted that the airlines at the airport had reported many booking cancelations from passengers who had booked their flights to come to Lebanon during the coming holiday season.
The exodus comes in response to the call from the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE to their respective citizens who are in Lebanon to return to their countries and to avoid travel to Lebanon.
Lebanon is still experiencing the fallout from the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh about a week ago.
Al-Hariri blamed Iran and Hezbollah for his resignation and noted, “We live in an atmosphere similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of (his father) Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun continued his consultations on Friday with Arab and foreign ambassadors in the Presidential Palace. Aoun expressed concern over “the circumstances surrounding the situation of Hariri after announcing his resignation from abroad” and he pointed to the necessity of its unraveling, according to a statement from the Presidential Palace.
The statement added that President Aoun had held meetings with Arab ambassadors in Lebanon, in the presence of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. The spokesman at the Palace stated that Aoun told the Saudi Charge d’Affaires Walid Al-Bukhari that the circumstances of Al-Hariri’s resignation were “unacceptable,” and he demanded the return of the Lebanese prime minister to Beirut.
Arab diplomatic sources told Arab News that the Saudi charge d’affaires “assured Aoun the commitment of Saudi Arabia to the safety and security of Lebanon, and when Aoun raised, in the presence of Bassil, the ambiguity surrounding the situation of Al-Hariri, Al-Bukhari replied that it was possible to communicate with Al-Hariri directly or to send the foreign minister to the Kingdom to meet him.”
The sources told Arab News: “Prime Minister Hariri announced his position, and according to their information, we need to look into the problem and tackle it, and then Al-Hariri would return to Lebanon. But if he returned now, who would guarantee his safety? Taking into consideration the fact that the Kingdom did not dictate an option forcing him to stay in the Kingdom or leave it, he is free in his movements.”
The sources added that “questioning the situation of Al-Hariri and focusing on protocol issues is not right. Are we in Tora Bora? What’s the logic?”
After visiting Aoun, the ambassadors of the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon stressed in a statement read by UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini the importance of “keeping Lebanon protected from tensions in the region,” and the importance of “restoring the vital balance of Lebanon’s state institutions, which are essential to the country’s stability.” They welcomed the “steps taken to contain the political crisis and protect the country, its stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” The ambassadors reiterated their “commitment to support the country, its leadership, and its people during this difficult time.”
On the international front, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a statement on Friday, warned other countries against using Lebanon for “proxy conflicts.” Tillerson also called Al-Hariri a “strong partner” of the US.
“The US cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country,” Tillerson said.
France’s Foreign Ministry on Friday noted comments made earlier by the French minister, suggesting that Al-Hariri may not be free and urging that he continue to play his rightful role in the country, according to Reuters.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 Radio that as far as France was aware, Al-Hariri “was free in his movements” and that it was “important he made his own choices.”
From the UN, AP reported that the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was essential that peace be preserved in Lebanon, warning that a new conflict could have “devastating consequences” in the region.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed his concerns to his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, about the possibility of the destabilization of Lebanon.
A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said in a press conference on Friday that Gabriel told Al-Jubeir in a phone call that he believed the “progressive steps achieved under the leadership of Al-Hariri should not be endangered.”
However, the spokeswoman added, “Berlin has no evidence that Al-Hariri has been detained against his will.”
She added: “Germany shares the Saudi concerns about Iranian meddling in Yemen and the support of Tehran for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah.”


Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

Updated 19 September 2018
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Syria’s Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops

  • Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria
  • The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria

ANKARA/AMMAN: Turkey will send more troops into Syria’s Idlib province after striking a deal with Russia that has averted a government offensive and delighted rebels who said it kept the area out of President Bashar Assad’s hands.
The deal unveiled on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will create a demilitarised zone from which “radical” rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.
Damascus also welcomed the agreement but vowed to continue its efforts to recover “every inch” of Syria. Iran, Assad’s other main ally, said that “responsible diplomacy” had averted a war in Idlib “with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror.”
The agreement halted a threatened Syrian government offensive. The United Nations had warned such an attack would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about 3 million people.
The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represent the opposition’s last big foothold in Syria. Assad has recovered most of the areas once held by the rebels, with decisive military support from Iran and Russia.
But his plans to recover the northwest have been complicated by Turkey’s role on the ground. It has soldiers at 12 locations in Idlib and supplies weapons to some of the rebels.
Erdogan had feared another exodus of refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, and warned against any attack.
In striking the deal, Russia appears — at least for now — to have put its ties with Turkey ahead of advancing the goal of bringing all Syria back under Assad’s rule.
That goal is also obstructed by the presence of US forces in the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates that is held by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, and at a base near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis played down any notion the Turkey-Russia agreement had resolved the situation in Idlib.
“Idlib is one of the most complex problems in a complex theater (of conflict) right now. So I’m quite sure it’s not all sorted,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
Analysts cautioned that implementation of the deal faced big challenges, notably how to separate extremists from other rebels — a goal Ankara has been struggling to achieve.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “moderate opposition” would keep its weapons and the “region will be cleared of radicals.” Turkey would “make additional troop deployments” and its 12 observation posts would remain.
The deal was “very important for the political resolution in Syria.” “If this (Idlib) had been lost too, there would be no opposition anymore,” he said.
Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, said the deal “buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria.”
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, expressed hope a government offensive was now off the table for good.
The Syrian government, in a statement published by state media, said it welcomed any agreement that spared blood. It also said the deal had a specific time frame, which it did not detail.
“I see it as a test of the extent of Turkey’s ability to implement this decision,” Ali Abdul Karim, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, said in an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV. “We do not trust Turkey ... but it’s useful for Turkey to be able to carry out this fight to rid these groups from their weapons.”
’Catastrophe averted’
Moscow said the deal “confirmed the ability of both Moscow and Ankara to compromise ... in the interests of the ultimate goal of a Syrian settlement by political and diplomatic means.”
“Is this merely a stay of execution? Or is it the beginning of a reprieve?” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock asked during a monthly meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria.
The demilitarised zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the countries’ leaders said.
Neither Russia nor Turkey has explained how it plans to differentiate “radically minded” rebels from other anti-Assad groups. It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone.
Putin said the decision was to establish by Oct. 15 a demilitarised area 15 to 20 km (10-12 miles) deep along the contact line between rebel and government fighters.
Naji Abu Hufaiza, spokesman for the National Front for Liberation, said he did not have details of the agreement, but added that while he saw it as a success for Turkish diplomacy, his group did not trust Russia to uphold it.
Idlib is held by an array of rebels. The most powerful is Tahrir Al-Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front — an Al-Qaeda affiliate until 2016.
Other Islamists, and groups fighting as the Free Syrian Army banner, are now gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”
The area is also the last major haven for foreign extremists who came to Syria to fight the Alawite-led Assad government.
Putin said that, at Erdogan’s suggestion, by Oct. 10, all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks, rocket systems would also be removed from the demilitarised zone.
Earlier this month, Putin publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a truce when the two met along with Iran’s president at a summit in Tehran.