Arab states stand united against ‘unacceptable Iranian aggression’

Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir leads Saudi Arabia’s delegation at the Arab League’s extraordinary general meeting in Cairo on Sunday. (SPA)
Updated 20 November 2017
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Arab states stand united against ‘unacceptable Iranian aggression’

CAIRO: Arab states stood united on Sunday against Iranian aggression in the region, and Saudi Arabia warned that it would not stand idly by in the face of threats to its national security.

“We are obliged today to take a serious and honest stand … to counter these belligerent policies so that we can protect our security,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.

The ministers expressed their full solidarity with Saudi Arabia and support for any measures it may take to counter Iranian threats, warned Iran to stop interfering in the internal affairs of their countries and end its support for Hezbollah and Houthi militias, and called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Iranian aggression.

Saudi Arabia asked for Tuesday’s meeting, with the support of the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, after the launch on Nov. 4 of an Iranian-supplied missile aimed at Riyadh from Houthi militia-held territory in Yemen. Al-Jubeir said Iran continued to threaten the security of Arab states, violating all international principles.

Iranian missiles did not respect sacred Muslim sites in Makkah, he said, and the missile that targeted Riyadh reflected Iranian aggression against the Kingdom and illustrated the “grave dangers in the region due to Iranian interference.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the missile that targeted Riyadh was “an Iranian message of aggression which is unacceptable in form and substance.”

He said: “The Iranian missile program poses a dangerous threat to the region and its security. Iranian threats have crossed a line, and they are pushing the region to the brink. Iran is adopting a sectarian strategy to fuel regional conflicts and is seeking to make Yemen a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.”

The secretary-general urged Tehran to “review its policies toward the region and stop its interference.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said Lebanon was under the “total control” of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. “Iran’s biggest arm in the region at the moment is the terrorist Hezbollah arm,” Sheikh Khalid said, and there was dangerous Iranian escalation in the region.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil did not attend Sunday’s meeting. He was replaced by Lebanon’s delegate to the Arab League, Antoine Azzam. Lebanese sources said there was intense pressure on the League to avoid explicit references to Hezbollah in statements after the meeting, but the efforts failed. Bassil is the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michele Aoun, who is an ally of Hezbollah.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, who is known for his support of Iranian-backed militias such as Hezbollah, was also absent from the meeting; the Undersecretary at Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nizar Khair Allah, attended instead.

Diplomatic sources said the General Secretariat of the Arab League has prepared a dossier of violations, interference and provocative statements by Iran and its officials, along with memorandums from member states, mainly Saudi Arabia, detailing Iranian interference targeting regional stability.

Arab affairs expert Dr. Moutaz Salama, of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Sunday’s meeting was part of a long-term Saudi strategy which will develop gradually to contain Iran’s destructive role in the region. Rallying Arab diplomatic efforts against Iranian interference was an essential step to move the issue on to the international stage, he said.

Arab diplomatic sources said that there was an agreement between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain to confront Iranian regional aggression decisively.


Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

Updated 19 July 2018
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Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

  • Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus
  • After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March

HARASTA, Syria: Khaled’s delicate hands were accustomed to cutting and styling hair in his Syrian hometown Harasta. Now, they’re hauling concrete and sweeping floors to repair homes ravaged by years of fighting.
Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus held for nearly five years by armed rebels.
After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March, and displaced families have been trickling back to check if their homes survived.
Khaled, 35, watches them cross a security checkpoint and approaches to pitch his services: knocking down walls, clearing rubble, and sweeping up debris.
“I used to be a barber, but now I’m a laborer. I wait for families to enter and offer them my services in cleaning and restoration,” he says.
Khaled fled Harasta in 2012 to the nearby town of Al-Tal, where he still lives with his family. Every day, the father of three commutes to Harasta to find work.
His own house still stands, but he cannot return yet: temporary security measures dictate that people who live outside the town cannot stay past nightfall.
“I work with three other people. We use hammers, brooms, and buckets of water. Work is on and off,” he says.
“Clients pay us whatever they can afford.”
Harasta lies in Eastern Ghouta, recaptured this spring by Syrian troops with a deal that saw thousands of rebels and civilians bussed to opposition territory elsewhere.
Others, like 45-year-old Hassan, chose not to leave.
The former petrol station worker remained in Harasta throughout the rebel reign and decided to stay in its aftermath, too.
Hassan now works with Khaled, transporting rocks and other materials in his pick-up truck to construction sites.
“This is the only work in Harasta that pays right now,” says Hassan, wearing a dirty wool sweater despite the heat.
Harasta was once home to 250,000 people, most of them Syrians from elsewhere in the country who worked in the capital but sought cheap rent.
Now, just 15,000 people remain, town officials estimate, unable to leave until security forces clear their names.
With the use of personal cars banned, boys get around on bicycles while women and toddlers shuffle along on foot.
Many of Harasta’s large residential blocks or industrial complexes have been pulverized by strikes, artillery, and mortars.
They stand like massive grey honeycombs overlooking dusty streets still stripped of signs of life, months after fighting has stopped.
Mohammad Naaman, 50, was terrified his home would be among those gutted by fighting — and can hardly contain himself when he finds it still standing.
“I was shocked to see most buildings collapsed. It’s true my house is devastated compared to before, but I’m happy it’s still there at all,” says Naaman.
He, too, fled to Al-Tal in 2012 and still lives there.
The doors and windows of his Harasta home have been blown out and cracks run up the walls, threatening collapse.
But in the living room, a layer of dust blankets plastic flowers still standing in their vases.
“Whatever happens, it’s still my house, and my house is so dear to me,” Naaman says.
Like his neighbors, Naaman’s first step was removing the rubble and debris from his home, dumping them into the main street nearby according to instructions by local authorities.
Vehicles provided by the public works ministry transport the rubble to a local dump, separating metal out so that concrete can be turned back to cement and reused.
“We removed 110,000 cubic meters of rubble from the streets, but there’s still more than 600,000 to go,” says Adnan Wezze, who heads the town council running Harasta since the regime’s recapture.
As he speaks, a demolition digger works on a two-story building. Its metal arm reaches up to the roof and picks off slabs of concrete precariously perched there.
Authorities are working fast to demolish buildings “at risk of collapse, because they present a public safety threat,” says Wezze.
Many urban hubs across Syria, particularly around Damascus, have been hard-hit by hostilities, and President Bashar Assad said this month rebuilding would be his “top priority.”
But Law 10, a recent decree which allows for the expropriation of property to redevelop an area, sparked fears that millions of displaced Syrians would not get the opportunity to make a claim to their land.
Wezze insists that Harasta’s modest efforts were fair.
“We only demolish after getting permission from the owners,” he says.
If they are not present, Wezze adds, “their rights are still protected. We’ve requested proof of property even before areas are designated as development projects.”
“No resident of Harasta will lose his rights — whether they’re here or in exile.”