Arab states urge Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks to reporters on Monday after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Baabda, east of Beirut. (AP)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Arab states urge Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned on Nov. 4, will land in Cairo on Tuesday to meet the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi “to complement his international and Arab tours,” Hariri’s media office announced.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit arrived in Beirut on Monday — the day after his urgent meeting in the Egyptian capital with Arab foreign ministers, at which he condemned “the firing of an Iranian-made ballistic missile from Yemeni territories to Riyadh" and considered it "blatant aggression against Saudi Arabia and a threat to Arab national security.”

The statement released after the meeting held “the terrorist organization, Hezbollah, a major player in the Lebanese government, responsible for supporting terrorism and terrorist groups in Arab countries through providing them with advanced arms and ballistic missiles.”

Aboul Gheit heard Lebanese President Michel Aoun say: “Lebanon is not responsible for Arab or regional conflicts and had never attacked any country. Therefore, it must not pay the price for these conflicts."

Aoun stressed that “Lebanon faced Israeli aggression and managed to free its lands, but Israel continues to target Lebanon, which gives Lebanese people every right to resist and thwart Israel’s plans in every possible way.”

He also refused to “suggest that the Lebanese government plays a role in terrorist acts,” pointing out that “the stance of the permanent representative of Lebanon to the Arab League during the foreign ministers’ meeting reflects a strong national determination.”

Lebanon objected to “the describing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, as well as referring to it as being part of the government.”

In a statement released by the presidential palace after Aboul Gheit’s meeting with Aoun, Aboul Gheit said: “Arab states are keen on ensuring Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and role as well as protecting its unique political structure and refusing to allow any harm to get to it.”

The Arab League chief also told the media that he came to Lebanon “to explain to Aoun the circumstances surrounding the Arab League’s meeting and the decision made by the foreign ministers, which includes looking into Iran’s interference in Saudi, Bahraini, GCC and UAE affairs. The decision was adopted by the Arab Ministerial Quartet Committee, which was formed by the Arab League more than two years ago to address Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, and which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, along with the secretary-general of the Arab League as members.

“The foreign ministers’ decision was issued mainly to inform the United Nations and the Security Council of Iran’s interference and approach in the Arab world,” he added. “I have noticed that everyone showed interest in understanding the Lebanese structure, and no one wants, accepts or wishes to harm Lebanon.”

He continued: “It isn’t new or unusual for the decision to include stances regarding a specific Lebanese party; this has been going on for more than two years. Even when it referred to the Lebanese government, the reference was meant for a certain participation and not Lebanon as a whole.

“The formation of a new Lebanese government or the continuation of any situation in Lebanon is not something I would interfere in or comment about, and Prime Minister Hariri will come to Lebanon on Tuesday.”

He stressed that Arab countries were targeted by the ballistic missiles, especially Saudi Arabia, and this is the reason behind its anger. Observers of the decision will notice a reference to the UN Charter Article 51, which states that the targeted countries have the inherent right to defend themselves and respond to these ballistic missile attacks whenever and however they wish. According to the decision, those countries chose to resort to the UN's legitimate and legal diplomatic work and to turn to the Security Council.

Aboul Gheit visited the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, Nabih Berri, who commented on the outcomes of the Cairo meeting in a brief statement released by his media office, in which he said: “Pardon us in Lebanon for having fought Israel.”

After the Aboul Gheit-Berri meeting, Berri’s media office announced that he said: “Despite the explanation provided by the Arab League chief, I have reminded him of the decision’s introduction, which stresses the importance of ensuring that relations between Arab countries and Iran are based on the principle of good neighborliness. I have also reminded him of dozens of decisions issued by the Arab League during summits and ministerial meetings, which confirm the resistance’s right to liberate its lands and which support Lebanon in its fight against Israel. Besides, the decision’s reference to the Lebanese government is not a successful one at all — it is actually offensive given the government’s current state.”

In a statement, Abou Gheit repeated that he explained to Berri that “the decision did not refer to Lebanon as a whole, but to a specific party in a certain situation.”

He also repeated: “Everyone recognizes the uniqueness of the Lebanese political structure, and no one at all wishes to harm Lebanon or turn its lands into a stage for any Arab-Iranian conflict. I am certain about this and never heard anyone suggest otherwise.”

He stressed that “no one is accusing the Lebanese government of terrorism. The decision merely referred to a certain party that participates in the government, and the Arab League merely reflects the Arab world’s will or the outcomes of the ministerial meeting. It is an indirect way to demand that the Lebanese state or government speak to this partner and convince it to control its actions on Arab lands in a way that does not lead to forming alliances with non-Arab powers, and this is what was meant.”

In his comment on Berri’s statement, “Pardon us for having fought Israel,” Aboul Gheit said: “I come from a country that fought Israel for long decades. I support and stand with whoever fights Israel and rejects its injustice and aggression. I cannot say anything more.”


Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

Updated 25 May 2018
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Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

JEDDAH: Oman said Friday that Cyclone Mekunu, which wreaked havoc in the Yemeni island of Socotra, has intensified into category 2 as it bore down on the south of the sultanate.
“Latest observations show that tropical Cyclone Mekunu has intensified to category 2,” with high wind speeds, Oman’s Directorate General of Meteorology said on Twitter.
The center said in its latest warning that the eye of Mekunu was expected to hit Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people close to the Yemeni border, at around 1600 local time (1200 GMT).
The impact on the city and Dhofar province was expected to last several hours with wind speeds of 170 kilometers (106 miles) per hour.
Heavy rains and strong winds have already been pummelling Dhofar province and authorities have urged residents to stay indoors.
Five people were killed and at least 40 missing on Socotra on Friday as Cyclone Mekunu pummelled the area then made its way toward the Arabian Peninsula’s southern coast.
The five dead included four Yemenis and one Indian national, while the missing including Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese.
Yemen declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Socotra, after officials said Friday that over 230 families had been relocated to shelter in sturdier buildings and other areas, including those more inland and in the island’s mountains.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
They say floods swept Socotra streets, washed away thousands of animals and cut electricity and communication lines. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arrived just hours after the cyclone receded.
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jabir, who also serves as Supervisor of Yemen Reconstruction Program and Executive Director of Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), confirmed in an official statement that “The Saudi Reconstruction Team in Yemen at the Socotra office is working with the local authority to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Mekunu, open roads and assist those in distress, in anticipation of the arrival of relief aid and shelter, that was hindered today by weather conditions.”
He added: “Saudi Joint Forces planes carrying tens of thousands of tons of relief, shelter and medical supplies from the Kingdom through KSrelief are preparing to head to Socotra to assist as soon as the weather conditions improve.”‏
The officials say heavy rains are now pummeling Yemen’s easternmost province of Al-Mahra, on the border with Oman. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The government declared the island in the northwest Indian Ocean, part of a UNESCO-protected archipelago for its rich biodiversity, a “disaster” zone.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
The Yemeni high relief agency met with international humanitarian organizations in Aden late Thursday to discuss the situation, the Saba news agency reported.
They decided to set up 11 relief centers in Socotra to provide shelter for people forced to evacuate their homes.
The meeting also discussed measures to provide aid to residents of three provinces in southeast Yemen expected to be hit by the cyclone.
Omani forecasters warned Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200 millimeters (7.87 inches) of rain, over twice the amount of rain this city typically gets in a year. Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area’s valleys and potential mudslides down its nearby cloud-shrouded mountains.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up. Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches.
Across the border in Oman, authorities have placed police and army on alert and closed schools until Monday in preparation for the cyclone.
“Of course, for the citizen there is going to be a sense of fear of the consequences that can happen,” said Brig. Gen. Mohsin bin Ahmed Al-Abri, the commander of Dhofar governorate’s police. “We have been through a few similar cases and there were losses in properties and also in human life as well. But one has to take precautions and work on that basis.”
State-run television said authorities had evacuated hundreds of residents from a small island off Salalah, the town where Oman’s Sultan Qaboos was born.
As torrential rains poured down, local authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly laborers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms, where math and English lesson posters hung on the walls.
Oman’s civil aviation authority announced that Salalah airport would be closed for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT Thursday).
Many holidaymakers fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah — a key gateway for the country — also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.
Streets quickly emptied across the city. Standing water covered roads and caused at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.
Later, a municipal worker on a massive loader used its bucket to tear into a road median to drain a flooded street, showing how desperate the situation could become.
Mekunu was expected to weaken to a tropical storm before reaching southeastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday, according to the Kingdom’s meteorological authority.
Powerful cyclones are rare in Oman. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck the sultanate on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through Oman and later even reached Iran, causing $4 billion in damage in Oman alone and killing over 70 people across the Mideast.
The last hurricane-strength storm to strike within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of Salalah came in May 1959, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s archives. However, that cyclone was categorized as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning it only had winds of up to 152 kph (95 mph).
Mekunu, which means “mullet” in Dhivehi, the language spoken in the Maldives, is on track to potentially be the same strength as a Category 2 hurricane at landfall. It also comes just days after Cyclone Sagar struck Somalia.