Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Egyptian Defence Ministry on February 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

EL-ARISH, Egypt: Egypt began a massive security operation Friday involving land, sea and air forces in areas including the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, the epicenter of an Islamic insurgency spearheaded by a local affiliate of Daesh.
The operation, announced in a televised statement by army spokesman Col. Tamer El-Rifaai, began early Friday and covers central Sinai and areas in Egypt’s Nile Delta and Western Desert. He said the operation is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations.” There was no indication how long the operation would last.
In a subsequent statement, El-Rifaai said the air force carried out airstrikes on militant hideouts in north and central Sinai. He added that naval forces were deployed to cut off their supply lines and that security has been boosted around the country’s border crossings, shipping routes and vital facilities.
Security officials said the forces killed at least 20 militants in the north Sinai town of Bir Al-Abd. They added that militants are also being targeted south and west of the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza strip. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The operation began amid local media reports of heightened alert levels in north Sinai hospitals and in other neighboring provinces in anticipation of casualties. Local gas stations and shops were also ordered shut.
The military campaign comes ahead of the presidential election in March in which President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is running for a second four-year term with no serious contenders. El-Sisi was elected in 2014 in a landslide with promises of restoring security.
Egypt has for years been struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in the turbulent Sinai region. It has carried out military operations there that, it says, have killed hundreds of militants and soldiers over the years. Egypt also built a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to curb the flow of militants and weapons through a vast tunnel network under the border. The insurgency, nevertheless, shows no signs of abating.
In November, militants killed 311 worshippers in a mosque attack in the region, the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history. Shortly afterward, El-Sisi gave security forces a three-month deadline to restore stability to northern Sinai and authorized his chief of staff to use “all brute force.”
Later, militants fired a projectile at El-Arish airport and struck an Apache helicopter that was part of the entourage of Egypt’s defense and interior ministers who were in the city on an unannounced visit on Dec. 19. Neither minister was in the aircraft when the attack took place but the missile killed an officer and wounded two others. Egypt is currently building a buffer zone around the airport.
Militant attacks have generally surged since the 2013 military ouster of elected President Muhammad Mursi following mass protests against his divisive one-year rule. The violence has been concentrated in northern Sinai Peninsula but has also spread to the mainland.
Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks in its Western Desert along the porous border with Libya that has been the source of serious concern to authorities who contend Islamic militants and smugglers use it as their route into the country.
Egypt has been under a state of emergency after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday last year in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of Daesh.


Choosing Hariri was the easy part — forming a govt will be far more challenging

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on May 24, 2018, shows Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (C-L) and other members of parliament at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (AFP PHOTO / DALATI AND NOHRA)
Updated 25 May 2018
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Choosing Hariri was the easy part — forming a govt will be far more challenging

  • Lebanon’s election three weeks ago — the first in nine years, strengthened the position of Hezbollah — with a strong performance by its allies.
  • The Future Movement, the party of Hariri, lost several seats and left him weakened, but due to Lebanon’s political system, which reserves the position of prime minister for a Sunni, Hariri was the only candidate with the power base to take the position.

BEIRUT: Nothing in Lebanon comes before political compromises.

This was the case on Wednesday, with the reelection of Nabih Berri as speaker of the House of Representatives for the sixth time and the election of Elie Ferzli, one of Syria’s allies in Lebanon, as deputy speaker.

And it was also the case on Thursday, when Prime Minister Saad Hariri was handed a third term by members of the house.

His appointment had been expected, and now paves the way for perhaps the biggest set of compromises — consultations with deputies to form the next government.

Lebanon’s election three weeks ago — the first in nine years, strengthened the position of Hezbollah — with a strong performance by its allies. The Future Movement, the Sunni party of Hariri, lost several seats and left him weakened, but due to Lebanon’s political system, which reserves the position of prime minister for a Sunni, Hariri was the only candidate with the power base to take the position.

The scale of the challenge in forming a government was highlighted by who did and who did not back him in Parliament.

He was nominated by 111 MPs out of 128 with Hezbollah and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, an ally of Bashar Assad, not supporting him. Two other pro-Syrian MPs and an independent also did not back him.

Ahead of President Michel Aoun’s announcement, Hariri appeared optimistic, stressing that the government “must be born quickly, there are no reasons to obstruct its formation or delay its completion.”

He said that the Gulf and US sanctions on Hezbollah should accelerate the process of formation.

In contrast to Hariri’s optimism, there are those who believe the formation may take a long time, because of demands and counter-demands.

They also believe that Hezbollah may demand to be given a crippling one-third share in the government without the need for ministers of its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Hezbollah and Amal may demand six Shiite ministers if the government has 30 ministers, and may also demand the representation of the seven-member Al-Marda bloc with two ministers.

They may also demand the appointment of a Sunni deputy, who is not affiliated with the Future Movement, as well as Talal Arslan, the only rival of Walid Jumblatt in the Druze community, as ministers.

If obstacles to obstruct the government’s work are put in place, through alliances within the Council of Ministers, in the face of prime minister-designate the formation of the government may take time. However, as journalist Tony Francis believes, “Hezbollah will not try to obstruct the formation of the government because the course of regional developments is pressurizing it.”

The current Lebanese government is a caretaker government after holding the first plenary session of the elected Parliament. 

The Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, was keen on the serious relationship between Berri and Hariri, and Bassil did not follow the footsteps of the other main Christian party, the Lebanese Forces in not voting in the election of Berri and Ferzli.

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt stressed his commitment to the relationship, and that he supported Hariri to head the government. The election of Ferzli by deputies in Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc was an indication of goodwill, and Jumblatt demanded to be treated equally by giving the Druze essential portfolios.

Bassil stressed the keenness of the Free Patriotic Movement on the strategic alliance with Hezbollah.