Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C) is seen during a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on Feb. 20, 2018. (Sabah Arar/AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

BAGHDAD: Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his country’s desire to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and to boost trade and tourism between the two countries, Iraqi officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

Aoun, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since taking office in Lebanon in 2016, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday morning accompanied by Lebanese ministers on a one-day visit at the invitation of Iraqi President Fuad Masum. He met Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament, to discuss joint interests.

Officials from Masum’s office told Arab News that the Lebanese had come to Baghdad to discuss “four essential” issues: the participation of Lebanese companies in the reconstruction of Iraq; cooperation between the two countries in counter-terrorism; investments projects and reinforcing trade and tourism exchange; and Lebanese debts incurred against Iraq.

“Lebanese companies are interested in coming to Iraq to work in the field of reconstruction. This is a key point (in discussions), in addition to cooperation in combating terrorism and promoting trade and tourism exchanges,” Hussien Al-Hindawi, Masum’s media adviser, told Arab News.

“They are looking to obtain some facilities that allow Lebanese companies to sign up for the reconstruction of Iraq and to obtain some investment projects in addition to customs facilities that contribute to increasing Lebanese exports to Iraq,” Al-Hindawi said.

In October, Iraq declared the end of military operations against militants and announced the start of reconstruction of war-affected areas. More than 150 investment projects, including dozens of mega projects, were presented by Iraq a week ago at the international conference for reconstruction in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwaiti government, the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

Most Arab and international companies are looking for facilities and guarantees for projects worth several billion dollars, specifically in oil and reconstruction.

Iraq is one of the most important markets for Lebanese goods in the region — about 10 percent of Lebanese exports are consumed annually. However, exports have decreased since 2011 because of additional costs caused by the suspension of transport through Syrian territory after the outbreak of civil war and the increase in customs duties imposed by Iraqi authorities on imported goods.

The debts owed to Iraqi traders since 2003, estimated at $1 billion, were also part of the talks, Iraqi officials told Arab News.

Nicola Tueni, minister of state for anti-corruption, who is keeping tabs on the file of debts, was among the Lebanese delegation.

“The Lebanese president is under pressure from his people to engage in reconstruction and investment projects in Iraq,” an Iraqi official involved in the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“They filed a formal request to reduce the customs duties on Lebanese goods and are currently negotiating to acquire some investments for extinguishing the old debts,” the official said.

“We can get a good deal. They are strongly looking to come back to work in the south, at the same time we need all possible efforts to rebuild our country.”


Gaza border protests provide artist with inspiration, and raw materials

Updated 6 min 50 sec ago
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Gaza border protests provide artist with inspiration, and raw materials

  • Diorama artist Majdi Abu Taqeya spends hours creating three-dimensional miniature replicas of the protest scenes
  • Some neighbours who had been wounded gifted the artist bullets extracted from their bodies

GAZA: One year on from the start of Gaza's border protests, the weekly clashes with Israeli soldiers have become part of the texture of life in the Palestinian enclave, providing inspiration and even raw materials for local artists.

Diorama artist Majdi Abu Taqeya spends hours creating three-dimensional miniature replicas of the protest scenes, with figures carved from remnants of Israeli ammunition collected from the landscape along the frontier.

Wool and cotton are turned into the white and black smoke that swirls over the five protest camps that have been set up along the fortified frontier since the protests began on March 30, 2018.

Elsewhere on Abu Taqeya's wooden boards, Palestinian protesters, ambulances, Israeli troops and tanks and even the wire fence itself are all created in miniature. He uses empty shells of bullets, tear gas canisters and sometimes shrapnel of Israeli missiles.

A bullet triggered the idea, the artist said. At the first day of the protests, Abu Taqeya's youngest brother was shot in his leg and doctors took out the bullet, which he then brought home.

"I turned it into a small statue of a soldier and I gave it to him," he told Reuters.

"It was then when I got the idea to start recycling the remnants of the occupation," said Abu Taqeya, a 38-year-old retired naval policeman.

Gaza health authorities said some 200 people have been killed by Israeli fire since Palestinians launched the protests a year ago. They are demanding the right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were expelled during fighting that accompanied Israel’s founding in 1948.

An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier.

Israel says it uses lethal force to defend the frontier from militants trying to destroy its border fence and infiltrate under cover of the protests. On Monday, UN war crimes investigators urged Israel to rein in its troops at the border.

In Nusseirat refugee camp, where Abu Taqeya lives, some neighbours who had been wounded gifted the artist bullets extracted from their bodies.

"This bullet was taken from a girl's body, I turned it into a bullet with a butterfly on the top," said Abu Taqeya.

On Thursday, organizers of the protests called for mass rallies on March 30 to mark the anniversary, raising concerns of possible heavy casualty toll. Abu Taqeya urged demonstrators to steer clear of the fence.

"We must not give the occupation any pretext to open fire. These protests must be peaceful," he said, using a Palestinian term for Israel.

Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005. Citing security concerns, it still maintains tight control of the Hamas-run territory's borders.