UNIFIL rescues boat carrying 32 Syrians, 1 Lebanese

A UNIFIL team approaches a boat overcrowded with migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 13 October 2018

UNIFIL rescues boat carrying 32 Syrians, 1 Lebanese

  • The boat, believed to be run by people smugglers, was on its way to Cyrprus
  • It was the first time that the UNIFIL had carried out such a mission at sea

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Navy received on Thursday a boat rescued by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). 

The boat was carrying 32 Syrians and one Lebanese. The incident was linked to a similar one around three weeks ago, against a backdrop of increased maritime people smuggling, Lebanon’s military told Arab News.

UNIFIL said in a statement that its Maritime Task Force “participated in a search and rescue operation at sea after receiving reports on Wednesday of a missing boat off the coast of Lebanon.”

The statement added: “UNIFIL was informed that a small boat, allegedly heading toward Cyprus, was missing. UNIFIL tasked its Maritime Force to locate the missing vessel.”

It said: “UNIFIL’s flagship, BRS Liberal, found a small white boat northwest of Beirut in the area of responsibility of Rescue Coordinator Center Beirut.”

According to UNIFIL, “there were 32 passengers on board: 19 men, six women and seven children. The boat was out of fuel and the passengers had been without food and water for four days.”

The statement said: “While waiting for the Lebanese Navy to arrive, UNIFIL naval peacekeepers distributed water and food, and provided medical assistance.”

It added: “After the Lebanese Navy arrived at the scene, the passengers were able to board the Lebanese patrol boats and arrived at Beirut port on Friday, escorted by UNIFIL.”

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said this was the first time that the interim force had carried out such a mission at sea.

“This task isn’t within the mandate given to us by the (UN) Security Council as per resolution 1701, but international maritime laws allow us to carry out this mission,” he told Arab News.

“UNIFIL has seven ships roaming Lebanese waters. One of them received a signal from the boat and traced its location, and UNIFIL communicated with Lebanese authorities in this regard.”

The Directorate of Orientation of the Lebanese Army Command said in a statement that the passengers “underwent a medical examination by military medical teams and the Lebanese Red Cross, and investigations started under the supervision of the competent judiciary.”

A Lebanese military source said the Lebanese man on board was “the one sailing toward Cyprus. The boat set off from an illegal point on the northern Lebanese coast.”

Some three weeks ago, the Lebanese Navy rescued 39 people on board a boat that carried them from an illegal point in northern Lebanon toward Cyprus but sank in Lebanese waters.

A naval patrol retrieved the body of a 5-year-old Palestinian boy and rescued the others, most of them Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Nahr Al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon.

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar. (AP)
Updated 50 min 30 sec ago

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

  • White House unveils plan to maintain ‘a small peacekeeping force’ in Syria

BEIRUT, WASHINGTON: The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a US decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters.

The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.

Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Daesh with US backing for years.

“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.

“I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria, applauded the president’s decision to leave a few hundred as part of an “international stabilizing force.” Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with SDF forces, which helped the US fight Daesh militants. 

Moreover, Graham said leaving a small force in Syria will serve as a check on Iranian ambitions and help ensure that Daesh militants do not try to return.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS (Daesh), protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria,” Graham said.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

The SDF is led by a Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers an enemy. Kurdish officials had feared that a total US withdrawal would create a security vacuum and allow Turkey to launch a long-promised offensive against them.

The Kurds, who seek autonomy within Syria, have made overtures to the government of Bashar Assad, seeking security guarantees as Washington withdraws.

“I believe that these forces in this region ... will be a motivation, an incentive and also a means of pressure on Damascus to try seriously to have a dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Omar said. 

The SDF is currently involved in a standoff over the final sliver of land held by Daesh in eastern Syria, close to the Iraq border.

Many believe the Daesh threat will not end with the pocket’s recapture and an insurgency is underway. 

In a foreboding sign on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for back-to-back suicide attacks that hit a village miles away, leaving more than a dozen people dead in a rare targeting of civilians.

It is unclear where the 200 remaining US troops will be stationed.

The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country’s northeast.

Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vital road linking Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon — and Israel’s doorstep.

Trump spoke Thursday with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“On Syria, the two presidents agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” the White House said in a statement about the call.

The White House also said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will be hosting their Turkish counterparts in Washington this week for further talks.