Lebanon to form body to probe civil war disappearances

This Monday, July 11, 2016 file photo, a member of the International Committee for the Red Cross takes a saliva sample from Zeinab Ali Wehbe, sister of Habib Ali Wehbe who went missing in 1976 during the Lebanese civil war, at her home, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
Updated 12 November 2018
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Lebanon to form body to probe civil war disappearances

  • The long-awaited law would empower an independent national commission to gather information about the missing
  • Families and rights groups have been campaigning for the law since 2012, when it first went to parliament

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament on Monday approved the formation of an independent commission to help determine the fate of thousands of people who went missing during the country’s civil war, which ended nearly three decades ago.
The long-awaited law would empower an independent national commission to gather information about the missing, collect DNA samples and exhume mass graves from the 1975-1990 conflict.
Families and rights groups have been campaigning for the law since 2012, when it first went to parliament.
“This is the first step toward giving closure to families of the missing hopefully,” said Rona Halabi, spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross. “This represents a milestone for the families who have waited for years to have answers.”
The Hague-based International Commission on Missing Persons says more than 17,000 people are estimated to have gone missing during the Lebanese civil war.
Lebanon’s National News Agency said lawmakers approved the law after voting on each of its 38 articles.
LBC TV said lawmakers initially protested, saying calls for accountability may affect current officials. The broadcaster said they were reassured the 1991 amnesty for abuses committed by militias during the war remains in place.
Many of Lebanon’s political parties are led by former warlords implicated in some of the civil war’s worst fighting.
“For the first time after the war, Lebanon enters a genuine reconciliation phase, to heal the wounds and give families the right to know,” Gebran Bassil, the country’s foreign minister tweeted.
The ICRC began compiling DNA samples from relatives of the disappeared in 2016 and has interviewed more than 2,000 families to help a future national commission.
DNA samples have been stored with the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and the ICRC. The law would allow Lebanese security forces to take part in the sample collection.


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 10 December 2018
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.