US reiterates concern about Hezbollah agenda to destabilize region

PM-designate Saad Hariri is set to meet the visiting US officials in Beirut on the growing threat posed by Hezbollah. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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US reiterates concern about Hezbollah agenda to destabilize region

  • Undersecretary David Hale raised US concerns in meetings with Lebanese officials
  • Hale’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is going through a very sensitive phase as a result of disruption to the government’s formation

BEIRUT: US officials are in Beirut holding talks with Lebanese officials about the growing threat posed by Hezbollah as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to tour the Middle East.

During the visit, David Hale, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, will underscore US concerns about Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region, which include the recent discovery of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.

The tunnels “defy UN Security Council Resolution 1701, jeopardize the security of the Lebanese people and undermine the legitimacy of Lebanon’s state institutions,” the US Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement issued ahead of the meeting.

Hale’s visit came ahead of the global summit that will take place in Poland on Feb. 13 and 14 “to counter Tehran’s regional influence,” according to a statement made by Pompeo two days ago.

Pompeo announced on Twitter before embarking on his Middle East tour that he would send a clear message to US friends and partners that “the US is committed to the region, committed to defeat Daesh and committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities.”

Lebanon is not included in Pompeo’s visit, which covers eight Arab countries and concludes on Tuesday.

The US Embassy also said in its statement that Hale “will meet with senior Lebanese officials to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.” 

The embassy also added that he “has enduring ties with Lebanon and the Lebanese people after serving at the US Embassy in Beirut as a political officer, deputy chief of mission and ambassador over the span of 27 years.”

“He is returning to Lebanon in his new role to reaffirm strong US support for the Lebanese state, including its legitimate security institutions, as it continues to cope with significant challenges,” the US Embassy added.

Shortly after arriving in Beirut, Hale, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, met with Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Hale also met with Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who said that their discussion was focused on “the general situation in Lebanon and the region, as well as cooperation relations between the armies of the two countries, especially the amount of military assistance provided by the US to the Lebanese Army.”

During his visit to Lebanon, Hale will also meet with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and a number of political leaders with whom he was acquainted when he served as the US ambassador to Lebanon.

Hale’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is going through a very sensitive phase as a result of the eight-month disruption to the government’s formation. 

Lebanese parties have accused Hezbollah militant group of being behind this disruption for reasons associated with Lebanon’s regional stance.


Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

Updated 44 sec ago
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Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

  • The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army
  • Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists

OUBARI: In the southern Libyan city of Oubari, shops are shuttered and tension is palpable, as residents fear an imminent incursion by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.

We “dread the repercussions of military operations that are unfolding on the edge of town,” said 22-year-old hospital administrator Ali Senoussi, speaking on behalf of his Tubu community.

Many residents in Oubari — some 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Tripoli — are Tubu.

The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is on the outskirts of the city.

Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists.

“We are residents of this region. Our support and love for it is immense,” said 22-year-old Senoussi, clothed in a traditional head robe to screen desert sun and wind.

“We cannot accept being involved in wars with Arab tribes that fight alongside Haftar,” he insisted, sipping tea in the courtyard of a hospital where he works as an administrator.
 

Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger.

The LNA says it is seeking to purge “terrorist and criminal groups,” and some accuse the Tubus of supporting Chadian rebels.

But Senoussi dismisses the offensive as “a threat to the social peace of the whole region.”

Tubu lawmakers even allege that ethnic cleansing is under way.

The community was among the first to join the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed Muammar Qaddafi.

But the former dictator’s downfall by no means improved Tubus’ standing in Libya.

Despite being home to some of the country’s biggest oilfields, the region is regularly hit by shortages of all kinds — petrol, electricity, gas cylinders and even bread.

Prices have rocketed on the black market.

Senoussi said the lack of fuel had forced him to leave his car at home and walk to work.

“Most public sector workers prefer to walk” to avoid long queues that have become a fixture of daily life at gas stations, he said.

The intensified chaos of recent years means that the southern border areas are more than ever a haven for extremists, traffickers and rebels.

These groups exploit a security vacuum that is exacerbated by an ongoing power struggle between a UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a rival administration loyal to Haftar in northeastern Libya.

Tribal and ethnic quarrels between the Tubus, Tuaregs and Arab groups over trafficking have added fuel to the fire.

“We are Muslims, but we have a culture and language that we share with our cousins from Chad, Niger and Sudan,” explained Ali Yahyia, a Tubu expert on his community.

But this does not undermine “our support for the Libyan homeland,” he insisted.

The LNA launched its ongoing military campaign in mid-January and on Wednesday night entered Murzuk, another southern Libyan city home to many Tubus.

Renowned for a fortress that dates back more than seven centuries, much of the historic settlement now resembles a ghost town.

Murzuk’s windswept streets are littered with garbage.

Like Oubari, shops are closed and people are scared to circulate.

Even bakers — hit by a lack of flour — cannot raise their blinds.

“The city faces numerous problems at the service level, particularly at the hospital where we have only one doctor,” deplored municipal councillor Ibrahim Omar.

“With the military operations that are ongoing, the doctors refuse to come, fearing for their lives,” he said.

If the situation persists, “food stocks will in the end be exhausted.”