Pompeo urges Lebanon to move away from Iran and Hezbollah’s ‘dark ambitions’

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S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil after a public statement in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at presidential palace to meet with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun in Baabda, Lebanon, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 24 March 2019

Pompeo urges Lebanon to move away from Iran and Hezbollah’s ‘dark ambitions’

  • Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year
  • The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has taken part in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Al-Assad's government

BEIRUT: On the last leg of his Middle East tour in Beirut, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Lebanon to stand up to Iran and Hezbollah, whom he accused of "criminality, terror and threats". 

Pompeo met with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, all political allies of Hezbollah. The said they had told him the group was part and parcel of Lebanese politics. 

But Pompeo said Hezbollah and Iran have nothing positive to offer to Lebanon. 

“What did Hezbollah and Iran offer Lebanon but coffins and weapons? Qassem Soleimani (senior Iranian military commander) continues to undermine the legitimate institutions and the Lebanese people,” he said after meeting with Lebanon's political leaders.

“How can storing thousands of missiles on Lebanese territory strengthen this country?” said Pompeo, who was on tour in the Middle East to drum up support for Washington's harder line against Iran.

Pompeo said he believes that Iran does not want the situation in Lebanon to change because change is a threat to Iran’s ambitions to dominate the country. 

He spoke of Iran’s criminal networks of drugs and money laundering that place Lebanon under international monitoring, and he said: “The Lebanese people should not be forced to suffer because of an illegal and terrorist group.” 

Pompeo noted that US sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah are working, citing a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this month asking the group's supporters for funds as evidence US pressure was working.

"Our pressure on Iran is simple. It's aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it's working," he said standing alongside Bassil after their meeting. "We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah's activities."

Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year.

The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has taken part in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Al-Assad's government, but it also has elected members of parliament and positions in the national unity government.

The group's influence over Lebanese state institutions has expanded in the last year. Together with allies that view its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, it won more than 70 of parliament's 128 seats in an election last year.

The group has taken three of the 30 portfolios in the government formed by the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri in January, including the health ministry - the first time it has held a ministry with a significant budget.

Pompeo said he shared concerns about "external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon".

The United States would continue to use "all peaceful means" to choke off financing that "feeds Iran and Hezbollah terror operations", he said, pointing to "smuggling, criminal networks and the missue of government positions".

"Lebanon faces a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation, or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future," he said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun earlier told Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese party with popular support, the Lebanese presidency said.

"Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us," Aoun told Pompeo, the presidency said on its Twitter feed.

Speaker Berri said earlier in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah's "resistance" against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

Israel, the closest US ally in the Middle East, regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.


(With  Reuters)

Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

Updated 29 min 4 sec ago

Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

  • Sudan's public morality laws targeted women
  • Women were beaten and harassed at protests

DUBAI: It began with protests over the price of bread. But it was an image of Alaa Salah, a young woman dressed in white, standing on  a car with her hand pointing up to the sky, that captured the world’s attention as the protests led to the toppling of Omar Al-Bashir.

For some women, the revolution was not just about btead — it was about regaining a feeling of safety inside their homes and fighting a regime that oppressed women.

Ihsan Abdulaziz, speaking from her Khartoum home, remembered the knock at her door. It was members of the security forces. They had come to arrest her.

“They didn’t even give me time to pack. I put on my abaya and veil and left with them,” she told Arab News, recalling the moment she was snatched away from her family.

Abdulaziz, a leader of the new Sudanese women’s movement, was arrested on Jan. 5, 2019. She was held for 58 days without charge or explanation.

She described the conditions of Omdurman women’s prison.

“The rooms were overcrowded. One of the cells, meant for solitary confinement, had 5 people inside it.”

Abdulaziz said they tried to fit two other women into the room, one of whom was believed to be over 75.

The female guards singled out detainees, treating them disrespectfully and delaying the delivery of medicine.

“Our prison was still better than others,” Abdulaziz added.

Abdulaziz, who had been detained on three previous occasions, learned that security forces beat up her son so severely that both his hands were in casts. “Even our kids, those of activists, are targeted.”

The associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, Jehanne Henry, said that thousands had been arrested and that women were among those being kept in custody without being charged

But the participation of Sudanese women in demonstrations is not new.

“Sudanese women have always been willing and strong to protest,” Henry told Arab News.

Salah’s white garment and golden earrings are inspired by the outfits that Sudanese women wore during revolutions in the 1960s and 1980s.

Women were active in other revolutions too, such as those in 2011 and 2013.

But there are more women taking to Sudan’s streets now.

“These protests have a much wider base, the Sudanese Professionals Association has mobilized so many professions,” Henry explained.

Women from all classes, interests, occupations and ages took to the streets this time.

“It is no longer limited to politically active women, all the women were out in the street,” Abdulaziz said.

Some would even estimate that almost 60 percent of the protesters were women, she added.

A Sudanese architecture graduate, who is living in the UAE, said most of her female friends and relatives participated in the demonstrations and sit-ins.

“Even my older aunts and grandmother took part in the protests, even those who were not politically engaged,” Ebaa Elghali told Arab News.

Women were the most disadvantaged group under Bashir’s regime which is why they were actively protesting against it, Elghali added.

Human Rights Watch said that public morality laws, implemented by Bashir, targeted women and curtailed their basic freedoms.

In 2009 Sudanese women started a movement as a protest against these laws.

“They are (the laws) dedicated to control the clothes of Sudanese women, many faced unjust treatment because of it,” Sudanese activist Tahani Abbas told Arab News.

“Sometimes they say the clothes are indecent, but they never specify how. You could be fully covered and they still won't like it,” Abdulaziz explained.

Although the regime claimed to follow Sharia, several Sudanese women said the government was as far removed from Islam as it could be.

Women faced various violations during the protests, such as “beatings and harassment by national security during arrests,” Henry said.

Some women were starting to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault, she added.