Pompeo tours Lebanese historical sites in ancient city

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tours the historical citadel of Byblos in the coastal Lebanese city north of the capital Beirut on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Pompeo tours Lebanese historical sites in ancient city

  • Pompeo toured the citadel as Tania Zazen, director general of antiquities in Byblos, accompanied him recounting the city’s history

BYBLOS: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan spent much of the second and last day of their visit to Lebanon touring historical churches and a centuries-old citadel in this coastal city Saturday.
The tour in Byblos and a nearby village came a day after Pompeo blasted the militant Hezbollah group and called on the Lebanese people to stand up to its “criminality.”
His visit came amid tight security as roads were closed before his motorcade drove through Byblos and Beirut while Lebanese army sharpshooters took positions on rooftops. Some of the sites he visited, including churches, were closed to the public during his hours-long tour.
Pompeo began his day by visiting the site where a new US Embassy compound is being built then drove to the village of Behdaidat northeast of Beirut where he visited the 13th century Mar Tadros, or St. Theodore church.
The State Department awarded a $44,000 grant through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation to support the conservation of the church.
Later, he visited two other churches in this coastal city renowned for its ancient Phoenician, Roman, and Crusader ruins where he was greeted by priests who briefed about the history of each church.
The last site to be visited in the ancient city was the Byblos Citadel built by the Crusaders.
Pompeo toured the citadel as Tania Zazen, director general of antiquities in Byblos, accompanied him recounting the city’s history.
In 2011, the State Department awarded a grant $93,895 to support the conservation of the main tower of the 12th century citadel at the archaeological site of ancient Byblos, a World Heritage site.
The delegation afterward went to a restaurant by the Mediterranean where they had a meal of cold and hot authentic Lebanese dishes, known as Mezza, and grilled lamb chops and chicken.
Pompeo also met Lebanese Armed Forces commander Gen. Joseph Aoun and Beirut Metropolitan of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi.
“Spoke about the importance of protecting and defending religious diversity and opportunity” with Bishop Audi and how they enrich every country,” Pompeo tweeted after the meeting.
Around sunset, his plane took off back to the US ending a Mideast tour that also included visits to Kuwait and Israel.
Pompeo renewed his attack on Hezbollah and its main backer Iran, blasting the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, saying their aim is to control Lebanon.
“They want to control this state. They want access to the Mediterranean. They want power and influence here,” Pompeo said in an interview with Sky News. He added that “the people of Lebanon deserve better than that, they want something different from that, and America is prepared to help.”
When told that the Lebanese president and prime minister are not on the same page, Pompeo responded: “Yeah, I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s false.”
Speaking on President Donald Trump’s abrupt declaration that Washington will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Pompeo told Sky News that “what the President did with the Golan Heights is recognize the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It’s that — it’s that simple.”
When told the Trump’s decision comes in violation of UN Security Council resolutions Pompeo, defended him saying: “No, this is — this is deeply consistent with the reality on the ground, the facts on the ground.”


Iran lawmakers authorize firm action against US ‘terrorist’ acts

Updated 23 April 2019
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Iran lawmakers authorize firm action against US ‘terrorist’ acts

  • President Donald Trump on April 8 designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist group
  • Tehran reacted to the designation by naming the US Central Command a terrorist organization

DUBAI: Iran’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring the government take firm steps to respond to “terrorist actions” by US forces, state TV reported, retaliating against Washington’s blacklisting of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
President Donald Trump on April 8 designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist group, in an unprecedented step that drew Iranian condemnation and raised concerns about retaliatory attacks on US forces.
Tehran reacted to the designation, which took effect on April 15, by naming the US Central Command (CENTCOM) a terrorist organization and the US government a sponsor of terrorism.
“The bill authorizes the government to take firm and retaliatory measures against terrorist activities of American forces that endangers Iran’s interests,” TV reported.
“The government should use legal, political and diplomatic measures in response to the American actions.”
Highly loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the IRGC is a powerful force which controls much of the Iranian economy and wields political influence in the country’s faction-ridden clerical establishment.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said some 168 lawmakers out of 210 present at the parliament voted for the bill.
Tensions have been on the rise between Tehran and Washington since last year, when Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.
In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between the IRGC and US military in the Gulf.
The new chief commander of the IRGC Hossein Salami, appointed after the US blacklisting, has warned in the past that Iran could use its cruise and ballistic missiles and drones, mines, speedboats, and missile launchers in the Gulf area to confront the United States.
The Trump administration, which has taken a hard line on Iran, said in a statement on Monday that the president has decided not to reissue waivers in May allowing importers to buy Iranian oil without facing US sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the heightening economic pressure on Iran showed that Washington was in panic.
“Escalating #EconomicTERRORISM against Iranians exposes panic & desperation of US regime — and chronic failures of its client co-conspirators,” Zarif Tweeted on Tuesday.
A commander of Iran’s IRGC said on Monday that Tehran would block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if Tehran is barred from using the waterway, where a fifth of global oil consumption passes on its way from Middle East producers to major markets.