Moscow clashes with EU over aid to Syria

Moscow clashes with EU over aid to Syria
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides (C) speaks at an European Union meeting to discuss the way forward for Syria at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21, 2017. (REUTERS/Darren Ornitz)
Updated 22 September 2017

Moscow clashes with EU over aid to Syria

Moscow clashes with EU over aid to Syria

NEW YORK: Russia on Thursday clashed with the EU over Syria, accusing the bloc of politicizing aid by linking reconstruction funds to a political transition that would end the war.
The EU in April secured pledges of $6 billion in aid for Syria, now in its seventh year of war, with over 330,000 people dead.
At an EU-organized conference held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said aid was being used as a political tool to build pressure on Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
“The politicization of issues related to aid and the statements on the need to wait for the end of the political process are unacceptable,” said Gennady Gatilov.
European officials insist that aid will not flow to Syria until a credible political transition is agreed during UN-led negotiations to end the war.
But Gatilov said aid was needed now “to rebuild schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure.”
Britain argued that the Assad regime should not be rewarded with aid, while France accused Damascus of continuing to block humanitarian deliveries.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that a second conference on reconstruction aid for Syria will be held in the spring of 2018.
“We are ready to help even more, to see how we can help to bring back normal life in areas where violence has de-escalated, and to start working on reconstruction, only once a political agreement has been reached in Geneva,” said Mogherini.
Meanwhile, a Russian submarine in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles at Al-Qaeda-linked militant positions in northwestern Syria on Friday, a day after militants wounded three Russian troops in the area, the Defense Ministry said in Moscow.
The ministry said the missile strikes from the Veliky Novgorod submarine earlier in the day targeted militants, ammunition depots and fortifications in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, which is dominated by Al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee.
On Thursday, three Russian troops were wounded after militants encircled 29 Russian military officers deployed outside of Idlib for several hours. The Russian troops repelled the attack with the help of local tribes, the Russian ministry said.
Over the past weeks, Russia has fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean toward positions of Daesh in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor but attacks on Idlib have been rare.
Moscow said the Kalibr missiles destroyed command centers and a training base of the militants who had attacked members of the Russian military police in Hama province earlier this week.
Russia targeted militants, armored vehicles, ammunition depots and fortifications of Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch in Idlib.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the missiles were fired at 10:11 a.m. local time from the Mediterranean at targets 300 km away.
“Surprise missiles strikes in Idlib province destroyed important command posts, training bases and armored vehicles of the terrorists who took part in an attempt to capture 29 Russian military policemen in southern Hama province,” the ministry statement said, citing intelligence reports.

US urges Houthis to ‘match Saudi commitment to ending Yemen war’

US urges Houthis to ‘match Saudi commitment to ending Yemen war’
Updated 02 March 2021

US urges Houthis to ‘match Saudi commitment to ending Yemen war’

US urges Houthis to ‘match Saudi commitment to ending Yemen war’
  • Halting Marib attack is ‘necessary first step’
  • Kingdom pledges $430m at UN donor conference

NEW YORK, AL-MUKALLA: Saudi Arabia is “committed and eager” to find a way to end the war in Yemen and Iran-backed Houthi militias should do the same, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

“The necessary first step is to stop their offensive against Marib, a city where a million internally displaced people live, and to join the Saudis and the government in Yemen in making constructive moves toward peace,” Blinken said.
Speaking after a visit to the region by his Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking, Blinken told a UN humanitarian aid conference: “He reports that the Saudis and the Yemen government are committed and eager to find a solution to the conflict. We call on the Houthis to match this commitment.”
Monday’s donor conference raised $1.7 billion, less than half the $3.85 billion the UN was seeking for 2021 to avert a large-scale famine. Among the commitments were $430 million from Saudi Arabia, $191 million from the US, $230 million from the UAE and $240 million from Germany.
“Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
“The best that can be said about today is that it represents a down-payment. I thank those who did pledge generously, and I ask others to consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”
The amount raised “does not solve the problem,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said. “It’s going to be impossible with such limited resources to prevent a large-scale famine.
“We are at a crossroads with Yemen. We can choose the path to peace or let Yemenis slide into the world’s worst famine for decades. An adequately funded aid operation will prevent the spread of famine and create the conditions for lasting peace. If you’re not feeding the people, you’re feeding the war.”
In Yemen, local health officials said they hoped the new funds would be directed to the health sector.
Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News that health facilities were in desperate need of funds and medical supplies to fight off a new wave of coronavirus.
“We are in need of ventilators, drugs and personal protective equipment, and renovating health buildings,” he said.

US envoy to Yemen Lenderking meets Kuwaiti foreign minister

US envoy to Yemen Lenderking meets Kuwaiti foreign minister
Updated 02 March 2021

US envoy to Yemen Lenderking meets Kuwaiti foreign minister

US envoy to Yemen Lenderking meets Kuwaiti foreign minister
  • Lenderking was visiting Kuwait as part of an official tour of the region
  • He praised Kuwait’s contributions to restore security and safety to Yemen

LONDON: Kuwait’s Foreign Minster Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah met Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen on Monday, the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Lenderking, who is touring the region, praised Kuwait for its political and humanitarian contributions to the efforts to restore security and safety to Yemen. He also briefed the minister on the latest developments in the crisis.
Sheikh Ahmad reiterated Kuwait’s desire to do all that it can to help and support the people of Yemen, and to assist with efforts to reach a political solution that restores the nation’s security and stability. He added that his country also supports the role and work of the US and its envoy as part of the efforts to end the crisis.
Lenderking said Washington will continue to put pressure on the Houthi militia to halt attacks on civilian areas. He again condemned the repeated assaults by the Iran-backed group on targets in Saudi Arabia which, he said, “is a direct threat to Gulf and Arab national security.”

Footage emerges of Iranian missile attack on US troops

Footage emerges of Iranian missile attack on US troops
Updated 02 March 2021

Footage emerges of Iranian missile attack on US troops

Footage emerges of Iranian missile attack on US troops
  • Soldiers describe damage inflicted by bombardment following assassination of Qassem Soleimani
  • Washington had ‘retaliation plan’ in case of American casualties: Commander of US forces in Mideast

LONDON: Footage has emerged of an Iranian missile attack on a US airbase in Iraq last year that could have brought the two countries to the brink of war.

On Jan. 8 last year, 11 missiles, each thought to have been carrying 1,000-pound warheads, hit Al-Asad airbase, which was home to some 2,000 US troops at the time.

The incident followed the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by a US drone in Baghdad on Jan. 3.

That strike was ordered after a spate of incidents targeting American personnel and facilities by Iran-backed forces in Iraq, culminating in an assault on the US Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31, 2019.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US forces in the Middle East, told American TV network CBS that more than 100 troops suffered severe brain injuries due to the attack. He said there was a “retaliation plan” in place in the event that any US personnel were killed.

Half the personnel and most of the aircraft were evacuated from the base before the attack, with McKenzie saying if that had not been done in time, “I think we might have lost 20 or 30 airplanes and we might have lost 100 to 150 US personnel. We had a plan to retaliate if Americans had died.”

When the retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination came, McKenzie was stationed in Florida and monitored the attack remotely, joined by then-President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

McKenzie said: “I’ve never been on one (call) like this where real missiles (were) being fired at our forces and where I thought the risks were so high.”

An intelligence officer reportedly told senior figures that the “intention is to level this base and we may not survive.” The missiles left vast craters and destroyed entire buildings.

Maj. Alan Johnson prepared a farewell video message for his son, urging him to “be strong” and to look after his mother, believing he might not survive the night.

He described the impact that the missiles had on detonation as being “like a freight train,” telling CBS: “Words can’t even describe the amount of energy that is released by these missiles.”

He added that he and 40 other men at one point sought refuge in a bunker designed to house 10 people from much smaller ordinance blasts. “The fire was just rolling over the bunkers, you know, like 70 feet in the air,” he said.

Sgt. Kimo Keltz, who was stationed inside a guard post to fend off any possible attack by ground troops during the missile barrage, said: “We got down and we protected our vital organs, our heads, and we waited. One of the closest (missiles) that had hit directly near us actually lifted my body about two inches off the ground.”

Despite no fatalities, hundreds of troops started reporting headaches and other side effects, including vomiting, in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Keltz described a two-week long concussion he suffered as being like “someone hitting me over the head with a hammer over and over and over.”

Johnson was one of 29 soldiers awarded purple hearts for courage during the attack, but sustained severe head trauma that still affects him today.

“Headaches every day, horrible tinnitus or ringing in the ears, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I still have nightmares,” he said.

Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic since the exchange of hostilities, and a change of US leadership, tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high.

Last week, US President Joe Biden launched an attack on pro-Iran militants on the Syrian-Iraqi border following an attack on the largest American base in Iraq on Feb. 15 by Tehran-backed forces.

Lebanon faced with darkness if a government is not formed to purchase fuel for electricity plants

Lebanon faced with darkness if a government is not formed to purchase fuel for electricity plants
Updated 01 March 2021

Lebanon faced with darkness if a government is not formed to purchase fuel for electricity plants

Lebanon faced with darkness if a government is not formed to purchase fuel for electricity plants
  • Blackouts raise concern amid suggestions that shortages have political background, aimed at pressuring Saad Hariri

BEIRUT: Lebanon “will enter total darkness by the end of this month” if a government is not formed, a source in the Finance Ministry has told Arab News amid a growing electricity crisis.

Beirut has for a week been enduring a blackout. The city — which in recent years was exempt from the harsh rationing of electricity due to its role as the administrative, commercial, and hospital center for the whole country — used to experience no more than three hours a day of power outage.

However, in the last week, the blackouts have exceeded 12 hours a day. There is no clear explanation for these severe blackouts.

Several factors are being discussed, including not unloading shipments of fuel imported by sea.

Other suggestions are that there are administrative disputes over the financial transfers that the Ministry of Energy owes the fuel companies.

Elsewhere, some are arguing that the blackouts have a political background and the aim is to pressure Beirut and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, thus pushing him to step down, in light of his refusal to give the blocking third in the government to President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The Ministry of Energy is part of the FPM’s share in governing.

Angry protesters have been taking to the streets in Beirut neighborhoods. They have been blocking roads and settling tires ablaze to protest.

Lebanon is under constant electricity-related pressure for structural reasons and now also because of the scarcity of fuel, as its imports are linked to the dollar.

On Monday, the dollar exchange rate on the black market ranged between 9,675 and 9,725 Lebanese pounds.

Most residential neighborhoods and the commercial and industrial sectors depend on private electricity generators powered by diesel, which is a public health risk.

Owners of generators in residential neighborhoods charge exorbitant fees in exchange for providing electricity to subscribers, and they are called the “generator mafia.”

They often do not adhere to the rates set by the Ministry of Energy, as they believe they provide a service to citizens that the government cannot provide, and therefore they exert corresponding pressure to maintain their profits.

The successive governments of Lebanon, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have deemed “electricity reform a vital issue for reducing the debt, which equates to about 150 percent of the GDP.”

Net transfers to the state-owned Electricité du Liban (EDL) per year are between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, most of which is spent on the purchase of fuel. This is equivalent to about a quarter of the 2020 budget deficit.

The resigned government cannot spend resources on electricity infrastructure as state revenues are required to service the public debt.

The World Bank and investors had pledged at the CEDRE conference to invest $11 billion in Lebanon’s infrastructure, including electricity, but these investments are conditional on implementing reforms, including increasing electricity prices.

The EDL announced three days ago that despite the arrival of the two carriers loaded with fuel oil to the Lebanese territorial waters and their docking off the coast, it was not possible to unload the fuel due to the failure to open the required letters of credit and the difficulty in completing banking procedures.

This led to a decline in the stock of fuel oil to its lowest level, which neared depletion, and it resulted in a drop in the supply of the electric current by about 400 megawatts of the total energy produced, which is about 1,400 megawatts.

Caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni signed the opening of credits in favor of the EDL to meet the requirement of the shipment of fuel oil.

These credits, however, are in Lebanese pounds.

A source in the Ministry of Finance told Arab News: “The problem is that the Banque du Liban refuses to convert these credits into dollars at the official rate of 1,505 Lebanese pounds because the central bank suffers from a shortage of dollars.”

The source pointed out that “the caretaker energy minister, Raymond Ghajar, was informed by a political authority that the solution is to form a government quickly.”

They added: “The matter entered the bazaar of political pressure to form a government that was required to have been formed since last October.”

MP Faisal Al-Sayegh expected “the street to explode soon.”

He said: “Buying fuel after this month will require issuing a law to give EDL an emergency treasury advance of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Moreover, the operation and maintenance of the two thermal power plants in Zouk and Zahrani collide with PrimeSouth’s claiming for its receivables, which amount to tens of millions of dollars.”

Al-Sayegh added: “The two Turkish steamboats that were hired by the Ministry of Energy to generate electricity are to withdraw from Lebanon because they did not receive their dues, which are about $160 million.”

Al-Sayegh said: “With the money that was paid for hiring the two ships, it was possible to establish two production plants, or at least buy two newer and better ships.”

The EDL expects a “gradual improvement in the power supply as soon as the two carriers’ cargo is discharged if banking procedures are completed and the supplier issues the approval to unload.”

But the source in the Finance Ministry said that unless a government is urgently formed, Lebanon “will enter total darkness by the end of this month.”

Archbishop who taught pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’

Archbishop who taught pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’
Updated 02 March 2021

Archbishop who taught pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’

Archbishop who taught pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’
  • He ‘intends to reach the hearts of all Iraqis,’ ex-head of Vatican’s social media tells Arab News

ROME: The visit of Pope Francis to Iraq this week will send a message of “consolation and hope” to those who have suffered so much in the country, according to the archbishop who revolutionized the Vatican’s communications.

Claudio Maria Celli, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications from 2007 to 2016, worked closely with Pope Francis after helping convert Catholic leaders to social media to deliver their message to followers around the world.

As a result, the pope’s historic Iraq visit will be relayed through the various social media accounts, including @Pontifex, the account of Pope Francis.

“With this trip, the pope intends to reach the hearts of all Iraqis. He doesn’t want to talk just to the Christians who live in that country and who’ve suffered so much from war and persecution by Daesh,” said Celli. “He wants to bring his closeness … to the people, no matter what their faith.”

The 80-year-old Celli spoke of “hope of reconstruction for a people who have the right to rebuild peace thanks to the collaboration and respect between the religious and national identities that are present in Iraq. The pope believes very much in dialogue between religions.”

Pope Francis “will certainly bring a message of solidarity to the Christians who live in that country. He wants to be close to them as a brother and as a father, so that they feel that the universal Church shares the hardship lived by a community that has suffered too much and for too long from violence and fundamentalism,” said Celli.


• Pope Francis ‘will certainly bring a message of solidarity to the Christians who live in Iraq,’ says archbishop Claudio Maria Celli.

• In 2012, Celli helped Pope Benedict join Twitter as he transformed the Vatican’s communications into the social media era.

“He wants to help rebuild trust in a tomorrow that must be different from the past, a better tomorrow made of peace, prosperity, love and common good for all in a country that deserves to be able to look forward.” All this is part of a “great dimension of interreligious dialogue,” said Celli.

In 2012, Celli helped Pope Benedict join Twitter as he transformed the Vatican's communications to keep up with the social media era. He also established a YouTube channel for the pope.

He once stated that Catholic media “should not become instruments of a religious or cultural fundamentalism.”

Pope Francis’s memorable tweets

With 18.8 million followers the @Pontifex twitter account belonging to Pope Francis has become a powerful tool for him to communicate with both the Catholic faithful and the wider world.

Here are some occasions when his account has been used to send messages of reassurance, hope and concern to issues related to the Middl East.

Aug. 5, 2020

The pope issues condolences and a broader message to Lebanon and its politicians after the devastating blast in Beirut Port.



Nov. 20, 2020

The pope sent a joint tweet along with the Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb reaffirming their commitment to the Document on Human Fraternity signed a year earlier.



Feb. 3, 2019

Ahead of the first visit by a pope to the UAE, Pope Francis tweeted that he was visiting the Emirates “as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together.”



Feb. 12, 2021

The pope sent a powerful message to coincide withe the UN day against the use of child soldiers



Feb. 8, 2021

Pope Francis has long campaigned against human trafficking and slavery.