US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions

David Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2018

US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions

BEIRUT: David Satterfield, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, arrived on Tuesday in Beirut to meet with Lebanese government officials and discuss bilateral relations, a source at the US Embassy told Arab News.

Talks will focus on recent disputes between Lebanon and Israel over their border and ownership of the Block 9 offshore gas field, said sources acquainted with the surprise visit.

Lebanese MP Mohammed Qabbani told Arab News: “The tripartite meeting on Monday between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, addressed the possibility of demarcating the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border just as the land border was demarcated.”

He added: “UNIFIL proposed this solution, and Lebanon welcomes it provided the international force undertakes this task.”

But he said: “Lebanese maritime fields occupy 22,000 square kilometers, and they fully belong to Lebanon. We won’t negotiate any inch of it, especially as Israel attempts to encroach on 865 square kilometers of this area.”

Qabbani is to head a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s threats regarding Block 9.

During the tripartite meeting, Lebanon warned against Israel’s plan to build a wall along their border, and denounced Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent claim that Block 9 belongs to Israel. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Lieberman’s statement is a “threat to Lebanon.”

Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a joint statement after their meeting in Baabda Palace on Tuesday: “(Israel’s) threats are a blunt violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, and an upfront threat to the stability that has been achieved in the border area since the implementation of the first phase of the international resolution in August 2006 as a result of the Lebanese Army’s efforts and its cooperation with UNIFIL.”

Aoun, Berri and Hariri agreed to “continue to work at various regional and international levels to prevent Israel from building the concrete wall inside the Lebanese border, and from potentially encroaching on oil and gas fields in Lebanese waters. 

“This will be done by adopting a series of measures that will be proposed to the Supreme Council of Defense during an extraordinary meeting that will be held on Wednesday.”

UNIFIL Commander Gen. Michael Beary stressed during the first tripartite meeting of 2018 the need to “maintain a climate of calm and stability.”

UNIFIL “stands ready 24/7 for any follow-up meetings, and encourages both sides to examine the benefits that can be achieved by reaching agreement through close coordination,” he said.

Beary acknowledged “the restraint exercised by both parties in decreasing tension and maintaining stability.”

Satterfield’s visit coincided with an announcement by the US Embassy in Lebanon that America will provide the Lebanese Army with 827 Copperhead shells, valued at more than $1.4 million, to fill a shortage of this ammunition, which was used to defeat Daesh in Lebanon.

This aid is part of a deal worth more than $100 million to support the Lebanese Army, the embassy said.

The US “remains committed to a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous Lebanon,” the embassy added. 

“Thanks to the weapons, equipment, and training provided by the US, the Lebanese Army continues to improve its capacities and ensure that it remains a uniting national force, a bastion against the menaces of extremism and terrorism, and the only legitimate defender of Lebanon.”

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

Updated 35 sec ago

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

  • Iranian outbreak, already the worst in the Middle East, is far more serious than initially reported.
  • Tehran’s cover up of the true virus toll is consistent with their reaction to previous embarrassing incidents.

LONDON: A data leak from within Iran has revealed that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is nearly three times higher than the figures reported by the government.

The data, which was passed to the BBC Persian service, shows almost 42,000 people died with COVID-19 symptoms up to July 20, nearly triple the 14,405 reported by its health ministry.

The number of infections is also far higher than that admitted by the government: 451,024 as opposed to the 278,827 disclosed by Tehran.

Undercounting cases is common across the world due to limited testing capacity, but the BBC’s information reveals that Iranian authorities reported significantly lower daily numbers, despite having a record of all deaths — suggesting the figures were deliberately suppressed.

The data leak also shows that the first recorded case of the virus in Iran was on Jan. 22 — a month before the government acknowledged any cases.

Already the center of the Middle East’s virus outbreak, Tehran’s cover-up of early cases and its failure to swiftly act on the outbreak likely accelerated the spread of the virus across the region.

The BBC received the data from an anonymous source, who told them they shared the data to “shed light on the truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

The data supplied includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have.

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports, but different in size.

Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former Iranian MP who was an official at the health ministry and is now living in the US, told the BBC that the government was “anxious and fearful of the truth” when COVID-19 hit Iran.

He said: “The government was afraid that the poor and the unemployed would take to the streets.”

The Iranian health ministry maintains that the country’s reports to the World Health Organization on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviations.”

The cover-up of the true scale of their COVID-19 crisis is not unusual behaviour from the regime. A number of incidents have brought a similar response in 2020 alone.

In January, Iran shot down a Ukrainian jet near Tehran, killing all passengers on board. The regime hid its actions for three days, only acknowledging wrongdoing as public pressure mounted through protests.

Then Iranian nuclear and military facilities were the target of a series of sabotages, explosions, and cyberattacks, but Tehran has attempted to conceal what happened at virtually every step of the way.