Rockets hit Libya airport as UN, French officials visit to talk peace

In this file photo, the interior of Mitiga airport is seen empty following clashes that took place in Tripoli in January 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2018

Rockets hit Libya airport as UN, French officials visit to talk peace

  • One rocket hit an Airbus 320 and others struck the arrivals hall at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
  • A security group that controls the airport alligned to Libya’s government said the rockets were fired by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir “the Cow.”

Tripoli: Rockets hit Libya’s main airport and damaged a plane as it was waiting to take off early on Thursday, a security force said, the same day as the United Nations envoy and France’s ambassador were visiting the capital to discuss a peace plan.
One rocket hit an Airbus 320 and others struck the arrivals hall at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport at around 2 a.m. (midnight GMT), but no one was injured, a spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) said.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame and French ambassador Brigitte Curmi arrived at the same airport — the only one operating in the city. Their offices did not immediately release a statement on the attack or say when they landed.
Tripoli has been controlled by a patchwork of armed groups since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Qaddafi and splintered the country.
There have been rival governments in Tripoli and the east since 2014, when most diplomatic missions evacuated to neighboring Tunisia.
Armed groups fighting for territory and power have regularly attacked Tripoli’s transport hubs — undermining the government’s efforts to persuade diplomatic missions to return to the capital.
Airlines have also struggled to maintain services and keep the oil-producing country connected to the outside world as attacks damage their planes.
Rada, a security group that controls the airport alligned to Libya’s internationally recognized government, said the rockets were fired by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir “the Cow,” a group it has clashed with before.
France’s Curmi met representatives of that govenrment in Tripoli at around 9 a.m., and the UN’s Salame held his meeting in the early afternoon.
When asked whether elections would be held this year, Salame said after meeting Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala: “Sure. We promised this the UN Security Council.” He did not elaborate.
The United Nations launched a new round of talks in September in Tunis between the rival factions to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018 but divisions have prevented reaching an accord.
Mitiga is a military air base near the center of Tripoli that began hosting civilian flights after the international airport was put out of service in 2014.


Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

Updated 2 min 9 sec ago

Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

  • What blankets the walls of the ongoing 'revolution' in Beirut and other cities is art
  • For the protesters, public art is a means of communicating their political message

BEIRUT: Cries were heard in the town of Khaldeh, south of Beirut, on the night of Nov. 12. They were different from the sounds that have become the background noise of the Lebanese Revolution.

A soldier had killed Alaa Abou Fakher, a local official from the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Walid Jumblatt, a political leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, marking the third death in 27 consecutive days of protests.

The killing has escalated tensions that were already running high amid a nationwide protest movement that started off as a reaction to proposed new taxes before morphing into a veritable “people power” movement. Protesters are demanding changes to Lebanon’s sectarian system of government, calls that have prompted the
resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and will likely lead to more departures.

Meanwhile, what blankets the revolution’s walls of Martyr’s Square; the ring (the tunnel linking west Beirut to east Beirut); the ESCWA (the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia) boundary wall; the area next to Parliament; throughout Tripoli; and in countless other places is another form of protest: Art.

“The art we were trying to express has documented almost all the incidents of the revolution so far, day by day,” said Said Fouad Mahmoud, a graffiti artist who has been practicing for 11 years. “Some people are good with speech, others with song, and we raise our voices with drawings. I drew pictures of the moments that affected me the most: The role of the female in the revolution; the guy cleaning with one leg; and the first day of the revolution, with the flag and the fire.”

Many of the progressive-graffiti-laden walls fall under the umbrella of Iman Nasreddine Assaf’s Art of Change initiative, which she founded in May in partnership with local Beirut-based NGO Ahla Fawda and UK-based Where There’s Walls.

“Our purpose is to promote urban art to more than just the graffiti scene in order to spread important messages throughout the community,” said Assaf. “Our revolution walls are in support of, and part of, the demonstration and revolution. They are expressing people’s pain and demands and the impact has been strong. Art is the international language that touches all.”

Art has emerged as a favored medium of the revolutionaries to convey their political message. To this end, Art of Thawra (Art of Revolution), an Instagram page, is collecting and showcasing relevant artworks produced during the 2019 protests.

“There’s been a drastic increase in street art during this revolution,” said Mahmoud. “People are trying to send messages through their paintings. The art indicates how civilized people have been during the protests and how peaceful the revolution has been until now. I hope it will remain peaceful until the end. If it does, then it means art played a major role in this revolution because art is peace in itself.”

Lebanon’s contemporary art community has issued numerous statements regarding the closures of spaces, programs and exhibitions as artists, curators, and gallerists participate in protests for non-sectarian unity. Beirut’s art community had just assembled for the Home Works event when the protests began on Oct. 17.

The message from the organizers, Ashkal Alwan, postponing the event stated: “Artistic and cultural institutions and initiatives are in no way isolated from broader civic, political, economic, and ideological context but rather shaped as a result of and in response to historical events and their repercussions.”

On Oct. 25 the Beirut Art Center sent out a similar statement: “In solidarity with and participation in the popular uprisings taking place across Lebanon against the current systems of power, we the undersigned cultural organizations and structures collectively commit to Open Strike, and call for our colleagues in the cultural sector to join us.”

Another artistic expression of solidarity is visible at leading Lebanese art dealer Saleh Barakat’s space in the Clemenceau area of Beirut. On Nov. 8 he opened a show featuring an installation by Palestinian Beirut-based artist Abdul Rahman Katanani.

A series of temporary abodes made using painted scrap metal and wood, and surrounded by barbed wire — much like the surroundings of the Sabra refugee camp where the artist lives — were stationed throughout the gallery.

Katanani’s immersive and precarious installation, on view until Jan. 4, asks the question: What future awaits Lebanon?

“Many are now trying to figure out a good balance between getting their work done and participating in the public upheaval,” said Basel Dalloul, founder and director of the Dalloul Foundation. “Cultural production in all its forms can and will be one of the economic drivers of a future Lebanon.”

Ayman Baalbaki, one of Lebanon’s most recognized painters, “is not involved in creating art right now,” said Barakat. “He is going to all of the protests and is completely involved in the need for political change.”

The design duo David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem, whose studio goes by the name David/Nicolas, said: “What’s happening today is very important for all of us Lebanese who would like a brighter and honest future where corruption is not surrounding us.

“We are trying to work but it is not easy. Right now we are focused on how we can help our country.

“On the other hand, creativity is stronger because the revolution gives you such a push.

"Most places are closed and open spontaneously. Thank goodness for social media, so that we can show what we are doing to the world.” 

Marwan Sahmarani, a Lebanese painter known for his bold abstract canvases replete with their gestural brushstrokes and vibrant coloring, noted the difficulty of working during a time of turmoil.

“It’s a disturbing moment for everyone,” he said. “There are many feelings, good and bad. I divide my time when needed between my studio and the street. But what do I paint that can be relevant now and not fall into a journalistic rendering of current events?”

Individuals in the creative scene have joined hands in camaraderie to produce several initiatives in solidarity with the protesters. One is Nour Al-Thawra, staged by Sara Beydoun, founder of Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise Sara’s Bag, and her friend Mariana Wehbe.

On the evening of Nov. 6, a group of Lebanese women gathered in Martyr’s Square, each carrying a lighted candle. “Let’s light a candle for the strength we have shown and the resilience that will never die,” wrote Beydoun on her Instagram account. “Bring a candle and your peaceful prayer and let’s combine all of our strengths to light up Martyr’s Square.”

Beydon told Arab News: “We all want one thing — the Lebanon we dream of.”

Wehbe agreed. “Sarah and I have been on the ground since day one,” she said. “Like every Lebanese woman from this revolution, each one of us is trying to find her way to help, support and move this forward.”

The candle-bearing crowd of women, which the pair turned into a moving video that went viral, was driven by the need to create a “peaceful symbolic prayer.”

“It was a prayer for our country, for our future, for unity, no matter where you come from and what your religious beliefs are,” said Wehbe. “It is a symbol of unity and protection for love, compassion and for our home, Lebanon.”