Lebanese Foreign Ministry responds to Netanyahu with diplomatic tour of 'missile launcher' sites

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Lebanese soldiers guard as Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, center, tours a site next to a football club, with diplomats and journalists, one of several locations they visited near Beirut’s international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (AP)
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Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, center tours a football club, with diplomats and journalists, one of several locations they visited near Beirut’s international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (AP)
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Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil gestures as he speaks during a tour for diplomats and journalists near the airport in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 01 October 2018

Lebanese Foreign Ministry responds to Netanyahu with diplomatic tour of 'missile launcher' sites

  • Bassil said that the international community bears the responsibility for “accepting false allegations”

BEIRUT: Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil responded to what he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “allegations” in his speech to the UNGA on Sept. 27 claiming that Hezbollah had missile launchers near Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. 

Bassil gathered foreign ambassadors to Lebanon and representatives of the diplomatic missions and UN organizations in the ministry’s headquarters in Beirut about “false allegations” from the UN forum. 

Bassil said that the international community bears the responsibility for “accepting false allegations launched from the UN forum, and this is your responsibility, especially the permanent members in the UNSC.”

The US ambassador, Elizabeth Richard, was absent because she was traveling, but prominent attendees included the ambassadors of Russia, France, Britain, the EU, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. 

However, Arab ambassadors and diplomats missed Bassil’s tour to the area, which Netanyahu said housed Hezbollah’s rocket launchers, in the Ouzai neighborhood, part of Beirut’s southern suburb. 

Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin was keen to be present for every part of the tour.

The tour, which was accompanied by journalists and photographers, started from the golf course that Bassil said “Netanyahu raised its (the hangar’s) image in front of the UNGA audience.” Instead of heading to the hangar, the delegation went to the Al-Ahed stadium, which Israel claimed was a missile platform. “The doors are open to see everything, we are a sports club, we played 47 games without a loss,” a stadium official said. “What’s under the stands is changing rooms.” 

Bassil insisted on going to these places accompanied by cameras. The stadium official said that it was “financed by FIFA Goal and built by the Jordanian Mondo Construction company.”

The delegation, which decreased in number and was limited to media professionals, went to a hangar near the airport in a residential neighborhood. Bassil stopped in front of it without entering, prompting a journalist from the Daily Star newspaper to request entry into the hangar if “Minister Bassil sticks to transparency.” An attempt was made to open the hanger in the presence of the Lebanese army, and it turned out to be an abandoned factory.

“The realities and facts must be taken, and this is an opportunity for that,” Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin said in a statement from the assembly point at the golf course before the tour began. “The region has been in a state of emergency for years, including between Lebanon and Israel and the triangle of Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and we stand to prevent any escalation,” he said. “As for the future, we will act depending on facts, not assumptions, and we will maintain normalcy.”

Bassil explained the reason for organizing the tour. “The foreign ministry is not a fact-finding committee and we do not operate as an Israeli scout. This is the exact location, the airport area. When Netanyahu spoke about it, we know Israel’s intentions, and because he spoke from the UN forum, we had to emphasize that the airport is an airport for peace, for the reconstruction of Lebanon and Syria and linking Lebanon to the world and the Lebanese diaspora, so we decided not to remain silent and this initiative will not be repeated.”

“Netanyahu is running away from his accusation of corruption to an external issue to throw lies and accusations that do not frighten us, but could cause confrontation, as is happening now,” Bassil told the diplomats.

He also spoke about Israel’s continued violations of international resolutions. “It did not respect Resolution 1701, it violates our airspace, our land and our land. It violated our land, air and marine space 1,417 times in the last eight months, more than 150 times a month, all registered at the Ministry of Defense.”

Bassil said that “Israel is used to exercising fabrications and it exercised this from the UN forum on Sept. 27, with the allegation of the presence of three platforms near the airport. This is not based on information or evidence, and Lebanon is raising its voice now to prevent any attack or Israeli intention to strike Lebanon, which will destabilize the region in light of the presence of Palestinian and Syrians refugees in our country. Lebanon will not be the victim of any settlement in the region.”

“It is illogical to hide rockets near an international airport. It is true that Hezbollah has missiles, but they are not near the airport,” he said. 

“We say to Hezbollah, if this is true, I do not think it is in the interest of the airport, its movement and security around it. This cannot happen with Hezbollah’s wisdom and understanding of Lebanon’s interests.”

Bassil said that the response to the Israeli army spokesman, Avichai Adra’i, “will be through the Lebanese army.”

Adra’i had addressed Bassil, before the diplomatic gathering in the Lebanese foreign ministry, saying “What are you going to tell the ambassadors? You are supposed first to stop Hezbollah’s terror and withdraw its arms from Beirut Airport’s area.”

“Did you check well if Hezbollah was still using the sites we have uncovered or is it just a show?”

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 4 min 33 sec ago

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues
  • Trump's fresh sanctions fail to halt Turkish advance

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.