New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts
Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. (Screengrab)
Updated 15 January 2019

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts
  • Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
  • The seasoned Norwegian diplomat replaces previous UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura

DAMASCUS: The new special UN envoy to Syria began his first trip to Damascus on Tuesday, facing the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

Norway’s Geir Pedersen, who replaces Staffan de Mistura, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The seasoned diplomat, 63, was seen entering a Damascus hotel and is expected to hold talks with senior officials, although no official program for his visit was published.

Pedersen simply said on social media that he was “looking forward to productive meetings here.”

Officials in the government of Bashar Assad set the tone for the new envoy’s tenure shortly after news of his appointment in October last year.

“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.

Assad opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.

Pedersen has not yet spoken publicly about his mission and it remains unclear what his approach will be.

De Mistura, who announced in October he was resigning for “purely personal reasons,” ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push for the formation of a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution for Syria.

In December, he acknowledged that the committee would not be formed by year’s end as was hoped.

“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” said the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

A track of peace talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition delegations is clinically dead and observers argue Assad will see little need to revive it.

Three years into the conflict that erupted when the government repressed anti-regime demonstrations, Assad was clinging to barely a third of Syrian territory and his days at the helm looked numbered.

Assad, who has been in power for more than 18 years, has now reclaimed much of the territory he lost at the beginning of the war, largely thanks to the military backing of veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia.

Non-jihadist opposition groups across Syria have little or no clout on the ground and negligible bargaining power in negotiations with Damascus.

De Mistura had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.

Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role, which he described as “mission impossible.”

Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians.


How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
Updated 2 min 47 sec ago

How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
  • The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country

Lebanon’s waste management system is the newest target in a trend of metal thefts that officials believe are being carried out by residents rendered desperate by the country’s unprecedented economic collapse.

The latest casualty? One of two landfills servicing the greater Beirut area was forced to shut down over the past week because of rogue scavengers.

The landfill, located in Jdeideh, on the outskirts of the capital, had become a hunting ground for residents scouring for metal and other valuables that can fetch a hefty price on the market.

For decades, Lebanon has been producing more waste than it could manage, culminating in mountains of trash filling streets in 2015 as mass protests erupted condemning the government’s failure to come up with an effective waste management strategy.

Built in 2018 for what was supposed to be a temporary fix to the region’s endemic garbage problem, the landfill has undergone numerous expansions as authorities failed to conjure up a sustainable solid waste management plan.

Instead, successive governments have elected to keep piling trash higher, reaching a height of some 20 meters.

Toufic Kazmouz, the project manager at a local contracting company managing the landfill, told Arab News that the landfill was being expanded while still receiving 1,200 tons of garbage per day before being forced to shut down.

“This is definitely not a sustainable solution to the garbage problem, but the scavengers have made it even worse and have forced us to close shop,” Kazmouz said.

Hundreds of people were trespassing into the landfill daily, he said, forcing the company to halt both construction and operations last week.

According to Kazmouz, scavengers would wait patiently for a dump truck to empty its load before entering the site, armed with plastic bags.

Several scuffles had erupted between scavengers and workers in an environment filled with heavy machinery and equipment.

“It’s simply become an unsafe work environment for everyone involved,” Kazmouz said.

With the landfill shut down, piles of garbage have lined the streets of the Metn and Kesourwan districts after the waste management company Ramco stopped collecting trash.

“We stopped collecting trash because we had nowhere to dispose of it,” Walid Bou Saad, director of Ramco, told Arab News.

Scavengers have forced Kazmouz to shut down the landfill twice since April, despite both the “Internal Security Forces and Lebanese intelligence sending patrols to cordon off the area.”

Discussions are currently ongoing with the Interior Ministry to increase security, he said.

“Municipality workers are expected to be stationed at the site starting today, but we’ll face the same problem again later,” Kazmouz noted.

The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country that has caused the local currency to lose some 90 percent of its value while the prices of basic goods and commodities skyrocket.

“It’s metal,” Kazmouz pointed out. “People are really suffering and looking for any means to make some money.” 

Metal has become an increasingly valuable commodity in Lebanon, with desperate residents even stealing manhole covers and metal supports from electricity pylons.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told AFP in February that he attributed the theft of manhole covers to the fact that they “are made out of cast iron, which has become much more expensive.”

The covers, weighing up to 60 kg, can fetch up to $100 when sold for scrap. At the current black-market rate, this is equivalent to some LL1.5 million, or more than double the current monthly minimum wage.

The dire situation has also pushed thieves to target Lebanon’s already deficient electricity grid, causing the collapse of a 55-meter pylon connecting one of the country’s four power plants to the region of the Bekaa.

After its metal supports had been stolen, the pylon was no match for the high winds that blew across Lebanon in the winter season.


Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say
Updated 44 min 5 sec ago

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

CAIRO: Scores were injured in a train collision in Alexandria on Tuesday morning, Egyptian media reports say.

Al Arabiya TV reported that two people were killed in the  incident, citing their local correspondent.  

The two trains collided near “Mahatet Masr” and the transportation ministry will release more information. 


Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
Updated 22 June 2021

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
  • Settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families
  • Threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Palestinians and Jewish settlers hurled stones, chairs and fireworks at each other overnight in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said Tuesday.
The threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Israeli police and border officials said they arrested four suspects in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It was unclear who started the brawl. One woman was reportedly injured when she was hit in the back by a stone, police said.
The Red Crescent emergency service said its crews treated 20 Palestinians, including 16 suffering from pepper spray and tear gas and others wounded by rubber-coated bullets. Two other people were wounded, including an elderly man who was hit in the head, it said.
The Red Crescent said settlers threw stones at one of its ambulances and Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on a second ambulance belonging to the service.
The eruption of violence is the latest friction in Sheikh Jarrah, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month. The cease-fire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families continues.
And so the cycle of tension endures, in a stark early test for Israel’s new coalition government, which is just over a week old.
At the helm under a rotation agreement is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party. In two years, he’ll be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid. And leading the opposition is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted from the premiership after holding the post for 12 years.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers say the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.


Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
Updated 22 June 2021

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
  • Group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia undermine peace efforts

DUBAI: The Houthi escalation in attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia will not go unpunished and government forces are ready to thwart the Iran-backed group’s violence after its rejection of peace efforts, senior Yemeni officials said.

The government and the Yemeni people stand with all their capabilities behind the national army, the popular resistance and the tribesmen until the restoration of the state and ending the Houthi group and its racist project supported by Iran, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said, state news agency Saba reported.

The escalation in the attacks carried out by the Houthi militia and its repeated targeting of those displaced and the civilians in Marib, Hodeidah and elsewhere, as well as against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, will not go unpunished, Abdulmalik added.

Muamar Al-Eryani, the minister of information, culture and tourism, stressed that the group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia have undermined peace efforts or worse, a rejection of peaceful solutions.

“This hysteric and dangerous escalation confirms Houthi militia’s continuation of its coup and loyalty to Iranian agenda and destructive policies aiming at spreading chaos and terrorism in the region,” Al-Eryani said in a statement.

Al-Eryani added that the military escalation coincided with the recruitment of child soldiers and brainwashing them in summer camps, and again called on the international community to denounce the violence and pressure the militia to respond to peace efforts.


Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
Libyan Government of National Accord fighters stand guard at the reopening of a road between Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stresses full support toward efforts to restore security and stability to Libya

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed that restoring Libya’s sovereignty begins with the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, stressing Egypt’s full support for these efforts during all its actions at the bilateral, regional and international levels.
During his meeting with the Libyan foreign minister, Najla El Mangoush, in Cairo, President El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s full support for the Presidential Council and the Libyan Government of National Unity during the transitional period with the aim of restoring security and stability to Libya, leading to holding national elections in December. He said that this is an essential step on the path to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis by activating the free will of the Libyan people.
He affirmed Egypt’s firm support for preserving the territorial integrity of Libya, safeguarding the capabilities of the Libyan people, and not interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan foreign minister expressed the Libyan government’s appreciation of the Egyptian role in the region and Egypt’s tireless efforts to support its brothers in Libya, which stem from the principles of preserving the unity of the Libyan territories and restoring stability and preserving the national institutions of the Libyan state.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters, and the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya, the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties, support for national reconciliation in preparation for fair and transparent elections.
She commended Egypt’s support of efforts to settle the Libyan crisis, in light of the historical ties between the two countries.

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