Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

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Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit gestures as he talks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at a pre Arab Economic and Social Development summit meeting in Beirut, Lebanon January 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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The chair of the Syrian Arab Republic is empty at the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of a weekend Arab Economic Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (AP)
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Flags of the Arab league states are seen on display ahead of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut on January 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

  • Arab League chief highlights ‘enormous challenges’ facing region
  • Lebanese FM urges Arabs to ‘not abandon’ his country

BEIRUT: The concerns of the people of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen were the main topic of the opening session of a meeting of Arab ministers held in preparation for the Arab development summit on Sunday in Beirut.
The meeting in the Lebanese capital’s Phoenicia Hotel saw unprecedented security measures covering a large area, including the summit’s venues and the accommodation of guests and journalists. 
Only three presidents have so far confirmed their attendance at the summit — those of Lebanon, Somalia and Mauritania.
However, the Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki called for “separating between the attendance and the summit itself, and the importance of its topics and the resolutions it will produce.”
During a media briefing, Zaki said: “The attendance of Arab leaders will undoubtedly increase the importance of the summit, but their absence, which has spurred media commentary, does not diminish the importance of the topics addressed by the summit — and many summits are not attended by presidents.”
The summit’s media spokesman Rafic Chlala told Arab News: “The presidents who decided not to attend the summit have sent their delegates, which means the summit hasn’t failed, as some are trying to portray it.” 
He said Lebanese President Michel Aoun will propose at the summit “a funding project for the reconstruction of all Arab countries devastated by war.” Chlala added: “We’re waiting for states that requested amendments to the initiative.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday conveyed President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s apology for not being able to attend the summit “due to commitments that obliged him to stay in Cairo.”
On whether Egypt will support Aoun’s initiative at the summit, Shoukry said: “Egypt supports all that would achieve the common Arab interest.”
Zaki said: “The Syrian displacement issue is on the agenda but the visions are dissimilar.” At the meeting, Syria’s seat was empty due to its suspension from the Arab League, and Libya’s seat was empty because it is boycotting the summit after supporters of the Lebanese Amal Movement tore down the Libyan flag in Beirut. 
“Syria’s return to the Arab League requires an Arab consensus, as in the case of the suspension of its membership,” said Zaki. 
“Syria’s return to the Arab League is natural and normal, as it has not lost its seat and has not been expelled, but its membership was suspended.” 
Prior to the ministerial session, Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury said: “Most of the agenda items have been approved... but there are some matters that are being discussed.” 
He added: “A discussion is being held on the safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees, and the mechanism for financing countries that have suffered from armed conflicts.”
Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for African affairs, handed over the chairmanship of the ministerial meeting to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Bassil invited all delegates to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and all Lebanese killed while fighting terrorism.
In his opening speech, Bassil called on Arabs “to embrace Lebanon and not abandon it.” He thanked Saudi Arabia for presiding over the previous summit and for its efforts.
Bassil spoke of “big challenges in the Arab world, including wars, hunger and poverty as well as intolerance, extremism, terrorism, and women and child abuse.” 
He asked: “If we have caused wars for each other, is it not time to end them? Shouldn’t we consider construction instead of destruction?”
He said: “Let us put a unified Arab economic vision that is based on a political principal that ensures we do not attack one another or intervene in each other’s affairs.” 
He added: “Syria is the biggest gap today in our conference, and we feel the weight of its absence instead of the lightness of its attendance. Syria must return to us so that we end the loss for ourselves before we end it for Syria.” 
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “The enormous challenges facing the Arab region compel us to develop new visions and come up with innovative ideas for the future.”
He added: “No Arab country can cope with the developments on its own. Economic integration and policy coordination are a necessity, not a luxury.” 
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation, implement UN resolutions and intervene to bring justice to his people.
“Jerusalem is facing the worst Judaization scheme that aims to change its legal, political and religious features,” he said.
“We need our Arab brothers to support the promising economy of Palestine, which has investment opportunities in many areas.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “Jerusalem is the key to peace.” He highlighted the need to ensure the continuation of the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to reach a political solution to the Syrian war that is accepted by Syrians, preserves their country’s unity and allows the voluntary return of the displaced.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim urged Arab states to “fulfil their commitments in accordance with the Iraq reconstruction conference,” highlighting the importance of food security as a pillar for stability.
Yemeni Industry and Trade Minister Mohammed Al-Maitami said the “Houthi coup” created a “humanitarian crisis” and a “tragic reality” in his country. “Twenty-two million Yemenis are below the poverty line and need humanitarian aid.”


Former finance minister Mohammad Safadi put forward to be next Lebanese PM

Updated 15 November 2019

Former finance minister Mohammad Safadi put forward to be next Lebanese PM

BEIRUT: Three major Lebanese parties have agreed on nominating Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, to become prime minister of a new government, the Lebanese broadcasters LBCI and MTV reported on Thursday.
The agreement was reached in a meeting on Thursday between outgoing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician, and senior representatives of the Shiite groups Amal and Hezbollah.
There was no official comment from the parties or Safadi. The broadcasters did not identify their sources.
Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29 in the face of an unprecedented wave of protests against ruling politicians who are blamed for rampant state corruption and steering Lebanon into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Hariri remains caretaker prime minister for now.
Since quitting, Hariri, who is aligned with the West and Gulf Arab states, has been holding closed-door meetings with parties including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which had wanted him to be prime minister again.
Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim according to the country’s sectarian power-sharing system.
Mustaqbal Web, a Hariri-owned news website, said a meeting between Hariri, Ali Hassan Khalil of the Amal Movement and Hussein Al-Khalil of Hezbollah had discussed recommending Safadi for the post.
MTV said the government would be a mixture of politicians and technocrats. Mustaqbal Web said the type of government was not discussed, and neither was the question of whether Hariri’s Future Movement would be part of the Cabinet.
LBCI said the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party allied to Hezbollah, had also agreed to Safadi’s nomination.
They did not identify their sources.
Safadi is a prominent businessman and member of parliament from the northern city of Tripoli. He served previously as finance minister from 2011-2014 under prime minister Najib Mikati.
Prior to that, he served as minister of economy and trade in the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who was backed by the West. He held that post again in the Hariri-led Cabinet that took office in 2009.
Hariri had said he would only return as prime minister of a Cabinet of specialist ministers which he believed would be best placed to win international aid and steer Lebanon out of its economic crisis, sources close to Hariri have said.