UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

Extensive tunneling has been exposed by Israel. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2019

UN envoy: No access for UN peacekeepers to Lebanon tunnels

  • Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security
  • Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region

UNITED NATIONS: The UN's envoy to the Mideast said Tuesday that peacekeepers in Lebanon have not been given access to tunnels stretching into Israel, which UN officials say violate a case-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
Nikolay Mladenov told the Security Council that the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNIFIL has confirmed that two tunnels crossed the UN-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, but “has not been granted access to the confirmed entry points of a tunnel near Kfar Kila on the Lebanese side.”
He did not say whether Lebanon’s government or the Hezbollah militant group was blocking access for UNIFIL, but US deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen blamed the government.
Cohen accused Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, of threatening international peace and security with the extensive tunneling exposed by Israel, which has reported uncovering six tunnels into its territory.
“We commend UNIFIL’s work to keep the Blue Line under control, but it is unacceptable that the Lebanese government has not yet given UNIFIL access to the tunnel entrance on their side of the Blue Line,” Cohen told the council.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon complained to the council that “the Lebanese army has taken no action in response, allowing Hezbollah to continue building these tunnels undisturbed.”
Danon alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to militant groups across the region, including $1 billion to Hezbollah, which he said has “grand plans to take over the Israeli Galilee” and invests millions in every tunnel. He provided no information on how Israel calculated its estimate of Iranian spending, which also included $4 billion to the Syrian government, “hundreds of millions” to Iran’s proxies in Iraq, tens of millions to Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, $70 million to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and $50 million to Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Mladenov noted that Lebanon has been without a government for over eight months and called on all parties to resolve their differences so the country “can address the man pressing challenges it faces, including that of a struggling economy.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mladenov said that “we should have no illusions about the dangerous dynamics ... which continue to unfold before our eyes” and have eroded “the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
He pointed to Israel’s latest new settlement plans and approvals, nearly half to be built deep in the West Bank, which the Palestinians say must be part of their state. He also cited “additional attempts to pass legislation that would directly apply Israeli law to the territory of the occupied West Bank, raising fears of future annexation.”
Mladenov said the chance for peace opened more than 25 years ago with the Oslo accords, which were enshrined in UN resolutions and bilateral agreements, but has “eroded as the prospect for credible negotiations has dimmed, only to be replaced by the lack of hope and the growing risk of a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
He urged both sides to recommit to the principles in those agreements — that key issues can be resolved only through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, told the council that last year “Israel’s illegal occupation became more entrenched, more brutal and extreme” with the political process “deadlocked.”
“Day by day, the occupation is destroying the two-state solution and sowing deep despair among our people,” he said.
But despite “the dismal situation,” Mansour said, Palestinians “remain committed to non-violence, dialogue and the objectives of peace” and negotiations on a two-state solution. He urged regional and international efforts “to help overcome the impasse and contribute to the realization of a just solution as a matter of urgency.”


Iraq anti-corruption drive stops short of snaring worst culprits

Updated 22 min ago

Iraq anti-corruption drive stops short of snaring worst culprits

  • Abdul Mahdi is ‘hostage to parties that appointed him a year ago to lead one of the world’s most corrupt countries’

BAGHDAD: Following a wave of deadly anti-government protests, Baghdad has announced a slew of measures to stem corruption — but stopped short of targeting the worst offenders.

Analysts say Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, an independent with no real popular support, is hostage to the parties that appointed him a year ago to lead one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

That makes it exceptionally hard for him to point fingers at the main culprits, they say.

Since dictator Saddam Hussein’s ouster in a US-led invasion in 2003, $450 billion have evaporated into thin air, either in fake contracts or deep into the pockets of corrupt politicians, according to official data.

“The question of corruption can only be dealt with seriously and decisively,” a government anti-corruption official said, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject.

“But the prime minister can’t do that because he knows that all (politicians) are involved and that they were chin deep in corrupt dealings well before he took up his post,” the official said.

Anti-graft campaign group Transparency International last year ranked Iraq the world’s 12th-most corrupt country, based on expert analysis and opinion surveys.

The problem is so endemic that Iraqis have a nickname for the biggest culprits: “Hitan,” Arabic for “whales.”

The official cited three common practices: Border guards taking bribes to waive customs duties, illegal petrol trading, and unlawful buying and selling of state-owned land and luxury homes.

The final practice, sometimes involving properties confiscated from ex-regime officials, implicates some parties and politicians currently in power, the official said.

An official from the office of the Petroleum Ministry’s inspector general said “many incidents of corruption” had been uncovered.

The department “managed to stop the construction of an oil pipeline to Jordan, because each kilometer was being priced at $1.5 million,” a price it deemed excessive, he said on condition of anonymity.

The operation snared oil traffickers and transport company owners “linked to corrupt parties,” he added.

But in a blow to officials working to tackle corruption, Parliament has “frozen” the work of anti-corruption offices that had been set up in each of Iraq’s ministries.

“This decision does nothing to improve the day-to-day lives of demonstrators who are strangled by poverty,” said the official, currently on enforced leave.

“It’s only going to encourage corrupt officials to keep doing what they want.” According to the official from the government’s anti-corruption commission, the decision to freeze the inspectors’ activities “targets low-ranking civil servants, while it is the mafias from the big parties” who are most at fault.

Abdul Mahdi has announced that “a list of names of 1,000 civil servants” accused of corruption had been referred to the courts.

Soon afterward, he promised, “a first list of high-ranking officials will be brought before justice.”

Among those named were ex-ministers and officials still in office, according to Abdul Mahdi’s office, although no names have yet been announced officially.

In recent years, at least two trade ministers have been convicted for corruption. But by the time their judgment was read, the ministers had already fled abroad. The problem is so widespread in Iraq that anti-corruption protests have become something of a tradition.

In the latest round, which erupted on Oct. 1, 110 people were killed — the vast majority of them protesters who were shot dead.

The spontaneity of the demonstrations, as well as their intensity, have put an unprecedented amount of pressure on the authorities, said MP Huda Sajjad.

Sajjad, an MP on the list of ex-PM Haider Abadi who is now in opposition, believes measures currently in place simply aren’t up to the task of stamping out corruption.

“The anti-corruption measures don’t meet expectations,” Sajjad said. “Corruption is what keeps all the parties working together in the system.” But the pressure on the government is relentless.

On Saturday and Sunday, firebrand Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr called on supporters to turn this weekend’s Arbaeen religious commemorations into anti-corruption rallies.

Protesters have called for fresh demonstrations on Oct. 25 — the first anniversary of Abdul Mahdi’s government.