Eastern Libya parliament head says LNA forces will push Tripoli campaign

Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, pose for a picture as they head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2019

Eastern Libya parliament head says LNA forces will push Tripoli campaign

  • The European Union last week urged the eastern Libya National Army (LNA) to stop its attacks
  • Haftar, 75, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April

BENGHAZI: Eastern Libyan forces will pursue their advance on the capital Tripoli, the head of the eastern parliament in the divided country said on Saturday, despite international calls for a halt in an offensive that risks causing many civilian casualties.
His comments came as more clashes rocked the southern outskirts of Tripoli, where eastern forces have been confronted by groups allied to Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj’s internationally recognized government.
The European Union last week urged the eastern Libya National Army (LNA) to stop its attacks, having agreed on a statement after France and Italy sparred over how to handle the conflict.
But the eastern parliament head said they would press an offensive launched a week ago under military commander Khalifa Haftar, the latest outbreak of a cycle of conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
“We need to get rid of militias and terrorist groups,” Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives allied to Haftar, said using a reference eastern officials often make to describe forces allied to the Tripoli government, which relies on support from several armed groups.
“We assure the residents of Tripoli that the campaign to liberate Tripoli will be limited and not violate any freedoms but restore security and fight terrorism,” Saleh told lawmakers in a session in the main eastern city of Benghazi.
Forces loyal to Al-Serraj’s government have so far kept the eastern offensive at bay. Fierce fighting has broken out around a disused former airport about 11 km (7 miles) from the center and an eastern military source said a warplane belonging to the LNA had struck a military camp in an eastern Tripoli suburb.
Saleh also said the United Nations mission to Libya and Serraj’s government had been controlled by armed groups and had failed to expel them from the capital, and promised Libya would hold long-delayed elections after the Tripoli operation ends.
Haftar’s offensive had surprised the United Nations, which had been planning to hold a national conference on April 14 to prepare Libya for elections.
The latest battle had by Friday killed 75 people, mainly fighters but including 17 civilians, and wounded another 323, according to UN tallies. Some 13,625 people have been forced out of their homes.
As well as the humanitarian cost, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, scupper a UN peace plan, and allow militants to exploit the chaos.
Haftar, 75, a former general in Qaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April.

Beirut blast brings fresh misery to displaced Syrians in Lebanon

Updated 2 min 40 sec ago

Beirut blast brings fresh misery to displaced Syrians in Lebanon

  • Of the 177 deaths confirmed so far, 43 were Syrians working at the Port of Beirut on the evening of August 4
  • Syrians’ savings in Lebanese banks have drastically lost value since the start of the economic and financial crisis

DUBAI: It was 2012, and Lina Attar Ajami was spending the summer in Canada when a bomb went off near her neighborhood of Rawda in Damascus.

Her father called her immediately and told her not to return to Syria. “You must go to Beirut and find a house and make your life there,” Ajami recalled being told.

She followed his instructions and moved to an apartment in Saifi Village, an upscale neighborhood within walking distance of Gemmayze, the beating heart of Beirut.

“You escape a country for security. You escape a war of nine years in order to give your children security and not let them be exposed to the atrocities of war. But this — the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut — is worse than anything my family went through during the Syrian civil war,” Ajami told Arab News by phone from Beirut.

Even before the blast, Lebanon was in a state of free fall following months of economic and political turmoil marked by mass unemployment, hyperinflation and social unrest.

But the devastation caused by the blast has wreaked unprecedented havoc on the Lebanese capital, leaving an estimated 300,000 homeless and an even larger number of people in need of assistance of some kind.

Of the 177 deaths confirmed so far, 43 were Syrians working at the Port of Beirut, according to a statement from the Syrian Embassy in the Lebanese capital. The UN refugee agency has put the Syrian toll at 34, of which eight bodies are still missing.

The workers were refugees, earning daily as little as 50,000 Lebanese pounds ($33). Their bodies, like their existence up until Aug. 4, are unlikely to be unaccounted for.

Each of their families, living in the blast-devastated capital of a crisis-torn country, has likely lost not only its breadwinner but also its livelihood.

A picture of victims is displayed inside their damaged apartment facing the port of Beirut following the cataclysmic explosion. (AFP)

Ajami’s 12-year-old daughter was severely wounded in the blast. “We live on the 11th floor, so I could see the port. I heard my daughter screaming in the salon. I ran there and found her covered in blood. Blood was all over the walls,” she said.

Ajami’s husband carried his daughter downstairs and dashed off in search of a hospital, but they were full beyond capacity. “People were getting into fights just to get their loved ones admitted,” she said. “It was hell.”

The couple decided to take their daughter to south Beirut, where they found a hospital willing to admit her. She has since undergone two surgeries and is currently recovering.

Volunteers distribute aid supplies to those affected by the cataclysmic explosion in Beirut's port area, on August 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“There’s nothing more disturbing than thinking you’re in the safety of your home and a sudden blast takes away all the security you thought you had in your adopted country,” Ajami said. “As Syrians, this is our second loss. It’s beyond description.”

The Syrians currently in Lebanon, estimated at 910,000, are a mixture of registered and unregistered refugees, as well as migrant workers and others.

Those who fled Syria because of the civil war kept most, if not all, of their life savings in banks in Lebanon.

The value of their deposits has eroded drastically since the start of the economic and financial crisis.


Syrians in Lebanon

* At least 34 Beirut blast victims were Syrian workers.

* Lebanon hosts 890,000 Syrian refugees.

* Two-thirds of the refugees live below poverty line.

* Lebanon’s estimated population is 6 million.

“Syrians relocated to Lebanon and placed all their wealth in Lebanese banks, knowing that no other country would agree to open bank accounts for Syrians,” said Ajami. “Their savings have dwindled in real terms as a result of the stringent capital controls.”

According to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Syrian government estimated in January the total amount belonging to Syrians in Lebanese banks at about $45 billion — roughly a quarter of deposits held by Lebanese banks.

That said, many Syrians are content with having survived the blast that shattered Beirut. “I was sure by the time someone asked about me I’d be dead,” said Haidara M., a kickboxing instructor who left Syria in 2016 in search of a better life in the Lebanese capital.

At the time of the blast, caused by a long-neglected stock of ammonium nitrate, Haidara was in the bathroom of his apartment.

Lina Attar Ajami’s apartment, where her 12-year-old daughter was severely wounded in the blast. (Supplied: Lina Attar Ajami)

Freeing himself of the debris that fell on him, he ran out into the middle of a street in the hope that someone would help him. “I’m afraid of dying in a country without any family to bury me,” he told Arab News.

A Syrian who lives in the Lebanese capital and works with an international NGO said: “Syrians living in Beirut have been affected on an emotional level. They fled Syria to Lebanon to live in a safer place, but are now trying to leave Lebanon for the same reason.”

He added: “We still don’t have clear information regarding Syrians living in Lebanon who’ve been affected by the blast. No one knows the names of the 43 Syrians who died at the port.”

One Syrian national who has returned to Damascus following the explosion is Rana Tamimi, who specializes in marketing and communications.

She was allowed to cross the border into Syria after she took a COVID-19 test (for which she paid 150,000 Lebanese pounds) in Beirut and got a negative result.


“I moved to Beirut from Damascus eight years ago after a big explosion behind my house in Damascus,” she told Arab News.

“There was a lot of fear in the streets then and I had to leave. The effect of the explosion that happened in Beirut was equal to the sum of the horrors of eight years of war.”

Nimat Bizri, a half Algerian, half Syrian woman married to a Lebanese man who has lived in Lebanon for 24 years, said: “Since the blast, I feel helpless and depressed … The border to Syria has remained closed for three months now due to COVID-19. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bizri runs the Social Support Society, an NGO founded in 2006 that provides quality programs and opportunities to Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. It caters to 2,500 students spread over five centers located in various villages.

But Syrians face an altogether new challenge in the wake of the destruction in Beirut. Cases have come to light of discrimination against migrants and refugees trying to access emergency aid.

“No support is being given to Palestinian and Syrian refugees who’ve been working and living in Beirut,” said Bizri. “The Lebanese people haven’t been giving them support since the explosion.”

Dalia Al-Ogaily, a Syrian-Iraqi resident of Beirut who previously lived in Syria, recently joined a group of friends who had volunteered to do social work in different parts of the city.

Survivors of Beirut's August 4 blast are still in shock over a disaster that disfigured their city. The earth-shaking explosion killed 171 people and wounded more than 6,000, a sickening blow to a country already in crisis. (AFP)

“On our way to downtown Beirut, we spotted the Banin Charity Association in action so we offered to help,” she told Arab News.

“Initially they allowed us to help people in the neighborhood by interviewing them and assessing their needs. However, after a few hours, when we ran into a Syrian woman in need, the coordinator of the charity told us not to help her because, according to its policy, it’s meant to help only Lebanese.”

The incident sparked controversy on social media that culminated in the resignation of Fadi Al-Khateeb, a renowned Lebanese footballer, from his position as the Banin Charity Association’s goodwill ambassador.

Complaints of discrimination against non-Lebanese in aid distribution also prompted Alexandra Tarzikhan, a Syrian human rights lawyer based in Chicago, to comment: “The blast didn’t discriminate when it chose whose lives to take and which houses to destroy.”

In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council member countries have become the home of many Arab families fed up with their home countries’ poverty, corruption, sectarian politics and conflict.

Firefighters carry the coffin of their colleague Joe Noun, who was killed in Beirut's massive blast, during his funeral at the fire station in Karantina neighbourhood near the port on August 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Syrians and Lebanese are among the tens of thousands who have chosen to start a new life in the UAE, drawn by the lure of peace and financial security.

Leaving his home in Damascus in 2012 to escape the war, Alaa Krimed lived for two years in Beirut before moving to Dubai.

Now the Syrian-Palestinian is the artistic director of the Sima Dance Co. in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue.

“I loved Beirut, but I also hated Beirut because I struggled a lot there,” he told Arab News, recalling the need to reapply for residency papers every three months. “The people are wonderful but the government is corrupt, and this is why I moved from Beirut to Dubai.”


Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor