Lebanon concludes Israeli drones were on attack mission

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Lebanese forces soldiers display an Israeli drone that was captured after falling in a southern Beirut suburb on September 19, 2019. (AFP)
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Lebanese Minister of Defence Elias Bou Saab shows a box that he alleged carried explosives in an Israeli captured drone that fell over a Beirut suburb on September 19, 2019. (AFP)
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Lebanese forces soldiers carry an Israeli drone that was captured after falling in a southern Beirut suburb on September 19, 2019. (AFP)
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An Israeli drone that crashed in southern Beirut last month is on display during a press conference to announce the results of an investigation into the incident on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Lebanon concludes Israeli drones were on attack mission

  • This proves Israel changed the rules of engagement with Lebanon: Minister

BEIRUT: Two Israeli drones, one loaded with explosives, that crashed in Beirut last month were on an “attack” mission, the Lebanese government revealed on Thursday.

Announcing the outcome of an investigation into the incident, Lebanese Minister of National Defense Elias Bou Saab described it as “the most dangerous” act of aggression from Israel since its war with Hezbollah in July 2006.

The drones that crashed in southern suburbs of the capital on the night of Aug. 24-25 were “a sophisticated military production that aimed to attack Beirut as they crossed its airport’s airspace,” the minister said. 

“This proves that Israel changed the rules of engagement with Lebanon.”

During a press conference, Bou Saab used documents and pictures to explain the findings of the probe carried out by the Lebanese army.

He said that the two aircraft “departed from the Habonim Airfield in Israel and could be controlled via UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). The breach not only included two drones, but several other small UAV aircraft ready for propulsion.

“Several aircraft were in Lebanese airspace at the time, controlling the two drones. One of the two drones was carrying 4.5 kilograms of plastic explosives, while the second one had four wings and eight engines. The second drone followed the first to the southern suburbs of Beirut after 42 minutes,” he said.

The minister confirmed that the aim of the drones’ mission was to attack, not just to tape surveillance footage. “The Israeli aggressions became of another kind and this is a serious change in the rules of engagement.”

He pointed out that there had been “480 Israeli violations of the resolution 1701 (UN Security Council resolution to resolve the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict) within the last two months, the most serious of which has been the explosives-loaded drones that passed over Beirut airport, endangering air traffic, and then headed toward the capital’s southern suburbs.”

The Lebanese army received the remains of the two drones from Hezbollah on Aug. 30, after conducting a survey of the site of the attack hours after it had happened.

Hezbollah anticipated the outcome of the Lebanese army’s investigation by announcing on Aug. 27 the results of its own probe.

The party said: “Specialized experts in Hezbollah’s military division dismantled the first drone that crashed and found that it contained explosives wrapped and insulated in a highly technical manner. The explosive weighted 5.5 kilograms and contained type C4 explosive materials.”

Hezbollah believed at the time that the aim of the two drones “was not to tape footage, but they were dedicated for the execution of bombings.”


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 41 min 53 sec ago

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.