Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

US President Donald Trump gestures after disembarking from Air Force One after landing at Stansted Airport, northeast of London. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

  • As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
As first reported by Reuters, the US State Department told Congress on Oct. 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had decided to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.
As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld, some compared it with a similar decision from the administration to withhold nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that also had been approved by Congress.
That decision has been at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Members of Congress and US diplomats had strongly opposed the move to withhold the aid to Beirut, saying it was crucial to support Lebanon’s military as it grappled with instability within the country and the region.
Congressional aides said on Monday the administration had still provided no explanation for the decision to withhold the money, which had been approved by Congress and the State Department.
They said the OMB released the hold last Wednesday and the administration had begun to “obligate” it, or finalize contracts for how it should be spent.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
Hale said during congressional testimony that there had been some disagreements about the efficacy of US aid to the Lebanese armed forces.
On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon’s army is “an excellent partner to the United States” in fighting extremism.
Lebanon also houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.


Yemen government to begin first evacuation flights for stranded citizens 

Updated 28 May 2020

Yemen government to begin first evacuation flights for stranded citizens 

  • Yemenia flights will be sent to Egypt, Jordan and India in the first stage of the evacuation flights
  • After returning to Yemen, citizens will be sent to health centers for check-ups

Yemen’s internationally recognized government will begin the first evacuation flights for citizens who have been stranded abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, state news agency SABA reported. 
The first evacuation flight will be sent to Jordan on Thursday, a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed with Yemen’s Supreme National Emergency Committee for COVID-19 heard. 
This came after the committee approved the protocol for evacuating citizens stranded abroad, which includes procedures and timetables for scheduling the return of citizens to Yemen, and organizing specific health and precautionary controls and procedures, the news agency said. 
The authorities are tasked with the rapid implementation of precautionary measures in preparation for the returning citizens. 

RELATED: Yemenis stranded in India call to be repatriated as fear of coronavirus infection rises
Yemenia flights will be sent to Egypt, Jordan and India in the first stage of the evacuation flights. Yemeni nationals will be tested prior to travel and will receive a health certificate from an accredited medical center.
After returning to Yemen, citizens will be sent to health centers for check-ups, treatment and to keep track of their data. Returning nationals will also be required to self-quarantine at home.  
Stranded nationals will be informed of flight times immediately after the necessary permits with the countries in which they are in are completed, the committee said. 
The Minister of Public Health and head of the committee, Dr Nasser Baoum, and Deputy Prime Minister Salem Al-Khanbashi presented a report on the development of the situation in Aden. The report discussed the establishment of a medical unit for the treatment and reception of cases of coronavirus infection. 
The committee also reviewed the report submitted by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Hussein Mansour, on those stranded in Saudi Arabia and discussed measures for their return. Mansour said discussions were in place with Saudi official to schedule their return.
In Yemen, scores of COVID-19 cases have been recorded across the country, but the UN warns that the virus is spreading largely undetected. Hundreds of people in the interim capital Aden have died in the past week with symptoms of what appears to be the coronavirus, local health officials said.
The officials fear the situation is only going to get worse as Yemen has little capacity to treat those suspected of having the virus.