Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, and Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in Athens — days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognized government are expected to attend. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

  • Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November
  • Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference

ATHENS: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar was holding talks in Athens on Friday two days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin, which he and the head of Tripoli’s government Fayez Al-Sarraj are expected to attend.

Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin, his “dear friend,” for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference.

However, Russia’s acting foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Haftar and Al-Sarraj could not even bear each other’s presence, let alone talk.

“So far ties between them are very tense, they don’t even want to be in the same room to say nothing of meeting each other,” Lavrov said.

World powers are trying to mediate a lasting cease-fire nine months after Haftar’s forces launched an assault on Tripoli, sparking fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands.

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash expressed his country's "unreserved support" for German efforts to find a solution and end to the Libyan conflict on Twitter on Friday.

An interim truce that came into force on Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftar’s forces and the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar walked away from cease-fire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the Berlin conference.

He flew to Athens on a surprise visit on Thursday, with Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November.

Athens is vehemently opposed to the contentious Turkish deal with Libya, which claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration in conflict with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.

Haftar met Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and they were holding further talks on Friday. He is also set to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greece is seeking to take part in the Berlin talks but has yet to be invited.

Haftar agreed in principle on Thursday to go to Berlin after Al-Sarraj signalled he would be there.

But Sarraj, whose GNA did sign up to a permanent truce deal in Moscow, cast doubt over Haftar’s intentions after he refused to sign.

Meanwhile, protesters in eastern Libya entered the Zueitina oil terminal on Friday and announced its closure in response to calls by tribal leaders, a port engineer and witnesses told Reuters.

The tribal leaders are from eastern and southern Libya, areas controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar. 

The state oil company, NOC, said the country's oil and gas industry should not be used as a "card for political bargaining".

However, the Zueitina engineer said "the terminal is still receiving oil and a tanker entered it today". Reuters could not verify whether exports had been halted and NOC was not immediately available for comment.

The tribal leaders on Thursday called for oil terminals to be shut and accused the internationally recognised government in Tripoli of using oil revenue to pay foreign fighters.

Scores of protesters erected a large tent outside the Zueitina terminal. They read a statement saying they planned to shut all oil terminals in eastern Libya.

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Numerous countries have since become involved — the GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar, while Haftar has the support of neighboring Egypt as well as Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part and voiced support for truce efforts, the State Department said on Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.

In a report to the Security Council he warned against “external interference,” saying it would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis.”

The conference will aim to agree six points — including a permanent cease-fire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace, Guterres said.

Turkish troops have been deployed to support the GNA, while Russia, despite its denials, is suspected of supporting Haftar with weapons, money and mercenaries.

Some 11 countries and several international organizations are set to attend along with the Libyan parties.

The fighting has spurred a growing exodus of migrants, many embarking on rickety boats toward Italy.

Nearly 1,000 intercepted at sea have been forced to return to the war-ravaged country since January 1, mostly ending up in detention, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.


Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 04 April 2020

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website madad.ps to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.