Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions

Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions
It is known that Hezbollah has long been involved in the war in Syria and maintains military bases and training centers inside Syrian territories near the border with Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2020

Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions

Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions

BEIRUT: Political forces in Lebanon have renewed pressure on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah to reform or face the US imposition of the Caesar Act, which could prove catastrophic for the country.

Lebanese political circles are abuzz with debate over Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and the likelihood of the imposition of the Caesar Act, which calls for biting sanctions on the Assad regime and its supporters.

Mouaz Mustafa, who is a member of the Caesar Act team, recently said that prominent political figures in Lebanon were likely to be targeted alongside Hezbollah because the goal of the sanctions was to reach all people who had any kind of agreements with the Syrian regime.

Lebanese politicians are not taking this matter lightly as is evident from their statements calling for an end to smuggling along the Syria-Lebanon border and for Hezbollah to be disarmed.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), recently blamed “de facto forces” for the illegal smuggling along the borders in an apparent dig at the powerful military outfit.

It is known that Hezbollah has long been involved in the war in Syria and maintains military bases and training centers inside Syrian territories near the border with Lebanon. Diesel and flour smuggling is carried out through illegal crossings from Lebanon to Syria.

In a strongly worded message, FPM MP Ziad Aswad said: “We cannot go on holding weapons while our people are hungry.”

Aswad warned Hezbollah that “the price of its weapons is paid by all Lebanese.”

The most obvious position on American messages reaching Lebanese parties came through the admission of Aswad that “the Americans’ decision is necessary to disarm the (Hezbollah) party, or else manage yourself, Lebanese.”

This unprecedented stance of the FPM against Hezbollah coincided with a political campaign by the Iranian-backed group’s opponents against the illegal crossings.

Lebanese security forces have stepped up measures to prevent cross-border smuggling with the Lebanese Army arresting several smugglers and closing five illegal crossings.

The forces also removed bridges in Lebanese border villages and the town of Hermel and closed dirt roads. One of these roads passes through the Orontes River Basin up to the Syrian border.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah responded to calls to deploy the army and UN forces on the border with Syria by asserting that Lebanon “cannot control the situation alone because the borders are overlapping and the matter is complicated. The solution is a bilateral cooperation between the two governments
and armies.”

Former Minister May Chidiac said: “We have to wait to know the details of the (Caesar) Act and the regulations that will be covered by the sanctions because it is not clear yet.”

 Chidiac told Arab News that “the American officials responsible for Lebanon stress the necessity of closing the illegal crossings and combating customs smuggling.”

The aim is to dry up the channels that support Hezbollah’s statelet in Lebanon, and the American conditions can be monitored during Lebanon’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund regarding its financial crisis.”

Chidiac added: “Lebanon is no longer a priority for the Americans. There is a shifting of cards in the region due to the sharing of Russian and Iranian influence in Syria. What is incomprehensible is Hezbollah’s refusal to deploy UNIFIL forces on the eastern border of Lebanon with Syria, even though it accepted its deployment the Resolution 1701 to reinforce the role of UNIFIL on the southern border of Lebanon.”

The former Ambassador for Lebanon to the US Dr. Riyad Tabbara said that “the US … is sending messages regarding dealings with Hezbollah.”

Tabbara told Arab News that “The Caesar Act has opened the door for US President Donald Trump to choose whoever he wanted for sanctions. The phrase ‘everyone who cooperates with Hezbollah’ is flexible and allows for the expansion of targeting and pressure.”

Tabbara said that the Americans “do not want to ruin Lebanon, but rather to pressure Hezbollah.”

He added that “the FPM’s stance indicates that the movement has received American messages, but it is trying to persuade Washington that it can play an effective role on the issue of Hezbollah.”

Regarding illegal crossings, Tabbara said that pressure from Washington on their closure is incessant and does not involve the Caesar Act: “Rather, these pressures may help influence Hezbollah.”

Former MP Faris Saeed said that the “Caesar Act will have a significant impact on Lebanon in terms of preventing the export of any commodity to the Syrian regime under the threat of prosecution and sanctions, and therefore what goes from Lebanon to Syria will be a violation of the international law. Whoever tries to persuade the Lebanese to invest in Syria is mistaken.”

 


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 44 min 59 sec ago

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”


Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.


Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles
Updated 13 May 2021

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

DUBAI: Individuals and vehicles will no longer be subject to curfews starting on Saturday, after Oman’s COVID-19 Supreme Committee issued on Thursday a list of changes in restrictions.

The Committee also issued a ban on hosting any commercial activities inside stores between 8pm and 4am daily limiting the service to delivery. Groceries and supermarkets are exempt.

Moreover, the Supreme Committee maintained that within the hours of operation, stores, outlets, malls, restaurants and cafes will be permitted to accommodate up to 50 percent only.

The Committee also re-activated its decision to have only half of public sector employees reporting to work meanwhile the remaining will work remotely.


Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel
Updated 13 May 2021

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel
  • At least 83 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday
  • Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israeli troops massed at Gaza’s border on Thursday and Palestinian militants pounded Israel with rockets in intense hostilities that have caused international concern and touched off clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Days of violence between Jewish Israelis and the country’s Arab minority worsened overnight, with synagogues attacked and fighting breaking out on the streets of some communities.
With concern growing that the violence that flared on Monday could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region. But efforts to end the worst hostilities in years appear so far to have made no progress.
In renewed air strikes on Gaza, Israel struck a six-story residential building in Gaza City that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave.
At least 83 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, medics said, further straining hospitals already under heavy pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are facing Israel and Covid-19. We are in between two enemies,” said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker, standing beside a road damaged during the air strikes. An electricity pole had collapsed by the road, its wires severed.
In the latest Palestinian rocket attacks, one rocket crashed into a building near Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, injuring five Israelis, police said. Sirens blared in cities across southern Israel, sending thousands running for shelters.
Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said.
“All of Israel is under attack. It’s a very scary situation to be in,” said Margo Aronovic, a 26-year-old student, in Tel Aviv.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas. Samples were being examined and they had yet to draw any final conclusions, they said.
US President Joe Biden said he hoped fighting “will be closing down sooner than later.” A British minister urged Israel and Hamas to “take a step back” from the escalation.
’Open-ended’ Confrontation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “continue acting to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas” and other Gaza groups. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings, including high-rises and a bank, which Israel said was linked to the faction’s activities.
Hamas signalled defiance, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying: “The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Turkey, whose hosting of Hamas leaders in Istanbul in recent years has contributed to a falling out with Israel, called on Muslim countries to show a united and clear stance over the Israel-Gaza violence.
In the fighting inside Israel, where some in the 21 percent Arab minority have mounted violent pro-Palestinian protests, attacks by Jews on Arabs passing by in ethnically mixed areas have worsened.
One person was in critical condition after being shot by Arabs in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, police said.
Over 150 arrests were made overnight in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”
“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” said the president, whose role is largely ceremonial.
Flights canceled
A number of foreign carriers have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.
The fatalities in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker, medical authorities said.
Gaza’s health ministry said 17 of the people killed in the enclave were children and seven were women. The Israeli military said some 400 of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions had fallen short, potentially causing some Palestinian civilian casualties.
The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after Israel’s inconclusive March 23 election.
Although the latest problems in Jerusalem were the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years.
These include Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a US plan to end the conflict that they saw as favorable to Israel and settlement building.


Rights groups urge Australia to rethink Israel trade deal 

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Updated 48 min 31 sec ago

Rights groups urge Australia to rethink Israel trade deal 

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
  • ‘Unprecedented’ ongoing situation means Australia should halt plans to deepen trade ties with Israel, rights groups say
  • Over 80 people, mostly Palestinians, have now been killed in violence in Israel and Palestine

LONDON: Human rights groups from Australia and Palestine have urged Australia’s federal government to rethink a potential trade agreement with Israel, citing the ongoing violent situation in Jerusalem and Gaza.

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation.

Australia already imports over $1 billion of goods and services from Israel annually, while its exports to the country are in excess of $340 million.

But citing the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Jerusalem, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council have urged the Australian government to halt considerations of expanded trade with Israel and condemn its actions against Palestinians.

Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said: “The situation is bleak, it’s unprecedented. Even in the numerous tragic and military assaults we have been subjected to in the past, Israel has launched the worst attack ever.”

At least 83 people have been killed since violence broke out in east Jerusalem and Gaza — 67 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, while seven Israelis have died from rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians have also been wounded in the last week, including many worshippers who were hurt during an Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque and compound.

Sourani called on Australia to “change track” and condemn Israel’s actions. He said in a statement that “every centimetre in Gaza is shaking” and that the international community, including Australia, must be ashamed.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is conducting a feasibility study into the potential for increased trade with Israel.

In a submission to the study, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council said the government “must not neglect major human rights concerns, and Australia’s obligations and responsibilities under international law.”

The rights groups’ submission called on Canberra to review all trade with Israel and “implement effective measures to protect the Palestinian people’s fundamental human rights.”

Rawan Arraf, executive director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, accused the government of rewarding Israel with free trade despite crippling life in Gaza and launching a “further military assault directed at civilian targets.”

Arraf said: “Over several years, the Australian government has adopted an adverse and harmful approach to Palestinian human rights.

 “Whether that’s at the UN or its appalling intervention at the international criminal court at the request of the Israeli government, to prevent investigations into international crimes in Palestine.”

The Australian government is expected to complete the trade consultation by July, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan previously stating that he hopes to “move to something of more substance by the end of the year.”

Politicians from both sides of the aisle in Australia have condemned the violence in Israel and Palestine and urged both sides to de-escalate.

Save the Children, meanwhile, has demanded all parties to the conflict cease targeting civilians, including minors. Jason Lee, country director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said families in densely populated and blockaded Gaza had nowhere to take refuge.

“Our staff are struggling to support their terrified children,” he said. “For them, as with all families in Gaza, the last 48 hours reminds them of the horrors they have witnessed over the last 12 years in three Gaza wars. We call for all sides in the conflict to take immediate steps to de-escalate and stop this deadly cycle of retaliatory actions.”