Lebanon leader backs UN peace force after protests

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab inspects the guard of honor at the UNIFIL headquarters in the southern coastal border town of Naqoura on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 27 May 2020

Lebanon leader backs UN peace force after protests

  • Visit to peacekeepers follows dispute over mission mandate

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Wednesday repeated his backing for UN peacekeeping forces in the country, saying the troops were needed “in light of Israeli destabilization attempts.”

Diab visited the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the southern border town of Naqoura amid a dispute between the government and Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, over the mission’s mandate.

Less than 12 hours before the Lebanese leader’s visit, Nasrallah accused the US and Israel of using the peacekeeping force to expand their interests.

“If they want to reduce or increase the number of UNIFIL soldiers, it does not make any difference. We are not against UNIFIL’s stay, but the Americans are mistaken if they consider this to be a pressure card against Lebanon. We believe that UNIFIL is an Israeli interest more than a Lebanese interest,” Nasrallah said.

Diab, accompanied by Defense Minister Zeina Akar and Armed Forces Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, held a meeting with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, UNIFIL force commander and head of the mission.

At a joint press conference, Diab stressed the need for “UNIFIL forces to cooperate with the Lebanese army” deployed in the volatile southern border region.

The Lebanese leader also called on the UN “ensure the implementation” of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, intended to resolve the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Del Col said that “cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces” had brought 14 years of peace in southern Lebanon, and called for all parties to “build on this long period of unprecedented stability.”

The peacekeeping chief said that he looked forward to working “with the government and the army to implement Resolution 1701, to address any outstanding issues, and to prevent and reduce tension.”

The UN Security Council is expected to renew UNIFIL’s mandate in August.

Hezbollah fears that the peacekeeping force’s mandate will be extended as a result of “US and Israeli pressure,” allowing it “freedom of movement” and the right to inspect private property in its area of operations.

Two days ago, residents of the nearby town of Blida protested after an attempt by a UN patrol to enter a private property. In another incident, residents of Mays Al-Jabal complained of “disturbances” caused by peacekeeping troops in the area.

Nasrallah said: “The Israelis want UNIFIL to have the right to raid and search private properties, and the Americans are pressuring Lebanon on this issue.”

A civilian UNIFIL source told Arab News that according to its mission, the UN force must inform the Lebanese army of its patrols.

“But what is happening is that UNIFIL conducts its patrols without notification,” the source said. “This is what happened in Blida.”

The source said that UN forces carry out 486 land, air and sea patrols daily, and have 10,500 soldiers to carry out these tasks, while the Lebanese army has no more than 5,000 troops in the area.

“The Lebanese army cannot keep up with all UNIFIL patrols,” the source said.

After a US call for a drastic reduction in the UN peacekeeping force’s budget, more than $1 million is believed to have been slashed on spending for the coming financial year, starting on July 1.

Forty-four countries took part in UNIFIL forces this year, three more than the previous year. European forces continue to dominate the command of the force’s operational areas.

Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

Updated 10 August 2020

Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

  • Jahane Sanat began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news
  • ‘The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons’

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it published remarks by an expert who said the official figures on coronavirus cases and deaths in the country account for only 5 percent of the real toll.
Mohammad Reza Sadi, the editor-in-chief of Jahane Sanat, told the official IRNA news agency that authorities closed his newspaper, which began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news.
On Sunday, the daily quoted Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, an epidemiologist the paper said had worked on the government’s anti-coronavirus campaign, as saying the true number of cases and deaths in Iran could be 20 times the number reported by the Health Ministry.
He also said the virus was detected in Iran a month earlier than Feb. 19, when authorities announced the first confirmed case. He said they held up the announcement until after the commemorations of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and parliamentary elections earlier that month.
“The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons,” he said, and only provided “engineered statistics” to the public.
He also criticized testing efforts and warned of a renewed outbreak next month as universities hold entrance exams and people mark major Shiite holidays.
Iran’s Health Ministry has reported a total of nearly 330,000 cases and 18,616 deaths, including 189 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
Authorities in Iran have come under heavy criticism since the start of the pandemic because of their reluctance to impose the kind of sweeping restrictions seen elsewhere in the region. Iran is home to the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East.