Troops use tear gas as violent clashes rock Beirut

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Protesters, protect riot police from stones thrown by anti-government protesters during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters hold Lebanese national flags as shout slogans during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Hezbollah and Amal supporters stand in front of Lebanese army as they shout slogans against anti-government protesters, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Troops use tear gas as violent clashes rock Beirut

  • Divisions among protesters over the goals of the demonstration quickly became apparent as groups of protesters faced off
  • 35 hurt after chanting protesters call for Hezbollah to disarm

BEIRUT: Violent clashes between supporters of Iran-backed Hezbollah and rival protesters left more than 35 people injured as anti-government demonstrations returned to Lebanon’s capital on Saturday.

Hundreds of protesters filled the streets around Martyrs Square, blaming a lack of reforms for the country’s worst economic turmoil in decades amid rising unemployment worsened by a lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But the protest turned violent as supporters of Hezbollah clashed with demonstrators demanding that the Tehran-backed Shiite group disarm.

Protesters threw stones and chanted sectarian insults as troops formed a human chain to keep the rival groups apart.

“No to Hezbollah, no to its weapons,” said a sign held up by a female protester.

Panic erupted after troops used gunfire to halt the confrontation.

The Lebanese Red Cross said that 35 people were hurt in clashes, with many treated at the scene.

Protesters came from around Lebanon to join renewed demonstrations in the capital, with many waving flags and others carrying banners demanding Hezbollah disarm.

One protester told Arab News: “We are rebels and free to raise demands of our choice, whether it is related to the economy or to disarming Hezbollah.”

Another said: “I am from Akkar. The government has done nothing. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs, and I know families that have nothing to eat.”

A third said that Arab and foreign countries had broken ties with Lebanon because of Hezbollah.

“No one wants to help us out of our financial crisis. That is why we want Hezbollah to disarm,” he said.

Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy and Defense Minister Zeina Akar followed security operations in Martyrs Square from an operation room in Emile Helou police station.

Fahmy warned protesters against attacking public or private property, saying that security forces ” will intervene the moment riots occur.”

However MP Samy Gemayel, head of the Phalanges party, accused authorities of “trying to cause discord among protesters, labeling them traitors, and spreading rumors to intimidate them.”

The Phalanges Party was among parties calling for early parliamentary elections during the protests.

“The mood of the people has changed, and the goal of the political authority is to cause divisions in order to postpone the next elections,” Gemayel said.

Former justice minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, whose supporters traveled from Tripoli to join the protests, accused Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of being “an Iranian agent.”

He said: “The revolution rejuvenates itself for a new start, and differences among protesters is a healthy phenomenon. No one dares to intimidate us by threatening to put one segment of society against the other.”

Rifi said that Hezbollah’s illegal arms supply was a threat to “Lebanese sovereignty and national unity.”

“We are partners in one country and we should establish a sovereign state, not a state within the state. You have a regional power that supplies weapons to you, but another regional power could supply weapons to another party, which would lead to the destruction of the country,” he said.

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

Updated 07 July 2020

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

  • Turkey ‘challenging’ international norms by breaking arms embargo on Libya, invading northern Syria, claims analyst

JEDDAH: Increasing tensions between France and Turkey were posing a threat to the cohesion of the NATO alliance, experts have warned.

Paris’ recent decision to suspend its involvement in the NATO Sea Guardian maritime security operation in the eastern Mediterranean following an incident between a French frigate and Turkish vessels, has highlighted the organization’s difficulties in maintaining order and harmony among its members.

Months of escalating dispute between France and Turkey came to a head on June 10, when Paris claimed that its La Fayette-class Frigate Courbet was targeted three times by Turkish Navy fire control radars while it was trying to approach a Tanzanian-flagged civilian cargo ship suspected of trafficking arms to Libya.

The cargo ship was under the escort of three Turkish vessels, but Ankara denied harassing the Courbet and demanded an apology from France for disclosing “improper information,” saying the ship in question had been carrying humanitarian aid.

The incident resulted in France pulling out of the NATO operation, partly aimed at enforcing a UN embargo on arms supplies to Libya, and accusing Turkey of importing extremists to Syria.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO. We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”

The classified report on the Courbet incident is expected to be discussed soon by member states of the alliance.

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system has also angered some NATO members over concerns it could undermine Western defense systems and led to Turkey’s expulsion from the alliance’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program.

Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Arab News: “NATO faces increasing challenges from its member state Turkey which behaves contrary to NATO’s mission and values.

“Turkey’s government has begun to violate international norms by breaking an arms embargo on the Libyan conflict and invading northern Syria, backing extremist groups, and bombing northern Iraq.

“Ankara has tried to strong-arm NATO into supporting it through threats to hold up a Baltic defense plan and also through threatening and insulting other NATO members.

“Turkey insinuated to the US that Turkey would brush US forces aside in Syria in 2019 if the US didn’t leave, it has escalated conflicts rather than reducing them, and threatened to send refugees to Greece while staking counter claims to the Mediterranean against Greek claims,” he added.

Frantzman pointed out that the controversy with France was a byproduct of this.

“NATO increasingly looks like it is being called upon to appease Ankara’s monthly crises that involve new military operations in several countries. Once a key and helpful ally of NATO, Turkey looks increasingly like it seeks to exploit its NATO membership, using it as a cover for military operations that undermine human rights, democracy, and international norms,” he said.

Turkey is seen as an important and strategic member of the military alliance. On its website, NATO says that all the organization’s decisions are made by consensus, following discussions and consultations among members. “When a ‘NATO decision’ is announced, it is therefore the expression of the collective will of all the sovereign states that are members of the alliance.”

However, recent disagreements within NATO led Macron to say that the alliance was “suffering brain death” over Turkey’s cross-border military offensive into northern Syria last year.

On Turkey’s unilateral behavior, Frantzman said: “This is part of a global rising authoritarian agenda but appears to be counter to the NATO mission that once ostensibly was about defending Western democracies from the Soviet totalitarian threat.

“This calls into question the overall NATO mission and whether NATO is now enabling Ankara’s authoritarian trend. NATO countries are generally afraid to challenge Turkey, thinking that without Turkey and with a US disinterested in global commitments, NATO would become a European club with an unclear future. For Russia that is good news as it supplies S-400 systems to Turkey, further eroding NATO,” he added.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, felt NATO would be able to manage the spat between France and Turkey.

“Libya isn’t really a NATO issue. It is out of the area for the alliance. I see this more as a bilateral dispute between two rival powers in the Mediterranean.

“What I worry more about is how NATO members, including both Turkey and France, are letting these bilateral squabbles seep into the North Atlantic Council. They should keep their fights to themselves.”