Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at Hagia Sophia. Above, visitors inside the UNESCO World Heritage site. (AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2020

Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque
  • ‘My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed’

VACTICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Sunday he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano had on Saturday carried reaction from different countries about Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque but without any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Qur'an at Hagia Sophia.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court canceled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.


Five Iraqi crew killed in helicopter crash on ‘combat mission’

Five Iraqi crew killed in helicopter crash on ‘combat mission’
Updated 3 min 3 sec ago

Five Iraqi crew killed in helicopter crash on ‘combat mission’

Five Iraqi crew killed in helicopter crash on ‘combat mission’
  • The helicopter came down near Amerli in Salaheddin province

BAGHDAD: Five Iraqi troops were killed Thursday when their helicopter crashed on a "combat mission" north of Baghdad, the military said, without elaborating on the cause.
The helicopter came down near Amerli in Salaheddin province, the military said, in an area where Iraqi troops have carried out repeated operations against suspected sleeper cells of the Islamic State group.


Palestinian boy shot by Israeli army dies

Palestinian boy shot by Israeli army dies
Updated 47 min 5 sec ago

Palestinian boy shot by Israeli army dies

Palestinian boy shot by Israeli army dies
  • He is the second young Palestinian to die of wounds sustained by Israeli fire in days
  • All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by most of the international community

JERUSALEM: A Palestinian boy wounded by Israeli army fire in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday has died from his wounds, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Mohamad Al-Alami, 12, died in the town of Beit Omar, to the northwest of the flashpoint city of Hebron, after he was shot in the chest while traveling in a car with his father, the ministry said in a statement.
He is the second young Palestinian to die of wounds sustained by Israeli fire in days.
In a statement, the Israeli army said soldiers had seen men get out of a vehicle near a military checkpoint and begin digging in the ground.
“Troops approached the scene with caution and upon examination found two bags, one of which contained the body of a newborn infant,” it added.
When a vehicle approached the same spot a little while later, the army “concluded that it was the same vehicle as before” and attempted to stop it by shouting and firing shots into the air.
When the vehicle did not stop, a soldier fired at its wheels.
“We are looking into the claim that a Palestinian minor was killed as a result of the gunfire,” the army said.
“The incident is being reviewed by senior commanding officers. In addition, the military police has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the event.”
On Saturday a 17-year-old Palestinian died from wounds he received the day before. Mohammed Munir Al-Tamimi, who suffered gunshot wounds, died in hospital, the Palestinian health ministry said, a day after violence in the Palestinian village of Beita.
Hundreds of Palestinians had gathered on Friday afternoon in Beita, a hot spot in recent months, to protest against the nearby wildcat Jewish settlement outpost of Eviatar.
The clashes pitted Palestinians against Israeli soldiers and resulted in 320 Palestinians being wounded, according to the Red Crescent.
And late Tuesday, a 41-year-old Palestinian was shot dead near Beita, the Palestinian health ministry said.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by most of the international community.


The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal

The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal
Updated 29 July 2021

The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal

The case for continued financial support for Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal
  • Critics argue the Special Tribunal for Lebanon failed and should close down because it did not lead to a single arrest 
  • Experts participating in an Arab News webinar said Hariri tribunal should be allowed to complete its mandate

LONDON: The clock is ticking ever closer to a moment of reckoning. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, has run out of money and is due to permanently close at the end of July.

In the midst of an unprecedented national economic crisis, authorities in Lebanon said they are no longer able to cover their 49 percent share of the tribunal’s $40 million-a-year operating costs. The remaining 51 percent is provided by 28 donors, including the US government and several European states.

The STL announced its verdict almost a year ago. Despite repeated government appeals for financial assistance to help the STL fully fulfill its mandate, and impassioned defense of its achievements so far by experts in international criminal justice, donor nations appear content to allow it to adjourn for good.

At the time of its launch there was widespread support for the tribunal, as Lebanon reeled from one of its worst atrocities since the civil war. On Valentine’s Day 2005, a massive car bomb exploded outside St. Georges Hotel in Beirut. It killed Hariri and 21 other people, and left 269 wounded.

The international community responded by issuing a number of UN Security Council resolutions and setting up an investigative commission to assist the Lebanese authorities in investigating the murder and other political crimes.

Four years after the assassination, UN Security Council Resolution 1757 established the STL, based in Leidschendam in the Netherlands, kick-starting the task of seeking the truth and obtaining justice for the victims.

The tribunal issued its judgment on Aug. 18 last year. It found Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash guilty of launching the attack, but acquitted three co-defendants.

After long delays, attacks on investigators, intimidation of witnesses, and routine trouncing by the media, the STL’s verdict was greeted with an almighty shrug. Coming as it did close on the heels of the devastating August 4 Beirut port explosion, the decision was seen by many as proof that the process had failed because it “convicted only one person.”

Defenders of the work of the STL acknowledge that the court and its verdict have their limits, but say it nonetheless represents a successful multilateral effort to reinforce a rules-based international order. They also argue its mission is incomplete and part of a wider learning curve for institutions of international criminal justice.

“No international criminal tribunal has ever halted its work in this way due to a funding shortfall and this should never have happened with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon because it should have been allowed to complete its mandate,” Olga Kavran, head of outreach and legacy at the STL from 2010 until last year, said during a webinar hosted by the Arab News Research and Studies unit on Monday.

Olga Kavran

“This is not to say that there should not have been a thorough examination of the way that the tribunal has been managed, of the way that the proceedings of the tribunal have been conducted because, after all, international criminal justice as a project is one (that is) in development, and all other international criminal tribunals have been examined and scrutinized so that the best practices can be learned, so that the international criminal justice project can advance.”

Kavran, founding director of IUSTICOM, the first non-governmental organization focused on communicating justice, is the co-author of a report titled “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Truth, Justice or Accountability?” that was recently published by the Lebanese American University’s (LAU) New York Academic Center in collaboration with the Arab News Research and Studies Unit.

It offers a passionate defense of the STL and examines some of the possible reasons for the poor reception to it.

In this Feb. 19, 2005, photo, three of the sons of slain Lebanese former PM Rafiq Hariri, (from L to R) Ayman, Saadeddin and Bahaa visit the site of the massive explosion in which their father was killed on Feb. 14. (AFP file)

The STL was the first international tribunal with jurisdiction over terrorism and the first to conduct trials in the absence of the accused. For the first time in the region, it introduced the principle of accountability for political crimes.

Crucially, at a local level in Lebanon the STL did succeed in delivering a significant part of “the truth” that people wanted after the assassination of Hariri.

“Disappointment with the judgment is based on a combination of unrealistic expectations, a lack of understanding of the tribunal’s rigorous procedures, and legitimate concerns about the narrowness of its mandate and the length of time it took to reach its judgment,” according to the report.

“In view of the scale of suffering during the Lebanese Civil War, for which no one has ever been held accountable, and the dozens of political assassinations throughout Lebanon’s history, it was indeed difficult to argue that the assassination of one man warranted such an expensive and complex legal instrument.

“This added to the unrealistic expectations that the tribunal would address much broader issues of states and groups which regularly interfere with and undermine the authority of the Lebanese nation.”

Members of the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon participate in a hearing on the Rafik assassination. (AFP file photo)

Among the critics of the tribunal is David Schenker, a former US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and the Taube Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute. In an essay published in Foreign Policy magazine on July 19, he concluded that the STL “has not led to a single arrest, so Washington should let it expire and help the Lebanese people in better ways.”

He wrote: “The truth about who killed Hariri has been firmly established by the court but in Lebanon, where the verdict needs to be implemented, the wheels of justice do not grind. As with so many political murders there, no one has been held accountable for his death.”

Ayyash, the convicted plotter, is thought still to be living in the country, under the protection of Hezbollah, but the Lebanese authorities have made scant efforts to arrest him.

“Proponents of the tribunal argue that, to this day, it continues to serve this purpose by exposing Hezbollah’s crimes and thus damaging its reputation,” Schenker said. “Alas, there is little evidence to suggest that Hezbollah’s supporters are repulsed by this or any other murder linked to the organization.

“Instead, 16 years after Hariri’s death, the tribunal, which has cost various countries’ taxpayers nearly $800 million, has become a distraction amid Lebanon’s self-inflicted state failure and Hezbollah’s increasing dominance of the state.”

INNUMBERS

51% of tribunal’s funding provided by international donors.

49% of funding provided by Lebanese government.

He therefore sees no use in prolonging the life of the court any further.

“Even if the Lebanese government and the United Nations try to salvage the court, the Biden administration should let the tribunal expire,” Schenker said. “The court cannot implement its verdict in its most important case, and with the economic situation in Lebanon rapidly deteriorating, continuing to pay for the tribunal would constitute an appalling misallocation of resources.”

Whatever its outcome, the tribunal has added significantly to the historical record. The judgment’s 2,641 pages, and the evidence laid out in them, are especially important for Lebanon, where a culture of “moving on” and a deeply ingrained concept of leaving the past behind in the name of “stability” have long prevailed.

During Monday’s webinar, report co-author Nadim Shehadi, executive director of the LAU Headquarters and Academic Center in New York and an associate fellow of the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said: “In 2005, the Lebanese asked for the truth.

Nadim Shehadi

“But they asked for an international tribunal not because it would just deliver the truth. They wanted an international tribunal because they also wanted the international community to know the truth, because they felt that in the past 10-15 years they had been abandoned. If the international community knew the truth then the protection would be restored.

“It (the tribunal) has been ignored internally — not just because people are bored, not because it took a long time, not because it’s partial — (with) lots of criticisms of the process. I think it is because they cannot handle the truth.”

Above all, the report argues that a failure to address the findings of the Hariri case, while also halting the case dealing with three terrorist attacks on Lebanese politicians Marwan Hamade, George Hawi and Elias El-Murr on the eve of the tribunal, would send the message that impunity prevails in the Middle East.

Nidal Jurdi, a Canadian-Lebanese lawyer who is the acting representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tunisia and the lead victim representative at the STL, also took part in the webinar.

Nidal Jurdi

He argued that much of the disappointment with the tribunal stems from the decision to convict only a single individual, rather than pursue the commanders who ordered the attack or others who participated in the plot.

The inability to enforce the verdict made the tribunal appear wasteful, he added. Given this, combined with the slow pace of the investigation and a perceived misuse of resources, he said he is not surprised the STL received such a negative reception.

“The STL was needed, and the legacy and example is needed — but a reformed one that can really see the situation how it was in Lebanon in such a situation of organized crime,” Jurdi said.

Indeed, he believes that if the court is allowed to close now, it will be a more cruel blow to the victims and their families than if it had not been established in the first place.

“The victims, now, they are devastated,” he said. “If you ask me, it would have been better not to indict than to indict and then retreat. How does it look?

“Do you think anyone would believe any more in international justice in the Middle East or Lebanon? It would become a joke.”

Read the full report on Arab News Research & Studies by clicking here


UN Security Council faces criticism from Israeli and Palestinian envoys

UN Security Council faces criticism from Israeli and Palestinian envoys
Updated 29 July 2021

UN Security Council faces criticism from Israeli and Palestinian envoys

UN Security Council faces criticism from Israeli and Palestinian envoys
  • Israel’s ambassador says members should be focusing on the activities of Iran and Hamas instead of the situation in East Jerusalem
  • Palestine’s representative bemoans council’s “limitations in times of aggression and war” which mean it has “an even greater duty to actively pursue peace”

NEW YORK: The Security Council faced criticism from both the Israeli and Palestinian envoys to the UN on Wednesday.
Israel’s ambassador to the US and the UN, Gilad Erdan, slammed council members for spending time discussing the situation in East Jerusalem. Instead, he said, Iran and the crises it is provoking in the region, in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, should be the focus of attention, along with the activities of Hamas.
“Hamas and Iran are fighting to keep the Middle East stuck in Middle Ages darkness,” he said.
He was speaking during a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the humanitarian response and reconstruction efforts following the war in Gaza in May, the continuing evictions of Palestinian families and demolitions of their homes in East Jerusalem, and the violent response by Palestinian security forces to protests against corruption and the death last month of political activist Nizar Banat during his arrest by Palestinian security forces.
“Shouldn’t the crisis in Lebanon be discussed today?” Erdan asked the 15-member council. He accused the UN of bias against Israel, and criticized the council for inviting Yudith Oppenheimer to give a briefing. She is the executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) that campaigns to make Jerusalem a safe and inclusive city for all its residents.
“No NGO can come to the Security Council and criticize the Palestinian Authority,” Erdan said in response to criticisms of the Israeli state. He added that the “obsession with the world’s only Jewish state also encouraged companies like Ben and Jerry’s (ice cream) and Unilever to impose antisemitic boycotts on Israel.”
Vermont-based brand Ben and Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, announced last week that it will no longer sell its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, saying that to do so would be “inconsistent with our values.”
Erdan said that last year’s Abraham Accords, the agreements by the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel, prove that peace is only possible when parties come together to build a better future for their children, “not through boycotts or by the Security Council interfering.” The accords might have been possible only because the council did not interfere, he added.
The Security Council also came in for criticism from Riad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the UN, over what he called “its limitations in times of aggression and war.” Such failures mean the council has “an even greater duty to actively pursue peace,” he added.
“It knows the road that leads to that destination,” he said. “It is inscribed in its own resolutions, including Resolution 2334.” The resolution describes Israel’s settlement activity in the Occupied Territories as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
“It has the tools to help implement these resolutions,” Mansour continued. “It has a mechanism, the Quartet, established for that sole purpose. (This) council must be a catalyst for determined international action to steer us away from the path we are on and ride toward safety.”
He said that the contents of the briefings on Wednesday by Oppenheimer and Lynn Hastings, the UN’s coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, offered clear signs “of the need for international action to uphold international law and this council’s resolutions in our collective search for justice and peace.”
Hinting at the decision by Ben and Jerry’s, he told the council: “When companies implement your resolutions they should not be criticized, they should be saluted.”
He added: “Occupation and peace cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive. Advancing peace requires ending occupation.
“We have to name the alternative to (peace): Apartheid on both sides of the green line.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said that her country remains committed to a two-state solution and “will continue to oppose efforts to single out Israel unfairly in UN forums.”
She urged Israelis and Palestinians to “to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative action and rhetoric, including settlement activity, annexation of territory, evictions, demolitions, incitement to violence and compensating individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”
She also called on UN member states, “especially our partners in the Gulf,” to step up their commitments to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA.)
Although she praised the agency’s staff for working “tirelessly” to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees, Thomas-Greenfield said the organization needs “operational and managerial improvements.”
She added: “And I want to be clear, the US has zero tolerance for manifestations of antisemitism and racism and other forms of hatred in UN agencies, and that includes UNRWA.
“It is critical that UNRWA is able to implement its obligations in line with humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.”
Thomas-Greenfield described as unacceptable the “recent reports of the Palestinian Authority acting to restrict Palestinian freedom of expression and harass civil society activists and organizations.”
She highlighted the death of activist Banat in particular, and called for the circumstances to be investigated and those responsible held accountable.
During her briefing, Oppenheimer focused on Israeli demolitions and evictions, saying that they have recently “increased in scope and scale in an unprecedented manner.”
She said that 3,000 Palestinians are threatened with mass expulsion, including the communities of Sheikh Jarrah and Batan Al-Hawa.
“(Many) of the families facing eviction are Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 and now stand to be displaced for a second time,” she told the council.
“Beyond the geopolitical implications, these measures severely violate Palestinian rights to housing, and family and community life, as an occupied minority group protected under international law.
“The Israeli government presents its action as legitimate within the framework of democratic institutions. However, these institutions are largely inaccessible to East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, who are devoid of political rights and the power to participate in the legislative and policy-making processes which govern their lives.”
Hastings, the UN’s coordinator, said that the estimated cost of short-term recovery and reconstruction in Gaza following the hostilities in May is between $345 million and $485 million.
International efforts to address the situation are underway, but she called on Israel to implement additional measures to ensure unhindered entry for all humanitarian assistance.
She also urged Hamas and other armed groups to halt “the launching of incendiary devices, rockets and mortars and end the militant build-up.”
Hastings called on the Palestinian authority to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out into Banat’s death and “all allegations of use of disproportionate force against protesters by Palestinian security forces,” and said that those responsible must be held to account.
“The Palestinian people must be able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly,” she said. “Arbitrary and politically motivated arrests must cease.”


Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party

Tunisia launches probe into funding of Ennahda party
  • The probes follow President Kais Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members

JEDDAH: Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to the Islamist Ennahda political party.
Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.
The probes follow President Kais Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.
Ennahda and two other political parties are accused of obtaining illegal funding before elections in 2019. The investigation will focus on “the foreign financing and acceptance of funds of unknown origin,” said Mohsen Dali, spokesman for the financial prosecutor’s office.
Rachid Ghannouchi, the Ennahda leader and parliamentary speaker, admitted that his party was a perfect target to blame for Tunisia’s raft of economic, health and other problems.
Ghannouchi conceded that Ennahda, which has been accused of focusing on its internal concerns instead of managing the coronavirus, “needs to review itself, as do other parties.”
The Islamist party has accused the president of carrying out a coup, but the claim has attracted little support in the international community. The US, EU and other world powers have stopped short of condemning Saied’s actions, and instead urged him to rapidly appoint a new prime minister and government.
Saied said he would assume executive power “with the help” of a government whose new leader he would appoint himself. Names of possible candidates circulated on Wednesday after Saied met representatives of civil society.
“President Saied will be very careful in choosing the future head of government, because he wants a trustworthy and loyal person who will adopt the same policies as him,” said political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi. “He is faced with a great challenge — to show Tunisians and the world that he made the right decisions.”
Saied said his actions were necessary to stabilize a country in economic and health crisis, and they have received widespread support among ordinary Tunisians.
Omar Oudherni, a retired army brigadier and security expert, said the president’s moves, coming after a day of nationwide protests, “put an end to the development of anger ... This decision calmed the situation and protected the state and citizens, and even the ruling political parties, from the people’s wrath.”