Italy defense minister to visit Beirut with aid

Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini will be in Beirut on Monday. (File photo: AFP)
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Updated 23 August 2020

Italy defense minister to visit Beirut with aid

  • Emergency assistance follows massive blast in Lebanese capital, spike in COVID-19 cases

ROME: Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini will be in Beirut on Monday, presenting emergency aid mobilized by his country’s military to help Lebanon following the devastating explosion in the capital on Aug. 4 and a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Nave San Giusto — a vessel carrying more than 500 soldiers along with chemical warfare and de-mining experts, as well as a field hospital — docked in Beirut on Saturday, Italy’s Defense Ministry said.

The mission, dubbed Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency), “is a further sign of the strong and fraternal closeness of Italy to the Lebanese population in such a difficult moment for the country,” said Guerini.

“In the past 38 years, Italian military forces have never ceased to be present in Lebanon, putting their professionalism at the service of stability and of strengthening security in the country, constantly guaranteeing the necessary assistance to the Lebanese authorities,” he added.

“With this new humanitarian mission, we intend to strengthen the historical link between Italy and Lebanon.”

Guerini also underlined the “delicate work” carried out by the approximately 1,200 Italian soldiers who are part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which is under Italian command.

On Aug. 4, Beirut was shaken by a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate in a port warehouse. More than 180 people were killed and at least 6,000 injured.

The blast exacerbated Lebanon’s economic and public health crisis. According to John Hopkins University, new COVID-19 cases in the country jumped to a record high of 3,310 in the week of Aug. 16-22.

Guerini is the first member of Italy’s government to visit Beirut since the blast, though Rome immediately offered assistance to Lebanese authorities.

The launch of Emergenza Cedri comes after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered his “unconditional support” to Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio had promised his Lebanese counterpart Charbel Wehbe that “Italy would keep on helping Lebanon, and the Lebanese people will not be left alone in this hardship.”

Angelo Tofalo, undersecretary of state for defense, told Arab News: “Italy has historically been close to Lebanon through its peacekeeping forces. The Emergenza Cedri operations will significantly contribute to the rebirth of the country after such a tragedy. Lebanon can count on the help of Italy.”

Italian navy ship Etna is also expected to arrive at Beirut on Monday, carrying more humanitarian aid offered by the navy and the Francesca Rava NPH Italia Onlus Foundation.

The ship set sail from the Italian city of Brindisi on Aug. 19 following a request for help from St. George Hospital in Beirut, one of the three main hospitals in the capital that were seriously damaged.

Electro-medical equipment will be donated, including two ultrasound scanners supplied by General Electric Healthcare, as well as medical supplies such as masks and gowns for staff, and other material.

An Italian Defense Ministry spokesman told Arab News that since the Beirut blast, his country’s armed forces have already deployed a field hospital with specialized personnel, similar to those used in Italy during the COVID-19 crisis.

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

Updated 49 min 18 sec ago

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

  • Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east
  • Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves

GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that the two sides in Libyan military talks had reached a “historic achievement” with a permanent cease-fire agreement across the war-torn North African country.
After mediation this week led by UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Turco Williams, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the UN called an “important turning point toward peace and stability in Libya.”
Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.
Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult,” Williams, a former US State Department official, said in Arabic at the signing ceremony.
“Before us is a lot of work in the coming days and weeks in order to implement the commitments of the agreement,” she said. “It is essential to continue work as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many problems due to this conflict facing the Libyan people.”
“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams added. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”
Ali Abushahma, the head of the delegation and a field commander for the UN-supported administration in Tripoli, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed ... We hope we will change the suffering on all the territories of Libya, especially in the south.”
“I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” he said, warning about polarization by factions.
The meetings this week mark the fourth round of talks involving the Joint Military Commission under Williams’ watch. The Geneva-based military talks come ahead of a political forum in Tunisia in November. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the UN mission said.
On Wednesday, Williams had said the two warring factions agreed on issues that “directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” citing agreements to open air and land routes in the country, to work to ease inflammatory rhetoric in Libyan media, and to help kickstart Libya’s vital oil industry.
Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Last month, the two sides reached preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory. This breakthrough also accompanied the resumption of oil production after a months-long blockade by powerful tribes allied with military commander Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based forces.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli, the seat of the UN-supported government in the west. But his campaign collapsed in June.
Fighting has since died down amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oil export terminals.