Italian PM to visit Beirut in wake of devastating port blast

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will next week become the latest world leader to visit Beirut offering support in the aftermath of last month’s devastating port explosion. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 September 2020

Italian PM to visit Beirut in wake of devastating port blast

  • Conte to meet Lebanese politicians, representatives over recovery support  

ROME: Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will next week become the latest world leader to visit Beirut offering support in the aftermath of last month’s devastating port explosion.

According to Italian Foreign Undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano, the premier will on Tuesday hold “day-long talks with the top political and institutional figures in Lebanon and will also meet representatives of the local civil society.”

Last week, after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut, Italian Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini also announced that Conte would be making the trip.

Guerini described the PM’s coming visit as a new “tangible sign of the brotherhood between the two countries” following the ammonium nitrate blast in a dock warehouse on Aug. 4, which left more than 180 people dead and at least 6,000 injured.

In a telephone call with former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab immediately after the huge explosion, Conte had expressed his country’s “deepest condolences” and offered his “unconditional support” to Lebanon.

A few days later Guerini flew to Beirut to present emergency aid, mobilized by his country’s military, which was transported in two Italian Navy vessels as part of a humanitarian mission dubbed Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency). A field hospital, and the services of explosive and chemical experts were also made available to the Lebanese by the Italians.

Approximately 1,200 Italian soldiers who are part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which is under Italian command, are now stationed in Lebanon. In the past 38 years, Italian military forces have never ceased to be present in the country.

An Italian diplomatic source in Rome told Arab News that Conte would have talks in the Lebanese capital with Aoun, Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, and “representatives of all the political forces in that country.”

According to Di Stefano the Italian PM would also visit the site of the explosion in the Port of Beirut and inspect the Italian emergency aid deployed there soon after the blast.

“The aim of this coming official visit is to testify and reaffirm, once again, that we want to contribute to reconstruct not only the Lebanese economy, but also social and political structures in that country,” he told the Italian Parliament’s Lower Chamber.

“Once the emergency phase has been overcome and the new Lebanese government has been formed, the international community will have to support the country’s economic and financial recovery and contribute to its full stabilization.

“Italy has always pursued this strategic target in the interests of the Mediterranean area and of the international community. We are and will continue to stand alongside Lebanon,” Di Stefano said.

He noted that at the CEDRE Conference in Paris in April 2018, Italy had pledged 120 million euros ($142 million) to strengthen Lebanese institutions and the country’s economy.

Lebanon is one of the main beneficiary countries of Italy’s development cooperation in sectors ranging from archaeological heritage to wastewater treatment infrastructures, and it also receives Italian support for vulnerable groups in the population and Syrian refugees living there.

US accuses Syria of delaying constitution ahead of election

Updated 29 October 2020

US accuses Syria of delaying constitution ahead of election

  • It calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body

NEW YORK: The US and several Western allies on Tuesday accused the Syrian regime of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to waste time until presidential elections in 2021, and avoid UN-supervised voting as called for by the UN Security Council.

US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills urged the Security Council to “do everything in its power” to prevent Bashar Assad regime from blocking agreement on a new constitution in 2020. The Trump administration believes Assad’s hope is to “invalidate the work” of UN special envoy Geir Pedersen who has been trying to spearhead action on a constitution, and the council’s call for a political transition.

The Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed a road map to peace in Syria that was approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the UN, Arab League, EU, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members — the US, Russia, China, France and Britain.

It calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body, followed by the drafting of a new constitution and ending with UN-supervised elections. The resolution says the free and fair elections should meet “the highest international standards” of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians — including members of the diaspora — eligible to participate.

At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. That took until September 2019, and since then only three meetings have been held with little progress.

Pedersen, the UN envoy, told the Security Council on Tuesday he was unable to convene a fourth meeting in October because the government wouldn’t accept a compromise agenda which the opposition agreed to. During his just concluded visit to Damascus, he said there was “some valuable narrowing of the differences” that could enable consensus on agendas for the next two meetings.

“If we are able to find agreement in the next two days, it should be possible to meet in Geneva sometime in the month of November,” Pedersen said, dropping the Nov. 23 date in his prepared speech.

Mills, the US envoy, urged Pedersen “to take any measures he thinks are appropriate to facilitate the parties’ efforts ... and also to identify to the council who is blocking progress.”

“Syria is wholly unprepared to carry out elections in a free, fair and transparent manner that would include the participation of the Syrian diaspora,” Mills said. “This is why we need the constitutional committee to work, and why we need the UN to accelerate its planning to ensure Syria’s upcoming elections are credible.”

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen called Assad’s “delaying and obstruction tactics” on the constitutional committee’s work “just detestable.”

He said Russia, Syria’s most important ally, “should finally use its influence by, for instance, just cutting military aid and stopping its support, so that the Syrian regime finally plays ball.”

Syria’s tactics are clear, Heusgen said. “They want to waste time until the presidential elections in 2021. The regime should not have any illusions. The elections will not be recognized if they are held under the present circumstances.”

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere also criticized Assad’s “refusal to engage in good faith” and called for preparations to begin for UN-supervised elections that include the diaspora. France won’t recognize results that don’t comply with these provisions, he said, stressing: “We will not be fooled by the regime’s attempts to legitimize itself.”

Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, made no mention of the April presidential election and countered that Syrians must have “the opportunity to negotiate without interference from the outside.”

“The work of the constitutional committee should not be subject to any deadlines,” he said, expressing hope that Pedersen’s mediation will enable the committee’s work to continue “in line with the agenda agreed by the Syrians.”

Russia also sparred with Western ambassadors over its veto threats that led to the closure of two border crossings to deliver aid to Syria — one in the northeast and one in the northwest — leaving only one crossing to Idlib in the northwest.

The US, Germany, France, Britain, Belgium and others criticized the border crossing closures.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the council that Syrian government deliveries across conflict lines to the northeast are “not delivering at the scale or frequency required to meet the current health needs.” He said one hospital received only 450 gowns in April, and another received nothing for its maternity wing.

Lowcock also said “the situation of families across Syria is truly desperate,” citing food prices more than 90 percent higher than six months ago.

Russia’s Nebenzia responded, noting “with satisfaction the progress in UN humanitarian deliveries from inside Syria including through cross-line routes,” saying this “proves” the government is providing aid to people including in areas not under its control.