Lebanon president requests contact with US Embassy over sanctions on ex-ministers

Lebanon president requests contact with US Embassy over sanctions on ex-ministers
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun requested the country’s caretaker foreign minister make contact with the US to understand the circumstances behind the US sanctions. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 September 2020

Lebanon president requests contact with US Embassy over sanctions on ex-ministers

Lebanon president requests contact with US Embassy over sanctions on ex-ministers
  • Aoun also requested contact with the Lebanese embassy in Washington

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has asked his interim foreign minister to contact the US embassy about the imposition of sanctions on two of the country’s former ministers, the presidency media office said on Wednesday.
Aoun also requested contact be made with the Lebanese embassy in Washington “in order to understand the circumstances” behind the decision to place the politicians, allied with the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, on its sanctions list.
The US Treasury on Tuesday announced it was imposing sanctions on former finance minister and top Amal official Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works and transportation minister Youssef Fenianos, a senior member of the Christian Marada Movement.
The treasury department said they “provided material support to Hezbollah and engaged in corruption.” The move was Washington strongest warning against Hezbollah’s allies.
Khalil is currently a member of the Lebanese Parliament and Hezbollah and its allies control majority seats in parliament. 
The Shiite Amal group is headed by Lebanon’s longtime Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Marada Movement is an organization allied with Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. 
The sanctions came as Lebanon grapples with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and deals with the aftermath of a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 190, wounded 6,500 and caused damage worth billions of dollars.
The sanctions also came as prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib works to form a new Cabinet to replace the one that resigned on Aug. 10, six days after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated in Beirut. The disaster fueled outrage against a ruling class that has run the country for decades amid widespread corruption and mismanagement.
Some analysts in Lebanon saw the sanctions as a message to Hezbollah’s allies to review their links with the Iran-backed group, especially by targeting a Christian ally for the first time.
“Fenianos and Ali Hassan Khalil are two central figures in the coalition that is led by Hezbollah,” said Ali Hamadeh, a political writer at An-Nahar newspaper who is often critical of the Iran-backed group.
He added that by sanctioning Fenianos, the US is sending a message to Frangieh, the Marada chief, who is a presidential hopeful. Hamadeh said Hezbollah’s non-Shiite allies will now have to “think seriously about the repercussions of their relations with Hezbollah.”
Amal denounced the US sanctions against one of its senior members in a statement on Wednesday, saying they infringe on Lebanon’s sovereignty and will not succeed in extracting any concessions.
(With Reuters and AP)


A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
Updated 28 July 2021

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
  • ‘You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body’

ESHHAR, Israel: Idit Harel Segal was turning 50, and she had chosen a gift: She was going to give one of her own kidneys to a stranger.
The kindergarten teacher from northern Israel, a proud Israeli, hoped her choice would set an example of generosity in a land of perpetual conflict. She was spurred by memories of her late grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who told her to live meaningfully, and by Jewish tradition, which holds that there’s no higher duty than saving a life.
So Segal contacted a group that links donors and recipients, launching a nine-month process to transfer her kidney to someone who needed one.
That someone turned out to be a 3-year-old Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip.
“You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body,” Segal wrote in Hebrew to the boy, whose family asked not to be named due to the sensitivities over cooperating with Israelis. A friend translated the letter into Arabic so the family might understand. “I hope with all my heart that this surgery will succeed and you will live a long and healthy and meaningful life.”
Just after an 11-day war, “I threw away the anger and frustration and see only one thing. I see hope for peace and love,” she wrote. “And if there will be more like us, there won’t be anything to fight over.”
What unfolded over the months between Segal’s decision and the June 16 transplant caused deep rifts in the family. Her husband and the oldest of her three children, a son in his early 20s, opposed the plan. Her father stopped talking to her.
To them, Segal recalled, she was unnecessarily risking her life. The loss of three relatives in Palestinian attacks, including her father’s parents, made it even more difficult.
“My family was really against it. Everyone was against it. My husband, my sister, her husband. And the one who supported me the least was my father,” Segal said during a recent interview in her mountaintop home in Eshhar. “They were afraid.”
When she learned the boy’s identity, she kept the details to herself for months.
“I told no one,” Segal recalled. “I told myself if the reaction to the kidney donation is so harsh, so obviously the fact that a Palestinian boy is getting it will make it even harsher.”
Israel has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of the area in 2007.
The bitter enemies have fought four wars since then, and few Gazans are allowed to enter Israel. With Gaza’s health care system ravaged by years of conflict and the blockade, Israel grants entry permits to small numbers of medical patients in need of serious treatments on humanitarian grounds.
Matnat Chaim, a nongovernmental organization in Jerusalem, coordinated the exchange, said the group’s chief executive, Sharona Sherman.
The case of the Gaza boy was complicated. To speed up the process, his father, who was not a match for his son, was told by the hospital that if he were to donate a kidney to an Israeli recipient, the boy would “immediately go to the top of the list,” Sherman said.
On the same day his son received a new kidney, the father donated one of his own — to a 25-year-old Israeli mother of two.
In some countries, reciprocity is not permitted because it raises the question of whether the donor has been coerced. The whole ethic of organ donation is based on the principle that the donors should give of their own free will and get nothing in return.
In Israel, the father’s donation is seen as an incentive to increase the pool of donors.
For Segal, the gift that had sparked such conflict in her family accomplished more than she hoped. Her kidney has helped save the boy’s life, generated a second donation and established new links between members of perpetually warring groups in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. She said she visited the boy on the eve of his surgery and maintains contact with his parents.
Segal said she honored her grandfather in a way that helps her cope with the grief of his death five years ago. The donation was an act of autonomy, she said, and she never wavered. And eventually her family came around — a gift, perhaps, in itself.
She said her husband understands better now, as do her children. And on the eve of Segal’s surgery, her father called.
“I don’t remember what he said because he was crying,” Segal said. Then, she told him that her kidney was going to a Palestinian boy.
For a moment, there was silence. And then her father spoke.
“Well,” he said, “he needs life, also.”

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Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
  • Responsibility for political crisis lies with Islamist Ennahda party, analysts tell Arab News

JEDDAH: Tunisians threw their weight behind President Kais Saied on Tuesday after he told leading civil society groups that the emergency situation was temporary and he would “protect the democratic path.”
Saied pledged that the “freedoms and rights of Tunisians would not be affected in any way,” said Sami Tahri, an official in the powerful UGTT trade union.
Thousands celebrated on the streets on Monday after Saied dismissed the government, including Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the justice and defense ministers. He also suspended parliament, which had been dominated by its speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party.
On the streets of Tunis, many welcomed the president’s orders. Najet Ben Gharbia, 47, a nurse, said she had been waiting “a long time” for such a move. A decade after Tunisians ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, many are struggling.
“There is still great poverty,” Ben Gharbia said, describing the inflation that has stripped the value of income, making meat too expensive to buy. “People are miserable.
“Kais Saied, he’s a teacher, not a politician, he’s like us. We are sure of him, he is not like Ben Ali, he is not a dictator.”
Mounir Mabrouk, 50, said: “What the president is doing is in our interest. Political parties have done nothing except sell our property to foreigners and wealthy elites.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Taxi driver Hosni Mkhali, 47, said action had to be taken — especially to bring the cases of coronavirus under control, as Tunisia struggles with one of the world’s worst recorded death rates. “All Tunisians are disgusted,” he said. “It was the best time to act.”
Analysts laid the blame for Tunisia’s turmoil firmly at the door of Ennahda, the Islamist party led by Ghannouchi.
Ammar Aziz, an associate editor at Al Arabiya News Channel, told Arab News: “With Ennahda controlling parliament and also the government, everything has simply collapsed — from security to the economy. The same is true for the country’s transport system and public health institutions. All Tunisians have noticed the deterioration and it is for this reason we saw the protests in different towns on July 25.”
Writing today in Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and former leading British diplomat, said Ghannouchi’s motives were questionable.
He said: “Although Ghannouchi claimed to have separated the political, social welfare and dawa wings of Ennahda in 2016, there has never been anything to suggest that he does not share the ultimate Muslim Brotherhood goal of an Islamized state.”


Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say
Updated 28 July 2021

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say
  • A new research paper says the Lebanese state ‘is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability. This system has effectively collapsed’
  • Recovery is possible but will require civil society groups, the media, private organizations and other activists to work together to confront the ruling elite and force change

LONDON: The political and economic crisis in Lebanon can be resolved, experts say, but it will require collective action, the mobilization of civil society, and the formation of coalitions.
Since the end of the civil war in 1990, corruption among the political elite has undermined Lebanon’s recovery and development, according to Karim Merhej, a researcher and data analyst at The Public Source, culminating in the unprecedented socioeconomic crisis the country now faces.
Lebanon is in a transitional period in which the foundations of the post-civil war political and economic systems are built on the exploitation of resources that should be benefiting the people of the country, Merhej said.
His comments came during a discussion of his newly published research paper, “Breaking the Curse of Corruption in Lebanon,” hosted by Chatham House, a think tank in London.
“This state is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability,” he said. “This system has effectively collapsed and we are in a period where we are not sure what is going to happen yet. Even the political class in Lebanon do not know what is happening — they have gone almost 10 months without forming a government.”
On Monday, billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was chosen to be Lebanon’s new Prime Minister-designate, tasked with forming a government to end a year of political deadlock that has crippled the country. This is the third time he has been elected to the post after previously serving in 2005 and 2011.
He replaced Saad Hariri, who resigned on July 15 after nine months of negotiations with President Michel Aoun about the composition of the new government ending in failure. After his resignation, the Lebanese currency, which had already lost most of its value, hit record lows.
Last month the World Bank said Lebanon is enduring one of the three worst economic collapses since the mid-19th century. More than half the population is believed to be below the national poverty line and children, 30 percent of whom “went to bed hungry or skipped meals” in June, are “bearing the brunt” of the crisis, the institution said.

Words are written by Lebanese citizens in front of the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. (AP)

Merhej’s paper examines the anti-corruption laws in Lebanon, investigates why they are not working, and offers recommendations for action by the government, the international community and civil society.
“Lebanon’s anti-corruption initiatives, culminating in the recent adoption of the National Anti-corruption Strategy, are destined to be ineffective,” he writes.
“The Lebanese political elite unveiled these initiatives to the international community, as well as the Lebanese electorate, following the uprising of late 2019 and early 2020 in order to rehabilitate their tarnished image, and in some cases to acquire much-needed international funding.”
Merhej said that while the strategy and new laws might look commendable on paper, they are likely to be poorly implemented because of “a lack of political will among Lebanon’s ruling elites to engage in transparency, the absence of an independent judiciary, the use of state resources to benefit the private interests of the elites, the use of bureaucracy to make laws unimplementable, and the fact that the ruling elites are the custodians of the country’s broad anti-corruption strategy.”
The fight against corruption requires great effort and will not achieve results overnight, he warned. The government must prioritize the formation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, he added, and ensure the judiciary is independent and not tied or subservient to the political class.
“We have seen a lot of collective organizing in the past two-to-three years, particularly after the October uprising in 2019, and we have seen the emergence of alternative syndicates (and) grassroots organizations and initiatives to protect free speech,” he said.
A lot of funding is flowing into Lebanon, with more expected, Merhej added as he called on the international community to implement transparency strategies to ensure aid goes directly to the people who need it and not into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Diana Kaissy, director of civil society engagement at the International Republican Institute in Lebanon, agreed that greater transparency is needed, particularly for parliamentary committee meetings, which are held behind closed doors and the minutes are not released to the public.
“We need to be sitting at the table, being part of these consultations, drafting these laws, so we make sure that they are laws that can be used (and) they are not toothless, they do not have loopholes,” she said.
Not all government officials are corrupt, Kaissy added, and a multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted that capitalizes on key players.
Little by little, she said, eventually it will be possible to make the changes people want. “I currently see no other way, and that is maybe what is keeping us hopeful and working the whole time,” she added.
Badri Meouchi, a corporate governance consultant with Tamayyaz, said countries or institutions that want to support anti-corruption efforts in Lebanon should work closely with the media, civil-society groups, private-sector organizations, and others in the public arena. Elections are also important, he said, but there are major challenges to overcome.
“We need to organize ourselves better, as well as financially, because they are very well organized (and) have amazing financial resources at their disposal, and we need to become more creative than they are — because they’re very creative,” he said.
Lebanon is set to hold separate municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections next year.
There is hope, however, in what is happening on the ground, he added.
“What has changed in the past two years, which is encouraging, is that the formula of fear has changed,” Meouchi said. “It used to be, a couple of years ago, that if a politician entered a public place everyone wanted to shake their hand and be seen with them.
“Today you have citizens who are emboldened and this is a new factor in the fight against corruption, because there is only so much that we in civil society can do.”


Pro-Iran groups welcome US vow to end Iraq combat operations

U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 July 2021

Pro-Iran groups welcome US vow to end Iraq combat operations

U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
  • Hashd Al-Shaabi considers Biden’s move ‘a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq’

BAGHDAD: Several powerful pro-Iran groups in Iraq on Tuesday welcomed an announcement by Washington that US combat operations in the country will end this year, an outcome they have long demanded.

US President Joe Biden declared on Monday that “we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” as he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi for White House talks.
US troops would continue to provide training and assistance to the Iraqi military, including intelligence cooperation, falling short of pro-Iran factions’ demands for a full withdrawal.
But the Conquest Alliance, the political wing of Iraq’s Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which is dominated by pro-Iran groups, said it considered Biden’s announcement “to be a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq.”
“We hope that it will materialize on the ground,” it added.
US troops were invited into Iraq in 2014 — three years after ending an eight-year occupation that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein — by a government desperate to halt a sweeping advance by the Daesh group.
Iraq’s government declared Daesh defeated in late 2017, but the extremists retain sleeper cells and still launch periodic suicide attacks.
The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers Washington its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.
Pro-Iran armed factions stand accused of carrying out around 50 rocket and drone attacks this year against US interests in Iraq.
Since last year, the principal role of the remaining US troops — now totaling 2,500, after drawdowns under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump — had already been to train, advise and support the Iraqi military in its fight against Daesh.
Biden’s announcement therefore indicated little major change of policy.
The face-to-face meeting was to give political cover to Al-Kadhimi, in power for little over a year and under intensifying pressure over the continued US presence, analysts said.
Several other pro-Iran groups in Iraq also reacted positively.
The Imam Ali Brigades lauded “the end of the foreign presence” and said it “thanked the (Iraqi) government for keeping its promises,” while influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr also welcomed Biden’s announcement.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers US its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.

But more radical pro-Iran groups have not yet responded.
Meanwhile, Iran’s state TV reported on Tuesday that authorities arrested members of a group linked to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency amid ongoing protests over water shortages in the country’s southwest.
The report said “a network of spy agents, with a large amount of weapons and ammunition” was arrested after sneaking into Iran from across its western border. It claimed the alleged Mossad agents intended to use the weapons during riots in Iran and also for assassinations.
The state TV did not elaborate or say how many alleged agents were arrested or when they purportedly infiltrated into Iran. Iran borders Turkey and Iraq to the west.
At least five people have been killed amid days of protests over water shortages affecting Iran’s Khuzestan province. That’s according to statements carried by state-run media in Iran.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the US and Israel.
Western Iran has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists as well as militants linked to Daesh.
In July 2020, Iran said “terrorists” killed two people in an attack in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Last year, Iran executed a man convicted of leaking information to the US and Israel about prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps general Qassem Soleimani, who was later killed by a US drone strike in Iraq.


Libya headed back to ‘square one’ of post-Qaddafi turmoil if polls delayed, warns parliament speaker

Parliament head Aguila Saleh attends a session to discuss approving new government, in Sirte, Libya March 8, 2021. (REUTERS)
Parliament head Aguila Saleh attends a session to discuss approving new government, in Sirte, Libya March 8, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 July 2021

Libya headed back to ‘square one’ of post-Qaddafi turmoil if polls delayed, warns parliament speaker

Parliament head Aguila Saleh attends a session to discuss approving new government, in Sirte, Libya March 8, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Aguila Saleh said the president remains the one who decides the matter of foreign forces and mercenaries in the country, adding that there were difficulties in unifying the army due to outside interference

TRIPOLI: Libya will return to “square one” and the turmoil of 2011 if national elections planned for December are delayed, the speaker of parliament said, with a new rival government likely to set itself up in the east.
The elections are seen in the West as a critical step in efforts to bring stability to Libya, which has been in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.
Libya, a major oil and gas producer, was divided in 2014 between an internationally recognized government in the west and a rival administration in the east that established its own institutions.
A UN-led peace process led to a cease-fire last year after fighting between the rival factions and a unity government was formed in February and approved by parliament in March.
Aguila Saleh, speaker of the House of Representatives, said he did not want to see further division.
“If the elections are delayed, we will go back to square one,” Saleh said at his office in the eastern town of Qubah, warning that a new, parallel government could emerge in the east.
The aim of the Government of National Unity (GNU) was to ensure public services and lead the country to general elections on Dec. 24.
The peace process also led to a truce in September after the collapse of a 14-month offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. The truce called for all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave.
“The president remains the one who decides the matter of foreign forces and mercenaries in the country,” Saleh said, adding there were difficulties in unifying the army due to outside interference.
A senior official at the US State Department said last month Turkey and Russia, which backed opposing sides in Libya, had reached an initial understanding to work toward a target of pulling out 300 Syrian mercenaries from each side of the conflict.
Saleh said that the GNU had failed to unify Libya’s institutions and had become a “Tripoli government,” demanding it take care of the obligations of the two dissolved governments.
This month, UN-sponsored talks aimed at paving the way for elections failed to find common ground.
But Saleh said there was no need for the 75 committee members to meet. “We have a constitutional declaration,” he said. “We do not need to go around and waste time. No bargaining.”
Saleh also said that the government’s proposed 100 billion dinar ($22.15 billion) budget was too big and he expected a figure of up to 80 billion dinars to be approved.
Separately, grappling with the coronavirus crisis, the government earlier announced a two-week overnight curfew in the areas it controls in the center and west of the North African country.
The 12-hour curfew starts at 6 p.m. and end at 6 a.m., during which time cafes, restaurants, shops and parks will be closed and travel prohibited.