Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions
Lebanese Foreign Minister, Gibran Bassil, who is Lebanese president Michel Aoun's son-in-law and heads his Free Patriotic Movement party, speaks on his mobile phone on his arrival to the Lebanese presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, north Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (AP)
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Updated 07 November 2020

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions
  • Lebanese politicians slam Bashar Assad for blaming Lebanon on Syria’s financial crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon's former foreign minister Gebran Bassil on Friday said he was unfazed by US sanctions.

“Neither the sanctions scared me nor the promises seduced me,” Bassil wrote in a message on Twitter in response to the sanctions. 

“I do not turn against any Lebanese nor save myself to destroy Lebanon. I became accustomed to injustice and learned from our history,” he added.

The US Treasury on Friday imposed sanctions on Bassil, a Christian politician, son-in-law of Lebanon's President Michel Aoun, and an ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, accusing him of corruption.

Announcing the sanctions, the US Department of State said: “Through his corrupt activities, Bassil has undermined good governance and contributed to the prevailing system of corruption and political patronage that plagues Lebanon, which has aided and abetted Hezbollah's destabilizing activities.

“Lebanese political leaders should be aware that the time has long passed for them to put aside their own narrow self-interests and instead work for the people of Lebanon.”

Bassil has been a major target of Lebanese protesters since they took to the streets last year to demonstrate against widespread state corruption and mismanagement. Some observers suggest the sanctions might in part be designed to send an indirect message to Aoun.

The sanctions on Bassil are a serious blow to Hezbollah’s leading Christian ally in Lebanon. They come just weeks after the US imposed sanctions on former ministers Youssef Fenianos and Ali Hassan Khalil, sending a clear message to the Marada and Amal Movements, also allies of Hezbollah.

Bassil leads the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian political party, which was founded by Aoun and had 21 MPs before two resigned from the party in August following renewed protests against the government in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.


Support for Bassil

Maronite MP Hekmat Dib said: “Sanctions on Bassil are a political matter. We consider this a national dossier, and Bassil has nothing to do with funding Hezbollah”.

Former Free Patriotic Movement minister Ghassan Atallah tweeted: “If they thought that through the sanctions we will compromise our country’s wealth, an inch of the land and our conviction to extend a hand to any element of the Lebanese elements, the one wanting to impose sanctions does not know us.”

There were concerns among the Lebanese people that the sanctions on Bassil will be a further obstacle to the long-delayed formation of a new government led by Saad Hariri, as was the case when sanctions were placed on Hassan Khalil and Fenianos.

There are also fears that the sanctions might weaken Hariri’s position, and that Bassil and his allies will become more strident in their demands to form a government of specialists, not politicians. In the meantime, a caretaker government, led by Hassan Diab, continues to deal with the economic and financial crisis in Lebanon.


Assad flayed for blaming Lebanon 

Meanwhile, an accusation by Syrian President Bashar Assad that “billions of dollars of Syrians’ deposits held in Lebanon’s financial sector are the main cause of Syria’s deepening economic crisis” sparked outrage in Lebanon.

In a message posted on Twitter, Lebanese former minister Richard Kouyoumjian responded by saying: “The foundation of your regime stole hundreds of billions of dollars of the Lebanese people’s money while Syria occupied Lebanon. By the way, allow your displaced countrymen to return, for they have cost Lebanon tens of billions of dollars and depleted its infrastructure.”

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), said: “After Assad looted, destroyed and abandoned most of Syria and benefited from all kinds of smuggled subsidized products from Lebanon, and after the Beirut port was destroyed as a result of the nitrate that he imported to use in barrel bombs against his people, it seems that he plans to knock the Lebanese banking system.”

The PSP issued a statement that said: “One of the main reasons for the aggravating economic crisis in Lebanon and the decline and depletion of its public finances is the corruption channels engineered by the Syrian Baath regime in Lebanon, even after the withdrawal of Syrian troops.”

It added: “Assad’s remarks prove a clear plan to knock the Lebanese banking sector, which had always been a safe and stable haven for brethren Arabs. This talk allows the justification, and even the encouragement, of smuggling from Lebanon in an eager desire for the hard currency that is supported in Lebanon.”

Fearing the possibility of international sanctions, Lebanese banks have been avoiding accepting deposits from Syrians. 

According to figures from Lebanese authorities, the amount of Syrian funds deposited in the country is much smaller than Assad claims. In May, the monthly bulletin from Banque Du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, reported that bank deposits by non-residents — including Syrians, people from the Gulf, and migrants from Lebanon and other countries — amount to less than 20 percent of total deposits.


 


Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed
Updated 16 October 2021

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

BEIRUT: The head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF) denied late on Friday his group had planned street violence in Beirut that killed seven people, and said a meeting held the day before was purely political.
Thursday’s violence, which began as people were gathering for a protest called by Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah against the judge investigating last year’s Beirut port blast, was the worst in over a decade and stirred memories of the country’s ruinous sectarian civil war from 1975-90.
Samir Geagea told Voice of Lebanon International radio that a meeting held on Wednesday by a political grouping the LF belongs to had discussed action options should Iran-backed Hezbollah succeed in efforts to remove the judge.
Geagea said the option agreed upon in that event was to call for a public strike, and nothing else.
The powerful Hezbollah group stepped up accusations against the LF on Friday, saying it killed the seven Shiites to try to drag the country into a civil war.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shiite neighborhoods, has added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world’s worst ever economic meltdowns.
Asked whether the presence of LF members in the areas of Ain Al-Remmaneh and Teyouneh, where the shooting erupted, meant the incident was planned, Geagea said they were always present in these areas.
The security coordinator in the party contacted the authorities when they heard a protest was planned and asked for a heavy military presence in the area “as our priority was for the demonstration to pass by simply as a demonstration and not affect civil peace,” Geagea said.
Geagea said his party was assured that would be the case.
“The army has arrested snipers so they need to tell us who they are and where they came from.”
Nineteen people have been detained so far in relation to the incident.


Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails
Updated 16 October 2021

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails
  • Erdogan says will eliminate threats, latest attack ‘final straw.’

ANKARA: Turkey is preparing for possible further military action against a US-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria if talks on the issue with the US and Russia fail, two Turkish officials said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week Ankara was determined to eliminate threats originating in northern Syria and that a Kurdish YPG militia attack that killed two Turkish police officers was “the final straw.”
Turkey said the police in Syria’s Azaz region were hit in a guided missile attack on Sunday launched from Tel Rifaat by the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist group closely linked to militants fighting a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
“It is essential that the areas, notably the Tel Rifaat region from which attacks are constantly carried out against us, are cleansed,” one senior official told Reuters.
Turkish forces have launched three incursions in the last five years, seizing hundreds of kilometers of border strip and pushing around 30 km into northern Syria.
Russian jets, Iran-backed fighters, Turkish-supported insurgents, jihadists, US troops and Syrian government forces also operate across the patchwork of territories in northern Syria, as well as the Kurdish YPG.
The US views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh in northeast Syria. Russia has forces in the area to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey has carried out three incursions in Syria in recent years.

• Official says YPG militia must be pushed back at least 30 km.

The time and nature of any further Turkish military action was unclear.
The official said the military and national intelligence agency were making preparations.
“The decision for this has been taken and the necessary coordination will be done with particular countries. This subject will be discussed with Russia and the United States,” he added.
The officials said Erdogan would discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden at a G20 summit of the world’s major economies in Rome at the end of October.
Another official said the YPG must be pushed back at least 30 km, noting Russia was completely in control of the areas from which recent attacks had come, along with some Iranian elements.
Erdogan will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the talks with Biden, he said.
“If there is no outcome from diplomacy and the PYD does not leave these areas, an operation appears unavoidable,” he said, using the abbreviation for the YPG’s political wing and referring to Tel Rifaat and “several other locations.”
On Monday, shells believed to have been fired from a YPG-controlled area east of Tel Rifaat exploded in the Turkish town of Karkamis, across the border from Syria’s Jarablus, causing slight damage, Turkey said.
Azaz and Jarablus have been under the control of rebels backed by Turkey since Ankara’s first incursion into Syria in 2016 — an operation that aimed to drive Daesh militants and the YPG away from the border.
Since then Ankara has launched two other operations in Syria against the YPG, one targeting the northwest Afrin region and one further east.


EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks
Updated 16 October 2021

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks
  • Tehran criticizes UN agency over Israel ‘negligence’

BRUSSELS: Iran is not ready to return to talks with world powers over its nuclear program yet and its new negotiating team wants to discuss the texts that will be put forward when it meets with the EU in Brussels in the next few weeks, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, four months after discussions broke off between Iran and world powers.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the US in Vienna on both sides returning to compliance with the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.
Diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, who are party to the accord along with China and Russia, said ahead of Mora’s visit that it came at a critical time and things could not be deemed “business as usual” given escalating Iranian nuclear activities and the stalling of negotiations.
The US said time was running short. “They are not yet ready for engaging in Vienna,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that he believed Tehran was “absolutely decided to go back to Vienna and to end the negotiations.”
The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations “soon,” but it has not given a clearer timeline.
Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before the end of October.
However, after Mora’s visit, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it would hold talks in the coming days with the EU in Brussels.
“They insisted that they don’t want talks for talks, they want talking with practical results and with a final agreement on how to bring JCPOA (the nuclear deal) back to life,” the official said.
Describing a meeting in Brussels as a “good idea,” the official said it would allow both sides to go through the texts on the table from June and clarify questions that Iran’s new negotiating team may have. “I think we are just clarifying even more the situation for a final destination, which is going to be resuming in Vienna. I expect that soon,” he said.
France’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said negotiations should resume immediately based on where they left off in June to reach a deal quickly.
“Iran must show a willingness through acts that it shares the same desire to come back to the negotiating table and conclude an agreement,” she told reporters.
Western diplomats have said they are concerned Tehran’s new negotiating team — under a president known as an anti-Western hard-liner, unlike his pragmatist predecessor — may make new demands beyond the scope of what had already been agreed.

BACKGROUND

Iran has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations ‘soon,’ but it has not given a clearer timeline. Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before October-end.

Separately, Iran sharply criticized the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency for keeping its eyes trained on the Islamic republic while ignoring its arch-enemy Israel’s suspected nuclear program.
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear arms possessor with up to 300 warheads, but it has long refused to confirm or deny it has such weapons and unlike Iran is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Silence and negligence about Israel’s nuclear program sends a negative message to the NPT members,” Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN agency, tweeted.
Being an NPT signatory meant “accepting the robust verifications,” while being outside it meant being “free from any obligation and criticism, and even (getting) rewarded”, he wrote.
“What is the advantage of being both a NPT member and fully implementing the agency’s safeguards?
Gharibabadi was reacting to an interview given by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to Energy Intelligence earlier this month.
Asked why the IAEA is so focused on Iran’s nuclear program but not Israel’s, he responded: “Our relation with Israel is based on the one that you have with a country which is not a party to the NPT.”
Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since 1970, the year it came into force, and has always denied it has any ambitions to acquire or manufacture an atomic bomb.
Israel, which has never signed up to the treaty, has repeatedly warned that it will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
The NPT calls on nations “to achieve the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”


UN urges ceasefire in Marib for ‘safe passage’

UN urges ceasefire in Marib for ‘safe passage’
Updated 16 October 2021

UN urges ceasefire in Marib for ‘safe passage’

UN urges ceasefire in Marib for ‘safe passage’
  • Marib, Shabwa and Al-Bayda provinces have all seen an escalation in fighting in recent weeks

SANAA: The UN has called for a halt to fighting in a district of Yemen’s oil-rich Marib province that pits government forces supported by the Arab coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Marib, Shabwa and Al-Bayda provinces have all seen an escalation in fighting in recent weeks, resulting in “a devastating impact on civilians,” according to David Gressly, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
The security situation has been particularly difficult in Marib’s Abedia district, where the UN says the movement of aid and some 35,000 people has been “extremely restricted,” including for 17,000 “extremely vulnerable” people who found refuge there from conflict in other areas of Yemen.
“I call on all parties involved in the fighting to agree now to a cessation of hostilities for Abedia district to allow for the safe passage of civilians and aid workers, and for the evacuation of all of those wounded in the fighting,” Gressly said in a statement.
The fighting in Marib — where the Houthis are battling to seize the provincial capital Marib city, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen — displaced some 10,000 people in September alone, the highest monthly figure so far this year.
Abedia is about 100 km from Marib city, which had between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants before the war, but has seen its population swell to hundreds of thousands by Yemenis displaced from earlier front lines.
With about 139 refugee camps in Marib province, according to the government, hosting around 2.2 million people, many displaced civilians have become caught in the line of fire once again.
The Houthis began a big push to seize Marib in February and, after a lull, they renewed their campaign in September, prompting intense air bombardment from the coalition.
The coalition entered the war in 2015, after the Houthis captured the capital Sanaa the previous year.


Hospitality’s next generation envisions a more ethical and sustainable hotel industry

Hospitality’s next generation envisions a more ethical and sustainable hotel industry
Updated 16 October 2021

Hospitality’s next generation envisions a more ethical and sustainable hotel industry

Hospitality’s next generation envisions a more ethical and sustainable hotel industry
  • Hotelschool the Hague created Sustainable Hospitality Challenge to provide a platform for hospitality professionals
  • Students are seen as future drivers of taste by their willingness to challenge the hospitality industry status quo

DUBAI: What attracts guests to a hotel? Fine dining, Egyptian cotton sheets and 24-hour room service, certainly. But that model of hospitality may be changing — at least if a new generation of hoteliers, bar owners and restaurateurs has its way.

Rather than reviewing the contents of the minibar or revising the coffee shop menu, this new breed of hotel operator is intent on combating loneliness, sourcing from local farmers, fighting climate change and building a sense of community.

In 2014, Hotelschool the Hague, a training institute, created the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge to provide a platform for the next generation of hospitality professionals who want to reinvent what hotels and restaurants have to offer.

These students are seen as future drivers of taste by their willingness to challenge the industry’s status quo. NEOM, the futuristic smart city in northwest Saudi Arabia, sponsored this year’s competition.

Saudi Arabia's natural beauty is matched by the opulent interiors of Riyadh's premium hotels (Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh/ Expedia.com)

“The NEOM giga-project, which we all call ‘the city of the future,’ aims to incorporate smart-city technologies and innovation with a focus on sustainability,” Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality and chair of the jury, told Arab News.

“It comes as no surprise that NEOM has sponsored the challenge this year, bringing all finalists to the event in the UAE.”

The event invited 30 universities from across the globe to submit ideas that would help the industry play its part in reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Last month, six finalists presented their concepts to a jury of hospitality industry investors in Dubai.

Eve Mignot, a member of the winning team from Switzerland’s Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, said hospitality is at a crossroads. The sector has historically lagged behind other industries when it comes to embracing change, she said.

“It is time to reverse this stereotype and stigma and become leaders in sustainable innovations. With our concept, we anticipate the hospitality industry of 2050 to be a community builder, innovator and a responsible and ethical member of society.”

Marloes Knippenberg CEO Kerten Hospitality. (Supplied)

The winning team proposed a concept dubbed “Shared Economic Value through Co-living Cooperative Opportunities,” or SEVCCO, which aims to incorporate sustainability through communal living operated by hospitality companies, for which they see immense potential in growing cities.

This will require a reimagining of lifestyles, business models and strategies. “There has never been a more pressing time to reinvent the industry,” Mignot said.

The team hopes this concept of “neo-hospitality” will transform societies and become a driving force that inspires communities and other industries to engage in the transformation of the world by 2050.

Lukas Lauber, another team member, said that while oil has accelerated growth and development in the Middle East, secondary consumption of oil has had negative consequences in terms of climate change and its effects on the environment.

This photograph taken on July 23, 2021 shows a view of the Park Royal Collection Hotel at Pickering Street in Singapore. (AFP)

However, in recent years, many countries in the region have adopted diversification strategies to their national economies as well as introduced policies to reduce their dependence on oil reserves and promote renewable energy. This is where SEVCCO comes in.

“Countries in the Middle East are hoping to attract foreign investment. A large part of this strategy involves tourism and hospitality, as seen by the re-branding of Dubai as a tourism hub and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy whereby it seeks to develop cities and destinations,” Lauber told Arab News.

As countries in the region develop, he said sustainable communities and cities must be built to promote a more cyclical and regenerative society. “This is where we promote SEVCCO, the creation of co-living environments for tomorrow,” said Stefano Abedum de Lima Hanzawa, a third team member.

“It is imperative that the Middle East incorporates sustainability and regenerative growth into their strategy for economic diversification and development.”

FASTFACTS

* NEOM, the futuristic smart city in northwest Saudi Arabia, sponsored this year’s Sustainable Hospitality Challenge competition.

* Some 30 universities were invited to submit ideas that would help the hospitality industry play its part in achieving the UN’s SDGs.

These concerns are made more pressing as the 2030 deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals draws nearer. By then, national economies must mobilize to prevent a 1.5 Celsius increase in global temperatures and implement strategies to shift away from fossil-fueled economies.

The team developed the SEVCCO concept to empower individuals and communities to come together and co-create a city of the future that complies with these goals.

“The concept of cognitive cities is gaining traction, as seen by the NEOM development in Saudi Arabia, and this acceleration and momentum will continue to grow,” Hanzawa said.

“We believe cyclical and sustainable co-living has incredible potential to change the way we behave and live for a better tomorrow. We wish to tackle the most pressing issues such as urban loneliness — exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Muslim pilgrims add food to their plates from the buffet of a restaurant at a luxury hotel overlooking the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, and its encompassing Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Makkah ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File Photo)

Other ills listed by the competitors include unsustainable production and consumption of scarce resources, resource inefficiencies, housing shortages experienced by generations Y and Z, growing elderly care home demand, the difficulties of waste management and the challenges of reducing carbon footprints by 2030.

“SHC brings forth innovative ideas about sustainable, implementable projects. The corporate world launches and brings them to life only if and when they are presented to them,” said Knippenberg. “The challenge (has) become a platform that reaches decision-makers today and is not just a school engagement.”

This year, the initiative brought together the student community, the corporate world, and investors. As 70 percent of the Middle East’s population are younger than 35, the competition is relevant to the region, the organizers said, as governments invest heavily in shifting toward knowledge-based economies.

“Especially in the Middle East, there is a great opportunity to implement ‘out of the box’ ideas,” said Paul Griep, director of industry and alumni relations at Hotelschool The Hague and founder of the challenge.

“As the region grows exponentially, it is of utmost importance for the region to become the showroom of the world when it comes to implementing sustainable solutions. Sustainability projects are the core of the multiple giga-projects in Saudi Arabia, (such as) NEOM.”

Picture from thestage from the award ceremony on stage at AHIC, in September 2021, with members of the jury and the winners. (Supplied)

Aside from EHL, the Hotel Institute Montreux in Switzerland, the Hotel Management School Maastricht Zuyd and the Hotelschool The Hague, Ryerson University from Canada, and CY Cergy Paris University in France took part, as did students from the Middle East.

The judges said the SEVCCO concept developed by EHL won out because it looked long term.

“Their concept was unique, well thought of and very 2050,” Knippenberg said. “Their idea seems like a natural evolution — community build, supporting the locality and the local supply chain and doing things with a truly sustainable mindset.”

Griep said that the younger generation coming into management is especially passionate about sustainability. “In fact, they no longer wish for it but actually require it,” he said.

“It has been proven that, thanks to this mindset, innovative solutions have already been developed. The challenge provides an opportunity for these students to work with industry partners, universities and companies alike, which help them make their concepts become real hospitality projects.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek