Judge sets new date for questioning Lebanese PM

Judge sets new date for questioning Lebanese PM
Lebanese prime minister Hassan Diab had been questioned by Judge Fadi Sawwan as a witness earlier but now he would face questions as a defendant. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 December 2020

Judge sets new date for questioning Lebanese PM

Judge sets new date for questioning Lebanese PM
  • Activists support the judge in what they see as a challenge to the political establishment

BEIRUT: The judicial investigator of the Beirut port bombing has said he will interrogate caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab at 9 a.m. on Friday.

The move means the judge has decided to proceed with his allegations against those accused of involvement in the explosion crime on Aug. 4, in which 202 people were killed.

Judge Fadi Sawan was supposed to go to the Prime Minister’s office on Monday to interrogate Diab after he had charged him and 3 other ministers with “negligence causing the death and injury of hundreds of people.”

The massive explosion of tons of ammonium nitrate injured more than 6,500 people and destroyed Beirut’s waterfront and entire residential neighborhoods.

Arab News learned from judicial sources that Judge Sawan also set next Friday as a date for the questioning of the former Minister of Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zaiter.

On Tuesday, Judge Sawan is scheduled to question two defendants, a member of the Higher Council of Customs, Hani Hajj Shehadeh, and the former customs chief, Moussa Hazimeh.

The former Minister of Finance, Ali Hassan Khalil, and the former Minister of Public Works and Transportation, Youssef Fenianos, is to be questioned on Thursday.

 Zaiter and Hassan Khalil said that they would not appear before Judge Sawan for questioning because “Sawan is violating constitutional principles.”

The Prime Minister’s media office repeated Diab’s previous position, which “respects the constitution that has been violated by Judge Sawan.”

On Monday, Diab resumed his job as usual in the Prime Minister’s office according to a schedule that did not include an appointment with Judge Sawan.

Mohammed Fahmy, interior minister in the caretaker government, confirmed his rejection of “targeting the prime minister’s position in the Beirut port explosion case because of the consequences of a 7-year-old complicated file cannot be blamed on a prime minister who has only been in office for a few months.”

Fahmy said that if Judge Sawan decides to issue arrest warrants against Diab and the accused former ministers, he (Fahmy) will not carry out any warrant and will not ask the security services under his authority to carry out a judicial decision of this kind. “They may prosecute me if they wish,” he said.

The number of officials, employees and workers arrested over the port explosion has reached 25, and there is a charge in absentia against the owner and captain of the ship that carried the ammonium nitrate.

The Future Parliamentary Bloc criticized against those who “stand behind Diab’s accusation.”

MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar, from the Future bloc, said: “Judge Sawan may have been pressured by the presidential team to take this option in the investigation, and Sawan was provided with false legal information to take a step that does not respect constitutional principles.”

The Amal Movement, to which ministers Zaiter and Hassan Khalil belong, said that the move by Judge Sawan was “contrary to the constitutional rules, and the port investigation must be kept away from any politicization.”

However, many activists carried out a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut, in solidarity with Judge Sawan.

Hayat Arslan called on Judge Sawan to “summon every perpetrator, and he must not retreat because his authority is from the people.”

Bahjat Salameh said: “If the state is against him, then he must know that the people are with him. Justice is indivisible and does not belong to a sect or doctrine, and every person who commits major or minor crimes must be brought to justice.”

The disobeying of Judge Sawan’s summons and solidarity with Diab contributed to the complexity domestic scene, amid the labors to form a government and the audit file in the Central Bank’s accounts.

The media office of the Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, revealed that he “visited the President of the Republic 12 times so far in a relentless attempt to reach an understanding regarding the formation of the government, and each time Aoun expressed his satisfaction with the discussion process, and then things had changed after Hariri left the Republican Palace.”

In a statement on Monday, Hariri declared that “the Prime Minister-designate wants a government of non-partisan specialists to stop the collapse of the country and rebuild what was destroyed by the port explosion, while the president of the republic calls for a government in which all political parties are represented, including those that nominated the Prime Minister-designate or those that opposed his nomination.

“This will inevitably lead to controlling the decision-making process in the government, and will lead to the repetition of the experiences of several governments that were controlled by the factors of quotas and political tensions.”

He said that during his last visit to Aoun, Hariri “presented him with a complete government list with names and portfolios, including four names from the list that the President of the Republic handed over to the Prime Minister-designate” at a previous meeting.


Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan
Updated 4 sec ago

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Cairo: Egypt’s military announced that under the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, tons of medical and pharmaceutical aid have been sent to South Sudan.

The aid, transported by a military plane, was provided by the Ministry of Health and Population.

Officials in South Sudan expressed their appreciation for Egypt’s support, which they said strengthens bilateral relations.

During floods that swept South Sudan earlier this year, Egypt sent aid such as food and medical supplies.

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022
Updated 08 December 2021

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

CAIRO: The Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has announced the selection of Cairo as next year’s culture capital of the Muslim world.

Egypt’s Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem told a press conference that this choice reflects Cairo’s position as a meeting place for different cultures, a creative hub and a center for thought and art.

She praised ISESCO’s efforts to celebrate the capitals of Islamic countries and promote relationships between them.

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’
Updated 08 December 2021

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’
  • Just nine percent of students in state secondary schools pass exams in French, Arabic and mathematics — against 62, 38 and 49 percent respectively in private schools

RABAT: Morocco’s state schools are failing students and “deepening inequality,” a supervisory body has warned, as authorities scramble to raise the quality of teaching after years of neglect
The High Council for Education (CSE) has warned of a “crisis” in public education and said that government schools “are not giving the majority of pupils basic skills or a fundamental education.”
Despite a string of reforms, state schools “are becoming a machine for reproducing inequalities in society,” said the CSE in a report last month, cautioning that this “poses a serious threat.”
The situation has pushed many, including middle class families, to tighten their belts so they can scrape together fees for private schools.
“I pay almost 400 euros a month,” says Siham, an employee in the private sector. “It’s a lot, but it’s essential to guarantee that my two children get a better French and English education, which public school can’t give them.”
Just nine percent of students in state secondary schools pass exams in French, Arabic and mathematics — against 62, 38 and 49 percent respectively in private schools.
“These figures are distressing; they show that we’re raising illiterate citizens,” said Abderazzak Drissi, head of the kingdom’s National Teachers’ Federation.
The situation contrasts with the lofty goals of Morocco’s “New Development Model” presented by a royal commission in May and laying out a string of targets to be met by 2035.
The council’s warning is just the latest in a string of official reports to raise the alarm over problems in the education system and the resulting high unemployment rate among youth, the age group hardest hit by social inequality.
Chakib Benmoussa, who took office as education minister in October, described the system as “painful.”
“Improving the quality of public education depends first of all on the quality of teacher training,” he told parliament this month.
The CSE report agreed, adding that some choose the profession for “lack of alternatives.”
According to ministry figures, this year more than 100,000 candidates applied for fewer than 17,000 teaching jobs.
Under Benmoussa, the ministry has brought in new rules requiring prospective teachers to be aged under 30 and have a university degree with distinction.
The aim is “to select the best candidates who really want to practice this profession, as is the case at medical or engineering schools,” a ministry official told AFP.
But while there is agreement on the problems, opinions vary on the solutions.
The new conditions sparked a backlash from the teachers’ union and trainee teachers, with street demonstrations erupting last month.
Drissi, the union member, said what was needed was “a tougher entrance exam, not an age limit.”
But the ministry official said that “now it is urgent to reform the education system. We’ve delayed too much.”

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing
Updated 08 December 2021

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing
  • The stabbing took place in Sheikh Jarrah, where several Palestinian extended families are at risk of being evicted by Jewish settlers
  • The attack came days after a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli man

JERUSALEM: Israeli officers arrested a young woman after a Wednesday stabbing in a tense neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem, police said.
“In the last few minutes, police forces arrested a suspect, a minor, who was located by the police inside an educational institution near the scene of the incident,” police said.
The victim, 26, was taken to hospital after the knife attack on the road into the flashpoint neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and was being treated for “mild” injuries, police said.
Police deployed helicopters as part of a massive manhunt following the 7:30 am (0530 GMT) stabbing.
Sheikh Jarrah has been hit by waves of unrest linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The neighborhood is home to at least seven Palestinian families who have been waiting for a Israeli legal ruling on whether they must surrender their homes to Jewish settlers in a case that exploded into armed conflict in and around Gaza in May.
There have been sporadic attacks on Israeli targets in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank in recent months, most of them carried out by lone wolf assailants apparently unconnected to established Palestinian militant groups.
A Palestinian teenager rammed his car into an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank early Monday before being shot dead by a security guard, officials said.
On Saturday, a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli civilian and attempted to attack police near the Damascus Gate entry to east Jerusalem’s Old City.
The assailant was shot dead by officers, who appeared to fire on the suspect after he was on the ground, stirring debate about excessive force.
Israeli authorities have insisted the officers acted appropriately.
Last month, a civilian was killed and three people wounded when a Palestinian opened fire in the Old City in a rare gun attack by a militant of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time
Updated 08 December 2021

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

DOHA: Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are expected to resume on Thursday, France’s foreign minister said, although he added that he feared Iran was playing for time.

“The elements... are not very encouraging,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French parliament committee, referring to the seventh round of nuclear talks between Iran and major powers that began on Nov. 29 and paused on Friday.

“We have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon,” Le Drian said.

Under the 2015 deal struck by Tehran and six major powers, Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from US, European Union and UN sanctions.

Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, and Iran began violating the nuclear restrictions a year later.

While Le Drian and Iranian media reports said talks were expected to resume Thursday, a senior US State Department official said Washington did not yet have a confirmed date.

The indirect US-Iranian talks in Vienna, in which other diplomats shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct talks with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume compliance with the deal.

However, last week’s discussions broke off with European and US officials voicing dismay at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hard-line government under anti-Western President Ebrahim Raisi, whose June election caused a five-month pause in the talks.

A senior US official on Saturday said Iran abandoned any compromises it had made in the previous six rounds of talks, pocketed those made by others, and demanded more last week.

Each side appears to be trying to blame the other for the lack of progress.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the presidents of the United States and Russia — two of the six major powers in the deal along with Britain, China, France, and Germany — had a “productive” discussion about Iran on Tuesday.

“The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation,” he told reporters, referring to the six powers.

Speaking on Monday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns said the agency does not believe Iran’s supreme leader has decided to take steps to “weaponize” a nuclear device but noted that it has made advances in its ability to enrich uranium, one pathway to the fissile material for a bomb.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying it only wants to master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

“We don’t see any evidence as an agency right now that Iran’s supreme leader has made a decision to move to weaponize,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit.

Burns described Iran’s challenge as “a three-legged race” to obtain fissile material, to “weaponize” by placing such material into a device designed to cause a nuclear explosion, and to mate it to a delivery system such as a ballistic missile.

On weaponization, Burns said “the Iranians still have a lot of work to do there as far as we judge it.”