Pope Francis calls on Lebanese leaders to put public interest ahead of personal gain

Pope Francis calls on Lebanese leaders to put public interest ahead of personal gain
Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience at the Library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, December 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 December 2020

Pope Francis calls on Lebanese leaders to put public interest ahead of personal gain

Pope Francis calls on Lebanese leaders to put public interest ahead of personal gain
  • Maronite Patriarch claims “fabricated difficulties” are impeding formation of new government
  • The pope said he would visit Lebanon “ as soon as possible”

BEIRUT: Pope Francis, the chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, included a message to the Lebanese people in his Christmas address from the Vatican on Thursday.

Speaking of his sorrow at the suffering that has engulfed Lebanon in 2020, he said. “It is even more painful to see you deprived of your precious aspirations to live in peace and to continue being, for our time and our world, a message of freedom and a witness to harmonious coexistence.”

The pope appealed to Lebanon’s political and spiritual leaders to place the common good ahead of personal gain, borrowing a passage from one of the pastoral letters of Patriarch Elias Howayek, who played a leading role in the independence of Lebanon and the birth of the Greater Lebanon state in 1920: “You are responsible, you are the judges of the earth, you are the people’s representatives, who live on behalf of the people, you are obligated, in your official capacity … to pursue the common good. Your time is not devoted to your interests, and your job is not for you, but for the state and for the nation that you represent.”

Pope Francis said he hoped that the Lebanese would benefit “from the current fluctuations of circumstances to rediscover their identity,” stressing that they should not desert their “homes or inheritance, nor give up on the dream of the future of a beautiful and prosperous country.”

The pope said he would visit Lebanon “ as soon as possible” and called on the international community to “help Lebanon stay out of regional conflicts and tensions.”

On Thursday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai devoted part of his traditional Christmas message to his failed initiative to facilitate the formation of a new government. He also criticized politicians and discussed the crises facing Lebanon.

Al-Rai said: “The victims and the afflicted of the Beirut Port blast were assassinated with uncontrolled weapons, and their hearts (are) caves of grief. What is painful is that the forensic investigation revolves around itself and the jurisprudence and authorities. But the disaster is greater than everyone and surpasses everyone’s immunity.”

Al-Rai added: “Rarely has a nation experienced such a serious crisis, and (seen its) leaders as reluctant to save it as our leaders. This crisis would not have occurred had it not been for the poor performance of this political group from years ago to today. They see politics as an art to serve their interests and disrupt public life and constitutional entitlements — humiliating the people, corrupting institutions, obstructing the judiciary, and hammering the economy and the currency, as if this political group is managing an enemy state.”

Al-Rai warned, “There are those who want to destroy Lebanon, intentionally or ignorantly. But we are determined to meet the challenges, no matter how many there may be, and to save a democratic, neutral, and independent Lebanon — the Lebanon of sovereignty, partnership and sophistication.”

Al-Rai also spoke of “hidden and fabricated difficulties impeding the formation of the new government.” He said, “We were betting on conscience. But we regret the failure of the promises that were given to us. The formation of the government returned to the starting point. It would be preferable if those concerned would talk openly to the people about the reasons for not forming the government. The people have the right to know their reality and fate.”

Al-Rai also echoed the pope’s call for the international community to ensure Lebanon does not become embroiled in regional conflicts.

President Michel Aoun called Al-Rai on Thursday to apologize in advance for not attending the celebratory mass in Bkerke on Friday — Christmas Day — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sources close to Aoun said that the president’s rejection of the suggested cabinet lineup presented to him by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri two weeks ago was that it “lacked balance and fairness in the distribution of portfolios among the sects” and that Hariri had demanded “the two portfolios of Justice and the Interior, that is, the equation of security and the judiciary. It is illogical for the government to be run by one person.”

On Thursday evening, large numbers of Lebanese expatriates arrived at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut to spend the holidays with their families, resulting in long queues for the PCR tests that would mean they could avoid quarantine.

The Ministry of Health said more than 17,000 PCR tests had been conducted on Thursday alone, and also renewed its instructions to respect preventive measures during family gatherings over the holidays.

The ministry is reportedly braced for a huge increase in the number of COVID-19 infections after the holidays. Wednesday’s total of 2,246 new infections in the country was the highest since the pandemic began.


Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government man a position near the frontline facing Iran-backed Huthi rebels in the country's northeastern province of Marib, on June 19, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 40 min 45 sec ago

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib

Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
  • Austrian FM: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia are unacceptable

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of rebel fighters and Yemeni Government soldiers have been killed during the last 24 hours in fierce fighting outside the central city of Marib as army commanders and officials vowed to defeat the Houthis, local military sources and official media said on Tuesday.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government’s forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.

The Ministry of Defense said that dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday condemned the relentless Houthi attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “unacceptable.”

At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Schallenberg said Vienna supports developments taking place across Saudi Arabia in several areas.

Prince Faisal said the Houthi militia has regularly rejected initiatives for a complete cease-fire, and always resorted to escalate the situation.

He said Saudi Arabia and Austria share a “similar vision” regarding the region’s stability.

Yemeni state media did not discuss the army’s casualties from the recent clashes, but government supporters on social media have mourned the death of several soldiers and tribesmen.

Fighter jets from the Arab coalition carried out dozens of sorties in Marib and Sanaa, targeting Houthi military reinforcements heading to the battlefields in Marib, killing at least 20 rebels and destroying several military vehicles.

State media on Tuesday broadcast videos showing government forces exchanging mortar and heavy machine gun fire with the Houthis as a large convoy of vehicles rushed to reinforce government troops.

Bodies of dead Houthis were also seen scattered on the battlefield.

Yemeni Army commanders and government officials said that massive military support, logistics and air cover from the Arab coalition have shored up Yemeni government forces and helped thwart relentless Houthi assaults on Marib.

Lt. Col. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at the Yemeni Army’s Moral Guidance Department, told Arab News that military operations and airstrikes in Marib have greatly worn down the Houthis, with the rebels losing thousands of fighters, including many senior commanders.

“The Houthi militia has been largely depleted. The Arab coalition warplanes played a vital role in striking its reinforcements and weapons depots and destroying its equipment,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

To seize control of Marib’s oil and gas fields and power stations, the Houthis resumed a major military offensive in February.

The effort has forced thousands of Yemenis to flee their homes amid warnings from local and international aid organizations that the Houthi invasion of Marib would aggravate the humanitarian crisis and trigger a large displacement, with the city hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

The government and military commanders have vowed to push ahead with military operations in Marib until the Houthis are defeated and justice is brought to rebel leaders who ordered attacks on civilians across Yemen.

Yemen’s official news agency reported on Monday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed telephoned senior military commanders in Marib to renew the government’s support to troops and allied tribesmen in their “decisive” battle against the Houthis, vowing to punish the Iran-backed force for disrupting peace efforts to end the war and killing and abducting Yemenis.

The Yemeni Army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, also said that its troops and tribesmen have high combat skills and morale.

He said they follow military plans and that “the force of arms” alone would put an end to the Houthi militia’s takeover of power.

“They would destroy the capabilities of the Iranian Houthi terrorist militia and force them to surrender by force of arms, as that is the only way to restore the state and end the suffering of our people,” Bin Aziz tweeted.

 


Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
Updated 22 June 2021

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
  • Family were preparing for journey to Beirut airport to meet father as he returned from working abroad
  • Lebanon facing vast queues for petrol amid fuel shortage and economic crisis

BEIRUT: A Lebanese mother and her four daughters were killed when their car was hit by a military vehicle as they searched for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage.

The family were preparing to travel from southern Lebanon to Beirut airport this week to pick up the daughters’ father, who was expected to fly home from working abroad.

Fatima Koubeissi, her twins Tia and Lia, 4, and her two other daughters Aya, 13, and Zahra, 17, were killed when the military vehicle hit their car from behind on Monday night. Another relative, Hussein Zein, 22, who was driving their car, died on Tuesday from his injuries.

The sisters had not seen their father, Imad Hawile, since he went looking for a job in Liberia five months ago, their uncle Qassim Hawile told Arab News.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages with long queues outside petrol stations leading to traffic jams on nearby roads.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces [ISF] traffic control section reported a number of recent accidents caused by petrol queues.

The family from Al-Sharqeyye village went searching for petrol on Monday afternoon to prepare for the journey to the airport on Wednesday.

“We have not been able to find petrol across the south,” Qassim said.

ISF’s traffic control said the accident involved five cars and took place on the Jeyye-Saida highway.

A cousin of Fatima told Arab News that the accident happened because of a “vehicle that came in the opposite direction of the road wanting to bypass a queue outside a petrol station.
“They (the mother and four daughters) died on the spot,” he said.

Qassim said his brother contracted malaria during his first month in Liberia and then a second time “so he decided to return for better medication.”

“We did not want my brother to know that his family died in the crash but he saw the news and images on Facebook,” said Qassim.

He said the funeral was expected to take place on Thursday.

The accident happened when their driver saw two BMWs rammed into each other so he stopped but the military vehicle came and hit them from the back, sending it into a pick-up truck, Qassim said.
Civil Defense and Red Cross teams attended the scene and moved the injured and the dead to nearby hospitals.

Petrol stations have been constantly low on subsidized petrol for weeks, but shortages worsened in June as people’s fears of rationing and shortages intensified, leading to a large number of petrol stations closing down.

A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers.
Last week, three people were injured in an accident outside a petrol station where cars were queueing on the highway connecting Beirut to southern.


Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
Updated 20 min 59 sec ago

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
  • Sudan requests UNSC to discuss GERD and ‘its impact on the safety and security of millions of people’
  • Foreign minister is urging Ethiopia to stop the unilateral filling of the dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday to meet and discuss a dispute over a giant dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, a government statement said.
Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), while the two downstream countries — Egypt and Sudan — are concerned about it and seeking a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt relies on the Nile River for as much as 90 percent of its fresh water and sees the dam as an existential threat. Sudan is concerned about the operation of its own Nile dams and water stations.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq Al-Mahdi called on the Security Council to hold a session as soon as possible to discuss GERD and “its impact on the safety and security of millions of people,” the government statement said.
In a letter to the council head, she called on him to urge Ethiopia to stop the “unilateral” filling of the dam “which exacerbates the dispute and poses a threat to regional and international peace and security,” the statement added.
Ethiopian officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Sudan and Egypt had already agreed this month to work together on all levels to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement, after African Union-sponsored talks remained deadlocked. The two countries called on the international community to intervene.
Earlier this month, Arab states called on the Security Council to discuss the dispute and Ethiopia’s plans to go ahead with the second filling of the dam this summer even without an agreement with Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia rejected the Arab League resolution in its entirety, its Foreign Ministry said.
The country previously rejected calls from Egypt and Sudan to involve mediators outside the African Union.
Sudan said earlier in June that it was open to a partial interim agreement on the multibillion-dollar dam, with specific conditions.


Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader
Updated 22 June 2021

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader

Italy is a ‘strategic partner,’ says interim Libyan leader
  • During meeting with Italian PM Mario Draghi in Rome, Mohamed Younes Menfi stresses ‘importance of partnership and cooperation’
  • The head of the Libyan Presidential Council visited Italy on the eve of the second Berlin Conference on Libya

ROME: The chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Younes Menfi, considers Italy “a strategic partner for Libya.” During a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in Rome on Tuesday he also stressed “the importance of partnership and cooperation” with the European nation, according to Italian sources.

Menfi also had a lengthy meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. His visit to the Italian capital, his first official trip to another country since he was appointed in March, came on the eve of the second Berlin Conference on Libya.

German diplomatic sources told Arab News that the main points of final declaration by the conference about the continuing political process should include a call for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya, and strong encouragement to Libyan authorities to play their part in ensuring that democratic elections take place in the country by Dec. 24 as scheduled.

According to a press release issued by the Libyan Presidential Council following Menfi’s meeting with Draghi, the Italian prime minister “reaffirmed his country’s support for the political transition in Libya and to the work of the Presidential Council,” and praised the results achieved so far.

Italian sources said that an agreement was reached for greater coordination in matters related to security and to the prevention of illegal immigration from Libya, and Italy has offered to provide further support to help secure Libya’s borders.

The Italian Coast Guard has said that Libya is the main point of departure in North Africa for migrants attempting to reach Italy on often fragile vessels.


UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president
Updated 22 June 2021

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president

UK urged to stand with Iranian people, reject new president
  • British Committee for Iran Freedom: ‘Elections in Iran neither free, fair nor representative’
  • Conservative MP urges UK govt to hold Tehran ‘to account for its support of terrorism, systematic human rights abuses’

LONDON: The British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF) on Tuesday urged the UK government to reject newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and campaign for him to face justice for human rights abuses. 

Raisi won the presidential election on June 18, but the BCFIF said in a statement: “Elections in Iran are neither free, fair nor representative. It reflects the will of the unelected Supreme Leader and serves as a process to further strengthen the theocracy’s grip on power to the detriment of the Iranian people.”

It added: “This was made clear again on June 18 as the Iranian people rejected the theocracy in its entirety with a widespread national boycott of the presidential election farce.”

The BCFIF said Raisi “had an extensive role in the regime’s current and past crimes against humanity, including the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners and PMOI (People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran) members and supporters in Iran as well as the killing of 1,500 protesters and torture of thousands of arrested protesters during and after the nationwide protests in November 2019.”

In the week after Raisi’s election victory, Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP and co-chairman of the BCFIF, said: “The people of Iran answered the call by the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Mrs Maryam Rajavi and completely boycotted the election farce in Iran.” 

He added that the BCFIF supports Rajavi’s call “for Raisi to be investigated and face justice in an international tribunal. This issue must be a priority for the UK Government during the 47th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative MP and member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: “With Raisi as president, the regime is signalling that it will continue its repression, persecution of popular dissent and export of terrorism.”

He added: “It is time for our government to follow the recommendations in our report which includes proscribing the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) in its entirety and taking steps to end the impunity of Iranian officials by holding the regime to account for its support of terrorism and systematic human rights abuses.”