Bassil calls for Hariri to excuse himself from forming government

Gebran Bassil, a Lebanese politician and head of the Free Patriotic movement, said his movement would not join the cabinet as long as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri insisted on choosing all ministers. (File/Reuters)
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Gebran Bassil, a Lebanese politician and head of the Free Patriotic movement, said his movement would not join the cabinet as long as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri insisted on choosing all ministers. (File/Reuters)
Bassil calls for Hariri to excuse himself from forming government
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Lebanese leader Saad Hariri walks after being named Lebanon’s new prime minister at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 10 January 2021

Bassil calls for Hariri to excuse himself from forming government

Bassil calls for Hariri to excuse himself from forming government
  • Saad Hariri’s Future Movement bashes Bassil’s ‘racist and sectarian standards’
  • ‘We don’t entrust Hariri alone with reform in Lebanon,’ Bassil said

BEIRUT: The head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil, on Sunday attacked Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, arguing that there is no trust in his ability to reform the country.

He told a group of supporters during a speech: “We do not trust Saad Hariri alone to implement reforms. We hold his political approach responsible for the (current) economic and financial policy. How can we trust the same person with the same people? He would not accept the replacement of any of them. Does he want us to blindly hand the country over to him?”

A source close to Hariri told Arab News: “This is an attempt at luring Hariri to excuse himself from the mission he has been assigned to since October”

Bassil’s statement came a few hours after the sermon of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai, who is trying to find a solution to the political dispute between President Michel Aoun, who is supported by the FPM, and Hariri.

Al-Rai said in his sermon: “Are portfolios, quotas and naming ministers more important to those responsible for forming the government than a cry of a mother who cannot feed her children and the pain of a father who cannot find a job to support his family?”

He added: “When I visited the president last Thursday, we affirmed the necessity of accelerating the formation of a non-political rescue government that would undertake its reform tasks and be the gateway to resolving political, economic, financial, and social crises. Don’t internal and external obstacles disappear for the sake of saving Lebanon and reviving a state of institutions? Why insist on associating this rescue with the game of nations and the conflict of axes?”

FASTFACT

The Free Patriotic Movement leader, Gebran Bassil, implicitly criticized Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who wants the forensic audit to include all state institutions, not just the central bank.

Al-Rai renewed his call for the president and Hariri to “hold a one-on-one reconciliation meeting, in which they renew the confidence required by their supreme responsibility,” adding: “They must not end the meeting without announcing a government in accordance with the text and spirit of the constitution. It is shameful to continue to disagree over this or that name, this or that portfolio, and the quotas while the state is almost completely collapsing, and we do not know in whose favor this suicide is.”

Bassil also implicitly criticized Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who wants the forensic audit to include all state institutions, not just the central bank.

Bassil said: “They make the stone bigger so that we cannot throw it. In whose custody are institutions, funds, and councils in the first place? And who robbed them? They threaten to audit the electricity file when they are the mafias of generators, diesel, and fuel. As for us, you will not find a penny linked to corruption.”

Bassil described accusations from opponents that he was obstructing the formation of the government as “a joke and ridiculousness.”

The head of the FPM also criticized the previous governments of Rafik Hariri: “Do you believe that they want a government that implements reform, carries out the forensic audit, fights corruption, returns transferred funds, recovers looted funds, and exposes the accounts of politicians and state employees? They want a government that will restore their control over the finance, economy, security, and the judiciary, as was the case before 2005.”

Are portfolios, quotas and naming ministers more important … than the pain of a father who cannot find a job to support his family?

Bechara Al-Rai, Maronite priest

He added: “They want to expel us, as they did before 2005. We have remained silent until now about the accusations and lies, but enough is enough.”

Bassil refused to allow Hariri to name the Christian ministers in the government. He said: “Are we second-class citizens?” He added that “the constitution stipulates that the president of the republic issues the government decree in agreement with the prime minister, not that the designate submits a lineup of all ministers to the president for approval.”

Bassil said that his movement “does not want to be a partner in the next government,” adding: “We will give confidence to the government if we are convinced of its composition and program and if it respects the principles of the constitution, sectarian rights accord, and representation.”

He also supported a peace with Israel, provided it is “based on justice and the restoration of rights in accordance with the initiative proposed by King Abdullah in the Beirut summit.”

The Future Movement responded to Bassil’s speech by emphasizing that “the government is ready and awaits the approval of the president to be a mission government that implements the required reforms according to the French initiative and not according to Bassil’s sectarian and racist standards.”

The Future Movement said that “political polemics will not produce a vaccine for COVID-19, restore the economy, rebuild Beirut, or provide compensation for those affected by the port explosion.”


Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
Updated 14 sec ago

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
  • It follows reports that two people infected with the new coronavirus variant were found on a flight from Ethiopia
  • Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health on Tuesday dismissed as rumors reports that two people infected with the newly discovered omicron coronavirus variant had been found on a flight arriving from Ethiopia.

Spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said: “This is not true. Egypt is still free of the new coronavirus variant.”

The Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. Any passengers that test positive must return to their points of origin on same planes on which they arrived. Those who test negative must self-quarantine for seven days and take a PCR test at the end of that time.

Abdel Ghaffar stressed the importance of adhering to the precautionary measures implemented by Egyptian authorities to prevent the spread of the virus. He said these are designed to prevent the omicron variant entering the country, and added that although no cases of infection with the new variant have been discovered, “when it happens it will be announced with full transparency.”

Mohammed Al-Nadi, a member of the scientific committee charged with combating the coronavirus, said that although Egypt is free of the omicron variant so far, it is only a matter of time before cases are discovered in the country. He added that although many countries are attempting to prevent or slow the arrival of the variant, in the end it is likely to get through.

Egyptian authorities so far have done good job, Al-Nadi said, of isolating people arriving from places where the variant has been detected to reduce the chances of it spreading while information about it — such as its specific symptoms, how contagious it is and whether it is resistant to vaccines or treatments — is still uncertain.


Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
Updated 30 November 2021

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
  • Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities to demand that the armed forces stay out of government
  • Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far

CAIRO: Security forces fired tear gas at anti-coup protesters in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday, as tens of thousands marched in the latest demonstrations against a military takeover that took place last month.
Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities around the country to demand that the armed forces stay out of government.
Deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated earlier this month under military oversight in a deal that many in the pro-democracy movement oppose. Since the generals seized power on Oct. 25 and rounded up more than 100 civilian government figures, protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets.
In a video streamed online from the Bahri neighborhood of Khartoum, a few protesters threw stones as security forces repeatedly fired tear gas and used sound bombs to try to disperse them. Leaders of the pro-democracy movement have consistently called on those taking part in demonstrations to remain peaceful. In a larger march not far away, demonstrators filled an entire street.
Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far, according the Sudan Doctors’ Committee, which tracks protester deaths. On Tuesday, the group announced that the latest death was that of a protester who died from hemorrhaging in the skull after being badly beaten by security forces during a march last week.
On Saturday, Hamdok announced the replacement of top officials in the country’s police forces, according to Sudan’s state news agency, firing those who oversaw the response to earlier demonstrations.
Tuesday’s demonstrations come after Hamdok emphasized that the Sudanese people have the right to peacefully protest. In a Facebook post on Monday, he said it is a right “the Sudanese people have secured through decades of struggle.”
The military’s signing of a power-sharing deal with Hamdok coincided with his release from weeks of house arrest. Since then, a number of other officials have also been let go but many remain in detention, along with many activists and protesters.
Hamdok’s reinstatement was the biggest concession made by the military since the coup but leaves the country’s transition to democracy mired in crisis. Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have dismissed the deal as falling short of their demands for full civilian rule.
Sudan has been struggling with its transition to a democratic government since the overthrow of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, following a mass uprising against three decades of his rule.


If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say
Updated 9 min 51 sec ago

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

VIENNA: There will be a problem if Iran does not show it is serious in nuclear negotiations with world powers this week, senior European diplomats said on Tuesday.
As talks resumed in Vienna, the diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, known as the E3, told reporters that they had still not resolved the thorny issue of what to do with advanced centrifuges which Iran is using to enrich uranium.

The E3 told reporters at a briefing there was urgency in reaching a conclusion on reviving the pact but they did not want to impose artificial deadlines.
Under the agreement, Iran limited its uranium enrichment program, a process that can yield fissile material for bombs, in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions. Iran says its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.


Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
Updated 23 min 42 sec ago

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
  • Torture survivor Alshogre urges delegates to hold Assad regime accountable for its treatment of political prisoners
  • Sentencing by a German court of former Syrian agent Eyad Al-Gharib to 4.5 years in prison hailed as historic

NEW YORK: The atmosphere in the UN Security Council changed when human rights activist and survivor of Assad regime prisons Omar Alshogre began to talk. Monday’s meeting had been convened to shed light on the prevailing impunity in Syria and the need for the council to do more to end it and ensure accountability for crimes committed during the country’s ongoing war.

The conflict began when the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters during the “Damascus Spring.” Since then, more than 350,000 people have died and millions more forced from their homes.

Alshogre, whose harrowing experiences as a political prisoner in Bashar Assad’s jails — “being detained, starved, tortured within an inch of my life” — had made the news worldwide, looked the representatives of world powers in the eye in the UNSC chamber and asked them: “If you were presented with the opportunity to save an innocent life without risking your own, would you do it? Most people would.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the 25-year-old refugee continued. “The opportunity is presenting itself today. It presented itself yesterday, and every day since March 15, 2011. That is 3,912 missed opportunities to save lives in Syria. In that time, more than 350,000 people have been killed by the Syrian regime, according to the UN.”

The informal meeting was convened by council members Estonia, France, the UK and the US, along with a dozen sponsors including Qatar and Turkey.

Alshogre told the ambassadors that it was his own mother’s “courage to stand up to the brutal dictatorship” that saved his life and urged them to remember her name, “Hala,” and follow her example.

Despite her husband and sons being massacred in front of her eyes by Assad’s men and their “Iranian allies,” and “instead of complaining about her limitations, (my mother) found a way to take action.

“Despite many failed attempts to get me out of prison, she kept trying again and again. She persisted until I was freed,” Alshogre said.

“By saving me from prison, my mother set an example of how we all must act to stop the Syrian regime from taking more lives and hold its leaders accountable for the countless lives it has already taken.

“It doesn’t require a miracle. It just requires courage, action and persistence.”

A recent report by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic concluded that thousands of detainees have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” during the war, including torture, death and sexual violence against women, girls and boys.

The UNSC had tasked the commission with investigating and recording all violations of international law since the start of the conflict.

“At least 20 different, horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the investigators wrote in their report.

“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling of nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tire, and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”

The perpetrators, however, still roam freely in Syria amid no tangible deterrence, as violations and crimes continue to this day.

The sentencing by a German court in Koblenz in February of former Syrian secret agent Eyad Al-Gharib to four and a half years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity has been hailed as historic.

Al-Gharib had been accused of rounding up peaceful anti-government protesters and delivering them to a detention center, where they were tortured. The verdict marked the first time a court outside Syria had ruled on state-sponsored torture by members of the Assad regime.

Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s former permanent representative to the UN, said the verdict of the Koblenz state court sends a clear message to Assad that “whoever commits such crimes cannot be safe anywhere.” He added that “Assad’s state has turned the cradle of civilization into a torture chamber.”

Teams from war crimes units in Sweden, France and Germany have recently begun joint investigations into Syria’s war crimes, with Sweden focusing on torture and killings by both the Assad regime and Daesh.

In France, a preliminary investigation has drawn on the tens of thousands of photos of dead bodies taken between 2011 and 2013 by “Caesar,” the codename for a former Syrian military photographer.

While speakers at Monday’s meeting welcomed similar proceedings in courts outside of Syria, they said that such moves “do not come close to addressing the magnitude of the Syrian crisis.”

They lamented the UNSC’s inaction and the fate of its 2014 resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which was not approved.

“Several resolutions aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons met the same fate,” said the meeting’s sponsors in a statement. They reiterated their call for the file to be placed in the hands of the ICC.

As Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who also gave heart-wrenching testimony about life under Assad, played a video in the chamber showing an Aleppo mother at the moment she lost her child in an Assad bombing, some council members choked back tears.

Alshogre said: “We have stronger evidence today than what we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg. (We) even know where the mass graves are located. But still no international court and no end to the ongoing slaughter for the civilians in Syria.

“I understand that there are barriers to action, but I also believe in the international system and the UN and the principles they were founded upon.”

Alshogre made a final plea to the international community that, while it is too late to save those who died, there are millions of Syrian lives that can still be saved and “that is my biggest ask to you: That you save them.”


Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
Updated 30 November 2021

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
  • Geagea pointed the finger at Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay parliamentary election
  • “With the current way things are going, state institutions — and so the state — is dissolving day by day,” he said

MAARAB, Lebanon: One of Lebanon’s main Christian politicians accused foe Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March over fears of electoral losses, warning such a move would condemn Lebanon to a “slow death.”

Western donors that Lebanon is relying on to stem its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead. Politicians from all sides, including Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen otherwise the country’s standing would be dealt a further blow.

But Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay it “because they are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority.”

Aoun said this month he would not sign authorization for the vote, approved by parliament, to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: “Not fighting, but to more slow death.”

“With the current way things are going, state institutions — and so the state — is dissolving day by day,” he said at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Lebanon has no reliable opinion polling but should the election take place, Geagea’s party is widely expected to make gains, with the Free Patriotic Movement expected to lose seats, potentially robbing Hezbollah of its majority.

Without an election to shake up parliament “you will see more of the same,” Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80 percent of people in poverty.

Lebanon’s government, formed from most major political parties in September following a 13-month period of political paralysis, has already not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Geagea’s Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party in parliament. It has stayed out of the cabinet since a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019.

But the group was thrust back into the headlines when tensions over the probe erupted into the worst street violence in more than a decade last month, reviving memories of the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal, were killed.
Hezbollah accused the Lebanese Forces of ambushing its supporters at the protest. Geagea confirmed supporters of his party, along with others, were involved in the clashes, but denied the move was pre-meditated and blamed Hezbollah for entering Beirut’s mostly Christian Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood, a strong support base for the Lebanese Forces.

During Lebanon’s civil war, the Lebanese Forces, under Geagea, was a right-wing militia that controlled swathes of territory including eastern Beirut.

Following October’s clashes, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused it of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and warned Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Geagea denied Nasrallah’s allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 — “the whole old generation” — had military training.

Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.