4 Tunisian soldiers killed in landmine blast: ministry

4 Tunisian soldiers killed in landmine blast: ministry
Tunisian soldiers patrol a residence in Oued Ellil, west of Tunis October 23, 2014. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 February 2021

4 Tunisian soldiers killed in landmine blast: ministry

4 Tunisian soldiers killed in landmine blast: ministry

TUNIS: A landmine killed four Tunisian soldiers on Wednesday during an counter-terrorism operation in mountainous central Tunisia, the defence ministry said.
"Four soldiers who were part of a military unit tasked with carrying out a combing operation of Mount Mghila looking for terrorist elements were killed by a mine," ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
The sweep was "part of the regular anti-terrorist operations carried out by military forces in the region," Zekri added.
Tunisia has seen a surge in radical Islam since veteran president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the country's 2011 revolution.
Dozens of members of the security forces have been killed since then in jihadist attacks.
The bloodiest single attack against the army was in July 2014, when 15 soldiers were killed on Mount Chaambi.
The security situation has greatly improved in recent years, but Tunisian forces continue to be targeted.


Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity
Updated 1 min 14 sec ago

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity

Family seeks to sue Lebanon over dead father's captivity
  • His family’s suit says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, has asked a judge for permission to formally sue Lebanon, along with Iran

CONCORD, N.H.: A Lebanese American man’s survivors, who filed an ambitious lawsuit last year alleging Lebanon’s security agency kidnapped and tortured him before he died in the U.S., hope to find an opening after the agency recently responded in an American court.
Amer Fakhoury died in the United States in August 2020 at age 57 after suffering from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s suit says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Recently, lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit to have the allegations against it stricken. Lebanon is not named as a defendant in the suit, which targets Iran.
In its filing, the Lebanese security agency claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, has asked a judge for permission to formally sue Lebanon, along with Iran. He referred to Lebanon’s action in the family’s response as “a very strange and unusual motion filed by a nonparty.”
The family’s lawsuit filed in Washington in May initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and U.S. Embassy hostage crisis. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Similar lawsuits against Iran have won financial judgments, though receiving a payout can be complicated. Any award could come from the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which has distributed funds to those held and or affected by the hostage crisis.
Regarding Lebanon, Tolchin said the Fakhourys’ lawsuit would not make sense without the allegations against Lebanon's security agency.
“We interpret that as a waiver of sovereign immunity,” he said to The Associated Press of the agency’s request. “You can’t come in and ask for affirmative relief on the merits, and, at the same time, claim to be immune.”
In a statement provided to The AP, an attorney for the agency, David Lin, said the Fakhourys’ position “that Lebanon or our client somehow waived sovereign immunity by seeking to strike baseless material from the complaint is baffling and wrong as a matter of law.”
A judge pushed back a deadline for the lawyers representing the security agency to respond to the Fakhoury’s request to sue by Jan. 26.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at the Notre Dame Law School, said it may be challenging for a case to be brought against Lebanon, which is not designated a “state sponsor of terrorism."
“Not having that listing will be difficult to go after Lebanon, as opposed to Iran,” she said.
O’Connell also said a move like Lebanon's to strike the allegations “is usually not accepted by the courts as a waiver” of sovereign immunity.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals.
Upon his return to Lebanon in 2019, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
In its request to intervene, the security agency said Fakhoury was not kidnapped, but was “lawfully detained” for investigative purposes and then “handed off” to another agency responsible for prosecuting the alleged crimes. It called the allegations “scandalous, impertinent, and highly damaging.”
The family's suit alleges security personnel made him watch as they beat prisoners and kept him isolated in an interrogation room, where he faced verbal and physical abuse with a black sack placed over his head. The lawsuit also claims Fakhoury was threatened with execution unless he signed a declaration saying he was guilty of the accusations mentioned in the newspaper article.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.
The lawsuit also linked Fakhoury’s eventual release to the U.S. government's decision in June 2020 to free Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese businessman who was sentenced to five years in prison for providing millions of dollars to Hezbollah.
The Fakhourys' suit called it a “quid-pro-quo prisoner exchange.” However, Tajideen’s lawyer and the U.S. State Department at the time denied he was part of a prisoner exchange.
Fakhoury first arrived in the United States in 2001. He started a restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire, with his wife and put their four daughters through college. But his family said he felt Lebanon was still home, even though other members of his militia had been targeted in the years after the war.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the U.S. State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
After his death, the Fakhourys started a foundation in his name dedicated to helping the families of hostages.
“This is a fight not just for us,” Guila Fakhoury, the oldest of Fakhoury’s four daughters, said in an interview about the lawsuit. “This a fight for our father and a fight for every American who is illegally detained, and for every person who is illegally detained.”
The lawsuit seeks financial damages and a jury trial.
“I know my dad will not rest in peace until we have justice for what has been done to him,” Fakhoury said.


Iran firefighters protest living conditions on deadly blaze anniversary

Iran firefighters protest living conditions on deadly blaze anniversary
Updated 21 min 19 sec ago

Iran firefighters protest living conditions on deadly blaze anniversary

Iran firefighters protest living conditions on deadly blaze anniversary
  • Sixteen firefighters died when Plasco, the oldest high-rise in Iran's capital, collapsed in 2017 after a blaze engulfed the building
  • The firefighters, many wearing their red uniforms, chanted: "Adequate livelihood is our inalienable right"

TEHRAN: Dozens of firefighters rallied in Tehran to protest their living conditions, local media reported on Wednesday, marking the fifth anniversary of a tower blaze that caused the death of many of their colleagues.
Sixteen firefighters died when Plasco, the oldest high-rise in Iran’s capital, collapsed on January 19, 2017 after a blaze engulfed the building.
Four civilians also lost their lives, state media reported at the time.
The 15-story building, home to a shopping center and hundreds of clothing suppliers, collapsed while emergency services personnel were still evacuating people from the inferno.
More than 100 firefighters and their family members gathered in front of the municipality and city council in central Tehran to mark the anniversary, ISNA news agency reported.
The firefighters, many wearing their red uniforms, chanted: “Adequate livelihood is our inalienable right,” and “We are tired of promises and lies, not of fire and smoke,” the agency said.
They held placards reading, “discrimination, mismanagement, low pensions, welfare problems,” it added.
The protesters also demanded that parliament address their issues including providing proper housing for firefighters in Tehran and increasing their salaries, according to the report.
Hit by severe economic sanctions imposed since 2018 by the United States, Iran has seen its inflation rate surge to close to 60 percent.
Other professions have also rallied over the past few days.
Hundreds of teachers across Iran protested changes to their pay and pensions. Civil servants in the judicial sector also demonstrated, after the government refused to increase their pay.
The Plasco disaster sent shock waves across Iran. Rescue teams worked for days to recover bodies from under the rubble.
The owners and city officials were criticized for failing to prevent the disaster at the building, which according to the fire brigade was known to breach multiple safety regulations.
A new building replacing the old tower has been completed with 20 floors, five of which are underground.
But it “has not yet received the approval from the fire department,” the department’s spokesman Jalal Maleki told state TV on Wednesday.
The building’s management have “promised us not to inaugurate it until they get the fire department’s approval and they have so far kept their promise,” he added.


Tunisian police killed man in first death of protests, activists say

Tunisian police killed man in first death of protests, activists say
Updated 38 min 26 sec ago

Tunisian police killed man in first death of protests, activists say

Tunisian police killed man in first death of protests, activists say
  • A Tunis court investigating the death said the man was taken to the hospital on Friday and died on Wednesday
  • The court said the man's body bore no visible signs of violence

TUNIS: A Tunisian man died in hospital on Wednesday from injuries inflicted by police, activists said, in what would be the first death from protests against President Kais Saied’s assumption of extra powers.
A Tunis court investigating the death said the man, found in a coma on Mohamed V Street in the capital, was taken to the hospital on Friday and died on Wednesday. A court statement made no mention of whether the man was one of the demonstrators.
The court said the man’s body bore no visible signs of violence and would be handed to forensic examiners to determine cause of death. An investigation had been opened, it added.
There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry.
Police deployed water cannons and batons against protesters on Friday, as Saied faced growing discontent over his suspension of parliament last July and subsequent rule by decree.
“Ridha Bouziane, who took part in the January 14 protest died in a hospital in the capital after suffering serious injuries as a result of the excessive violence by police in the demonstration,” the Citizens Against the Coup coalition said.
Samir Dilou and Samir Ben Amor, lawyers for arrested protesters, also said Bouziane died due to police violence, though no more specifics were given.
Saied has said he will uphold all freedoms during a transitional period to a new constitution later this year.
Friday’s protest defied a COVID-19 ban on gatherings.


Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold
Updated 19 January 2022

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold
  • The storm, dubbed “Hiba” in Lebanon, began Tuesday night and is expected to peak Thursday
  • Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and others displaced by Syria’s war are sheltering in poorly heated tents

BEIRUT: A snowstorm in the Middle East has left many Lebanese and Syrians scrambling to find ways to survive, burning old clothes and plastic.
In some cases even sheep manure to keep warm as temperatures plummet and poverty soars.
The storm, dubbed “Hiba” in Lebanon, began Tuesday night and is expected to peak Thursday. Lebanon’s economic collapse and currency crash have meant an increasing number of families are unable to afford fuel to heat their homes this winter.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and others displaced by Syria’s war are sheltering in poorly heated tents, relying mostly on layers of blankets to keep warm.
“The situation is very, very difficult,” said social activist Baseem Atrash, speaking from the snowcapped northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal near the Syrian border. Arsal is home to one of the largest Syrian refugee concentrations in Lebanon, with some 50,000 people, most of them living in flimsy tents.
Atrash said Syrian refugees, as well as some Lebanese who have fallen into poverty since the country’s financial meltdown began in October 2019, lack diesel for heaters, while constant power cuts make electric heaters useless.
“They are burning anything to keep their heaters on, from plastic to old clothes,” Atrash said. Earlier this month, a Syrian mother and her three children died in their sleep after inhaling toxic fumes from burning coal to heat their room in a village in southern Lebanon.
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people, is home to 1.5 million Syrians who fled the now decade-old civil war in their country. The United Nations estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty. But as Lebanon grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis, the poverty has deepened for both Lebanese and Syrians. Sky-rocketing fuel prices coupled with a currency collapse has meant many essential commodities are now out of reach for the average Lebanese.
Nadim Attieh, a Lebanese, decided to donate some of his firewood to needy families after he heard of how cold it will get. He used Twitter to spread the word of his in-kind donation: a ton of wood — enough to last five or six families through the coldest three days ahead.
“I have stocked up on wood during summer and I have a good quantity. So why not share with people who are underprivileged,” asked Attieh, himself out of work since losing his job in the Gulf a couple of years ago.
The cost of a ton of wood is now equivalent to five times the minimum wage, selling for 3 million Lebanese pounds ($120) while some 20 liters of diesel now going for about 300,000 — nearly 10 times what it cost three years ago.
In Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, where many of the 3 million residents are displaced, Yassin Al-Yassin was fortifying his tent with extra tarps and supports as the weather worsened.
Al-Yassin, who lives in the tent with his wife, two daughters and son, couldn’t afford wood or diesel for heating, so he’ll be burning dried sheep manure that’s been piled up since summer.
“All we have to protect us is tarp and blankets,” he said by telephone from the tent, surrounded by mountains near the Turkish border. He said only those receiving hard currency from relatives abroad can afford to buy diesel and wood for heating.
Aid group CARE International said temperatures are expected to drop in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to well below freezing, endangering the lives of millions already living in precarious circumstances.
“People can see their own breath when lying on their thin mattresses, you will see children walk around in flipflops and ripped shirts. Families are afraid that they will freeze to death,” said Jolien Veldwijk, CARE Syria Country Director.
Cold and respiratory illnesses are rising and spreading, as is the threat of COVID-19 in overcrowded camps without sufficient health care, CARE said.
Ahamd Rakan, displaced nearly two years ago from his hometown of Kfar Nabel in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria and now living in a tent, said he has been gathering wood, olive seeds, papers and old clothes for months in order to use them for heating.
“I am luckier than others. I have a heater so I can keep my children warm,” he added.
Heavy snow also blanketed the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war. Bulldozers could be seen clearing snow drifts on Mount Hermon, where the area’s only ski resort was closed to visitors because of the stormy weather. The snow began falling early Wednesday and more is expected.
In eastern Turkey, heavy snowfall closed a major highway linking the cities of Tarsus, Adana and Gaziantep, stranding thousands of people and vehicles in snow that was half a meter (yard) high, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Gendarmerie forces distributed food overnight while authorities worked to clear the snow and reopen the highway. Access to thousands of villages was also blocked.
Meanwhile, authorities closed schools in 55 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.


Egyptian, French navies carry out joint training

Egyptian, French navies carry out joint training
Updated 19 January 2022

Egyptian, French navies carry out joint training

Egyptian, French navies carry out joint training

CAIRO: The Egyptian and French navies have carried out joint training in the Red Sea, as part of the Egyptian military’s plan to arrange training and exchange experiences with the armed forces of friendly countries.

The training included naval combat activities, tactical sailing formations and transportation exercises, said an Egyptian military spokesman.