Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph

Entry to orbit marked the end of a seven-month journey of nearly 500 million kilometers, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, and the beginning of a breakthrough in scientific research. (Supplied)
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Entry to orbit marked the end of a seven-month journey of nearly 500 million kilometers, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, and the beginning of a breakthrough in scientific research. (Supplied)
Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph
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Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is lit up in red on February 9, 2021 as the UAE’s probe’s to Mars carries out a tricky maneuver to enter Mars’ orbit. (AFP)
Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph
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The Dubai Frame landmark is lit up in red ahead of the UAE’s Hope probe’s arrival in Mars’ orbit. (AFP)
Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph
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The Burj Al-Arab hotel is illuminated in red as the UAE’s Hope enters Mars’ orbit. (AFP)
Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph
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The Kuwait Towers are illuminated in red in Kuwait City to celebrate the UAE’s Hope probe mission to Mars on Feb. 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph

Arab world basks in the glory of UAE Mars mission triumph
  • Entry of Hope probe into Red Planet’s orbit marked success of Arab world’s first interplanetary mission
  • Tuesday’s feat puts UAE’s space agency in a club of just five that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission

DUBAI: For months, the Hope probe’s journey to Mars had been tracked eagerly by the Arab news media. In the UAE, hoardings depicting the unmanned spacecraft (known in Arabic as Al-Amal) have been positioned along highways as part of the country’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

On Tuesday, landmarks across the Arab world, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, glowed red to mark the probe’s arrival at Mars.

Seven months after its launch from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, the probe completed its 495 million kilometer voyage and settled into orbit around the planet in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

Ground controllers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in Dubai rose to their feet and applauded when news broke that the Hope probe had begun circling the Red Planet, where it will gather data on the Martian atmosphere.

Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, announced: “To the people of UAE and to the peoples of Islamic and Arab nations, we announce the success of the United Arab Emirates in (reaching) the orbit of the Red Planet. We thank God.”

The craft swung into a high Martian orbit, joining six spacecraft already operating around the planet — three US, two European and one Indian. Mission controllers had to pull off a series of delicate turns and power adjustments to maneuver the probe into position.

“Anything goes even slightly wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah Al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the UAE’s space agency.

She described the mission’s success as “a historic development and a fulfilment for the dreams of 200 engineers and scientists” who worked behind the scenes.

The Hope’s arrival puts the UAE in a league of just five space agencies in history that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission. Two more unmanned spacecraft from the US and China are following close behind, set to arrive at the planet in the next several days.




Dubai’s Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum watches the mission to Mars unfold at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center. (Supplied)

All three missions were launched in July last year to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.

In a congratulatory tweet on Tuesday addressed to the Emiratis, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, said: “Your bold endeavor to explore the Red Planet will inspire many others to reach for the stars. We hope to join you at Mars soon with Perseverance.”

Speaking to Arab News, Salem Al-Marri, assistant director general for scientific and technical affairs at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “The (completion of the Mars orbit insertion) means a lot: Within 15 years, building capabilities at the center to be able to build satellites, launch astronauts and build a mission like this to Mars.

“The first thing that it means to the country and to us is that we have the capability to build such technologies. Number two is that now we have a mission that has a global impact. Its importance is on a global level, so the data that we’re going to get from this mission is going to benefit everybody studying the Martian atmosphere who wants to understand the planet better.

“I think a mission such as this means a lot everybody.”

Earlier, Hessa Al-Matrooshi, science lead of Data Analysis and Management of EMM at the space center, had said in an interview: “There are many similarities between Earth and how Mars was about 2 billion years ago. Data has shown traces of water on the Red Planet 2 billion years ago. We believe it had a very thick atmosphere, it had water and liquid state.

“If you look at Mars now, a lot has happened. It has a very thin atmosphere and you don’t find traces of water unless it’s water vapor and ice. The question is why the drastic transformation happened. Through this, we can understand factors taking place on Earth that can lead to similar results, thus preventing it.”

The Hope probe was assembled in Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H2A rocket.

The $200 million cost of the mission is considered among the lowest in the world when compared with similar programs, Mohammad Al-Gergawi, the UAE minister for cabinet affairs, said in a tweet last year.

However, the price tag excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and US expeditions are considerably more complicated — and expensive — because of their rover exploration devices. NASA’s Perseverance mission has a likely cost of $3 billion.

Nevertheless, the success of the mission represents a tremendous boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. It follows decades of preparations and work to achieve a grand vision set out in the 1970s by the UAE’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nayhan. His interest in space was triggered by a meeting in 1976 with NASA astronauts who had flown a number of Apollo missions to the Moon.

US President Richard Nixon had presented Sheikh Zayed with a gift of a lunar rock collected from the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. Soon after, Sheikh Zayed sent a clear message to his people, and the world, that Emirati ambitions for space exploration would know no bounds. So began the country’s journey into space.

In 2006, the UAE began collaborating closely with universities and space agencies around the world to establish knowledge-transfer programs, with the goal of one day sending a spacecraft to Mars. However, it was not until the UAE Space Agency was formed in 2014 that the world really began to take notice of the country’s space exploration plans.

In 2017, Emirati military pilot Hazza Al-Mansouri was one of two people selected from 4,000 applicants to join the agency’s inaugural astronaut corps. After rigorous mental and physical tests, he trained in Russia as a part of an agreement between the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

The UAE’s first astronaut joined the crew of a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft that took off on Sept. 25, 2019, bound for the International Space Station. Al-Mansouri’s eight-day mission ended on Oct. 2, when he landed safely in Kazakhstan, after which he proudly said that he had returned with “Sheikh Zayed’s space mission achieved.”

Looking to the future of Arab space exploration, the MBRSC’s Al-Marri said: “We have a 10-year plan already in place and we have multiple teams working on multiple missions. If I talk specifically about the next step with the Emirates Mars Mission, we will start after a couple of weeks focusing on the scientific objectives.

“But the next steps in terms of the MBRC is the other 10-year plan. The next mission we have is launching, for the first time in the history of the Arab world, a mission that will land on the Moon. So, we’ll be sending a rover, it’s called Rashid Rover. We’re building that as we speak.”

— with input from agencies.

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi

 

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

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2 US Navy warships in the Middle East affected by coronavirus

2 US Navy warships in the Middle East affected by coronavirus
Updated 2 min 1 sec ago

2 US Navy warships in the Middle East affected by coronavirus

2 US Navy warships in the Middle East affected by coronavirus
  • The 5th Fleet patrols the waterways of the Middle East

DUBAI: Two US Navy warships operating in the Middle East have been affected by the coronavirus, authorities said Friday, with one already at port in Bahrain and another heading there now.
A dozen troops aboard the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock, tested positive for COVID-19, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The ship is at port in Bahrain.
“All positive cases have been isolated on board, and the ship remains in a restricted COVID bubble,” Rebarich said. “The port visit and medical support have been coordinated with the host nation government and Bahrain Ministry of Health.”
The second ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, has “several persons under investigation” for possible coronavirus infections, Rebarich said. The ship is expected to pull into port for further testing at a port she declined to name, citing “operational security.”
The San Diego has a capacity to carry nearly 700 personnel, while the Philippine Sea can carry over 300.
The 5th Fleet patrols the waterways of the Middle East. Its vessels often have tense encounters with Iran in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which 20 percent of all oil traded worldwide passes.


Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight

Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight
Updated 26 February 2021

Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight

Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight
  • UN’s humanitarian chief says malnutrition is so common, parents can no longer notice the signs in their own children.
  • Aid is restricted because most border crossings have closed; Russian envoy rules out reopening them as it would be ‘supporting terrorists’

NEW YORK: In what might be his final briefing on Syria to the Security Council, the UN’s humanitarian chief on Thursday once again warned of the dire situation in the country, and the terrible toll it is taking on children in particular.

Mark Lowcock, who this month said that after four years in the role he is stepping down to spend more time with his family in the UK, sounded the alarm about a humanitarian crisis which, 10 years into the civil war, is only getting worse. A fragile economy is suffering shock after shock, the currency is in free fall, food prices have spiked by 200 percent, unemployment is rising, and 60 percent of the population lacks access to safe and nutritious food, he said.

Millions are forced to resort to “desperate measures” to survive, he added. Parents are going without food so that they can feed their children, who are having to find work instead of going to school. More than half a million under-fives are affected by stunting, which is impaired growth and development as a result of chronic malnutrition.

Although this crisis is affecting people throughout Syria, it is particularly bad in the northwest and northeast, where Lowcock said one in three children is suffering from the irreversible effects of stunting. He said malnutrition is so common that parents no longer even notice the signs in their children.

“The effects this will have on their development and learning will be lifelong and irreversible,” he added.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, told the council that about half of Syrian children are growing up “having known nothing but conflict, which has permeated all aspects of their lives and robbed them of their childhoods.”

She added: “Children today are facing a graver reality than at any other point in the 10-year conflict. They are more likely to be in need of humanitarian assistance, to go hungry, to die from preventable diseases, to miss out on school and face protection risks.”

Khush said the combined effects of the conflict, during which thousands of children have been killed, displacement, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic have created conditions in which millions of Syrian young people are missing out on an education, girls are being married off to support their families, boys are being sent to war, and child labor is becoming more prevalent.

Schools are supposed to be safe places for children to learn and thrive, she added, but instead they have been attacked, used by armed groups and are littered with unexploded ordinance.

Of the five million people across northern Syria in need of cross-border assistance, two million are children and half of them have been displaced, in some cases more than 10 times, Khush said.

Lack of access to adequate supplies of food and water has resulted in an alarming nutritional crisis.

“This means they have gone for months without eating nutritious food that is vital to their survival and development, and the number of children who go to bed hungry every day is in the millions,” Khush said.

In the past year, the UN has lost access to three of four border crossings through which it delivered humanitarian aid to Syria from neighboring countries. Under pressure from Russia and China, on behalf of the Assad regime, closed crossings have not been reopened. In the northwest, the entire humanitarian aid effort to help 2.4 million people has to pass through a single checkpoint on the border with Turkey.

“Without the cross-border operation, doctors in northwest Syria, like some of those I spoke to, would not be able to provide those children with the care that they need to survive,” Lowcock said. “They would not have the resources and supplies to carry on, within quite a short period of time, they said. The situation would go from terrible to catastrophic.”

Lowcock, who is also the emergency relief coordinator, reiterated the stance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that “when it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need, all channels should be made, and should be kept, available.”

Should the Security Council again fail to extend its authorization for cross-border assistance, Lowcock warned that it would “trigger suffering and loss of life potentially on a very large scale.”

Despite the dire warnings, the Russian stance on the issue of cross-border assistance remained the same.

“There is no doubt that keeping the cross-border mechanism will also mean keeping supporting terrorists, who are living on what they have extorted and also on how they are controlling smuggling,” said Vassily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN.

“If we all had to make a decision on the extension of the cross-border mechanism tomorrow, I fear that we would not have any convincing grounds to do so.”


US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia; monitor counts 17 killed

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia; monitor counts 17 killed
Updated 19 min 52 sec ago

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia; monitor counts 17 killed

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia; monitor counts 17 killed
  • SOHR says all casualties were fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces
  • The strikes were in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month, says US defense department

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups. 

US defense officials announced the strikes without providing details and with no mention of casualties, saying only that they were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday that at  least 17 pro-Iran fighters were killed in the US strikes in Syria at the Iraq border overnight.

“The strikes destroyed three lorries carrying munitions... There were many casualties. Preliminary indications are that at least 17 fighters were killed, all members of Popular Mobilization Forces,” the director of the SOHR, Rami Abdul Rahman, told AFP, referencing the powerful coalition of pro-Iran Iraqi paramilitaries.

The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.

Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen US military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend US troops in Iraq.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington.

Speaking shortly after the airstrikes, he added, “We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes,” referring to a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition personnel.

Austin said he recommended the action to Biden.

“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

Earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US action was a “proportionate military response” taken together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”

Kirby said the US airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian- backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada. The US has blamed Kataib Hezbollah for numerous attacks targeting US personnel and interests in Iraq in the past.

Further details were not immediately available.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, criticized the US attack as a violation of international law.

“The United Nations Charter makes absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack on the defending state for which the target state is responsible,” she said. “None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.”

Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted US personnel or facilities in Iraq.

Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack.

“Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here,” Kirby said. “Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.”

A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya Al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the Feb. 15 attack. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone appeared to target the US Embassy compound, but no one was hurt.

Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade.

The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against US targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, though now Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.

The US under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis last year.

Trump had said the death of a US contractor would be a red line and provoke US escalation in Iraq. The December 2019 killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war.
US forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Daesh group.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region
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ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say
Updated 26 February 2021

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say
  • After Trump sanctions, US seeks election to seat on Human Rights Council in 2022

Officials representing leading human rights groups on Thursday urged US President Joe Biden to remove sanctions imposed by his predecessor against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials, arguing war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians must be investigated.

The ICC was created in 2002 based on the principles of the Rome Statute drawn up by the United Nations in 1998, and on legal precedents defined during the Nuremberg Trials after Second World War which prosecuted Nazi war crimes.

Although 123 nations have joined the ICC, more than 40 countries including the US and Israel, which originally supported the Rome Statutes, refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies.

Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other human rights activists from around the world took part in a webinar panel on Thursday. The forum was hosted by the Foundation for Middle East Peace and its president, Lara Friedman.

“What we saw (Wednesday) in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is the US expressing its intention to rejoin,” said Dr. Michael Kearney, a legal researcher for Al-Haq, the Palestinian human rights agency based in Ramallah.

“But it is doing so on the condition that Palestine is removed from the agenda of the Human Rights Council. We have to be cautious about what the US is basing that re-engagement.”

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the council in 2018. Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday the US would seek re-election to the council in 2022. He said probes into Syria and North Korea along with preserving LGBTQI rights and combating racism should be priorities.

“The Human Rights Council must support those fighting against injustice and tyranny,” Blinken said.

“We acknowledge the challenges at the Council as well, including unacceptable bias against Israel and membership rules that allow countries with atrocious human rights records to occupy seats they do not merit.”

The sanctions imposed on the ICC by Trump and mixed signals from the Biden administration have not dissuaded the organization from investigating allegations of Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

On Feb. 5, the ICC “pre-trial chamber” found that “the court’s territorial jurisdiction in the situation in Palestine, a state party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

This ruling opened the door for investigations into alleged war crimes perpetrated by “members of the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli authorities, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups,” Friedman said.

The panelists agreed that Israel has engaged in political policies to deny Palestine of any protected rights under ICC authority.

The ICC decision to move forward in its investigation came despite threats from the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Trump issued an executive order imposing sanctions against top ICC officials, along with individuals and corporate entities assisting the ICC probe.

Yael Stein, a research director at the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights (B’Tselem), argued that Israel has created a sophisticated legal system to confuse the international rule of law as it applies to the actions of Israeli soldiers.

“Israel claims that it will investigate itself,” Stein said. “But it is not investigating the charges against itself. The Israelis do not investigate the orders. They only address the question, ‘Did the soldiers obey the legal orders they were given?’”

She said charges are watered down to “insignificant claims.”

“If a soldier kills a civilian, he is charged with not obeying an order so he can avoid a murder charge,” she said. “(Israeli authorities) are able to assert that they in fact do investigate cases.”

Hassan Jabareen, the founder of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), referred to this as “Israel’s legal black hole.”

“Israel creates a situation in which there is a black hole of legality where they ensure that legality is applied, and as a consequence, no one is charged or held to be responsible,” Jabareen said.

“One way they did this was in 2007 when Israel declared that Gaza is an ‘enemy.’ Therefore, everyone in Gaza is an enemy and even if someone is injured illegally, there will be no consequences against Israeli soldiers.”

The victims in Gaza, he said, are legally denied access to Israeli courts because they are all defined as “enemies” of Israel.

Kearney said that the significance of the ICC ruling this month applies directly to the illegal establishment of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem that were occupied by Israel in 1967.

He said Israel tried to exclude the issue of war crimes in the Rome Statutes in 1998, specifically to prevent the inclusion of settlements and population transfers.

Gallagher noted that Biden has not yet lifted the Trump administration sanctions on the ICC because Israel is lobbying to keep them in place.
 


Lebanon’s top Christian cleric calls for international conference

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric calls for international conference
Updated 26 February 2021

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric calls for international conference

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric calls for international conference
  • Arab and foreign diplomats visit patriarch to voice support for his proposal

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric on Thursday reiterated his call for the country’s politicians to come together to form a new government.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai wants an international conference on the issue that would protect Lebanon, the Taif Agreement, “and equality,” but his sermons are falling on deaf ears.
The country’s lawmakers have failed to agree on a new administration since the last one resigned after the devastating Aug. 4 port explosion in Beirut.
There has also been a sharp increase in tension between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
“We have reached a point where it is impossible for us to communicate or reach an agreement,” Al-Rai said on Thursday.
“We must diagnose our problem and treat it based on three constants: The Taif Agreement, the constitution, and the Charter. All the country’s problems are caused by foreign interventions.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rejected Rai’s proposition, calling it “the internationalization and cover for a new occupation. Nobody messes with us,” he said.
Nasrallah’s words sparked criticism from Christian parties on social media, and several Arab and foreign diplomats visited Al-Rai to voice their support for his proposal.
“There is a need to properly implement the Taif Agreement, which guarantees the national unity and civil peace of the country,” Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari said.
Delegations from the Lebanese Forces, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and other opposing parties also visited the patriarch.
“We are living in hell as a result of drawing Lebanon into the Iranian-American conflict,” Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Habshi said.
“This makes it imperative to resort to the international community as Lebanon is being held as a hostage.”
Former Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, a PSP member, said Lebanon’s president does not want Hariri as prime minister.
He also dismissed efforts by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by Aoun’s son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil, to be included in the government’s formation.
“Bassil’s insistence on having the bloc third in the government is a failed attempt,” Aridi said. “There will not be any third.”
An FPM delegation also met with Al-Rai on Thursday, while Bassil spoke on the phone with the patriarch.
MP Roger Azar reiterated the FPM’s demands and said: “We informed the patriarch of the FPM’s readiness to discuss any suggestion within the constitutional norms and terms, and on the basis of a comprehensive national partnership.”
Former MP Ahmed Fatfat said any attack against Al-Rai just solidifies his position as an important reference in the country.
“Al-Rai is waging a basic and clear battle and has the support of all political parties and communities in Lebanon,” Fatfat said. “Intimidation attempts are useless.”