NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday welcomed the endorsement by Libya’s House of Representatives of the interim Government of National Unity as “an important step towards restoring unity, stability, security and prosperity” in the country.
He commended members of the House and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum for their work in advancing the political process in Libya, and also praised the country’s 5+5 Joint Military Commission and local authorities in Sirte for their efforts in securing the parliament’s approval.
Guterres encouraged the new unity government to cooperate with the House of Representatives “to address the urgent needs of the Libyan people without delay, advance preparations for national elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and continue to work toward the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement of Oct. 23, 2020.”
He also reiterated the support of the UN for the Libyan people in all their efforts to improve the peace and stability of their nation.
Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut
Lebanese president confirms parliamentary elections will go ahead on time
Disgruntled customer surrenders after ‘stealing’ $50,000 from bank in armed raid
Updated 21 min 6 sec ago
BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday reiterated his determination to work in cooperation with parliament and the government as the country prepares to begin its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
Speaking during the traditional annual meeting with members of the diplomatic corps, the president also confirmed that the parliamentary elections would take place on time.
Aoun expressed his support for the criminal audit of the central bank and other departments, institutions and councils. He also highlighted his keenness to achieve reforms and approve a financial and economic recovery plan in the coming weeks in preparation for the discussions with the IMF.
His remarks came as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Beirut from the UAE after a long absence. It was reported Hariri plans to reorganize the Future Movement party and resolve the issue of its participation in the upcoming elections.
Hariri also visited Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, and the tomb of his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his unwillingness to run again for the parliamentary seat.
He said he wanted to “make way for a serious change, by making way for new blood, young and clean thought, aspiring for pure national goals, respecting the demands of the rebellious people and seeking change.”
Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, confirmed that his party “will run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in all regions.”
He also commented on his electoral alliance with Hezbollah in an interview with the Anadolu Agency.
“The feud is obvious and major with the party when it comes to internal matters, and if these issues are resolved, the question of electoral alliances will be determined on their basis,” Bassil said.
But he showed for the first time his backing for Hezbollah’s position on the role of the judicial investigator in the 2020 Beirut port explosion case.
Judge Tarek Bitar’s work was “discretionary,” he said, and rejected claims that the matter had been “politicized.”
Hezbollah has led the campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of bias after he pursued some of its political allies.
Hezbollah and Amal said this month they would end a boycott of Cabinet sessions, opening the way for ministers to meet after a three-month break.
In preparation for a Cabinet session on Monday, Finance Minister Youssef Khalil is expected to hand over the 2022 draft budget to the prime minister on Friday.
Meanwhile, the judiciary has begun an investigation after a Lebanese man was arrested for staging an armed robbery at a bank in his hometown of Jeb Jenin in the western Bekaa on Thursday.
Abdullah Al-Saii is reported to have held employees at gunpoint and thrown gasoline at them while threatening to burn the bank down unless he was given access to his savings that had been frozen.
A security source told Arab News that Al-Saii “emptied (cash) drawers at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries branch and forced employees to open the main safe.”
He managed to withdraw $50,000 and was on his way home to give it to his wife when he surrendered to the security services. He gave himself up in the belief he would later be released as “he had regained his right and was not stealing.”
The Lebanese judiciary issued an arrest warrant for Al-Saii’s wife, who said she would go on hunger strike until her husband was released.
The security source said: “If Al-Saii is not held accountable for his actions, others will do what he did, and then chaos and the law of the jungle will prevail.”
The incident has led to a division between those who sympathize with Al-Saii and activists who demand accountability for the banking policies that led to the collapse of the Lebanese pound.
Some people expressed support for Al-Saii on social media, saying that “what was taken by force can only be recovered by force.”
Others described his actions as “heroic.”
One person wrote that “the state has turned its citizens into criminals and terrorists with its plan to seize depositors’ money.”
But the judiciary, banking and security authorities condemned Al-Saii’s act.
The Executive Council of the Federation of Banks’ Employees Syndicates asked: “Are we in a state of law or on a farm run by the powerful, authoritarians and outlaws?”
The incident would have led to a massacre if the BBAC management had not responded to the depositor’s request, it added.
Authorities imposed restrictions on bank transactions in 2019 and set a ceiling on withdrawals and transfers to accounts abroad.
Over the past two years, angry depositors have carried out dozens of protests in front of the central bank and private lenders in a bid to recover their money. The protests have led to ATMs and banks being vandalized — a closed branch in Beirut was burnt down — and staff being threatened. But Al-Saii is the first to make such a direct threat.
About $3.8 billion was withdrawn from banks between October and November 2019 following the protest movement that swept the country. By the end of that year, banks had frozen all withdrawals.
Why Israel is waging a shadow war with Iran’s IRGC in Syria
Israel has launched airstrikes across Syria amid suspicions that Iran is using the country to move precision-guided missiles
Experts believe Israel is trying to minimize Hezbollah’s capacity to retaliate in case it has to attack Iran’s nuclear sites
Updated 28 sec ago
WASHINGTON D.C.: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria have been growing in scale and frequency in recent months as Tehran seeks to cement its hold over Syrian seaports, airports and overland smuggling routes.
From the Israeli standpoint, Iran’s ability to deliver precision-guided missile technology to Syrian territory via these routes poses a serious strategic threat, allowing Iran and its Hezbollah proxies to attack from short range at short notice in the event of a regional war.
Israel does not always claim responsibility for its strikes on sensitive Syrian facilities controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, giving it a measure of plausible deniability to avoid open conflict or Syrian retaliation.
The country is nevertheless thought to be behind scores of recent strikes across Syrian regime territories, from the capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia in the northwest to Deir el-Zour in the east.
Latakia was struck twice in December amid suspicions the IRGC was using the port to move precision-guided weapons. The resulting fireball following one such strike revealed just how much dangerous material Iran was attempting to transfer to its regional terror network.
Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, issued a stark warning to Iran following the Latakia strikes, vowing that “game-changing” weapons were a red line and Israel would not allow their proliferation.
However, the strikes do not appear to have deterred Iran.
“Preventing Iranian entrenchment in Syria is probably impossible. The question is the rate and quantity of Iranian entrenchment and the quality of this entrenchment,” Tal Beeri, head of the research department at the Alma Research and Education Center in Israel, told Arab News.
“Israel does this without plunging the region into war by attacking only armaments and almost completely refraining from attacking commanders. The attacks are carried out in a targeted manner based on accurate intelligence and only against targets that clearly will not have collateral damage or, alternatively, only minor collateral damage.”
According to Beeri, Israel primarily targets deliveries of components destined for air-defense systems, cruise missiles, long-range missiles, drones and electronic combat systems.
“It is estimated that about 70 percent of the time, the air, sea and land arms-smuggling routes are closed due to Israeli activity,” he said.
“However, although arms smuggling has decreased compared with 2020, we do not know what has managed to evade Israeli intelligence and reached Syria and Lebanon.”
Constant pressure on the IRGC and its smuggling routes is seen by Israeli officials as the best means of preventing, or at least slowing, an Iranian military build-up on its doorstep.
“In light of this, we have been witnessing an increasing volume of airstrikes on Syrian soil that has been taking place for a long time now. This is the only way the ‘mowing the grass’ strategy can succeed,” said Beeri.
“It is not just in Israel’s interest. It is in the interest of all relevant players in the Middle East that are threatened by Iran and the international community’s interests, especially the US, Russia and Europe.”
Beeri warned that ballistic missiles on Syrian and Lebanese soil could be easily directed toward Europe.
“Nowadays, the Saudis understand this well in light of the fighting in Yemen and the physical threat posed to them from a direct geographic front under Iranian auspices,” he said.
Indeed, in his most recent speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke at length of his group’s intentions to target Saudi Arabia and broader Arab interests not aligned with Iran’s regional hegemonic aims.
Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, said that Israeli strikes on targets in Syria are already having an impact.
“Israel has achieved impressive results in its campaign in Syria to prevent advanced weaponry from reaching Iran’s proxies and partners,” Brodsky told Arab News.
“According to recent Israeli estimates, Iran has been unable to make such transfers through the region — via, air, land and sea — around 70 percent of the time. Israel aims to increase the cost for Bashar Assad in allowing such illicit Iranian activity to take place on Syrian soil.”
However, Brodsky suspects it is only a matter of time before Iran finds alternative routes and methods to move its weaponry.
“As it relates to Iran’s calculus, I don’t see Tehran letting up on its designs to use Lebanon and Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel in the future. But such Israeli strikes will cause the Iranians to improvise their smuggling routes,” he said.
“According to public reports citing Syrian sources, Iran has ramped up arms transfers by sea in an attempt to avoid Israeli strikes in eastern Syria. That explains the uptick in Israeli strikes targeting Latakia port, with two alone in December.”
Israel’s fast-paced approach to containing Iranian activity coincides with international negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal.
Donald Trump, the former US president, withdrew from the accord in 2018, arguing that the agreement reached by the administration of Barack Obama did not go far enough in reducing Iran’s ballistic missile program or its policy of arming and funding militia proxies throughout the Middle East.
Israeli defense officials worry that history might repeat itself if US President Joe Biden’s team signs a new nuclear deal that fails to address the issues cited by Trump. These widening strategic differences between the US and Israel could lead to more unilateral Israeli action.
Brodsky believes Israeli strikes against IRGC targets in Syria may also be intended to show Iran that Israel means business, no matter what the US decides in Vienna.
“While the timing of these strikes is driven by the operational needs of the moment, they have a secondary upside for Israel as it seeks to demonstrate to Tehran that it is prepared to hold it accountable militarily, all while the nuclear talks are happening in Vienna,” he said.
Farhad Rezaei, a senior research fellow at the Philos Project, also believes Israel is sending an unambiguous message to Tehran, showing that it is prepared for any scenario, especially if it concludes that Iran’s nuclear program can be halted only by military means.
“My understanding is that Israel is trying to minimize a Hezbollah missile attack in case it has to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, so Israel is bombing the convoys that bring precision-guided missiles to Lebanon via Syria, as well as the workshops in Syria and storage facilities where precision-guided missiles and rockets are built and stored,” Rezaei told Arab News.
“Israeli papers are talking about a multi-domain operation to prepare for a strike, such as training pilots, obtaining aerial-refueling craft, and trying to limit the potential damage from a Hezbollah barrage once the operation is launched.”
For the time being, according to most experts, neither Israel nor Iran appears interested in starting an open conflict. But with ever more advanced Iranian missile technology finding its way into Hezbollah hands and an isolated Syrian regime growing increasingly reliant on Iran, the stakes are getting higher.
If a fresh nuclear deal is signed in Vienna without additional restrictions on IRGC activity and Iranian missile proliferation, then the chances of a military escalation will rise dramatically.
Sudan military chief announces ministerial appointments
Updated 41 min 1 sec ago
CAIRO: Sudan’s military chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan appointed 15 ministers in the government, a statement from the Sovereign Council said on Thursday.
Burhan’s appointments include Ali Sadek Ali for the foreign ministry and Mohammed Abdallah Mahmoud for the energy portfolio.
Earlier today, the council agreed with a US delegation on forming a national independent government of technocrats and launching a comprehensive national dialogue to resolve the current political crisis.
Egyptian, South Korean presidents talk joint economic, military and technological issues
Moon expressed Seoul’s interest in increasing its investments in development and infrastructure projects
The pair discussed cooperation in railway development, an important priority for the Egyptian state
Updated 20 January 2022
CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in discussed issues of mutual concern on Thursday during the first visit by a South Korean president to Cairo in nearly 16 years.
El-Sisi praised the depth of relations between the two countries, stressing the importance of working to activate the comprehensive cooperative partnership between them in a manner commensurate with their capabilities.
Moon expressed his happiness visiting Egypt for the first time, thanking El-Sisi for his warm reception and hospitality, and expressing keenness to continue coordination and consultation between in various fields, as well as looking forward to developing and strengthening South Korea’s relations with Egypt in light of its pivotal role providing stability and security in the Middle East and Africa.
He also expressed Seoul’s interest in increasing its investments in major development and infrastructure projects and elsewhere in Egypt.
The pair discussed cooperation in railway development, an important priority for the Egyptian state. They also discussed the localization of the electric car industry in Egypt and how South Korea could assist with the “Decent Life” initiative, launched by El-Sisi to develop poorer villages and governorates in Egypt, in addition to cooperation in energy production, in light of the two countries’ keenness to diversify and secure their energy sources.
Moon and El-Sisi also discussed ways to enhance military cooperation, especially with regard to joint manufacturing and the transfer and localization of technology, in light of Egypt’s strategic role in the region and South Korea’s advanced technological capabilities and military industries.
In a press conference, El-Sisi expressed Egypt’s desire to attract Korean companies and investments, with Cairo’s readiness to provide all the necessary facilities to create a promising environment, and to encourage an increase in Korean investments in major development and infrastructure projects, as well as in energy, mining, transportation, communications and information technology.
El-Sisi indicated that he agreed with Moon on the importance of strengthening joint cooperation to support the Egyptian vision of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, whether through the establishment of a branch of the Korean University of Advanced Science and Technology, or cooperation between the ministries of communications and information technology in using artificial intelligence.
He explained that his talks with the South Korean president reviewed partnership opportunities between Egyptian companies operating in Africa and Korean companies, and promoted investment in Africa, highlighting the opportunities offered by the Continental Free Trade Area to increase investment and trade flows between African countries and the international community.
The Egyptian presidency said in a statement that the talks also witnessed a review of the developments of a number of regional and international issues of common interest, including the Libyan crisis. El-Sisi stressed that stability in Libya is a priority and that Egypt will continue its tireless efforts with Libyan parties to hold national elections. The president also affirmed Egypt’s permanent support for all mechanisms that guarantee the security and stability of the Korean Peninsula.
Moon praised Egyptian political efforts in maintaining security and stability in the Middle East and Africa, especially with regard to Egyptian moves to reach a political settlement of crises in the region, as well as its tireless efforts, led by El-Sisi, to combat terrorism and extremist ideology, as well as spread the values of coexistence and tolerance in the region, strengthening bridges of dialogue between African and Arab countries with the rest of the world.
The two presidents witnessed the signing ceremony of a number of memoranda of understanding between their countries in trade and economic partnership, development cooperation, and railways. The Korean president’s visit to Egypt concludes his tour of the region, which included visits to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week: Senior officials take stock of MENA progress in fight against climate change
Saudi Arabia and the UAE praised for pioneering green energy initiatives as part of accelerated climate actions
US climate envoy John Kerry sees the Middle East playing a big role in shift to clean, renewable power
Updated 20 January 2022
DUBAI: Efforts by governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to accelerate climate action were praised at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in the UAE capital.
Since its inauguration in 2008, ADSW has been bringing members of the global community together to accelerate sustainable development.
In keeping with this practice, this year’s events provided heads of state, policy makers, business leaders and technology pioneers with a platform to share knowledge, showcase innovation and outline strategies for delivering climate action.
Amid growing concerns over the impact of global warming, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, were cited by ADSW participants as examples for the rest of the world on the strength of their pioneering “green energy” initiatives.
John Kerry, US President Joe Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, detailed the significant progress made by countries throughout the MENA region.
The UAE is preparing to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in 2023, making it only the third Arab country to be given the honor. Egypt will be the host of COP27, to be held later this year, exactly 10 years after Qatar became the first Arab country to welcome COP delegates.
Held once a year, the conference brings together representatives of governments that signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change to discuss how to jointly address climate change.
The Paris Agreement, signed by almost all countries in the world at COP21 in 2015, aims, among other things, to keep the rise in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but ideally keep it to 1.5 degrees.
“The region is stepping up and it’s an extremely important message to the rest of the world, that (those) who are producers of the current source of our power, energy and heating, recognize that there will be a transition,” Kerry said.
“Clearly, we are moving toward clean, renewable power and sustainable structures, and the Middle East, together with the Horn of Africa, is going to play a huge role in that over the course of the next two years.”
Indeed, MENA oil and gas producers are increasingly being viewed as part of the solution, with the region boasting some of the lowest methane emissions in their production.
While carbon dioxide is widely identified as the chief culprit behind global warming, methane is second on the list of the worst greenhouse gas contributors to climate change.
Total indirect greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations today are around 5,200 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. Methane is the largest single component of these indirect emissions.
Unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, methane is gone in about 10 to 15 years. But while it is in the atmosphere, methane has a detrimental effect up to 85 times worse than CO2 (over a 20-year period).
“That is a serious problem when we look at the fact that over the next 10 years. We have our greatest challenge of trying to reduce our emissions by at least 45 percent,” Kerry said. “So, to achieve that, methane has to be part of the solution and, for whatever reason, it has been the stepchild of the process and nobody has really focused in on it.”
This year, Biden and the EU announced an initiative to get 109 nations to sign the methane pledge and start working together to “plug the leaks.”
The collective hope is that global methane emissions will be reduced by 30 percent by 2030 — the equivalent of every automobile, truck, aircraft and ship going to zero emissions in that time. “That’s a gigantic gain for all of us,” Kerry said. “It saves about 0.2 degrees on the rise of temperature during those 10 years and that would be a remarkable gain right now.”
The path to sustainable economies and societies will have to overcome the existential threat that climate change poses, with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report predicting that every region in the world will experience concurrent and multiples changes in climate impact drivers, such as more frequent rainfall, droughts and wildfires.
“These pale in comparison to the upheaval projected in coming decades,” Halimah Yacob, the Singaporean president, told ADSW attendees.
“However, tackling climate change is an immensely complex challenge and must go far beyond annual conferences. It requires a global response through ambitious plans, concrete action and resolute commitment from all countries, big and small — this is the only way we can close the emissions gap and reach our collective goal of a net-zero planet.”
Today, renewable and clean sources of energy supply only 20 percent of global power, with current projections estimating that renewable energy sources will form only 40 percent of total global generation by 2040.
What this signifies, according to Awaidha Murshed Ali Al-Marar, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy, is that the world will still need to use fossil fuels for decades to come.
“Like with any serious disease, the treatment plan won’t be effective and long-lasting unless it incorporates essential lifestyle adjustments,” Al-Marar said in his remarks at ADSW. “It is critical that we form new regional and international partnerships.”
Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini king’s representative for humanitarian works and youth affairs and president of the Bahrain Olympic Committee, said that with the deadline for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals just eight years away, young people should have a seat at the climate table to ensure a greener future.
The world’s 1.8 billion young citizens will be worst affected by the climate crisis, and they are considered the most committed to change, armed with innovative ideas for effecting positive change for tomorrow, Al-Khalifa told ADSW.
“Youth are passionate, energetic, curious, committed, connected, knowledgeable and technologically equipped,” Al-Khalifa said.
“Without support, they cannot leverage these unique attributes to be the real game changers in creating a net-zero future. We must trust youth in the power to lead meaningful change.”
Bahrain has set up several initiatives to involve its youth in the process, in line with its Economic Vision 2030, Al-Khalifa said.
He expressed great hope in young people, describing them as malleable, resilient and tech-savvy. He said that they are early adopters, innovators and trendsetters. “All this makes them primed and prepped for innovation, disruption and catalysts of new thought and creative solutions,” the sheikh added.
“We see this positive ethos and youth culture spread across different sectors and spheres. As we chart our pathways for a greener future, youth will remain the driving force for socio-economic and cultural transformation across our communities.”
Despite the enormous commitment made in Glasgow at last year’s COP26, Kerry said the challenge today is to work with the remaining 35 percent and bring them on board as rapidly as possible to meet that goal.
“We know that the warming is going on at accelerated rates, particularly in the Arctic, where ice is melting much more rapidly and several times faster than anywhere else on the planet,” he said.
“And as the ice melts, it opens up dark brackish ocean waters, which contain more heat and that accelerates warming. So, you have a negative feedback loop.”
With mudslides, storms and floods intensifying around the world, Kerry pointed out that when countries gather next year to assess their progress, thanks to the advantage of visibility through satellites, every country will be held accountable without the need to report.
“People are going to be able to measure what’s happening with deforestation and the carbon footprint of big corporations and countries,” he said. “We’ve made a big leap forward, but no one is moving fast enough. We are way behind in our retirement of coal power plants and in our efforts to stop leakage of methane and deploy renewable energy.”
In this race against time, however, the private sector will play a crucial role as Kerry believes no government can afford to accelerate such a transition on its own. Global efforts have identified over $100 trillion ready to be invested in new technologies related to clean energy, from battery storage, carbon capture, utilization and storage, smart grids and hydrogen.
“The reality is that it’s going to need a very significant amount of investment to effect this transition,” Kerry said. “Energy produces revenue, so we have to be creative about how we deploy that money.
“It is better to be investing in a big solar field or a new energy product that will produce revenue, rather than to leave your money sitting in a bank somewhere with net negative interests.”
Among the ADSW participants was Alok Sharma, the British minister and president of COP26, who arrived in the UAE from Egypt, where he met a wide range of government ministers, including Egypt’s COP president-designate, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Together they issued a UK-Egypt statement which affirmed their joint commitment to accelerating the fight against climate change during this decade.
Sharma’s first visits following COP26 will culminate in a meeting between Egypt, the UAE and Britain in Abu Dhabi, the first of a series of engagements between the countries in the lead-up to COP27 and COP28.