Maritime border dispute emerges between Lebanon, Syria

Maritime border dispute emerges between Lebanon, Syria
Lebanon and Syria differed over a maritime area of about 860 square kilometers, known as Block No. 9, based on a map sent in 2011 to the UN. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Maritime border dispute emerges between Lebanon, Syria

Maritime border dispute emerges between Lebanon, Syria
  • Russian oil company signs agreement with Syria for exploration in Mediterranean Sea that conflicts with Lebanon’s 2011 demarcation

BEIRUT: The Syrian government signed a 4-year contract with a Russian company for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea that could spark a new border crisis between Lebanon and Syria.

The two blocks to be explored under the new contract overlap with Lebanese maritime areas for energy exploration along the country’s northern border. 

According to this demarcation, the Syrian side grabbed a Lebanese area of 750 square kilometers from Block No. 1 alone, where the Russian exploration process will begin.

Lebanon had previously demarcated its maritime borders in 2011, and in 2014 launched a round of primary licenses and invited bids for Block No. 1 in the north. But Syria did not recognize the Lebanese demarcation.

For years, Lebanon was busy demarcating its southern maritime and land borders with Israel. Last November, Israel accused Lebanon of changing its position seven times regarding the demarcation of the maritime borders, which led to indirect negotiations that took place under US and UN supervision.

The two countries differed over a maritime area of about 860 square kilometers, known as Block No. 9, based on a map sent in 2011 to the UN. But it was later found that the map was based on wrong approximations. In the most-recent negotiations, Lebanon demanded an additional area of 1,430 square kilometers, including part of the Karish field.

During negotiations with Israel, Lebanese President Michel Aoun told his delegation to “adhere to and defend the internationally recognized Lebanese rights.”

However, the concern for the southern borders with Israel has not been shared for the northern borders, despite the Russian-Syrian agreement getting signed March 1.

“Lebanon's demarcation of its borders came by decree, which is an internal legislation issued under Lebanese national laws, and it has no mandatory character,” Bashar Jaafari, Syrian permanent representative to the UN, said in his 2014 objection to the Lebanese demarcation.

Marc Ayoub, an expert on energy affairs in Lebanon and the Middle East, told Arab News that Lebanon must inform Syria of its objection by the available means.

“It could be through the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon or a visit by the Lebanese foreign minister to Syria,” he said. “If Syria refuses to acknowledge this objection, Lebanon must resort to the UN to object to any exploration process that will take place. It can request a halt to exploration if Lebanon presents documents proving its ownership of these areas.”

An apparent silence from Lebanese officials regarding the maritime border issue was met with political backlash from those who oppose the ruling authority in Lebanon.

MP Rola Tabsh, from the Future Movement bloc, said: “Where do the official Lebanese authorities stand on this issue? What is this suspicious coma? We waited for the violation from the south, from the enemy, but it came from the north, from a brotherly country.”

Richard Kouyoumjian, former minister and serving member of the Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc, said: “The government and the relevant ministries are required to have a sovereign position and clear clarification.”

He called for the “resumption of demarcation negotiations in the south, an end to Syrian complicity and plundering of our money and oil wealth.”

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri worked for 10 years to define the country’s southern border and was surprised by “the death of the demarcation” of the maritime borders with Israel.


Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 37 sec ago

Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
  • It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here. Seif Al-Islam

TRIPOLI: Seif Al-Islam, the son of slain leader Muammer Qaddafi, wants to “restore the lost unity” of Libya after a decade of chaos and does not exclude standing for the presidency.
He spoke in a rare interview, given to the New York Times at an opulent two-story villa inside a gated compound at Zintan in the west of the North African country.
For years, mystery had surrounded the precise whereabouts of a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The 49-year-old, who before 2011 had been seen as his father’s presumed successor, said politicians in the decade since have brought Libyans “nothing but misery.”
“It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here,” Seif Al-Islam said in his first appearance in years.
After four decades in power, Muammer Qaddafi and his relatives were the target of a popular uprising in 2011.
Three of the dictator’s seven sons were killed, but the fate of Seif Al-Islam was unknown.
He was captured by a Libyan militia in November 2011, days after his father was killed.
Four years later, a Tripoli court sentenced him in absentia to death for crimes committed during the revolt.
The ICC has repeatedly asked for him to be handed over for trial.
Until the interview, Seif Al-Islam had not been seen or heard from since June 2014, when he appeared via video link from Zintan during his trial by the Tripoli court.
Seif Al-Islam said in the interview that he was a free man organizing a political return, and that his former captors “are now my friends.”
He told the paper the militiamen eventually realized he could be a powerful ally.
In recent years, Libya has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.
In October, after forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) routed those of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the two camps agreed a cease-fire in Geneva.
The security situation has been slowly improving since.
A provisional government was agreed in March, and general elections are expected to take place on December 24.
Any possible return by Seif Al-Islam to Libyan politics would face hurdles, including his conviction by the Tripoli court and the ICC warrant for his arrest.
But the Britain-educated son of Muammer Qaddafi seems undeterred, according to the New York Times.
Seif Al-Islam said “he was confident that these legal issues could be negotiated away if a majority of the Libyan people choose him as their leader.”
The paper quoted him as saying: “I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years. You need to come back slowly, slowly. Like a striptease. You need to play with their minds a little.”
Asked if it felt strange to seek shelter in Libyan homes when he was on the run in 2011, he was as enigmatic as some of the opinions expressed in his late father’s ‘Green Book’.
“We’re like fish, and the Libyan people are like a sea for us,” Seif Al-Islam replied.
“Without them, we die. That’s where we get support. We hide here. We fight here. We get support from there. The Libyan people are our ocean.”


At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
Updated 24 min 51 sec ago

At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
  • More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces o
  • Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help

ANKARA: The death toll from wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for the fourth day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas.

At least four people are reported to have died and dozens have been hospitalized.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

“We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Turkey’s civil aviation agency has come under public criticism for its handling of the crisis. 

Although wildfires during summertime are common in Turkey, this year the fires have reached an unprecedented level.

The mayor of the southern resort town of Marmaris blamed “sabotage” for the fires and said an investigation had been launched. A number of buildings and hotels in tourist zones of Marmaris and Bodrum were evacuated after separate fires.

Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help. Three planes, nine drones, 38 helicopters, 680 firefighting vehicles, and more than 4,000 personnel have been deployed to put out the fires.

Turkey has only three planes available to fight forest fires, but all are leased from Russia for 1.3 million liras ($154,350) per day.

Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from the southern Mersin province and a member of the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), told Arab News: “We have been monitoring the situation on the ground since the beginning. Fortunately, they contained the fire from reaching the settlements. But this tragic case has shown once again the weakness of state apparatus in such emergency situations.”

He, along with other opposition parliamentarians, have been lobbying the Turkish government for a year to upgrade the country’s firefighting capacity.

“Nobody replied to our parliamentary inquiries, and we all witnessed the result of this incapacity. The Turkish president has 13 private planes in his possession, but why couldn’t they buy one single firefighting plane so far?” Antmen said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Tolga Ozbek, general coordinator of the aviation sector website kokpit.aero, told Arab News that Turkey had increased its annual water carrying capacity to 148,000 tons this year from 80,000 tons in 2018.

“Fighting wildfires requires an integrated approach, using different types of planes and helicopters based on the geographical conditions. Turkey has been leasing its firefighting helicopters for the last 35 years. This has turned out to be costlier than buying some,” he said.

He pointed out that Turkey needed a permanent fleet of firefighting planes and should allocate a reasonable budget for such emergency situations.

“Whatever you invest in fighting fires, it always falls short because the fires can erupt anywhere anytime. While formulating specific policies in this regard, one should always consider the implications of global warming and the ongoing drought in the country,” Ozbek added.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

 


UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Road linking the country’s long-divided east and west reopens after the UN demanded the safe passage of civilians and goods
  • Highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli 

NEW YORK: After nearly two years of closure, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Friday welcomed the official reopening of the coastal road linking Libya’s long-divided east and west.

Calling it a landmark and historical achievement, Jan Kubis, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for Libya said, “the opening of the coastal road is a critical step to further the implementation of the cease-fire agreement of Oct. 23, 2020. Equally important, it will allow the free movement of commerce, humanitarian support, and the people of Libya.”

The highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture the capital of Tripoli from the then Government of National Accord.

Hifter endorsed the reopening of the road along the Mediterranean where a potential resumption of traffic is seen as a crucial step toward peace between the warring parties. 

The highway reopening was an “addition to other significant confidence-building measures achieved thus far, such as the resumption of flights and the exchange of detainees,” Kubis said.

He thanked Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba for the release of salaries for the security forces. Kubis also hailed the role of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the presidency council, and the Government of National Unity for the achievement. 

“It is another step in strengthening peace, security, and stability in the country, and in the unification of its institutions,” Kubis said. 

The special envoy called on Libyan leaders to follow the “exemplary work of the 5+5 JMC” and “set aside their differences and work together to implement the roadmap and hold elections on Dec. 24.”

The highway was reopened following the 11th meeting of the JMC in Sirte.

“The next major step in the ceasefire agreement’s implementation process is to commence the withdrawal of all mercenaries, foreign fighters, and forces from Libya without delay,” Kubis said.

The JMC called on the UNSMIL to convene a meeting with international stakeholders to discuss a plan for the withdrawal. 

The JMC also requested that the deployment of UN ceasefire monitors be expedited. 

The warring parties signed a UN-sponsored cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting in October 2020.


Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad
Updated 30 July 2021

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad

Afghan troops to be trained in Turkey under first NATO program abroad
  • Senior analyst Andrew Watkins sees Ankara solidifying its role in country amid uncertainty over Taliban stance

ANKARA: Afghan soldiers will receive training from NATO in Turkey, in the first such training program of its kind outside Afghanistan.

The location of the program for Afghan special forces, to begin after NATO officially finishes its mission in the country, has not been disclosed.

The move is expected to be the prelude to regular training programs outside Afghanistan for the country’s forces.

Turkey insists on not engaging in any combat operation in Afghanistan, except for self-defense purposes. However, it is negotiating with the Afghan government over the protection of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of US forces.

The move is considered a goodwill gesture by Turkey to show its willingness to improve ties with the West after it drew criticism for its military rapprochement with Russia through the purchase of the S-400 missile system.

The increased influx of Afghan migrants over recent weeks has prompted public criticism in Turkey and fueled anti-refugee sentiment, as hundreds have attempted to cross the border with Iran to flee instability and the Taliban after the US withdrawal.

Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said Ankara assuming the role of host for the training of Afghan forces is just one of several ways Turkey is solidifying its role in a post-US Afghanistan.

“It may also serve as a point of leverage with the US and NATO, as Washington appears to be scrambling to address the many details, complications and ripple effects of its decision to withdraw,” he told Arab News.

However, for Watkins, it is unclear how the Taliban will respond to news of the training, though they have already issued stern warnings against Turkish troops assuming security duties in Kabul.

“Much depends on if Turkey will engage in direct diplomatic dialogue with the group, in order to come to some understanding that might make their continued presence in Kabul more sustainable,” he said.

In mid-July, the Taliban warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan and extending its military presence in the country.

In January 2021, the Turkish army assumed leadership of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, requiring it to place thousands of soldiers on standby to be deployed within days if needed. 

This comes in addition to its key role offering advice and assistance to the government in Kabul.


HRW slams Iranian crackdown on Khuzestan protests

People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
Updated 30 July 2021

HRW slams Iranian crackdown on Khuzestan protests

People gathering at Washington Square Park in support with the protests for access to water in Khuzestan, Iran. (Shutterstock)
  • Human Rights Watch calls for ‘independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force’
  • Crackdown mainly aimed at province’s Arab population

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday condemned Iran’s violent crackdown on protests in Khuzestan province.

Amnesty International and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet have also expressed condemnation in the past week.

HRW reported hundreds arrested and at least nine deaths, including a child. “Unconfirmed reports indicate the number of deaths and arrests may be higher,” it added.

On July 15, massive protests broke out in Khuzestan over water shortages, spearheaded by the province’s Arab community demonstrating against government negligence and anti-Arab discrimination.

Iranians in several other provinces have joined in solidarity. Iranian officials have blamed “rioters” for the killing of protesters.

But HRW said: “Videos shared on social media from protests in cities in Khuzestan show security officials shooting firearms and teargas toward protesters.”

Karim Dahimi, a London-based Ahwazi human rights activist, told Arab News that the death toll could go higher since many protesters “haven’t gone hospital for fear of being arrested and returned home with heavy injuries.”

He said Iranian authorities have set conditions for the return of victims’ bodies to families, including “protesters’ mobile number, information on who they were in contact with, who was with them, and who informed the parents.”

Another condition is that the fathers of victims go on camera and claim that “the protesters killed my son, and my son had no involvement in the demonstrations,” Dahimi added.

“Some families are under pressure and want to take the bodies, so they’ve accepted the government’s conditions. Other families haven’t.”

Eight of the protesters killed are Ahwazi Arabs and the ninth is Bakhtiari, Dahimi said. The crackdown on the mass protests is disproportionately impacting Iran’s Arab minority.

Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and co-founder of London-based NGO Justice for Iran, tweeted that the hundreds of protesters and activists arrested are “mostly of Arab Ahwazi ethnicity.” They have been arrested “in their homes and workplaces,” he added.

HRW said Iranian authorities “should immediately and unconditionally release peaceful protesters, provide information about deaths, and allow an independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force. All those responsible for abuses should be held to account.”