Lebanese cleric steps up criticism of Hezbollah

Lebanese cleric steps up criticism of Hezbollah
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai has called for Lebanon to remain neutral, referring to Hezbollah’s role fighting in neighboring Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 02 April 2021

Lebanese cleric steps up criticism of Hezbollah

Lebanese cleric steps up criticism of Hezbollah
  • ‘I want to tell them ... Do you want to force (Lebanon) to go to war?’

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has made unusually direct comments criticizing the Hezbollah movement, accusing it of harming Lebanon by dragging it into regional conflicts.

Addressing the Lebanese in the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, Al-Rahi asked Hezbollah in a hypothetical dialogue: “Why are you standing against neutrality? Do you want to force me to go to war? Do you want to keep Lebanon in a state of war? Would you ask for my opinion when you do go to war? Did you ask for my approval to go to Syria, Iraq and Yemen? Would you ask for the government’s opinion when declaring war and peace with Israel? Although the constitution says that declaring war and peace is upon the decision of two-thirds of the government’s votes.”

"You’re not looking out for (our) interests, nor the interests of your people," he said, apparently addressing Hezbollah.

Al-Rahi said he had received visits from Hezbollah supporters who were privately critical of the group as they felt the effects of Lebanon’s financial collapse.

He said: “Delegations from Hezbollah are visiting me in Bkerke to complain that they are also suffering . . . and this means that they, in Hezbollah, are hungry like us.”

The patriarch's comments come at a time when domestic and foreign pressure continues on those accused of obstructing the formation of the Lebanese government.

Al-Rahi’s progressive stance has previously received support from Lebanese groups.

His comments coincided with a speech by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday evening, when he warned that “the country has run out of time, and the time has come to put everything aside and go for a real solution to the situation in the country.”

Nasrallah spoke about the “complications” in the formation of the government.

On Thursday, there was a discussion of an initiative led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to abandon a government of 18 ministers and form a de facto government of 22 to 24 ministers to manage internal affairs pending a comprehensive solution in the region.

The seriousness of the efforts made reflected on the dollar exchange rate on the black market, reducing it to 11,300 Lebanese pounds for purchase and 11,400 Lebanese pounds for sale.

A political source close to the prime minister-designate told Arab News: “The essence of Berri’s initiative is based on the French initiative, and this means that there is no blocking third in the government, and the ministers should be non-partisan.”

Regarding the possibility of Hariri agreeing to a government of more than 18 ministers, as he demands, the political source said: “Regardless of the number, if the president of the republic says that he approves a government without a blocking third and a government of specialists, it will be formed quickly.”

Meanwhile, the Banque du Liban announced its cooperation “with Alvarez & Marsal, putting accounts related to all state accounts and bank accounts at the disposal of the minister of finance” for forensic audit.

A virtual meeting will be held on April 6, bringing together the company, the Banque du Liban and the Ministry of Finance.

In a statement on Thursday, the Banque du Liban stressed its “readiness to secure the facilities that would allow the concerned company to start the audit process.”

However, the optimistic outlook promoted on Thursday was doubted by protesters on the streets.

Groups of them returned to blocking roads in Beirut and some areas.

Bechara Al-Asmar, leader of the General Labor Union, highlighted that preparations will continue for a wave of protests aimed at forming a rescue government to save the country from its accumulated crises.

He said that the first protest would take place on Wednesday.


Palestinian mother of 3 to be homeless after Israeli court clears demolition

Palestinian mother of 3 to be homeless after Israeli court clears demolition
A review by the Israeli military in 2004 questioned the effectiveness of home domolitions, leading the military to halt such demolitions for nearly a decade. (AFP)
Updated 29 sec ago

Palestinian mother of 3 to be homeless after Israeli court clears demolition

Palestinian mother of 3 to be homeless after Israeli court clears demolition
  • Israeli group representing her says husband has history of mental illness

JERUSALEM, WASHINGTON: Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the decision to destroy the family home of a detained Palestinian accused of a deadly shooting.

It rejected a petition by his estranged wife, who lives in the house with their children and says she knew nothing about the attack.
The case drew attention to Israel’s policy of demolishing the family homes of attackers after they have been killed or arrested.
Israeli officials say the demolitions deter future attacks, while rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.
The US State Department has urged a halt to punitive home demolitions.
An internal review by the Israeli military in 2004 reportedly questioned its effectiveness as a deterrent, leading the military to largely halt such demolitions for nearly a decade.
It resumed the practice in 2014 after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank.
Israel says Muntasser Shalaby carried out a May 2 drive-by shooting in the occupied West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded two others. He was arrested days after the attack.
His wife, Sanaa Shalaby, said they were estranged for several years and that he spent most of his time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had married three other women in unofficial Islamic ceremonies. The entire family has US citizenship.
Sanaa said he would return to the West Bank for a month or two every year to visit their three children, aged 17, 12 and 9, who live with her in the home in the village of Turmus Ayya.
HaMoked, an Israeli rights group representing her, said he had a history of mental illness.
In upholding the demolition order, the Supreme Court noted that Muntasser had lived in the home continuously from 2006-2012, before their estrangement, and had resided there for weeks before the attack. It said the petitioners did not present sufficient evidence to show he had suffered from mental illness.

FASTFACT

The ‘disappointing’ judgment would allow the military to expand the use of punitive home demolitions.

Jessica Montell, the executive director of HaMoked, said the “disappointing” judgment would allow the military to expand the use of punitive home demolitions.
Her group is weighing whether to request another hearing and says the court is unlikely to grant one. She said the house could be demolished anytime after an interim injunction expires on June 30.
“If Mrs. Shalaby’s legal recourse has been exhausted, the diplomatic recourse is crucial: Is the US government going to allow this blatant collective punishment against a US citizen mother and three children?”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Earlier this month, it called on Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from any actions that undermine efforts to revive the peace process, including punitive home demolitions.
“The home of an entire family should not be demolished for the actions of one individual,” it said.

Democrats’ stance
A new poll on American attitudes toward a core conflict in the Middle East finds about half of Democrats want the US to do more to support the Palestinians, showing that a growing rift among Democratic lawmakers is also reflected in the party’s base.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds differences within both the Democratic and the Republican parties on the US approach toward Israel and the Palestinians, with liberal Democrats wanting more support for the Palestinians and conservative Republicans seeking even greater support for the Israelis.
The survey also examined Americans’ opinions on the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The survey was conducted about three weeks into a ceasefire following a devastating 11-day war last month between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas militant rulers. The fighting killed at least 254 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel.
The poll shows Americans overall are divided over US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. It also shows more Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s approach to the conflict than approve of it.
Among Democrats, 51 percent say the US is not supportive enough of the Palestinians. The sentiment jumps to 62 percent among Democrats who describe themselves as liberal.
On the other hand, 49 percent of Republicans say the US is not supportive enough of the Israelis, a number that rises to 61 percent among those who say they’re conservative.
Paul Spelce, a 26-year-old Democratic-leaning independent voter and supporter of Palestinian statehood, is a member of a heavily religious Texas Republican family whose support for Israel is ingrained with their Christian faith.
Spelce, of Austin, says he followed news of last month’s Gaza war and the US response closely on the radio as he helped deliver mail.
“I started paying a lot more attention,” said Spelce, who said he disapproved of Biden’s handling of the conflict and thinks the US is too supportive of Israelis and not supportive enough of the Palestinians.
“I don’t think Biden’s word was that strong,” Spelce said. “And I don’t think, you know, this administration ... can actually do anything” regarding the conflict.
Overall, the poll shows that 29 percent of Americans say the US is too supportive of the Israelis, 30 percent say it’s not supportive enough and 36 percent say it’s about right.


UN chief warns no Syria cross-border aid would be ‘devastating’

UN chief warns no Syria cross-border aid would be ‘devastating’
Updated 3 min 46 sec ago

UN chief warns no Syria cross-border aid would be ‘devastating’

UN chief warns no Syria cross-border aid would be ‘devastating’
  • ‘A failure to extend the council’s authorization would have devastating consequences,’ Guterres says
  • The UN and aid groups have warned there is no substitute for the delivery of cross-border aid into Syria

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the Security Council on Wednesday to renew a cross-border aid operation into Syria for another year, warning that a failure to do so would be devastating for millions of people.
Guterres addressed the 15-member body ahead of a likely showdown next month between Western members and Russia and China over the renewal of the mandate for the long-running aid operation, which expires on July 10.
“A failure to extend the council’s authorization would have devastating consequences,” Guterres said.
The Security Council first authorized a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points. Last year, it reduced that access to one crossing point from Turkey that leads into a rebel-held area in northwestern Syria due to opposition from Russia and China over renewing all four.
Council veto-power Russia, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, has questioned the importance of the cross-border aid operation, arguing that aid can be delivered to northern Syria from the capital Damascus.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun also raised the issue of unilateral sanctions on Syria, telling reporters ahead of the meeting: “Some people say, okay, we are concerned about the humanitarian situation, but meanwhile, they are continuing to impose unilateral sanctions. So that’s really hypocritical.”
The UN and aid groups have warned there is no substitute for the delivery of cross-border aid into Syria.
“A failure to extend the authorization will have stark consequences. It would disrupt life-saving aid to 3.4 million people in need across the northwest, millions of whom are among the most vulnerable in Syria,” acting UN aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham told the council on Wednesday.
Ireland and Norway plan to circulate a draft resolution in the coming days that “will renew and expand the humanitarian aid delivery mechanism in response to the pressing humanitarian needs,” Ireland’s UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said.
A resolution to extend council approval needs nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the five permanent members Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.
In the past decade, the council has been divided over how to handle Syria, with Syrian ally Russia and China pitted against Western members. Russia has vetoed 16 resolutions related to Syria and was backed by China for many of those votes.


Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
Egypt's Minister of Culture Enas Abdel-Dayem (L) during a news conference for Cairo International Book Fair in Cairo, Egypt, June 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 6 min 8 sec ago

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
  • “The maximum number of entries will be 100,000 visitors per day, and no one will be allowed to enter once we hit that number,” said Haitham Al-Haj Ali, head of the General Book Authority

CAIRO: Despite the challenges of the coronavirus disease pandemic, the 52nd Cairo International Book Fair will run from June 30 to July 15, it was announced on Tuesday.
The Egyptian Ministry of Culture said the exhibition, under the slogan “Reading is Life,” will be held at the Egypt International Exhibition Center, covering an area of 40,000 square meters.
There will be 675 pavilions and 1,218 publishers, as well as foreign publishing agencies representing 25 countries.
The fair will launch the “Your Book, Your Culture” initiative, which encourages citizens to buy books and urges them to read.
The prices of books will range from 1 Egyptian pound ($0.064) to 20 pounds.
Enas Abdel Dayem, minister of culture, said that holding the fair this year was a challenge, describing this year’s event as “an exceptional one” and a clear indication of the Egyptian leadership’s keenness to encourage reading and publishing.
“We are entering a new era of digitization transformation and development. This year’s exhibition is the largest gathering of publishers in the world,” she claimed.
Abdel Dayem said entry will be free this year, and that prices will remain fixed, adding that the idea to increase the number of days for the fair would support the publishing industry.
“The maximum number of entries will be 100,000 visitors per day, and no one will be allowed to enter once we hit that number,” said Haitham Al-Haj Ali, head of the General Book Authority.
He said facilities have been made to accommodate people with special needs, which can be requested and booked electronically.


Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 7 min 15 sec ago

Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
  • The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given

CAIRO: The owners and insurers of the giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week earlier this year have reached an agreement in principle over their dispute with canal authorities, representatives from both sides said Wednesday.
Stann Marine, the lawyers representing the vessel’s owners and insurers, and the Suez Canal Authority both confirmed the development.
The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given, which ran aground in March, blocking the crucial waterway for six days. Specialist tugboats and dredgers eventually freed the 400-meter-long (quarter-mile-long) cargo ship carrying some $3.5 billion in cargo.
In an on-air phone call to Egyptian talk show “Al-Hiyat Al-Youm” on Wednesday the head of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, said the parties had agreed on a compensation amount. But he said it would not be made public as they had signed a non-disclosure agreement until the signing of the final contract.
The money would cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the week the Ever Given blocked the canal.
At first, the Suez Canal Authority demanded $916 million in compensation, which was later lowered to $550 million.
Since it was freed, the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, has been ordered by authorities to remain in a holding lake mid-canal, along with most of its crew, as its owner and the canal authority try to settle the compensation dispute.
In a statement, the UK Club, one insurer for the ship's owners, the Japanese company Shoei Kisen, said it is working with other insurers and the canal authority to sign a final agreement “as soon as possible."
“Once the formalities have been dealt with, arrangements for the release of the vessel will be made,” the statement said.
The two sides have traded blame for the vessel’s grounding, with bad weather, poor decisions on the part of canal authorities, and human and technical error all being thrown out as possible factors.
On Sunday, the Ismailia Economic Court adjourned a hearing on the case after the Suez Canal’s attorneys said they were looking into a new offer made by the vessel’s owners. Lawyers did not share any details of the offer.
The six-day blockage disrupted global shipping. Hundreds of ships waited in place for the canal to be unblocked, while some ships were forced to take the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, requiring additional fuel and other costs.
About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, a pivotal source of foreign currency to Egypt. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures.


Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
Updated 15 min 47 sec ago

Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
  • In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000

AMMAN: Twelve-year-old Mamdouh said he has been on a seven-day street shift selling gum and candy to cover the needs of his family living in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. 

“A small van drops us off here every day at 5 p.m. to sell gum and candies, and the driver comes at 10 p.m. to take us back to Wehdat,” Mamdouh said, accompanied by a 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy selling candy in Amman’s Al-Weibdeh neighborhood.    

Insisting that no picture of him be used under fears of labor ministry inspectors, Mamdouh said his 56-year-old father has forced him to quit school and work to help feed their family.

Mamdouh lives in Al-Wehdat refugee camp, the second largest camp for Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

“We are six — two boys and four girls — but my father only allows my older brother and sister to go to school,” Mamdouh said, again insisting that no photo of him or his friends be used in the report.

“You are not an inspector from the labor and social development ministries, are you?” Mamdouh asked before telling his story to Arab News.

Government inspectors were seen looking for child workers and beggars in Al-Weibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest and most famous neighborhoods.

In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000 by the end of 2021, signaling an increase of 25 percent from the latest figures recorded in 2016.

The report warned against a “worrying” rise in the number of children who are victims of child labor as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent economic distress and rise in poverty and unemployment rates in Jordan in 2020.

The unemployment rate in Jordan reached around 24 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up by 4.8 percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to official figures.

The Workers’ House report said that the pandemic has seen around 80,000 people lose their jobs in Jordan in 2020, with authorities forcing businesses to close in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. The organization added that more than 500,000 workers have been facing pay cuts since March 2020.

The organization also explained that the poverty rate in Jordan has climbed to 26 percent in 2020, prompting families, “in the absence of a social protection system,” to send their children to the labor market to secure their daily living.

The report called for updated data on the impact of the pandemic on child labor, adding that the latest survey was in 2016, in which the number of working children was placed at 76,000.

Citing the 2016 survey, the NGO said that, of the 76,000 working children aged between 5 and 17, 70,000 were illegally employed, with around 45,000 of them found working in hazardous environments.

The report said that 29 percent, 28 percent and 11 percent of the working children registered in 2016 were working in retail businesses and auto repair shops, agriculture, and construction, respectively. 

Labor Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Zyoud told Arab News that inspection teams have uncovered a total of 191 child labor cases from the 5,560 field visits they conducted during the first four months of this year.

He also said that the ministry’s inspectors had carried out a total of 11,952 and 7,143 field visits to businesses in 2020 and 2019 and discovered a total of 503 and 467 cases of child labor, respectively.

The spokesman also said that the ministry has taken a decision to intensify inspection campaigns and field visits during 2021 to curb child labor, which, he added, has been “increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic difficulties.”

During a recent seminar at Al-Rai Center for Strategic Studies, Labor Minister Yousef Shamali said that government inspectors working in the specialized unit for child labor carry out inspection campaigns annually on businesses across the kingdom to check on their abidance with the Jordanian labor law, which prohibits the employment of children under 16.

He also explained that the child laborers recovered by the inspectors are referred to the social protection center, where they receive educational and psychological rehabilitation to able to go back to school or vocational training to qualify them to join the labor market when they reach legal age.

Shamali also explained that the ministry set up an online database for child labor in 2018 and is financing the Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, implemented by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization.

The International Labor Organization said that the influx of refugees from Syria to Jordan has exacerbated the situation of child labor, in terms of both magnitude and complexity, adding that it is supporting the government in its implementation of the National Framework to Combat Child Labor, adopted in 2011.