Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
Destroyed silos at Beirut's port following the August 4 massive chemical explosion. On Thursday investigating judge ordered the release of 6 people, including security officers. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
  • Investigating judge ordered the release of 6 men including an officer, who had warned top officials of dangers of material stored at port
  • The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge investigating 2020’s massive blast at Beirut’s port on Thursday ordered the release of six people, including security officers, who had been detained for months, state news agency reported.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the release of the men, who include an officer who had written a detailed warning to top officials prior to the explosion about the dangers of the material stored at the port.
Judge Tarek Bitar was named to lead the investigation in February after his predecessor was removed following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.
State-run National News Agency said Bitar ordered the release of the six including Maj. Joseph Naddaf of the State Security department and Maj. Charbel Fawaz of the General Security Directorate. The four others are customs and port employees.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, killing 211 people, wounding more than 6,000 and damaging nearby neighborhoods.
The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity to follow regulations. The official added that 19 people are still being held in the case. Among those who are still held are the head of the customs department and his predecessor as well as the port’s director general.
In a July 20 report, State Security warned that one of the doors of the warehouse where the material had been stored was separated from the wall enough to allow anyone to enter and steal the ammonium nitrate.
The report that was sent to President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned that thieves could steal the material to make explosives. Or, it said, the mass of material could cause an explosion “that would practically destroy the port.”
Holding Naddaf for months had angered some in Lebanon especially that his report two weeks before the blast was a clear warning of the dangers.
The Beirut port explosion has been one of the most traumatic national experiences the Lebanese have faced and families of those killed are skeptical that any investigation into the explosion can be transparent and independent in a country where a culture of impunity has prevailed for decades.


UN envoy: UAE has important role in supporting a Yemen-led political settlement

UN envoy: UAE has important role in supporting a Yemen-led political settlement
Updated 32 sec ago

UN envoy: UAE has important role in supporting a Yemen-led political settlement

UN envoy: UAE has important role in supporting a Yemen-led political settlement
  • The envoy held meetings with senior Emirati officials and Yemenis from various political components and the private sector during the visit
  • Grundberg expressed his concern over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen

LONDON: The UAE has an important role in supporting a Yemen-led, inclusive, political settlement to the conflict, the UN’s envoy for the country said.

“In that same spirit, progress in the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement would also contribute to strengthening political partnerships, supporting basic service delivery and stabilizing the economy,” Hans Grundberg added as he ended his visit to the UAE on Thursday.

The envoy held meetings with senior Emirati officials and Yemenis from various political components and the private sector during the visit, his office said.

He met with the diplomatic adviser to the UAE’s president Anwar Gargash and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalifa Shaheen.

The diplomats discussed the latest developments in Yemen and ongoing UN efforts to resume a comprehensive and sustained political dialogue among Yemeni parties. 

Grundberg expressed his concern over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen, including intensification of the war, fragmentation of state institutions, the impact of the conflict on the economy, and delivery of basic services.

“It is high time that progress be made toward immediate and longer term political, economic and security priorities in the best interest of Yemenis,” he said.


Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups
Updated 28 October 2021

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups
  • Move by Defense Minister Benny Gantz has even drawn fire from within Israel’s government, an unwieldy eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians
  • Representatives from 25 Israeli civil society groups traveled to Ramallah Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues

JERUSALEM: Israel’s surprise “terrorist” designation of six Palestinian civil society groups has divided its ruling coalition and thrown a spotlight on Marxist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The move announced last Friday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz caused shockwaves, including among European donors who support the targeted groups and from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Israeli non-government organizations, or NGOs, which partner with the implicated Palestinians also voiced astonishment.
So did some in the media, given the prominence of the groups involved — especially Al-Haq, a rights group founded in 1979 by writer Raja Shehadeh, a New Yorker magazine contributor.
Gantz has also taken fire from within Israel’s government, an unwieldy eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the dovish Meretz, warned that as an occupying military power Israel needed to be “very careful in imposing sanctions on Palestinian civil organizations because there are political, diplomatic and, more importantly, human rights consequences.”
Transport Minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli said the way the announcement was made “caused Israel great damage with our greatest and most important friends.”
But Gantz’s office has not wavered, insisting that a joint security establishment investigation had proved the six groups operated “as an organized network under the leadership of the PFLP,” as the Marxist group is known.
The PFLP was founded in 1967 by George Habache — mixing Marxist-Leninism, Arab nationalism and virulent anti-Zionism — ultimately becoming the second most powerful Palestinian armed group after Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.
It currently does not have firepower matching the arsenal of rockets held by Gaza’s rulers Hamas or Islamic Jihad, but it is active in the international campaign to boycott Israel known as BDS, short for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.
The PFLP has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and Israel says it is responsible for a 2019 bomb attack in the occupied West Bank that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Schnerb.
The PFLP leader in Israeli-blockaded Gaza told AFP the designated organizations have “no link” with his group beyond a shared ideology opposing the occupation.
“These NGOs work in complete independence,” Jamil Mazher said.
The PFLP has been a prime target of the Israeli organization NGO Monitor, which tracks funding and activities of non profit groups engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with specific focus on European donors.
Its president Gerald Steinberg told AFP the designations last week “appears to reflect the impact of NGO Monitor’s ongoing research.”
NGO Monitor wrote to the European anti-fraud office OLAF in November 2020 to share what it said was evidence of EU funds being given to Palestinian NGOs with links to terrorist organizations.
OLAF replied in January that it had “dismissed the case on the grounds that there is no sufficient suspicion to open an investigation,” according to a letter seen by AFP.
Israel is not obligated to disclose the evidence it used to support the terrorism designation, with secrecy allowed under the 2016 counter-terrorism act.
The defense ministry has said the groups had hosted PFLP meetings, employed “convicted terrorists” and operated as a “lifeline” for the PFLP through “fundraising, money laundering and recruitment of activists.”
Tel Aviv University law professor Eliav Lieblich, writing on the Just Security website this week, argued that “it simply cannot be accepted that well-known and widely respected Palestinian human rights groups be designated as ‘terrorist organizations’ by executive fiat and on the basis of classified intelligence.”
An Israeli official told AFP that an envoy would soon head to Washington to share evidence after the US said it would be seeking “more information” about the designations.
Meanwhile, pushback persists against the decision.
Representatives from 25 Israeli civil society groups traveled to Ramallah Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues.
“This attack on Palestinian civil society, on Palestinian organizations, is not new,” Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Israeli rights group B’Tselem, told AFP at the demonstration.
“What is new,” he added, is that “they’re targeting some of the most respected and oldest civil society organizations in Palestine, like Al-Haq,” and that growing international outrage means Israel may no longer be able to act with “impunity.”


Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
Updated 28 October 2021

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
  • On Thursday, the Arab coalition destroyed five Houthi ballistic missiles fired toward Jazan, Saudi Arabia
  • 11 military vehicles were destroyed in the 22 strikes carried out on Juba and Al-Kasarah

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Thursday that 95 Houthis were killed during air strikes on two districts near the central Yemeni city of Marib.
The coalition added that 11 military vehicles had also been destroyed in the 22 strikes carried out on Juba and Al-Kasarah during the last 24 hours.
Juba is some 50 km south of Marib, whilst Al-Kasarah is 30 km northwest of the city.
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Earlier on Thursday, the Arab coalition intercepted and destroyed five Houthi ballistic missiles fired toward the southwestern Saudi city of Jazan.


UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government
  • The council called for the immediate release of all those detained by the military authorities
  • Statement is the product of days of laborious talks among council members and was watered down under pressure from Russia

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council called Thursday on Sudan’s new military rulers to restore the civilian-led government that they toppled this week.
The council passed unanimously a statement that expressed “serious concern” about the coup Monday in the poverty-stricken African nation which has enjoyed only rare periods of democracy since gaining independence in 1956.
The council called for the immediate release of all those detained by the military authorities and urged “all stakeholders to engage in dialogue without pre-conditions.”
The British-drafted statement is the product of days of laborious talks among council members and was watered down under pressure from Russia. The council met in an urgent session Tuesday after the putsch.
The statement expresses concern over the “suspension of some transitional institutions, the declaration of a state of emergency” and the detention of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He was taken Monday by the military and is now under guard at his home, where he was moved after an international outcry. Other ministers remain under full military arrest, however.
One diplomat said that, at the insistence of China, the text notes explicitly that Hamdok did return home on Tuesday evening. But the UN maintains that it considers him as being denied freedom of movement.
The discussions among the Security Council members came against a backdrop of a renewed struggle between Western nations and Russia for influence in Sudan.
A first draft statement floated early this week condemned the coup “in the strongest terms” but this wording was eventually dropped.
In the version that was ultimately adopted, the council “called upon all parties to exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from the use of violence and emphasized the importance of full respect for human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”


US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament
Updated 28 October 2021

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament
  • Jihad Al-Arab and Dany Khoury were sanctioned for alleged corruption related to state contracts
  • Lawmaker Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for allegedly seeking to transfer $120 million abroad

BEIRUT: The US Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two top Lebanese contractors and a lawmaker close to the Hezbollah movement over alleged large-scale corruption that undermined the rule of law in Lebanon.
Businessmen Jihad Al-Arab and Dany Khoury, close to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and Christian politician Gebran Bassil respectively, were sanctioned for alleged corruption related to state contracts.
Lawmaker Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for allegedly seeking to “skirt domestic banking policies and regulations” and transfer $120 million abroad, “presumably to enrich himself and his associates,” a Treasury statement said.