Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation

Pope Francis wants Lebanon's fractious politicians to agree on a new government before he comes for a visit. (AFP)
Pope Francis wants Lebanon's fractious politicians to agree on a new government before he comes for a visit. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation

Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation
  • Pontiff calls for end to political deadlock as Prime Minister-designate meets other Italian leaders in Rome on Thursday
  • “The Vatican knows very well who is and who is not obstructing the government formation process,” Hariri says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is hoping a potential visit from Pope Francis to his fractured country will help political forces put aside their differences and finally form a government. 

Hariri met with the pope in the Vatican on Thursday, along with other Italian leaders.

“The Vatican knows very well who is and who is not obstructing the government formation process,” said Hariri, who has been unable to form a government of non-partisan specialists in Lebanon since his appointment on Oct. 22.

Pope Francis confirmed he would visit crisis-hit Lebanon but only after its fractious politicians can agree on a new government.

Hariri has been in disagreement with President Michel Aoun and his political team, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), for months over naming Christian ministers. Aoun has insisted on having the blocking third in the government.

It was a quick visit to Italy but Hariri was very busy. He also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states. While in Rome, Hariri held meetings with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Luigi Di Maio, the country’s foreign minister.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said: “The pope met alone with Hariri for about 30 minutes and wanted to reaffirm that he is close to the Lebanese people, who are enduring extreme hardship and instability.”

The pope hoped, according to Bruni, that “with the help of the international community, Lebanon will be able to once again be the land of gathering, coexistence, and pluralism.” He stressed that “all political forces have the responsibility to urgently commit to all what benefits the country.”

After his meetings, Hariri said Pope Francis “was aware of the current problems in Lebanon and was understanding and encouraging that we can form a government. He also expressed his keenness to visit Lebanon, but only after the government is formed. This is a message to the Lebanese that we must form a government so that all powers and countries come together to help us.”

Hariri accused Hezbollah and the FPM, without explicitly naming them, of obstructing the formation of a new government.

“The dispute in Lebanon today is over two economic points of view,” Hariri said. “The first of which wants to have power over everything in the country, from the banking sector to the productive sector and telecommunications, under the pretext that they want to control it. The other team believes in a free economy and in communicating with all the world and not just with one, two, or three countries.

“We want a free economy and we want to work with the US, Europe, China, and Russia against a team that only wants to work with one side. There is a Lebanese group that supports the latter.”

Hariri stressed that the situation in Lebanon “is very bad, and forming a government will stop this collapse. There are those who are trying to prevent us from stopping this collapse in the first place because they want Lebanon to collapse so that they can stay in politics.”

Hariri indirectly criticized Aoun, saying: “Suggesting that I traveled abroad for the purpose of tourism offends the countries that I visit. Maybe they are on a tourist trip in the Baabda Palace.”

The one-on-one meeting between the pope and Hariri on Thursday was preceded by a meeting on Wednesday between Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai and Gebran Bassil in Bkerke. 

Bassil implicitly declared after the meeting: “If Christ abandoned his message 2,000 years ago, there would be no Christians today. He bore witness to the truth, and we will continue to bear witness to the truth whatever the cost. We are sure that the cost is high, but we know that the truth will win in the end.”

Bassil’s statement was slammed on social media by his opponents, who criticized him for likening himself to Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, Aoun reprimanded security services about how they dealt with the FPM supporters who accompanied the Mount Lebanon state prosecutor, Judge Ghada Aoun, when she raided the Mecattaf money exchange company on Wednesday.

The media bureau of the Baabda Palace said: “Aoun stressed the importance of respecting freedom of expression while protecting public and private property and not attacking them, as well as the importance of understanding the pain of the citizens, especially as they have lost their money and deposits. The security forces must maintain security peacefully in accordance with the laws in force and avoid repeating what happened.”

Caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmy said: “The internal security forces acted within the scope of policing and they did not attack private and public property.”

Judge Ghada Aoun, who defied the decision of the Supreme Judicial Council and the discriminatory public prosecutor to dismiss her from investigating a case related to financial transfers abroad, took computers and documents from the Mecattaf company office. She put them in her private car before leaving amid the support of FPM supporters and the astonishment of the judicial body and public opinion.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party, blamed the FPM and said: “Protecting the rights of Christians cannot be done by attacking and destroying private companies. Fighting corruption cannot be done by anonymizing the perpetrator in the electricity sector, communications, and customs, and at illegal crossings, nor can it be done by practicing clientelism in the state through discretionary and unjust methods.”


Iraq seeks Italian refund for military purchases

Iraq seeks Italian refund for military purchases
Updated 35 min ago

Iraq seeks Italian refund for military purchases

Iraq seeks Italian refund for military purchases
  • Iraqi FM said the money was paid to Italian aerospace and defense company Leonardo and the Fincantieri shipyard
  • The two countries are underway “to resolve the situation for the best”

ROME: Iraq has asked Italy to return the €90 million ($108.53 million) Saddam Hussein’s regime paid to Italian companies to purchase military equipment that was never delivered because of the 1991 embargo on the sale of arms to Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein met his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Rome on Wednesday and explained the money was paid to Italian aerospace and defense company Leonardo and the Fincantieri shipyard.

“There are 60 million euros frozen in Italian banks, plus interest, and 30 million more in current accounts of the embassy and other employees. It is our right to recover that amount, and we have no intention of giving up on this,” Hussein told press after the meeting.

He added that the release of those sums will “facilitate, improve and increase the relaunch of bilateral relations” between Iraq and Italy.

“Foreign Minister Di Maio has promised to engage in the issue,” he explained, but said it is yet to be decided whether Italy will deliver the purchased equipment or unlock the frozen accounts.

Sources in the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed to Arab News that negotiations between the two countries are underway “to resolve the situation for the best.”

During his meeting with Di Maio at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hussein also thanked Italy for its help as a member of the international coalition against Daesh.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Italian people, government and institutions for this,” he said.

Italy has provided weapons and training to Kurdish anti-Daesh militias in Erbil for over 10 years. A particularly intense training job has been carried out in Kurdistan by the Carabinieri, the Italian Military Police.

“Thanks to the fundamental Italian contribution to our security forces, Iraq continues to fight those Daesh cells which are still active in the country,” Hussein told Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica.


Jordan’s Royal court appoints Jaafar Hassan as director of king’s office, accepts 3 resignations

Jordan’s Royal court appoints Jaafar Hassan as director of king’s office, accepts 3 resignations
Updated 32 min 5 sec ago

Jordan’s Royal court appoints Jaafar Hassan as director of king’s office, accepts 3 resignations

Jordan’s Royal court appoints Jaafar Hassan as director of king’s office, accepts 3 resignations

DUBAI: The Jordanian Royal Court has appointed Jaafar Hassan as the director of King Abdullah II’s office, state news agency Petra reported on Thursday.
The royal decree also said the court accepted the resignations of political advisor Haifa Khreisha, King’s advisor Qassem Nasser and economic advisor Zaina Touqan.


Jerusalem clashes wound 22 Palestinians as land rights tensions mount

Jerusalem clashes wound 22 Palestinians as land rights tensions mount
Updated 06 May 2021

Jerusalem clashes wound 22 Palestinians as land rights tensions mount

Jerusalem clashes wound 22 Palestinians as land rights tensions mount
  • Police confirmed 11 arrests in the latest unrest to rock the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near Jerusalem’s walled Old City

JERUSALEM: Twenty-two Palestinians were wounded in overnight clashes with Israeli police in annexed east Jerusalem, the Red Crescent said Thursday, as tensions flare over a controversial land rights case.
Police confirmed 11 arrests in the latest unrest to rock the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near Jerusalem’s walled Old City, where land disputes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers have fueled hostility for years.
Palestinian protests, which began late Wednesday, continued into the early hours.
The legal case centers on the homes of four Palestinian families on land claimed by Jews.
Earlier this year, a Jerusalem district court ruled the homes legally belonged to the Jewish families, citing purchases decades ago.
The Jewish plaintiffs claimed their families lost the land during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948, a conflict that also saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes.
The Palestinian families implicated in the case have provided evidence that their homes were acquired from Jordanian authorities who controlled east Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.
Amman has intervened in the case, providing documents to support the Palestinian claims.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, in a move not recognized by most of the international community.
The district court ruling infuriated Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah who viewed it as a further step in what they see as a Jewish settler effort to drive Arabs out of east Jerusalem.
Weeks of clashes that have seen police use skunk water cannons and deploy anti-riot police on horseback have resulted in several arrests.
Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the sides to seek a compromise.
Sami Irshid, a lawyer for the Palestinians, said the Nahalat Shimon settler movement proposed that one member of each concerned Palestinian family be recognized as a “protected tenant.”
That would temporarily delay eviction until the protected tenant died, at which point the home would return to Nahalat Shimon, Irshid said.
“We reject this completely,” Mona Al-Kurd, one of the Palestinian residents said.
“The settlers want us to recognize their property rights, it is impossible.”
Yehonatan Yosef, an activist with Nahalat Shimon, accused the Palestinian families of rejecting “any compromise.”
“It’s their problem,” he said, noting that if the Supreme Court ruled in the settlers’ favor, the Jewish families would do what they wished with each plot.
The Supreme Court has indicated that if the sides cannot reach a compromise, it will rule on whether the Palestinians can appeal the district court decision.
An appeal process could take years.
Mohammed Deif, the reclusive leader of the military wing of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, issued a rare public warning on Tuesday, saying Israel would pay a “high price” over the Sheikh Jarrah dispute.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their future capital, while Israel regards the entire city as its “undivided capital.”
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki sent a letter to the International Criminal Court urging it to “to take a clear and public stand against crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.”


Yemen PM allocates $7.9 million to fix damage caused by floods disaster

Yemen PM allocates $7.9 million to fix damage caused by floods disaster
Updated 06 May 2021

Yemen PM allocates $7.9 million to fix damage caused by floods disaster

Yemen PM allocates $7.9 million to fix damage caused by floods disaster

DUBAI: Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalik Saeed has directed $7.9 million be approved urgently for the damage caused by the flood disaster in the Tarim District in Hadramout, state news agency SABA reported.

The prime minister visited the district on Wednesday to inspect the damage caused by the flooding and listened to a number of affected citizens who spoke about the material damages it caused.

Local residents called on the government and local authority to do their part towards those affected and take actions to prevent the recurrence of the disaster.

The prime minister indicated funds will be allocated to those affected by the floods, and repair the damaged services and infrastructure.

The Prime Minister emphasized that the recurrence of the floods, especially in Tarim, require sustainable solutions.

 


Israel bombs military targets near Syria’s occupied Golan

Israel bombs military targets near Syria’s occupied Golan
Updated 06 May 2021

Israel bombs military targets near Syria’s occupied Golan

Israel bombs military targets near Syria’s occupied Golan
  • Regime forces and operatives from Hezbollah were at the post
  • Three soldiers were injured in the attack

DUBAI: An Israeli helicopter targeted military posts near the occupied Golan heights late on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Regime forces and operatives from Hezbollah were at the post, which is near the town of Jubata Al-Khashab, north of Quneitra, the report added.
Three soldiers were injured in the attack, but the report hasn’t specified whether they were aligned with the regime or Hezbollah.
Israel fired missiles toward northwest Syria early Wednesday, killing one person and wounding six, Syrian state media reported.
It was the first Israeli attack on Syria since a missile fired by Damascus struck deep inside Israel two weeks ago.
The missiles targeted the northwestern towns of Haffeh and Masyaf and struck a civilian plastic warehouse among other locations, state TV said. Syrian air defense units responded to the missile attacks, the report said, without giving further details.
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group.
The missile attack at dawn Wednesday occurred nearly two weeks after Israel’s military said a Syrian missile that reached deep into Israeli territory and set off air raid sirens near the country’s top-secret nuclear reactor was the result of a misfire and not a deliberate attack.
The missile landed in southern Israel on April 22, prompting Israel to respond with airstrikes on the missile launcher and other targets in Syria.