Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites

Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites
A Saudi custom officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foiled a attempt to smuggle millions of Captagon pills, which came from Lebanon, at Jeddah Islamic Port on April 23, 2021. (SPA)
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Updated 25 April 2021

Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites

Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites
  • Smuggling hurts economy and reputation, says Foreign Ministry  
  • Greek authorities announced seizing cannabis hidden in machinery at Piraeus that was en route from Lebanon to Slovakia

BEIRUT: Lebanon has vowed to punish drug smugglers after massive quantities of narcotics were intercepted and seized by Saudi Arabia and Greece. 
Saudi authorities on Friday reported foiling an attempt to smuggle millions of amphetamine pills stashed in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon at Dammam’s King Abdulaziz Port. It said that five people involved in the case were arrested, four citizens and an expatriate. 
There was another interception of a pomegranate shipment, also from Lebanon and also containing drugs, in Jeddah.
Shortly after the Saudi statement, Greek authorities announced seizing four tons of cannabis hidden in dessert-making machinery at Piraeus that was en route from Lebanon to Slovakia. The value of the drugs was estimated to be around €33 million ($39 million).
The Greeks said they received help on the case from Saudi Arabia’s drug enforcement agency.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said that smuggling drugs in containers or trucks carrying fruit and vegetables from Lebanon to foreign countries was punishable by law. “Smuggling drugs harms the Lebanese economy, farmers and reputation,” the statement added.
It urged authorities to exert “utmost efforts” to control all smuggling operations on border crossings in light of the laws that criminalized drug use, trafficking and smuggling.
Saudi Arabia said that Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports would be banned from Sunday because authorities had noticed an increase in smuggling operations targeting the Kingdom using Lebanese products.
The Kingdom’s ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Bukhari, said that the safety and security of the country and its people were the motives behind the ban.
“Drug smuggling into the Kingdom reveals the extent of the challenges from local and international criminal networks being faced by Saudi Arabia,” he told local media.
A security source told Arab News that the seized cargo was not Lebanese but had a Syrian certificate of origin, transiting through Lebanon from Syria between April 10 and 15.
Ibrahim Tarshishi, who is the head of the Bekaa Farmers’ Association, said Lebanon’s agricultural producers were innocent of smuggling drugs into Saudi Arabia, which imported more than 50,000 tons of Lebanese produce every year.
He expressed his fears about the ban’s impact.
“Lebanese authorities must contact their Saudi counterparts as soon as possible to confirm that Lebanon has no intention whatsoever of harming the Kingdom,” he told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia is the largest importing country of our agricultural produce. Exports were supposed to kick off in May. The Saudi decision means that our exports will not reach further than Jordan and will not be transited through the Kingdom to the rest of the Gulf states. This is a disaster that threatens the whole agricultural sector in Lebanon.”
Lebanon did not have pomegranates to export and had been importing them from Syria, Egypt and Tunisia for the last 20 years, he said. 
“We export our vegetables, citrus, peaches, pears, apricots and cherries to Saudi Arabia. This export relationship with Saudi Arabia was established 50 years ago and the exports are carried out by land, sea and air, and our work is completely legal.”
Non-Lebanese agricultural cargo had transited through Lebanon and the drugs that were seized turned out to be smuggled in Syrian trucks, he said. 
“Lebanese farmers have nothing to do with this matter. The cargo is controlled by Lebanese Customs. They go through a scanner at the Masnaa border crossing with Syria. However, scanners at Beirut airport have been damaged since the Beirut blast on Aug. 4. New scanners were provided but have not been installed yet. Therefore, cargo is emptied at the free zone where a customs’ member handles the cargo before they are shipped.”
The founding committee of the Lebanese-Saudi Friendship Association issued a statement expressing regret over the actions that had led the Kingdom to introduce the import ban. It was “proof of the regressive level” that Lebanon had reached due to some people trying “to take control of the country and its assets and seeking to jeopardize its public institutions,” the statement added.
Lebanon’s security bodies have pounced on many drug factories, especially ones producing Captagon pills in the Bekaa valley, as well as drugs to be smuggled abroad. 
On April 10, Hassan Daqou was arrested over suspicions of drug dealing, production and smuggling. He is from the town of Tufail, which is 57 kilometers from Damascus.
The former mufti of Baalbek, Sheikh Ayman Al-Rifai, said that the Hermel region suffered from drug use, dealing and production.
“This has led to several social problems and family issues that we are trying to solve,” he told Arab News, saying he wished that authorities would carry out more raids and arrests.


Lebanon’s politician Geagea misses hearing over Beirut violence

Lebanon’s politician Geagea misses hearing over Beirut violence
Updated 15 min 4 sec ago

Lebanon’s politician Geagea misses hearing over Beirut violence

Lebanon’s politician Geagea misses hearing over Beirut violence

BEIRUT: Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Wednesday blocked roads to leader Samir Geagea’s residence as he failed to turn up for a hearing at army intelligence over fatal clashes in Beirut.
Geagea was summoned to the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, amid claims by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement that Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters shot dead seven of their followers in clashes on Oct. 14.
Geagea has denied the claims and said he is being unfairly targetted for his support of a probe by Judge Tarek Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that Hezbollah opposes.
“We won’t let anyone, not Hezbollah nor Iran nor Syria or anyone try to subjugate us,” LF protester Fadi told Reuters.
“We are here today in 2021 sacrificing for Samir Geagea just like he sacrified for us in 1994 so Lebanon could remain and we could remain,” Fadi, who did not give his last name, said.
Geagea, a former warlord, was imprisoned after Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and released in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.


UN, US sanction Libyan official over human trafficking

UN, US sanction Libyan official over human trafficking
Updated 30 min 55 sec ago

UN, US sanction Libyan official over human trafficking

UN, US sanction Libyan official over human trafficking
  • The Al-Nasr Martyrs detention center is located in the western town of Zawiya
  • A spokesman for the Libyan government did not answer calls seeking comment

CAIRO: The United Nations Security Council and the United States have imposed sanctions on a Libyan official over the alleged abuse and torture of migrants in a detention center.
The Security Council and the US said in separate statements late Tuesday that Osama Al-Kuni is the de facto head of a detention center in the North African nation’s west. Migrants there are said to have been subjected to torture, sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking.
Libya emerged as a major conduit for African migrants hoping to reach Europe after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed the country’s longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country subsequently slid into chaos, with rival governments and parliaments based in its western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes.
The Al-Nasr Martyrs detention center is located in the western town of Zawiya, home of two of the country’s most wanted human traffickers, Abdel-Rahman Milad, and militia leader Mohammed Kachlaf.
Both Milad and Kachlaf were sanctioned by the Security Council in 2018 over allegations of human trafficking and abuse of migrants.
A spokesman for the Libyan government did not answer calls seeking comment.
In its statement Tuesday, the UN sanctions committee said Al-Kuni “has acted for or on behalf of or at the direction” of Milad and Kachlaf.
The Department of the Treasury blamed Al-Kuni on “systematic exploitation of African migrants at the detention center where these migrants are subject to various human rights abuses.”
It said he or others under his direction “have been involved in or facilitated the killing, exploitation, abuse, and extortion of migrants at the detention center, including through sexual violence, beatings, starvation, and other mistreatment.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the Libyan government to hold Al-Kuni and others implicated in human rights abuses accountable.
Libya holds migrants in overcrowded detention centers, like Al-Nasr, where torture, sexual assault and other abuses are rife. Detention center guards beat and tortured migrants, then extorted money from their relatives, supposedly in exchange for their freedom, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.
UN-commissioned investigators said earlier this month that abuse and ill treatment of migrants in Libya amount to crimes against humanity.


Khartoum airport will reopen on Wednesday: Head of Sudan civil aviation

Khartoum airport will reopen on Wednesday: Head of Sudan civil aviation
Updated 27 October 2021

Khartoum airport will reopen on Wednesday: Head of Sudan civil aviation

Khartoum airport will reopen on Wednesday: Head of Sudan civil aviation
  • The airport was closed from Monday following the ousting of Sudan's government by the military

KHARTOUM: Khartoum International Airport will reopen on Wednesday at 1400 GMT, the head of Sudanese civil aviation told Reuters.
The airport was closed from Monday following the ousting of Sudan's government by the military.


Gasoline distribution returning to normal after cyberattack – state media

Gasoline distribution returning to normal after cyberattack – state media
Updated 27 October 2021

Gasoline distribution returning to normal after cyberattack – state media

Gasoline distribution returning to normal after cyberattack – state media
  • Details of the attack and its source are under investigation

DUBAI: Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday that gasoline distribution is returning to normal a day after a cyberattack which affected 4,300 gas stations across the country.
The details of the attack and its source are under investigation, Abul-Hassan Firouzabadi, the Secretary of the Supreme Council to Regulate Virtual Space, told the news agency.


Lebanon PM says minister’s criticism of Saudi is not government position

Lebanon PM says minister’s criticism of Saudi is not government position
Updated 27 October 2021

Lebanon PM says minister’s criticism of Saudi is not government position

Lebanon PM says minister’s criticism of Saudi is not government position
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments

CAIRO: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said late on Tuesday that comments made by a member of his cabinet who criticized the Saudi military intervention in Yemen did not reflect the cabinet’s position.
“Lebanon is keen on having the best relations with Saudi Arabia and condemns any interference in its internal affairs,” Mikati said.
Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi said late on Tuesday that comments he made around the Yemen war, which started circulating on social media on Tuesday, were made in an August interview before he joined Mikati’s cabinet.
Saudi and Lebanese relations were tested earlier this year when former Lebanese foreign minister Cherbel Wehbe made comments in a television interview about how Gulf states were to blame for the rise of Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Wehbe resigned over the comments in May.
In April, Saudi Arabia banned the imports of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon claiming shipments were used for drug smuggling. The ban weighed heavily on a Lebanese economy struggling with the worst financial crises in modern times.
Late on Tuesday, Interior Minister Bassem Mawlawi also made a statement, after the controversy over Kordahi’s comments, emphasizing the strong relations between the two countries followed by a statement by the foreign minister, who also supported Saudi ties.
The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement on Wednesday he rejected Kordahi’s comments adding they reflected little understanding and a superficial reading of the events in Yemen.
Gulf monarchies, who have traditionally channeled funds into Lebanon, have been loathe to come to its rescue amidst its economic meltdown so far, alarmed by the rising influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.