Saudi ban on Lebanese agricultural products comes into effect

A Saudi Custom officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foiled a attempt to smuggle millions of Captagon pills, which came from Lebanon. (SPA)
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A Saudi Custom officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foiled a attempt to smuggle millions of Captagon pills, which came from Lebanon. (SPA)
Amphetamine pills are shown hidden inside a pomegranate fruit seized from a shipment by Saudi anti-narcotics authorities. (SPA)
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Amphetamine pills are shown hidden inside a pomegranate fruit seized from a shipment by Saudi anti-narcotics authorities. (SPA)
Amphetamine pills are shown hidden inside a pomegranate fruit seized from a shipment by Saudi anti-narcotics authorities. (SPA)
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Amphetamine pills are shown hidden inside a pomegranate fruit seized from a shipment by Saudi anti-narcotics authorities. (SPA)
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Updated 26 April 2021

Saudi ban on Lebanese agricultural products comes into effect

Saudi ban on Lebanese agricultural products comes into effect
  • Darian appealed to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “help Lebanon get out of the crisis that the people are passing through, amid the inability to form the new government awaited by the Lebanese”

BEIRUT: The UAE joined other Gulf states in supporting Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban imports of agricultural products from Lebanon which came into effect on Sunday.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said it was “proven” that agricultural imports were used to smuggle narcotics to Saudi Arabia, and that it supported the Kingdom’s measures to ensure the protection of Saudi society from narcotics as part of its efforts to “fight organized crime, and its right to protect its society’s safety.”
Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman on Saturday backed their Gulf neighbor amid silence from Lebanese officials about the source of a pomegranate shipment that was seized on Friday in Dammam and found to be stuffed with millions of Captagon pills.
Lebanese authorities did not undertake any immediate measure in the Port of Beirut or on the frontier crossings with Syria.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun called a security meeting on Monday to address the crisis. It will be attended by caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and the ministers of defense, agriculture, interior, foreign affairs, finance, and economy, in addition to the heads of security agencies and customs, farmers and exporters.
The meeting will discuss the circumstances of the Saudi decision and the measures to be undertaken to address its repercussions.
Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Fawzi Kabbara, asked his country to take security measures to “stop this farce, impose the most severe penalties against the smugglers, strictly control the borders, pursue narcotics factories, and present guarantees to Saudi authorities as soon as possible that such acts will not get repeated in the future.”
He emphasized “the importance of preserving the reputation of Lebanon and the innocent Lebanese and on maintaining the best relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.”
Grand Mufti of Lebanon Sheikh Abdul Latif Darian also voiced his support for the Kingdom’s decision to close its borders due to the “crime of smuggling, rejected and condemned by the Shariah and moral values, which causes serious repercussions and further deterioration of the Lebanese economy.”

FASTFACT

Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman on Saturday backed their Gulf neighbor amid silence from Lebanese officials about the source of a pomegranate shipment that was seized on Friday in Dammam and found to be stuffed with millions of Captagon pills.

Darian appealed to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “help Lebanon get out of the crisis that the people are passing through, amid the inability to form the new government awaited by the Lebanese.”
He hoped that the Saudi decision would be temporary until matters were sorted out by the Lebanese state which, he said, should take “hasty and firm steps” to prevent any problems with bilateral relations.
In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi conveyed the outcry from Lebanese farmers and condemned what had happened.
“This shipment is not Lebanese, and no name of a Lebanese farmer of source is mentioned on it,” said the cleric.
Al-Rahi called on the government to undertake a “swift investigation to unveil the perpetrators and smugglers and impose severe penalties on them, and resolve this problem with Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest supporter of the Lebanese farmers who export 80 percent of their products to it.”
He also said he had contacted the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Bukhari, and “we notified him of our condemnation, asking him to transmit it to the Kingdom and hoping that it will take into consideration Lebanon and its honest farmers’ conditions.”
Al-Bukhari said on Sunday that the total quantity of narcotics and psychotropic substances coming from Lebanon that had been seized amounted to more than 600 million Captagon pills and hundreds of kilos of marijuana during the past six years.
“The quantities detected are enough to infest the whole Arab world, not only Saudi Arabia, with narcotics and psychotropic substances,” he added.


French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’
Updated 53 min 13 sec ago

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’
BEIRUT: France’s top diplomat wielded the threat of more sanctions in Beirut Friday to prevent what he described as a “collective suicide” organized by members of Lebanon’s ruling political class.
Lebanon’s leaders had promised reform in the aftermath of a deadly explosion at Beirut port last year but, nine months on, they have yet to form a government.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has spearheaded international efforts to assist Lebanon’s moribund economy, said there was no sign of a breakthrough.
“It is indeed urgent to find a way out of the political deadlock,” he told reporters just before wrapping up a two-day visit to Beirut.
“To this day, my observation is that the political players have not lived up to their responsibilities and have still not seriously started working on the country’s recovery.”
Le Drian held talks on Thursday with President Michel Aoun, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.
“If they do not act now in a responsible surge of effort, they will face the consequences of this failure,” he said.
Le Drian, who had last year already compared Lebanon to “the Titanic minus the orchestra,” accused those responsible for the deadlock of leading the country to its death.
“I am here precisely to prevent this kind of collective suicide organized by some,” he said.
France announced late last month it had started imposing entry restrictions on certain figures for their role in the political crisis and in corruption.
Le Drian refused to provide names but warned that the sanctions could be made tougher and extended to other politicians.
“It is up to the Lebanese officials to decide whether they want to break out of the deadlock hey have organized,” he said.
Le Drian’s official meetings on Thursday were not followed by joint press conferences. His appointment with Hariri was short and kept under wraps until the last minute.
The French minister also held a meeting with representatives of opposition parties which was welcomed by their leaders as a sign that the international community was increasingly open to political alternatives.

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa
Updated 56 min 55 sec ago

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

DUBAI: Iran is working through its proxies to destabilize North and West Africa, Al Arabiya reported on Friday citing the Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Iran threatens our territorial integrity and is training its militias to attack us, the Moroccan minister said, adding that Tehran was expanding its sphere of influence through Hezbollah.


More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
Updated 07 May 2021

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Russia again defends Assad regime and condemns Western nations for Syria’s suspension from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Security Council hears the organization’s investigators found evidence of a chlorine gas attack on town of Saraqib in February 2018

NEW YORK: A Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped a chlorine bomb on the opposition-held town of Saraqib, on Feb. 4, 2018, an investigation team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has concluded.

Investigators found “reasonable grounds to believe” at least one cylinder landed in the eastern part of the town, releasing a cloud of toxic gas that covered a large area and affected 12 people.

The incident was the focus on Thursday of a Security Council meeting to discuss the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and its failure to comply with a UN resolution ordering the destruction of all such weapons. It was the 89th time the council has gathered to discuss the issue of chemical weapons in Syria.

Members were briefed by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, on the implementation of Resolution 2118. It was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.

The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014, and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It banned the regime from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.

In October 2013, Syria submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration about its chemical-weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its stockpiles. Since then, however, the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team has been trying to resolve outstanding issues with the regime’s declaration.

Nakamitsu told the council the declaration still cannot be considered accurate and complete because of “identified gaps, and inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved.”

A new issue has been added to the list of 19 existing issues that remain outstanding because the Syrian government has failed to respond to a UN order to disclose the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at various sites.

The new issue concerns the discovery by OPCW of a “neat chemical warfare agent” in samples collected from a former chemical weapons production facility. The Syrian government had not declared the production of this chemical agent, and the explanations it gave for its detection were described by Nakamitsu as “not sufficient to explain the results from the sample analysis.”

She said the number and nature of the outstanding issues is “concerning,” and added: “The confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program depends upon these issues being finalized.”

Nakamitsu urged the council to “unite on this issue” but her plea fell on deaf ears.

The Russian representative came to the defense of the Assad regime and again attempted to discredit the OPCW by saying its report is “replete with technical errors and does not stand up to any criticism,” and describing it as a “forgery” in which “free thinkers” who refused to take part were “intimated.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative, also criticized Western countries for suspending the rights and privileges of Syria at the OPCW.

Last month, states that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) suspended Syria’s OPCW membership because of its non-compliance with the treaty. The decision bars Syria from voting at CWC conferences or serving on the OPCW until it fulfills certain obligations, including declaring the chemical weapons it possesses and related production facilities, and resolving all outstanding issues with its initial declaration.

Human Rights Watch had said: “Syria’s use of chemical weapons is the biggest implementation and compliance crisis parties have faced since (the CWC came) into force in 1997.

“While this move (the Syrian suspension) would be largely symbolic, it is essential to remind the world of the extent and severity of war crimes by Syrian government forces.”

Polyanskiy said the unprecedented suspension was “a violation of norms by Western colleagues (and) another blow has been dealt to the OPCW’s credibility.” He added that it is part of an anti-Syria campaign that seeks to make Damascus an outcast in the OPCW.

“Do (Western countries) really expect that they will continue to do business as usual with Damascus?” he asked.

The rest of the council welcomed the “historic decision” by the Conference of the States Parties.

Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said it “sends a clear and collective message that the use of chemical weapons has consequences, and repeated failures by Syria to adhere to its obligations will not be tolerated.”

He added: “It is time for the Assad regime to adhere to its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Resolution 2118.”

Mills told his fellow council members that the findings of the investigation into the chlorine attack “should come as no surprise to those familiar with the abuses committed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.”

Although the OPCW has attributed eight chemical weapons attacks to the regime, Mills said: “The United States assesses that the regime’s innumerable atrocities — some of which rise to the level of war crimes, crimes against humanity — include at least 50 chemical-weapons attacks since the conflict began.”

He accused the Assad regime of retaining sufficient supplies of chemicals that allow it to use sarin gas, to produce and deploy chlorine-based weapons, and to develop and produce other chemical weapons. The OPCW report, he said, is just the latest reminder of the regime’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

Mills also criticized Russia for holding an informal meeting last month to “impugn the OPCW and push a false narrative (of) a Western plot to attempt regime change in Damascus.”

“This Council and UN member states are not fooled by this Russian disinformation tactic,” he added, noting that the majority of council members refute the arguments by Russia and “its hand-selected presenters.”

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s permanent representative to the UN, who initiated the proposal to suspend Syria’s OPCW rights, said: “Let’s be clear, we are not pleased about having to suspend some rights and privileges of a state party. It is the flagrant and repeated violations of its international commitments that have left us with no choice.

“If Syria hopes to restore its rights and privileges, then it must comply with its international obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which it chose to adhere.”


UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
Updated 07 May 2021

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
  • UAE vaccine distribution rate is now at 110.28 doses per 100 people

DUBAI: UAE health officials confirmed 1,724 new coronavirus cases and three additional fatalities overnight even amid a continued nationwide vaccination campaign against the highly contagious disease.

The latest cases bring the total number of recorded infections in the UAE to 530,944 and the number of deaths to 1,604, the Ministry of Health and Prevention said in a report from state news agency WAM.

The ministry aims to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment, the report added.

Meanwhile, an additional 72,811 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered during the past 24 hours for a total of 10,907,264 doses thus far or a distribution rate of 110.28 doses per 100 people.


Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
Updated 07 May 2021

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
  • Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya would be an “important signal” as both leaders vowed to support the new interim government there, a German government spokesman said.
Libya’s new unity government was sworn in on March 15 from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a relatively smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.
Turkey had backed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, which was supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in its efforts to improve the supply situation for the population and in preparing elections by year-end, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor emphasized that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” the spokesman added.
Merkel and Erdogan also discussed international efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as regional issues such as the civil war in Syria and international talks about the Cyprus issue, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor and the Turkish President emphasized that adequate access for humanitarian aid to the people in need in Syria must be maintained,” the spokesman said. (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alistair Bell)