Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon says Kingdom’s security is a red line

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon says Kingdom’s security is a red line
Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari meeting President Michel Aoun. Bukhari tweeted on Monday saying Kingdom’s security is a red line (Twitter)
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Updated 26 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon says Kingdom’s security is a red line

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon says Kingdom’s security is a red line
  • Bukhari’s tweet came after Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban import and transit of vegetables and fruits from Lebanon starting Sunday
  • Lebanese President asked security services on Monday to step up operations against smuggling

BEIRUT: The Kingdom’s security is a red line, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari said on Monday.

His tweet came after Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban the import and transit of vegetables and fruits from Lebanon starting Sunday.

Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported over the weekend that Jeddah Islamic Port’s customs authorities seized more than 5.3 million Captagon pills secretly hidden in a pomegranate consignment that arrived from Beirut.

“The Kingdom’s security under our wise leadership is a red line that cannot be messed with,” Al-Bukhari said in the tweet on Monday evening.

Meanwhile Al-Bukhari said on Sunday that in the past six years there were attempts to smuggle more than 600 million pills from Lebanon.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun asked the security services on Monday to step up operations against smuggling.

Aoun made his comments at the start of a meeting on the matter with caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab.

Interior minister Mohammad Fehmi was tasked to coordinate with Saudi Arabia to uncover the culprits and prevent a repeat of the previous incidents.

Lebanon also asked its public prosecutor to follow up with investigations on the issue and keep Saudi officials informed of results, said a presidential statement.


US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’
Updated 14 min 18 sec ago

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

NEW YORK: The UN monitoring team for October elections in Iraq will be the largest technical election assistance team in the world, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Tuesday.
She said the team would be big enough to deter fraud, increase turnout, and return trust to Iraq's democracy.
Iraqis will go to the polls more than three years after the last vote to elect members of the Council of Representatives, who in turn elect a prime minister and president.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi took office a year ago after months of protests led to the collapse of the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Thomas-Greenfield thanked Al-Kadhimi for his efforts to cement some trust in the government, which she said was needed for progress to be made on the economy or holding elections.


US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks
Updated 11 May 2021

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks
  • At least three foreign subcontractors and one Iraqi subcontractor have been wounded
  • Baghdad sent its national security adviser to Balad base last week to try to reassure the American firm

SAMARRA: US contractor Lockheed Martin has withdrawn its staff from an Iraq base where it had been maintaining the Iraqi army’s F-16 fighter jets, military sources said, after a spate of rocket attacks.
At least five attacks have targeted the Balad air base, where other US companies including Sallyport are also present, since the start of the year.
At least three foreign subcontractors and one Iraqi subcontractor have been wounded.
The attacks are rarely claimed, and when they are it is by obscure groups that experts say are a facade for Iran-backed Iraqi factions.
“On Monday morning, 72 Lockheed Martin technicians left,” a high-ranking Iraqi military official told AFP, while a second confirmed the move.
“The technical team in charge of maintenance of the F-16s left the Balad base for Irbil,” the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the first source added, requesting anonymity.
Baghdad had sent its national security adviser Qassim Al-Araji to the Balad base last week to try to reassure the American firm, days after the latest salvo.
Tahsin Al-Khafaji, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said Lockheed Martin would “continue to advise the Iraqi air force, even remotely,” citing contractual obligations.
The United States has provided Iraq with 34 F-16s, all stationed at Balad. It has also trained Iraqi pilots, while American contractors have been in charge of the fleet’s upkeep.
Irbil was long considered safer than the rest of Iraq, but the situation has changed recently and Washington has deployed a C-RAM rocket defense system as well as Patriot missiles there, as it has done in Baghdad to protect its troops and diplomats.
In mid-April, pro-Iran fighters sent an explosives-packed drone crashing into Irbil airport in the first reported use of such a weapon against a base housing US troops in Iraq.
The Pentagon has warned that attacks against the US-led coalition rose in the first three months of this year.
“In Iraq, Iran-aligned militias increased their attacks targeting coalition positions and assets this quarter, prompting a temporary departure of US contractors supporting Iraq’s F-16 program,” it said in a report to Congress released earlier this month.


France says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal

France says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal
Updated 11 May 2021

France says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal

France says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal

France’s foreign ministry says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal in very short timeframe.

More to follow ...


’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
Updated 11 May 2021

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
  • Consignment of 54,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at April’s end, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory
  • The challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines as some question whether the virus itself is a threat

IDLIB: In northwest Syria, where health care is rudimentary and those displaced by war are packed into squalid camps, the arrival of vaccines to fight COVID-19 should have been cause for relief.
Instead, a UN-backed vaccination campaign has met with suspicion and mistrust by an exhausted population, who feel betrayed by their government and abandoned by the international community after a decade of conflict that ruined their lives.
“It’s all a lie, even if the dose is for free I wouldn’t take it,” said Jassem Al-Ali, who fled his home in the south of Idlib province and now lives in Teh camp, one of many in a region controlled by opponents of the Damascus government.
Youssef Ramadan, another camp resident who lived under bombardment for years, echoed the doubts. “Will we be like sheep who trust the herder until they are slaughtered?” he asked.
A consignment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at the end of April, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory, delivered through the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX. Inoculations started on May 1.
“There is a large amount of hesitancy and what made it worse is everything in the media continuously about AstraZeneca and blood clots,” Yasser Naguib, a doctor who heads a local vaccine team working in opposition-held areas, told Reuters.
Similar concerns about the coronavirus vaccine have slowed the rollout in Europe and elsewhere amid worries about rare cases of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca shot.
Most governments have said benefits far outweigh the risks, although some have restricted it to certain age groups. But the challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines. Some question whether the virus itself is a threat.
“If there really was coronavirus in Idlib you would hear about tens of thousands of people getting it,” said 25-year-old Somar Youssef, who fled his home in Idlib’s rural Maara region.
Naguib said it was challenging to convince people fasting during Ramadan to take a shot when they can’t take oral medication for any side effects, such as a fever. Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim month, starts this week.
“We are optimistic that after Eid it will be better,” he said, adding that a 55-strong team was working to raise awareness about virus risks and vaccine benefits.
At the same time as doses from COVAX landed in Idlib, 200,000 shots arrived in Damascus, part of the World Health Organization campaign to inoculate about 20 percent of Syria’s population, or 5 million people across the nation, this year.
Officials have not given any indication about take up in government-held areas, where Damascus also aims to use vaccines from Russia, the government’s military ally, and China.
In Idlib, Naguib said 6,070 people out of around 40,000 health care and humanitarian workers on a priority list had been vaccinated by May 9. But even some health care workers are wary.
A Reuters witness saw just seven out of 30 medical workers receiving vaccines on the first day of a campaign at one Idlib medical center. Initially, only three had volunteered.
“As a director of the kidney dialysis unit, I was the first one to get the vaccine and I wanted to encourage the rest, who were scared because of all the rumors about it,” said Taher Abdelbaki, a doctor at another clinic, the Ibn Sina medical center.
By the end of 2021, two more COVAX vaccine batches are expected to arrive in Idlib to inoculate about 850,000 people in a region of about 3.5 million people, a target that leaves the region’s vaccination teams with much work to do.
“We will not be their lab rats here in the north,” said Abdelsalam Youssef, a community leader in Teh camp.


Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • The Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque

CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.