Lebanon’s security forces pursuing smugglers, says interior minister

Lebanon’s security forces pursuing smugglers, says interior minister
Minister Fahmy inspects the sites from a Lebanese army watchtower in the northern Bekaa Valley. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 May 2021

Lebanon’s security forces pursuing smugglers, says interior minister

Lebanon’s security forces pursuing smugglers, says interior minister
  • Saudi Arabia has banned import of Lebanese agricultural products 

BEIRUT: Lebanese Caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmy told Arab News that he could not deny or confirm the involvement of Hezbollah in the smuggling of the Captagon shipment to Saudi Arabia, an operation thwarted by the Saudi authorities in April.
Fahmy stressed that “investigations are underway, and their contents cannot be disclosed until now, fearing for the integrity of the investigation. Upon completion of all data and the initial investigation, we will speak. We hope that we will get the results soon.”
The minister of interior inspected on Sunday the illegal crossing points on the borders with Syria, starting from the Al-Fawj border center in Shedra, Akkar district (the far north of Lebanon) to the town of Ras Baalbek (eastern Lebanon).
He listened to a briefing from the regiment commander, Col. Milad Saliba, about the military situation, the conditions of the legal crossing points, and the illegal routes at the Lebanese-Syrian borders, through which smuggling operations take place in the region.
Fahmy said that “cross-border smuggling is a chronic problem that goes back to before the year 1975, and no country can control its borders 100 percent.”
He said: “But we will activate border controls based on the directives of President Michel Aoun and the orders of the Supreme Defense Council, and anyone responsible for any act of corruption or smuggling will be held accountable.”
The minister’s inspection tour comes after Saudi Arabia decided on April 23 to ban the import and transit of Lebanese fruits and vegetables due to an increase in drug smuggling operations and after millions of narcotic pills (Captagon) were seized inside the pomegranate fruits.
Fahmy traveled by a military helicopter to the Bekaa region to inspect the crossings and the sites where smuggling operations are active. He met with officers from the second border regiment command and listened from the regiment commander, Col. Mohammed Dahboul, to a detailed briefing about the security and military realities and the situation on the crossings.
He concluded his tour by inspecting the army’s control tower in the Mastaba area in the outskirts of El-Qaa-Hermel.
In 2019, Lebanon estimated the number of illegal crossings on all its borders with Syria as 12. These illegal crossings have seen an increase in activity during the last two years due to the chaos and illegal weapons in the environment that supports it, especially in the northern Bekaa, where Hezbollah enjoy the freedom of movement and entry to Syrian territory through their own crossings.
Fahmy said: “All these points are being monitored and are being addressed.”
Smuggling has become active in both directions in light of the decline in the economic situation in the two countries. Minister Fahmy said: “In the past, smuggling used to take place from Syria toward Lebanon, but today, it is reversed, and the security forces are pursuing smugglers who devise new methods every day.”
A security source, however, told Arab News: “Smugglers from the Lebanese side benefited from official Lebanese basic items subsidies, especially fuel, medicine, and flour, and have been smuggling them into Syria to make a profit due to the price difference. Smugglers also use these crossings to bring cars stolen from Lebanon to Syrian territory.
Lebanon "was used as a platform for smuggling abroad. Food, agricultural products, eggs, dairy products, cheese, and medicine pass through these illegal crossings into Lebanon, and some of them are Iranian-made, in addition to smuggling humans.”
The source said: “Controlling these crossings is difficult. As soon as we discover a crossing, the smugglers will be guided to another crossing in the barren and harsh areas. They know these areas very well because they are native residents, or they facilitate the work of smugglers.”
Although Hezbollah declares that it has nothing to do with drug dealing, they turn a blind eye to prominent dealers in the northern Bekaa.


Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
Updated 32 min 32 sec ago

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
  • For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, on how quickly the reservoir should be filled
  • On the eve of the summer rains on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin

LONDON: In the decade since Ethiopia announced it was going to build Africa’s biggest hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, the source of the bulk of Egypt’s water, the prospect has loomed over Egyptians as an existential threat.

For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, its two downstream neighbors, on how quickly its vast reservoir should be filled, and how the electricity-generating Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be operated in the years to come. Now, on the eve of the anticipated annual summer rains that fall on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin in earnest.

DEEP DIVE: For a longer, interactive version of this story: https://www.arabnews.com/BattleForTheNile


Iran ultraconservative named presidential election winner

Iran ultraconservative named presidential election winner
Updated 5 min 9 sec ago

Iran ultraconservative named presidential election winner

Iran ultraconservative named presidential election winner
  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”
The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord


Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
Updated 19 June 2021

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
  • The committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has temporarily suspended the use of green pass on Al Hosn app due to technical issues faced by some users, state news agency WAM reported.
The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said it reviewed the possible causes of the problem, as the digital platform received a surge in new subscriptions. It has also ensured the app’s team are working to restore the service as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi.
The decision came into effect on June 18 and will continue until the app is updated.
Residents and visitors who want to enter public spaces including shopping malls and large supermarkets, gyms, hotels, parks and beaches, private beaches and restaurants and cafes must have a green status on Al Hosn, to have access in such places.


EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
Updated 19 June 2021

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
  • Lebanon fuel crunch inspires demonstrations at gas stations and supermarkets
  • Rocket-propelled grenades found in Beirut rubbish

BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, is expected to start a round of talks with Lebanese officials in Beirut on Saturday.

This comes days ahead of a meeting of EU officials in Brussels, called by France, to discuss imposing sanctions on Lebanese officials accused of corruption and political obstruction.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director general of the General Security, highlighted “Russia’s constant will to stand by Lebanon and support it on the economic and security levels.”

He made his comments following talks with Russian officials.

Ibrahim added: “There should be a government, regardless of its form, in order to find solutions to all problems in Lebanon.”

He is a prominent figure in Lebanon who often conducts foreign negotiations.

Meanwhile, the living crisis is worsening, leading to armed clashes.

People are still waiting for long hours to fill up on gasoline amid shortages of fuel, which is subsidized by the state. The subsidy is expected to be lifted soon.

But this is dependent on the ration card for needy people, which is still being debated by parliamentary committees.

The fuel crisis sparked a clash on Friday in front of a gas station in Tripoli, which led to a shooting, with no casualties.

Also in Tripoli, a clash in front of a supermarket led to exchanging shots, causing two injuries.

The city has the biggest percentage of struggling Lebanese, who were impoverished further due to the collapse of the currency.

For the second consecutive day, employees of the public sector stuck to their strike which was called for by the Public Administration Employees Association in protest against the collapse of their purchasing power and the deterioration of economic and living conditions.

Contacts and consultations related to forming the new government have stalled after the failure of the initiative of the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, but he has insisted that “it is still standing.”

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said: “It is impossible for some officials to keep waiting while the country’s conditions are retreating.”

Jumblatt added: “It is time for a settlement away from personal calculations.”

In the past two days, Berri had joined Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in accusing President Michel Aoun and his political party of trying to get the blocking third in the government, contrary to the constitution.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Internal Security forces announced that they “captured 16 RPG type rocket-propelled grenades, and five grenades of other types dumped in waste containers near the House of the Druze Community in Lebanon in Beirut.”

Internal Security also declared that the “old ammunition” was removed after being examined by its explosives experts.

The identity of the party which disposed of the ammunition remains unknown.

The Anti-Narcotics Division at the Lebanese Customs seized a large quantity of Captagon pills hidden in a container loaded with stones, destined to be smuggled to Saudi Arabia via the port of Beirut.

“Some people implicated in the operation were arrested,” declared the caretaker Minister of Interior Mohammed Fahmi.

Speaking at the Port of Beirut, he revealed that the shipment was destined for Jeddah.


EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
Updated 18 June 2021

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
  • Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon's squabbling politicians
  • Senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil

PARIS/BRUSSELS: Criteria for European Union sanctions being prepared for Lebanese politicians are likely to be corruption, obstructing efforts to form a government, financial mishandling and human rights abuses, according to a diplomatic note seen by Reuters.
Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after 11 months of a crisis that has left Lebanon facing financial collapse, hyperinflation, electricity blackouts, and fuel and food shortages.
The bloc, which has been holding technical discussions on possible measures for the last month, has yet to decide on which approach to take, but foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due in Lebanon this weekend and will report back to foreign ministers on Monday.
As many senior Lebanese politicians have homes, bank accounts and investments in the EU, and send their children to universities there, a withdrawal of that access could help focus minds.
Paris says it has already taken measures to restrict entry for some Lebanese officials it sees as blocking efforts to tackle the crisis, which is rooted in decades of state corruption and debt, although it has not named anybody publicly.
The EU first needs to set up a sanctions regime that could then see individuals hit by travel bans and asset freezes, although it may also decide to not list anybody immediately.
The note, which also outlines the strengths and weaknesses of taking such a measure, focuses on four criteria. It begins with obstructing the establishment of a government, the political process or the successful completion of the political transition and then turns to obstructing the implementation of urgent reforms needed to overcome the political, economic and social crisis.
Financial mishandling, which would target people, entities or bodies believed to be responsible for the mismanagement of public finances and the banking sector, is also a core criteria as is the violation of human rights as a result of the economic and social crisis.
“It might be argued that the lack of political responsibility of the leadership in Lebanon is at the core of a massive implosion of the economy,” the note reads, referring to the possible human rights criteria.
“This has led to significant suffering and has affected the human rights of the population in Lebanon.”
Such diplomatic notes are common in EU policymaking, circulated among EU diplomats and officials, although they are not made public.
The note also says an “exit strategy” proposing benchmarks for establishing whether the sanctions regime has served its purpose as well as for renewing or lifting individual designations should also be put in place.
How quickly sanctions could be imposed is still unclear, but with political divisions continuing to worsen, the bloc is likely to press ahead before the summer holiday period.
There are divisions among the 27 EU states over the wisdom of EU sanctions, but the bloc’s two main powers, France and Germany are in favor, which is likely to prove pivotal. A larger group of nations has yet to specify their approach.
Hungary has publicly denounced EU efforts to pressure Lebanese politicians.
A senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who is already under US sanctions.