Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF
A man stands next to graffiti on Aug. 11, 2020, outside Beirut’s port, in the aftermath of the massive explosion that damaged much of Lebanon’s capital. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 May 2021

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF
  • If Aoun shows positivity, Hariri will present new ministerial formation, leading Future Movement figure tells Arab News
  • Banque du Liban launches electronic platform to attract dollars stored at home and abroad

BEIRUT: Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Marina Sereni on Monday reiterated to Lebanese President Michel Aoun the need to “initiate deep and structural reforms through the formation of a government that assumes all its powers.”

She renewed her call to all political parties in Lebanon to put their differences aside and give priority to the national interest by cooperating to form a government.

Sereni said that the Lebanese needed a government to put the country back on the path of sustainable development and to relaunch negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Italian official reminded the Lebanese president that “democratic mechanisms should continue to operate regularly according to the electoral calendar expected in 2022.”

Her comment was in reference to parliamentary elections scheduled for May next year, with political voices inside Lebanon seeking to postpone the date of the vote to maintain the current ruling authority.

Sereni stressed that “Italy views Lebanon as a key player for stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Sereni said Italy “supports UNIFIL forces led by Italian General Stefano Del Col, who play a key role in maintaining stability and avoiding tensions along the Blue Line, especially in light of the current situation, with all its tensions and strains.”

Lebanon has endured a governmental vacuum since the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government after the Beirut Port explosion and Saad Hariri’s designation as prime minister on Oct. 22. 

The vacuum has been maintained due to Hariri’s refusal to form a techno-political government and Aoun’s insistence to have the blocking third and what he called “the charter and the national balance.”

The French initiative failed to form a government of apolitical specialists, which prompted the French to threaten sanctions against those blocking reforms.

Expectations rose before the Eid Al-Fitr holiday that Hariri could quit his mission, but the Secretary-General of the Future Movement Ahmed Hariri on Monday described these expectations as “media leaks.”

He said that “government matters are still as they are, and nothing has been issued by the prime minister-designate, who will have clear positions in the coming stage, including the country’s interest and people’s concerns, while studying all steps and options to reach the right decision.”

The Vice-President of the Future Movement Dr. Mustafa Alloush told Arab News: “There is talk that the president of the republic does not want Hariri to quit, but this talk is devoid of any clear positive signals.

“If Aoun shows positivity, Hariri is ready to present a new cabinet formation.”

Alloush added that Aoun’s “talk about his adherence to the charter and national balance has no meaning because the charter is guaranteed by the Muslim-Christian participation in the government according to the constitution.”

Alloush said: “As for keeping the decision inside the government, this matter is not a charter, but rather a kidnapping of the country and taking it hostage.”

While awaiting changes in the political situation, the list of economic and social crises that the Lebanese suffer from is growing.

There are fresh worries about severe electricity rationing and the loss of gasoline and medicine, which inspired new street protests.

On Monday, protesters blocked roads in Beirut with garbage bins and in Tripoli with cars. Security forces reopened the roads.

Dozens of owners of fuel stations in Hermel, in the northern Bekaa Valley, protested against a judicial decision to close more than 40 unlicensed stations.

They held a sit-in in front of the Grand Serail (a government office).

The Hermel region hosts several illegal transit routes for smuggling subsidized fuel into Syria.

In an attempt to control the unstable exchange rate of the dollar on the black market, the Banque du Liban launched an electronic banking platform on Monday that allows the dollar market to become more transparent.

The platform secures the process of buying and selling foreign cash, specifically the dollar, at a price that determines the supply and demand directed to banks.

These regulated operations are available to traders, importers, institutions and individuals.

The central bank intervenes to limit fluctuations in the exchange market rates to reduce speculation and control the dollar.

Dr. Louis Hobeika, an economist, said that this platform is a “temporary measure to gain time.”

He told Arab News: “The platform will not permanently reduce the exchange rate of the dollar, because the problem is in the dollar’s supply on the market, which is weak.

“It is doubtful that people who keep their dollars at home will present them on the platform because their problem is not in the platform, but rather in losing confidence in the country, the banks and the central bank.”

He added: “The platform’s goal is organizational. If it manages to attract money from abroad, then this is good, and Lebanon will have an average exchange rate ranging between LBP4,000 and 5,000 to the dollar, but it depends on the stability of the country. The black market will continue as long as there are dollars traded in it.

“We have to give this platform a month ​and give it a try.”


Yemen’s civilians paying the price for Houthis’ delisting from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 6 sec ago

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for Houthis’ delisting from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Conflict mapping shows militia has killed more people since the Biden administration revoked its FTO designation
  • Saudi diplomat says the Kingdom will continue to use UN mechanisms to expose the Houthis’ true terrorist face

LONDON:Seven months after the US removed the Houthis from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, the militia is killing more people than before and intensifying its efforts to bring the entire country of Yemen under its extremist doctrine, according to experts.

Within days of their removal, the Houthis escalated their assault on Yemen’s Marib, a province that provides temporary shelter to thousands of internally displaced people and acts as a bastion of the UN-backed government’s pushback against the Houthis’ religious tyranny.

Six months later, the siege of Marib continues to claim lives daily — on both sides — and perpetuates Yemen’s twin humanitarian and economic crises.

If these developments in Yemen are anything to go by, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as US president has backfired badly.

“I am revoking the designations of Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Biden said on Feb. 12.

Citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said the group’s inclusion on the list would only obstruct the delivery of aid.

“By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 but the Biden team never really tried to defend the rationale behind the move with evidence.

“The delisting gave the Houthis and, more importantly, their Iranian sponsors a sense of impunity,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “The delisting also eviscerated international efforts to prevent Houthi supply and finance.”

In fact, Rubin says, the Biden administration’s justification for the delisting of the Houthis — to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid — never made sense in the first place.

“There was already an inspection regime” in place, Rubin said. “The UN had repeatedly reported on the delivery of humanitarian goods. Ironically, it was often the Houthis which prevented the delivery of goods to cities like Taiz not under Houthi control.”

In Rubin’s view, Biden’s decision to delist the Houthis may have had more to do with domestic American politics than what was best for the Yemeni people — and it may have emboldened other regional terrorist groups in the process.

“The Biden administration’s delisting had more to do with reversing what (former president Donald) Trump had done than any consideration of the realities on the ground,” he said.

“As such, Biden’s delisting for purely political reasons undermined the legitimacy of US listings and also encouraged other terrorist groups to demand delisting as a diplomatic concession.”

Drone missiles used by Houthis in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP/File Photo)

Not only has the delisting failed to concretely resolve the humanitarian situation in Yemen, but it may also have cost more people their lives.

Alexander Jalil is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, a highly specialized organization dedicated to recording instances of fatal and non-fatal violence in conflicts or politically unstable locations across the world.

Jalil told Arab News that ACLED’s data, painstakingly collected and verified based on local sources, suggests that not only were the Houthis involved in a higher proportion of the fighting in Yemen after they were removed from the terror list, but they were actually responsible for the deaths of more people.

“The events in the six months after the group was removed from the US terror designation list were also deadlier, as our fatalities count saw an increase between Feb. 12, 2021, and Aug. 12, 2021, compared to Aug. 12, 2020, and Feb. 12, 2021,” Jalil said.

INNUMBERS

* 7,998 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months prior to delisting.

* 9,312 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months since delisting.

(Source: ACLED)

ACLED’s data shows that in the six months preceding the Houthis’ removal from the terror blacklist, they were responsible for 7,998 fatalities. In the six months after they were removed, they killed 9,312 people — a rise of more than 1,314.

It is not clear exactly what caused this jump in fatalities, but Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow who specializes in Iran at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News “the delisting of the Houthis by the Biden administration tilted the balance in favor of Iran.”

Iran has long supported the Houthis, who are ideologically aligned with Tehran’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — or guardianship of the Islamic jurist. This ideology places supreme control of the state in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the basis of a religious worldview prescribed by his revolutionary predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 intervention in Yemen was launched in order to uphold the legitimate Yemeni government, which was forced from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis earlier that year, and to prevent further attacks on the Kingdom.

Tehran now provides funding, arms, training, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis — many of which have been turned against Saudi Arabia, its citizens, and its allies.

The Houthis unleashed a wave of ballistic missile and drone attacks against the Kingdom on Sept. 4, defying calls by the international community for a return to the negotiating table.

All of the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed, but falling debris from a missile shot down over Eastern Province injured a boy and a girl in Dammam city.

Falling debris also caused damage to 14 residential houses, coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

A second missile targeted the southwestern region of Najran followed by a third on the adjacent region of Jazan. Earlier that same day, coalition air defenses intercepted three booby-trapped drones launched by the Houthis.

Houthi attempts to target civilians and civilian objects are not only hostile and barbaric but also “incompatible with heavenly values ​​and humanitarian principles,” Al-Maliki told SPA.

Another attack at the end of August struck an airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

A speech by Shiite Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi is screened as supporters take part in a rally. (AFP/File Photo)

“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, told Arab News the Kingdom is actively working to expose the Houthi militia’s true nature as a terrorist organization through the UN Security Council.

“When we send letters to the UNSC or to the secretary-general regarding the various attacks that the Houthis try to launch against Saudi Arabia, our main objective is simply to record the fact,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added: “We are repulsing these attacks, foiling them well before they hit targets in most cases, and we are exposing them to the international community. We are making them well known to the international community and the world at large.”

Saudi Arabia has confronted the Houthis with force but has also consistently pushed for a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen that places the people at the heart of any political settlement. But a peaceful end to the conflict is not a goal shared by the Houthi militia.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said: “The peace initiative in Yemen tabled by the Kingdom last March ought to end the bloodshed and conflict. It ought to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militia rejects peaceful solutions.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
Updated 29 min 45 sec ago

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.


Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
Yahya Kabbara, a Lebanese math teacher, chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements’. (Supplied/Yahya Nabil Kabbara)
Updated 25 September 2021

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
  • Double Ph.D., Yahya Kabbara, was bullied as a youth for being obese until he ‘notched a physical success’
  • “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose,” he told Arab News

DUBAI: Yahya Nabil Kabbara has always been perceived as academically distinguished, but not athletically, due to being subjected to nightmarish waves of bullying over his obesity since childhood.
A Lebanese math teacher, Kabbara chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements.”
Since a teenager, friends and classmates never allowed Kabbara to play any sport with them because they said his “obesity makes them lose.”
“That left a scar in me and pushed me to set that personal challenge to swim to the furthest island off Tripoli’s seashore,” Kabbara told Arab News.
Born in the northern Lebanese city in 1987, the 34-year-old tutor currently teaches math for secondary classes at a public high school.
Commonly known as “Araneb Island” or “Rabbit’s Island,” his target is the biggest of three flat rocky islands that constitute the Palm Islands Nature Reserve. The three islands’ area is around 4.2 sq km.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, Kabbara put on a pair of paddles, jumped into the ocean and swam for nearly four-and-a-half hours until he reached Rabbit’s Island.
Having once weighed over 140kg, Kabbara has been training seriously by swimming, walking, hiking, mountain climbing and preparing himself mentally and physically to be able to fulfill what he describes as a “personal challenge and a message to all those who bullied him for being overweight.”
He added: “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose. That hurt me a lot … it left an aching scar in me that I always stayed alone. My family once thought I had autism,” he said.
Coming from a hardworking family, Kabbara started teaching at the age of 14 because he adores the profession and needed to earn pocket money to support his father.
Despite having two doctorates, he could not land a university job because, according to him, “you need a wasta (support from a politician or influential person), meanwhile I’ve never been affiliated to or supported any Lebanese politician.”
In 2015, Kabbara obtained a Ph.D. in applied Mathematics at the Lebanese University while also picking up a doctorate from Paris-Est Creteil University in France.  
The father of a nine-month-old daughter said the fact that he was constantly bullied at youth pushed him to work “seriously and really hard” on his fitness to prove to others that being overweight “should not cripple oneself from fulfilling their goals.”
“At a certain point of my life I realized that I have fulfilled a lot academically and that the time has come for me to accomplish something physical,” he said, reiterating that he set up his swimming challenge “to prove to himself and others that with perseverance any goal is attainable.”
Kabbara explained that the idea to swim to Rabbit’s Island was like a dream to him since childhood.
When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surfaced in early 2020, the 34-year-old had still been suffering from obesity and feared that lockdowns would force him to gain more weight and feel “desolate and depressed.”
“But I told myself ‘no.’ I walked as much as possible and swam a lot after borrowing my cousin’s paddles. I love swimming so I swam 300 meters, then 500. In November I swam to the nearest island, Al-Ballan. It took me an hour. Then I went to the second island of Al-Rmayleh,” said Kabbara.
“All I wanted to do is accomplish my goal and prove to myself and others that everything is possible,” concluded Kabbara, who said that he had dropped his weight to 109kg.


Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines
Updated 25 September 2021

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines
  • Hamdok avoided any mention of a reported coup attempt that was stifled by military leaders
  • He urged Ethiopia and other downstream countries to come to a lasting agreement

UNITED NATIONS: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government urged world leaders on Saturday to work together to get developing countries more COVID-19 vaccines.
In a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok echoed similar statements from other speakers when he said that making sure countries like Sudan get enough shots is the only way to ensure the safety of the rest of the world.
Sudan has only received a fraction of the vaccines it needs, according to official figures. Since March, the Sudanese government has vaccinated approximately 830,000 people out of 45 million. So far, Sudan has recorded more than 37,500 cases and 2800 deaths from the coronavirus. The true numbers are believed to be far higher given the scarcity of testing.
Hamdok, a respected former official with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, also said his country had achieved much in its transition to democratic rule over the past two years. However, he avoided any mention of a reported coup attempt that was stifled by military leaders. Sudanese authorities reported Tuesday that a group of soldiers tried to take power, but said the attempt failed and the country’s ruling council and military remain in control.
The development underscored the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir amid a public uprising against his three-decade rule.
Hamdok also spoke out about his concerns over Ethiopia’s massive Renaissance Dam, built on one of the Nile River’s main tributaries, and urged Ethiopia and other downstream countries to come to a lasting agreement. He said that his country had already experienced adverse effects of the dam’s partial filling, completed in phases this and last summer.


Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
Updated 25 September 2021

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
  • Putin criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate last week during a meeting with Assad
  • Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately

ANKARA: Turkey has deployed more troops to northwestern Syria as a deterrent against any major offensive by Russian-backed Syrian forces, ahead of a meeting between the Turkish and Russian leaders next week.

Ankara is concerned that an escalation in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, would push a new wave of refugees toward Turkey, which has been hosting about 4 million Syrians since the start of the conflict a decade ago.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to raise this issue during his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29. To what extent Russia’s position will find a common ground with Ankara is still unclear.

Last week, during a meeting between Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Russian president criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed on Sept. 11 in Idlib as the Syrian regime forces have intensified their attacks.

“Russia is frustrated with Turkey’s unwillingness to expel Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham from Idlib and is using its warplanes as well as Syrian ground forces to put pressure on Turkey,” Samuel Ramani, a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told Arab News.

Russia is holding Turkey to its 2018 commitment to separate radicals such as HTS, the dominant group in Idlib, from other rebels in Idlib. But Ankara rejects claims that it has failed to deliver on its promise.

HTS has been distancing itself from Al-Qaeda and rebranding itself as a moderate rebel group — an image makeover before the international community. But it is still designated by the US, the UN Security Council and Turkey as a terror group.

“Turkey does not view a limited escalation of this kind as a major cross-border threat but would certainly fear a refugee influx if Assad and Putin carry out a much larger assault on Idlib, which mirrored the events of late 2019 and early 2020,” Ramani said. “So Turkey’s troops are there to deter such a scenario from taking place and ensure that the status quo holds until the Putin-Erdogan meeting.”

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately and said he considered Turkish presence an act of occupation.

Ramani said that in the past Putin-Erdogan meetings have often reduced the conflict in Syria, for example after the Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and Operation Spring Shield in March 2020: “So the hope is that this will happen again.”

On Sept. 24, Erdogan said he expects Russia to change its approach toward Syria as the Syrian regime poses a threat to Turkey along the southern border.

At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Erdogan addressed the Syrian crisis, saying that “as a country that protected human dignity in the Syrian crisis, we no longer have the potential nor the tolerance to absorb new immigration waves.”

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara think tank ORSAM, said Turkey attaches importance of retaining its place in Syrian game. 

“If it completely withdraws from the region, it will stay out of the endgame and will not have a say when a political process in Syria begins,” Orhan told Arab News.

According to Orhan, Turkey is also concerned about the presence of foreign fighters and radical elements in Idlib.

“If there were a regime offensive, they would be likely to flock toward the Turkish border and would pose a security threat not only to Turkey but to the global community,” he said.

Experts say that although it exposes the limits of their cooperation, Turkish-Russian relations will likely survive this latest round of escalation as both sides have too much to lose if their relationship is damaged.

Orhan says the deployment of Turkish troops ahead of Putin-Erdogan meeting is a symbolic move to gain leverage at the negotiation table.

“Although Russia supports the Assad regime, it also takes notice of Turkish presence in the region, as well as of cooperation in the fields of energy and defense industry. It doesn’t want to undermine them, yet tries to use Idlib card as a bargaining chip each time there is a crisis in bilateral ties,” he said.

Russia reportedly conducted about 200 aerial attacks against Idlib in September. Some of the attacks targeted zones close to Turkey’s military posts in the province. Turkey has about 80 military bases and observation posts in Idlib.

“Although Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies have met in the past, Russia has been pushing Turkey for years to open a diplomatic communication channel with the Syrian regime. But Ankara is not willing to take this step. I expect that Erdogan-Putin meeting will de-escalate the tension in Idlib, but both leaders will test their determination before sitting at the negotiation table,” Orhan said.