Mobs attack Syrians heading for presidential vote in Lebanon

Mobs attack Syrians heading for presidential vote in Lebanon
Syrian voters residing in Lebanon carry portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as they line up the road from the eastern outskirts of Beirut to Baabda to vote at the Syrian embassy on May 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2021

Mobs attack Syrians heading for presidential vote in Lebanon

Mobs attack Syrians heading for presidential vote in Lebanon
  • The in-country vote is expected next week, while Syrians abroad are casting their votes Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanese mobs attacked buses and cars carrying Syrians expatriates and those who fled the war heading to the Syrian embassy in Beirut on Thursday, protesting against what they said was an organized vote for President Bashar Assad.
Assad is running for a fourth seven-year term— facing symbolic competition from two candidates— in a vote all but guaranteed to bring him back as president.
The in-country vote is expected next week, while Syrians abroad are casting their votes Thursday. The election is the second since the country’s civil war broke out 10 years ago and is seen by the opposition as well as Western and some Arab countries as a sham designed to give the incumbent a new mandate with a veneer of legitimacy.
Scattered mobs of anti-Syrian Lebanese, most of them from the Christian rightwing Forces group, waited for convoys of cars and buses carrying Syrian voters at intersections in Beirut, outside the capital and in the eastern Bekaa region. They pelted them with rocks and smashed windows with sticks. In one incident near Nahr el-Kalb on the highway north or Beirut, one attacker poked a wooden stick inside the car, poking the driver as others smashed the windshield.
Buses carrying hundreds of voters featured pictures of the incumbent president on the windows.
“They don’t need to carry pictures and flags for an absurd criminal regime,” said Fadi Nader, one of the protesters. “If they want to vote, they can go home and vote there... Since they love Bashar Assad, why don’t they go home?“
Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces group, said Wednesday that the thousands of Syrians who are voting for Bashar Assad are clearly not fearful of his government and don’t seem to be refugees afraid of returning home. He called on the government and president to arrange for their return to Syria.
Lebanese army soldiers stood guard as Syrian citizens who live in Lebanon queued outside their embassy in Yarze, east of Beirut, to cast their ballots. Some shouted slogans in support of Assad as they waited.
Lebanon is home to over 1 million Syrians, making it the country in the region hosting the largest number of refugees per capita. Their presence — nearly one Syrian for every four Lebanese — has weighed heavily on Lebanon’s infrastructure, and resources, particularly as the small country reels under an unparalleled economic crisis.
But calls for the return of Syrians home have also been a widely politicized issue among Lebanese who have been deeply divided over the 10-year Syrian conflict, with some supporting Assad and others backing his opposition.
Even before the conflict, Syria’s role in Lebanon was deeply divisive. Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon in 1976 shortly after the civil war broke out here to keep the peace. They only pulled out in 2005 following a UN resolution, after a 29-year domination of Lebanese politics.
The Syrians living in Lebanon find themselves in a hard spot.
The United Nations agency for Refugees, UNHCR, said it has received reports from registered Syrian refugees that they were pressured before the elections to cast their vote— including threats of physical harm or confiscation of documents. It was not immediately clear who was behind the threats. The agency’s spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled said they are following with relevant stakeholders to ensure the refugees are free to vote.
Assad has been in power since 2000 when he took over from his father, Hafez, who ruled before that for 30 years. Despite the war, which seemed at one point to threaten his rule, Assad remained in power, supported by regional powerhouse Iran and Russia.
The armed conflict has subsided in recent years, but Syria remains torn. Thousands of foreign troops are based in different parts of the country. The elections are not taking place in at least four provinces because they are under the control of the opposition and Kurdish forces, depriving nearly 8 million Syrians of a vote.
The Biden administration has said it will not recognize the result of Syria’s presidential election.
Syria has been in the throes of civil war since 2011, when Arab Spring-inspired protests against the Assad family rule turned into an armed insurgence in response to a brutal military crackdown. Around half a million people have been killed and half the country’s population displaced.


Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
  • Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran
  • Taghavi suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes

BERLIN: A German-Iranian woman held in Iran has been given a decade-long jail term by an Iran court for participating in an outlawed group, her daughter said Wednesday.

Nahid Taghavi, 66, was given “ten years for membership in an illegal group” and “eight months for propaganda against the regime,” said her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran, in particular for women’s rights and freedom of expression, according to the rights group IGFM.

According to Claren, Taghavi has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she contracted Covid-19 last month.

Claren has repeatedly flagged up warnings about her mother’s health, saying that she suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Germany’s foreign ministry said in October that it was aware of the arrest of a German-Iranian woman in Iran, but did not name the detained citizen.

Frank Schwabe, who is the spokesman on human rights issues for the Social Democrats, condemned the verdict.

“The charges are baseless and the verdict a farce,” he wrote on Twitter.


UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
  • The UAE is one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization

DUBAI: The UAE health ministry on Wednesday reported 1,519 new coronavirus cases and five more COVID-19 related fatalities overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 686,981 with 1,965 deaths.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said it conducted 191,032 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as the Emirates aggressively pursues early detection of the highly contagious disease for necessary treatment and the prevention of community infection.

The UAE, one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization, has deployed an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccines to 79.3 percent of its population, while 70.96 percent have been fully vaccinated.

A total 16,884,412 doses have been dispensed so far, for a vaccine distribution rate of 170.72 doses per 100 people.

The vaccination drive is in line with plans to provide the vaccine to the populace to acquire herd immunity, which will help reduce the number of cases and control the spread of the virus.


Biden announces $100 million in new aid for Lebanon, urges reforms

Biden announces $100 million in new aid for Lebanon, urges reforms
Updated 10 min 9 sec ago

Biden announces $100 million in new aid for Lebanon, urges reforms

Biden announces $100 million in new aid for Lebanon, urges reforms
  • The Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Wednesday promised $100 million in additional aid for Lebanon as he pressed the crisis-wracked nation to undergo reforms.
"Today I'm announcing nearly a $100 million in new humanitarian assistance," Biden told a UN-backed donor conference for Lebanon led by France.
"But no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough if Lebanon's leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption," he said.
"It's essential. It has to start now," Biden said. "There's no time to waste. You know it. We are there to help if you do it."
The Biden administration did not immediately specify where the new funding would go but Biden said it was in addition to $560 million in humanitarian assistance devoted to Lebanon over the past two years.
The Lebanon conference comes one year after an explosion at the Beirut port killed at least 214 people, the latest trauma for a nation with an economy in free-fall and without a stable government.
"I send my deepest condolences to all those who were injured and lost loved ones and all those still struggling to recover from this trauma," Biden said.
"We also recognize that the people of Lebanon have suffered more over the past year because of avoidable political and economic crisis."

Meanwhile, thousands of grief-stricken Lebanese marched Wednesday to mark a year since a cataclysmic explosion ravaged Beirut, protesting impunity over the country's worst peacetime disaster at a time when its economy was already in tatters.
Mournful tunes rang out above central Beirut on Wednesday evening, as outraged Lebanese held up angry posters demanding accountability over the disaster.
Sandra Abras, 43, said she had come to pay respect to the victims after she was lucky to survive the explosion, but her home was ravaged in the blast.
"We weren't able to return home for a month and half... We fixed it with our own money," she said, adding she suffered terrible headaches for months after the traumatic event.
Lawyers, doctors in long white coats, engineers and retired army officers also joined in to pay tribute to those who perished in the blast, whose shockwave was felt as far away as Cyprus.
Port workers were buried under gutted grain silos in the explosion, commuters crushed to death and residents lacerated by supersonic shards of glass bled out in their homes.


Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
Updated 04 August 2021

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
  • The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon

JERUSALEM: Rocket fire from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Wednesday prompting retaliatory shelling, the army said, as tensions rise between Israel and arch foe Iran.

“Three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement, adding that one had fallen short of the border.

“In response... artillery forces fired into Lebanese territory.”

Rocket warning sirens sounded in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, the Israeli military said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon.

The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, who have sway in southern Lebanon and advanced rockets.

But small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past, and two rockets were launched at Israel on July 20, causing no damage or injuries. Israel responded to that incident with artillery fire.

 


Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
Updated 04 August 2021

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
  • ‘Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words’

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis returned to work full-time on Wednesday following a colon operation, urging the international community to help a struggling Lebanon.
The 84-year-old took time to bless children and pose for selfies in the Vatican at the weekly general audience one month to the day after the delicate operation, which saw him hospitalized for over a week.
“Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words,” Francis said.
Lebanon was Wednesday marking a year since a cataclysmic explosion ravaged Beirut, killing at least 214 people in its worst peace-time disaster, when the country’s economy was already in tatters.
The spiralling economic crisis has been branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century. Lebanon has also had to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis said he hoped an international conference co-hosted by France and the UN on the day of the anniversary to raise humanitarian aid proves “productive.”
According to the Vatican News portal, the general audience marked the resumption of normal activities for the pope, who underwent planned surgery for inflammation of the colon at Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital on July 4.
Francis, who had previously been in fairly good health, had been taking it easy since the operation although he led the Sunday Angelus prayers both from hospital and from the Vatican window on his return.