Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon

Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon
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Members of the Christian rightwing Lebanese Forces group attack a car carrying Syrian voters before heading to the Syrian embassy to vote, in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP)
 Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
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Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
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Updated 21 May 2021

Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon

 Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon proclaiming support for the Assad regime face off against angry Lebanese in street fights
  • Former minister Richard Kouyoumdjian tells pro-Assad voters ‘You are opportunists and you are not displaced’

BEIRUT: Calls for Syrians in Lebanon to return to their country have become a deeply divisive politicized issue over the decade-long civil war in Syria, one which has recently been exacerbated by the upcoming election in Syria.

On Thursday, groups of angry Lebanese beat up Syrian expatriates and refugees heading to the Syrian embassy to cast their votes for next Wednesday's election, and threw stones at their vehicles, outraged over what they perceive as an organized vote for Assad. There have been rumors that Hezbollah organized transport for voters from across Lebanon to the embassy.

Assad is running for a fourth term, facing symbolic competition from two other candidates in a vote that is all but guaranteed to see him continue as president.

The Syrian opposition — as well as many Western and Arab countries — see the election as a sham designed to give Assad’s reign a veneer of legitimacy. The election also violates UN resolutions that call for a new constitution before a presidential vote.

Lebanon hosts 865,531 registered Syrian refugees, and there are several hundred thousand Syrians residing in Lebanon with their families as daily or seasonal workers.

Syrians in Lebanon include regime supporters and opposition figures who fled to Lebanon because of the war. Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis and is calling for Syrian refugees to return to their country because of the high cost of hosting them.

The roads leading to the embassy area in Yarzeh were congested with cars and buses loaded with voters since early Thursday morning. Many chanted slogans in support of Assad and the regime army, waving Syrian flags and carrying pictures of Assad. They confirmed to the media before and after the polls that they had voted for Assad.

Many Lebanese people reacted angrily to this. Members of the Lebanese Forces party went to the coastal highway that connects northern Lebanon with Beirut, and blocked cars carrying pictures of Assad, or Syrian flags, or banners for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) — an ally of the Syrian regime, smashed car windows, and assaulted their occupants.

FASTFACT

The roads leading to the Syrian Embassy area in Lebanon were congested with cars and buses loaded with voters since early Thursday morning. Many chanted slogans in support of Bashar Assad.

They told the media: “They are loyal to Assad, so why are they still in Lebanon as refugees?”

Members of the Lebanese Forces party also said that Assad-supporting Syrians should have their refugee status removed.

Similar scenes took place in Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood, where young Lebanese men chased a car displaying the Syrian flag. The Lebanese army intervened to separate the two sides.

Fifty-four-year-old Mohsen Saleh Al-Ahmad died while traveling by bus from Chtaura, Bekaa, to the embassy. According to official preliminary investigations, he had a heart attack.

Since Thursday morning’s events, the army has tightened security in and around the Syrian Embassy, which is located in the vicinity of the Ministry of Defense and the Army Command, and on the roads leading to it.

But further clashes broke out in the afternoon, this time instigated by Syrians, who reportedly got off the buses transporting them along the coastal road near Nahr Al-Kalb and proceeded to assault passers-by and throw stones at cars, injuring several people, including journalists from MTV.

Some Lebanese politicians were quick to condemn the actions of pro-Assad Syrian voters.

Former minister May Chidiac said: “They claim to be displaced and are calling on the international community to support them with fresh dollars while they are an additional burden on Lebanon’s overstretched economy! At the doors of the Syrian embassy, ​​they are chanting for Bashar Assad. As long as you are not threatened, go back to where you came from.”

Another former minister, Richard Kouyoumdjian, said: “Swear allegiance to Bashar Assad in your country, not in ours. You are opportunists and you are not displaced.”

But former Hezbollah MP Nawar Al-Sahili described attacks on Syrian voters as demonstrating “racism and a lack of integrity.”

Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali said those attacks were “painful, and we refer (them) to the concerned authorities” and called on Lebanon “to cooperate to find quick exits for the return of the Syrians to their country.”

The Syrian diplomat said that the large number of voters “reflects the desire of Syrian people to return to a safety that they have not found outside Syria.”

Lisa Abu Khaled, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Arab News: “The UNHCR has received reports of incidents involving pressure, threats, and harassment affecting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in relation to the Syrian presidential elections. The reported incidents range from confiscation of documents to threats of physical harm.”

She added: “Voting is a personal choice and is not linked to refugee status, nor to a person’s need for international protection. Voting will not lead to the loss of refugee status. The UNHCR has received reports of intimidation and pressure, which may have pushed a number of refugees to participate in the elections.

“The UNHCR is a non-political humanitarian organization, and therefore does not play any role in the Syrian elections,” she continued. “That said, if and when incidents of threats and pressure are reported by refugees, we work with the concerned stakeholders in Lebanon to ensure that refugees continue to be protected in Lebanon.”

Not all Syrian refugees in Lebanon exercised their right to vote. Abu Ahmad, a camp supervisor in a refugee camp in Arsal, told Arab News: “Most people are not interested. There may be some who voted at the embassy, ​​but they do not (symbolize) a collective conviction. Refugees are frustrated and cannot forget their suffering and the horrors they experienced during their displacement.

“What has changed now? How can Assad be re-elected? On what basis? People were hoping for some change to happen, but what is happening is the polishing of the image of Bashar Assad in front of the international community,” he continued. “Maintaining my strength today is more beneficial than wasting my time in front of the ballot box. Here, I feel safe even though I am homeless.”

Caretaker Social Affairs and Tourism Minister Ramzi Musharrafieh, who visited Syria a few weeks ago and discussed the return of refugees, denounced “all the infringements that have occurred and are unjustified,” and said that “protecting (Syrian voters) is our priority.”

Former MP Khaled Al-Daher, who has been a major advocate for Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the past, said on Thursday: “Anyone who wants to elect Bashar Assad from among the refugees in Lebanon will not have refugee status and must leave the Lebanese territories because they have no problem with the Syrian regime, but are in Lebanon for specific goals and objectives.”


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 9 min 8 sec ago

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 19 min 19 sec ago

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 9 sec ago

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”