Don’t sacrifice Lebanon in pursuit of nuclear deal with Iran, analysts caution

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Updated 02 July 2021

Don’t sacrifice Lebanon in pursuit of nuclear deal with Iran, analysts caution

Don’t sacrifice Lebanon in pursuit of nuclear deal with Iran, analysts caution
  • International funds to help Lebanese people should go through charitable, international groups not Lebanon’s corrupt government
  • Nations must join US, French effort to help Lebanon, strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces, end violence

A panel of experts warned on Wednesday that Lebanon was facing a growing economic crisis that stemmed from government corruption and that demanded immediate attention from the international community, led by the US.

American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) president, Ed Gabriel, and Lebanese analyst and Arab News Gulf regional manager, Sarah Sfeir, said that once the corruption was addressed, it would be easier to deal with Lebanon’s dire economic crisis and move toward democratic elections next spring.

The analysts said that as the international community moved forward on nuclear negotiations with Iran – which sponsors Hezbollah’s political and military actions – it must ensure that Lebanon was not sacrificed to Iranian interests.

Gabriel said: “We are negotiating with Iran right now. We have got to make sure that Lebanon does not get thrown under the bus. We have a very good relationship with the head of the negotiating team, Rob Malley. He has given us assurances it is not about Lebanon and Lebanon will not be hurt in this process.

“We are all concerned. The negotiations could be about helping Lebanon, not hurting it.

“So, I think that is one thing we have to watch very closely and be suspect of. Yes, they will deal with nuclearization first, but (US Secretary of State) Tony Blinken said the deal has to be longer and stronger. What he meant by that is we have to deal with missile technology in the region as well as terrorism proxies. So, we have to hold them to their word in that regard.”

Gabriel said once the region was secured, the international community must find safe havens for Syrian refugees to be allowed to return to their homes. But the analysts pointed out that regional security depended on the ability to root out corruption in Lebanon’s government.

“I think all roads lead to corruption and bad governance … I would call it No. 1, addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor in Lebanon immediately,” Gabriel added.

“That is medical, that’s food aid. That is over 50 percent poverty rate and almost half of that is the poorest of the poor who can’t even feed themselves. This is a serious issue.

“The World Bank has called Lebanon possibly one of the third worst economic crises since the mid-19th century. That is just amazing. We have got to wake up to what is going on.”

The ATFL head said that Lebanon’s government must “step aside” to end the corruption and bring about a reform that would energize world support and he added that curbing Hezbollah could only come through continuing to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces.

“We have got to get this government to step aside in favor of a reformist government. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is ready and willing to engage in a multi-billion (dollars) job to fix Lebanon as quickly as possible.

“But they have to have someone they can talk to and trust. And the international community is not going to blink first. They are not going to say OK, let’s talk to these guys. They are firm in saying we had it with you. We want a government that addresses the needs of the people.”

Gabriel noted that the ATFL had praised the June 25 announcement by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Blinken to jointly bring pressure on Lebanese leaders to take actions to relieve the country’s multiple crises.

In a joint statement, Le Drian said: “We have decided to act together to put pressure on those responsible. We know who they are.” And Blinken said: “We need to see real leadership in Beirut.”

Gabriel and Sfeir said the US must play a leadership role with other foreign countries to achieve a common plan to help Lebanon, increase humanitarian aid through nonprofit organizations so the money was not lost to the corrupt government, and continue to support and strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces as a counterforce to Hezbollah.

Sfeir said: “Lebanon faces so many challenges on different levels. We have health sector challenges. We have the educational sector challenges with doctors and teachers fleeing the country. We have economic challenges.

“But what I want to highlight is that all these challenges have one root. It is the political challenge we are facing. Because once we fix the political issue that we have, I guess it would be easy to implement the reforms and fix all the other challenges. We can address technically all the other challenges easily. It is just about having people who want to work for the country, not with foreign agendas.”

Gabriel and Sfeir pointed out that if corruption could be eliminated, Lebanon would see more financial support from the international community as well as easing of the country’s economic turmoil. It would also help reduce tensions in the region and have a chain reaction to result in improvements in Syria and Yemen.

But Sfeir noted that the majority of aid sent into Lebanon had gone to government supporters, “not to the people in need.”

She added: “Today it is really tough to live in Lebanon. We elected people to save us, to do reform. Unfortunately, they became the problem. Now we face a ruling class that won’t give up shares for the people.”

Sfeir said money needed to go directly to the people, not through Lebanon’s government.

“I take this opportunity to thank Saudi Arabia for sending humanitarian aid through the King Salman relief center (KSrelief). They gave it to the people personally. It didn’t go to the government otherwise it wouldn’t have reached the needy,” Sfeir added.

Gabriel said: “It’s a shame. Think about it. These people were supposedly elected to take care of the people of Lebanon, but they only seem to care about their own selves.”

Gabriel and Sfeir made their comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” broadcast live in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington, D.C. on WDMV AM 700. The show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews.

For more information on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.


Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
  • Shoukry highlights Cairo’s aspiration for continued cooperation with Libya to promote regional stability

CAIRO: Egypt says it trusts the wisdom and ability of the Tunisian presidency to overcome the current crisis as soon as possible.

It also expressed its full solidarity with the Tunisian people and their legitimate aspirations, according to a spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson stressed the need to avoid escalation and refrain from violence against state institutions, praising the role of the latter in maintaining the security and stability of the country.

“We are following with great interest what is happening in Tunisia and what the authorities are doing there to achieve the security, stability and sovereignty of the country,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

“We fully trust the wisdom of the political leadership in Tunisia and its ability to manage the situation to achieve the aspirations of its people,” he added.

Lamamra, for his part, stressed that “what is happening in Tunisia is an internal matter,” adding that Algeria stood in solidarity with the country.

Shoukry also spoke on the situation in Libya. The Egyptian foreign minister said that the opening of the coastal road in Libya was a good sign of dialogue and reconciliation and would enhance the chances of the elections’ success, putting Libya on the right path to restore its stability, eliminate the terrorist threat and work with neighboring countries Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad.

“We need cooperation between these countries in the region due to the turmoil and challenges it is witnessing,” Shoukry said, adding that every positive step taken would find support and sympathy from Egypt, Algeria and the rest of the neighboring countries.

Shoukry spoke on the importance of restoring stability to Libya for the benefit of both the Libyan people and the other countries in the region.

He also stressed the need for foreign forces to exit Libyan land and for the issue of militias to be dealt with.

The Algerian minister said that the relations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were going through a delicate stage and that it was important to reach an agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Lamamra expressed his hope that Algeria would be part of the solution, stressing that the issue of the GERD was of global importance and ought to receive the attention of the international community.


At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
Updated 01 August 2021

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
  • Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters
  • Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of Houthi fighters in Yemen have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Jouf and Al-Bayda, army officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.
At least 40 Houthis were killed on Saturday and Sunday in Rahabah district, south of Marib city, when government troops pushed back their assault in mountainous areas in the district, Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen Army’s military media, told Arab News.
The Yemeni military official said that the army and allied tribesmen, backed air support from the Arab coalition, mounted a counteroffensive in the district and managed to seize control of a mountain and weapons left behind by Houthi fighters.
Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters and weapons heading to the battlefields.
Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib province.
By expelling the Houthis from Al-Abzakh mountain, loyalists would have control over a large swathe of land south of Marib and would effectively push away the Houthi threat to Marib city from the south.
Despite their losses in the south, the Houthis continued to aggressively attack government forces in areas west of Marib city, local media said.
The Houthis mounted attacks on government forces in the Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara regions, but failed to make any territorial gains.
Thousands of people have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a major offensive to control the strategic city of Marib.
Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.
In the neighboring Jouf province, state media quoted Brig. Mohammed Al-Hajji, an army commander, as saying that army troops and tribesmen on Sunday repulsed a Houthi offensive on government-controlled locations in Al-Jadafer, east of Jouf province, and adding that the rebels were forced to retreat after suffering “heavy” losses.
Fighting also occurred in borders between Lahj and Al-Bayda provinces where the Houthis attacked an area controlled by forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council.
Local media said that a government soldier and several Houthis were killed during the failed Houthi attack in the Senah area of Lahj province. Tribesmen on Sunday attacked the Houthi areas in Al-Souma district, west of Al-Bayda province.
Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases continue to fluctuate across government-controlled provinces in Yemen, with the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday recording nine new cases and one death, compared with three new cases and zero deaths on Saturday.
On Friday, the committee announced the recording of 16 new cases and one death.
The total number of confirmed cases in liberated areas is 7,070, including 1,377 deaths and 4,200 recoveries. Local health officials believe that the surging numbers of cases might represent a new wave of the pandemic.
“The epidemiological situation is worrying, as cases have begun to surge,” Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News by telephone.


Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices

CAIRO: The first 10 million doses of Egypt’s coronavirus vaccine Vaccera Sinovac will be distributed in mid-August to more than 500 centers nationwide, the Ministry of Health and Population has announced.

People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices, said Health and Population Minister Hala Zayed.

The certificates are accredited and insured, and carry a unique QR code that will contain the holder’s data, photo and vaccination status, she added.

The ministry is also finalizing an Egyptian Health Passport app to be used in airports.

Zayed stressed the need to continue adhering to the required precautionary and preventative measures, and to stay away from large gatherings.