EU foreign policy chief Borrell to return to Beirut to discuss crisis

European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell addresses a joint press at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 12, 2021. (AFP)
1 / 4
European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell addresses a joint press at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 12, 2021. (AFP)
The three ambassadors during their meeting in Beirut on Monday. (Supplied)
2 / 4
The three ambassadors during their meeting in Beirut on Monday. (Supplied)
Protesters in the southern town of Anout demanded an intensive care room for young patients in the area. (Supplied)
3 / 4
Protesters in the southern town of Anout demanded an intensive care room for young patients in the area. (Supplied)
EU foreign policy chief Borrell to return to Beirut to discuss crisis
4 / 4
Truck drivers in Sidon blocked the road at the Awali Bridge — the only entrance to southern Lebanon — as part of their protests. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 13 July 2021

EU foreign policy chief Borrell to return to Beirut to discuss crisis

European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell addresses a joint press at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 12, 2021. (AFP)
  • Saudi-US-French diplomatic consultations continue to help Lebanon
  • Central Bank vows to maintain mandatory gold reserve

BEIRUT: The EU’s foreign policy representative, Josep Borrell, is expected to visit Lebanon on Tuesday and meet officials.

Borrell said that “the situation in Lebanon has not improved” since his last visit to the country three weeks ago.

On Monday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council discussed the Lebanese crisis.

German news agency DPA said that the council might officially approve the adoption of sanctions against Lebanese officials considered to be undermining democracy in the country.

But the agency added that EU diplomats “are divided over the possibility of adopting sanctions, as a result of many outstanding technical and judicial points.”

Meanwhile, a diplomatic meeting was held in Beirut between the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Abdullah Al-Bukhari, US Ambassador Dorothy Shea and French Ambassador Anne Grillo.

The meeting at the Saudi Embassy comes days after meetings between the US and French envoys in Riyadh with Saudi officials to develop a joint action plan for humanitarian and food assistance to Lebanon.

The US and France are seeking to motivate the provision of aid to Lebanon to protect stability and the Lebanese Army, in light of two separate statements issued last week by the American and French embassies in Lebanon.

The diplomatic efforts have ramped up amid the acceleration of the economic collapse in Lebanon and the fear that the situation could descend into chaos.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan discussed the crisis last month in Italy on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Matera, Italy.

Blinken tweeted: “Important discussion with my Saudi and French counterparts, @FaisalbinFarhan and @JY_LeDrian, regarding the need for Lebanon’s political leaders to show real leadership by implementing overdue reforms to stabilize the economy and provide the Lebanese people much-needed relief.”

In a statement issued after the tripartite meeting, the Saudi Embassy said that the discussions “focused on the most prominent political developments taking place in the Lebanese and regional arenas, in addition to issues of common interest.”

The US Embassy tweeted that the diplomatic consultations focused on​ “the dire economic situation in Lebanon and how to most effectively support the Lebanese people.”




Supporters of families who had relatives killed in last year’s blast at Beirut’s port, take part in a protest in support of legal action, near the blast scene on Monday. (AP)

The talks took place as the Banque du Liban (BDL) denied rumors that the central bank’s governor, Riad Salameh, had disposed of the bank’s gold.

The BDL reassured that “Lebanon’s gold is fine, untouched, and will not be touched.”

The bank added that the gold “is not subject to any pawn or pledge, as some may dream, intending to continue to drown Lebanon and harness what the country still owns for goals that harm Lebanon and do not serve its interests at all.”

The BDL stressed that it “will also maintain the mandatory reserve.”

It said “the solution to reviving the Lebanese economy is for political officials to assume their responsibilities in forming a new government that will implement the required reforms and restore confidence internally and externally.”

Lebanon is witnessing the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

The national currency lost more than 95 percent of its value against the dollar, which touched LBP 20,000.

This has resulted in the loss of purchasing power and to problems that extend to the loss of electricity, medicine, fuel and foodstuff, for which subsidies are being lifted because of the scarcity of foreign currencies.

The Health Ministry has meanwhile announced an investigation into the death of a baby girl whose family said she was unable to access proper treatment amid Lebanon’s severe medical shortages.

Juri Al-Sayed died on Sunday aged just 9-months-old in the southern town of Anout from pneumonia. It was alleged that the hospital lacked the medicines required to treat the infection. She suffered from very high temperature. Baby Juri was transferred to a hospital that lacked the requisite paediatric care.

The tragedy constituted a new source of simmering anger among the Lebanese.

On Sunday and Monday, many activists, including doctors, announced on social media their intention to emigrate “because the state is killing its own people.”

Hamad Hassan, the health minister in the caretaker government, met with a delegation from the Syndicate of Pharmaceutical Importers and owners of drugstores in Lebanon.

A member of the syndicate’s board of directors, Marwan Hakim, said: “The importers suffer from financial technical problems related to the transfers that the BDL must issue to companies abroad, as these transfers have stopped since May 7.”

Hakim said: “If the problems are not resolved, there will be no medicine left in Lebanon.”

Pharmacies returned to work on Monday after an open strike that lasted for days despite not achieving their goal of an improved availability of medicine in pharmacies.

A statement from their group said pharmacists might strike again if the health minister did not meet the commitments.

It added that the pharmacists were awaiting the minister’s “fulfillment of his pledge to issue detailed regulations for medicines based on the agreement between the ministry and the BDL.”

This agreement is expected to allow importers to release and distribute medicines to pharmacies, especially those that treat chronic diseases, inflammatory medicines and pain relievers.

 


Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
Updated 37 min 38 sec ago

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
  • El-Sawy hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services
  • The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya

CAIRO: Egypt and Libya have pledged to improve cooperation in investigations into terrorism, misappropriation of public funds, petroleum smuggling and the recovery of antiquities and cultural property.
Hamada El-Sawy, Egypt’s attorney general, and his Libyan counterpart, Al-Siddiq Al-Sour, signed a memorandum of understanding on the issue after discussing bilateral cooperation on Friday.
The two officials pledged to use their ties to combat organized crime, corruption, human trafficking and cybercrime based on existing treaties in force in the two countries.
El-Sawy welcomed the Libyan delegation headed by Al-Sour, and hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services.
The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya, pointing to the creation of mechanisms for direct communication between the two sides.
An adviser to Al-Sour thanked his Egyptian counterpart for the invitation to visit the country and experience technical presentations, which generated great interest among the Libyan officials.
Al-Sour said that Libya and Egypt are “united through history, geography and deep-rooted ties,” noting the Libyan public prosecution’s keenness on “serious and effective cooperation” with its Egyptian counterpart.
The Libyan public prosecutor stressed the need to put in place “new mechanisms and patterns” to ensure close cooperation between the two prosecutions, and preserve evidence and confidentiality in investigations.


Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue
Updated 33 min 52 sec ago

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue
  • Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the hot summer months but local authorities say the latest fires have covered a much bigger area
  • Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a total of 98 fires had broken out in the past four days

MANAVGAT: Days after a raging wildfire in southern Turkey drove his family from the home they lived in for four decades, Mehmet Demir returned on Saturday to discover a burnt-out building, charred belongings and ashes.
Bedsprings, a ladder, metal chairs and some kitchenware were the only things left identifiable after some of the worst fires in years tore through the region, with several still burning four days after they erupted on Wednesday.
Demir’s home, near the coastal Mediterranean town of Manavgat, not far from the popular tourist resort Antalya, was hit by one of almost 100 fires which officials say erupted this week across southern and western Turkey, where sweltering heat and strong winds fanned the flames.
“The blaze spread through the highlands and raged suddenly,” Demir told Reuters as he looked around the wreckage of his home, built in 1982. “We had to flee to the center of Manavgat. Then we came back to find the house like this.”
“This was our (only) saving for the past 39-40 years. We are now left with the clothes we are wearing, me and my wife. There is nothing to do. This is when words fail.”
The death toll from the fires rose to six on Saturday, as two firefighting personnel died during efforts to control the fire in Manavgat, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
Satellite imagery showed smoke from the fires in Antalya and Mersin was extending to the island of Cyprus, around 150 km (100 miles) away.
Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the hot summer months but local authorities say the latest fires have covered a much bigger area.
With deadly heatwaves, flooding and wildfires occurring around the world, calls are growing for urgent action to cut the CO2 emissions heating the planet.
Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a total of 98 fires had broken out in the past four days, of which 88 were under control.
Fires continued in southern coastal provinces of Adana, Osmaniye, Antalya, Mersin and the western coastal province of Mugla, a popular resort region for Turks and foreign tourists, where some hotels have been evacuated this week.
Weather forecasts point to heatwaves along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions, with temperatures expected to rise by 4 to 8 degrees Celsius over their seasonal average, Turkish meteorological authorities say.
They are forecast to reach 43 to 47 degrees Celsius in the coming days in Antalya, the main province of Manavgat.
“The weather is extremely hot and dry. This contributes to start of fires. Our smallest mistake leads to a great disaster,” Turkish climate scientist Levent Kurnaz said on Twitter.


UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
Updated 31 July 2021

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
  • Israeli FM blames Iran for drone attack off Oman coast
  • UK govt spokesman: “Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law”

LONDON: Israel has told the UK to “respond severely” after a British citizen was killed in a drone attack on a ship in the Arabian Gulf.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Iran for the attack which, US officials say, saw several drones laden with explosives flown into the Mercer Street tanker, one of which hit the crew’s living quarters.
The assault on the vessel, operated by Israeli-owned firm Zodiac Maritime, occurred off the coast of Oman on Friday, killing the Briton — who is thought to have been working as a security guard on board — and a Romanian citizen.
The UK government has yet to comment on who it believes is responsible for the attack, or to identify the deceased.
“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of a British national who has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman,” a UK government spokesman said.
“Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We are working with our international partners to urgently establish the facts.”
Tensions between Iran and Israel have escalated in recent months amid talks between Tehran and Western nations in Vienna to reignite the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Israel is thought to be behind a series of strikes on Iran’s infrastructure relating to its uranium enrichment program.
Both sides are believed to have launched cyberattacks against each other and targeted their respective maritime links, including ships and ports.
“Iran is spreading violence and destruction in every corner of the region,” an Israeli official told the Daily Telegraph. “Due to its enthusiasm for attacking an Israeli target, they have gotten themselves tangled up and have incriminated themselves by killing foreign citizens.”
Iranian news network Al-Alam claimed that the attack on the Mercer Street was retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian targets last week that killed two “resistance fighters.” Tehran, though, has yet to comment on Lapid’s accusation.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the US Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: “It would be no surprise to me that Iran would use a drone to carry out its tit-for-tat against Israel and maritime vessels. Iran has shown a gradual escalation in (the) maritime domain.”
He added: “This sort of tit-for-tat escalation is going to continue and Iran is likely to step up these attacks ... to signal that it will not take any cyber sabotage against it lying down.”


Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
Updated 31 July 2021

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing for international action against Iran over a deadly attack on a ship managed by an Israeli billionaire, branding Tehran an “exporter of terrorism” after the likely drone strike.
The MT Mercer Street tanker was struck Thursday in the northern Indian Ocean, killing two crew members, in what the United States said was a drone-style attack.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the strike, but maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said “this latest attack has the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”
On Friday Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”
“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all,” he said.
“We must never remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism, which also harms freedom of navigation,” Lapid added.
Lapid said he had also spoken to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”
Zodiac Maritime, the tanker’s London-based operator owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, said a Romanian national also died in the attack.
The Mercer Street, an oil products tanker, was traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.


The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.
Israeli retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom said the attack appeared to copy elements of a reported Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.
Israel, Brom told AFP, “started developing drones and is among the first (countries) to develop the concept of a kamikaze.
“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques,” said Brom, now a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Iran’s strike marked “a certain escalation” but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said.
“They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation,” Brom added.
In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.
But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.


Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.
A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.
By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.
The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.
Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.


Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest
Updated 31 July 2021

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

TUNIS: A Tunisian judge who has been accused by human rights groups of hiding terrorism-related files has been placed under house arrest for 40 days, local radio and a security source said on Saturday.
The move against Judge Bechir Akremi came after President Kais Saied pledged to lead a campaign against corruption in all sectors, following his dismissal this week of the prime minister and freezing of parliament.
Right activists in Tunisia see Akremi as symbolizing corruption in the judiciary, saying he is close to the Ennahda moderate Islamist party, the biggest party in parliament.
Lawyers and secular parties said files he allegedly hid include those related to the assassination of two secular leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013, which led to massive protests at the time that ended with the overthrow of the government.
Akremi has not commented on these accusations and was not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
Ennahda rejects accusations that it has ties to the judge or that it has interfered in judicial files.
Tunisia has been thrust into a political crisis by Saied's action on Sunday. Ennahda and other major parties have accused the president of a coup, which he denies.