Angry relatives of Beirut blast victims attempt to storm minister’s residence

Relatives of people who were killed in last year's massive blast at Beirut's seaport, push a gate as they try to storm the home of caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (AP)
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Relatives of people who were killed in last year's massive blast at Beirut's seaport, push a gate as they try to storm the home of caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (AP)
Angry relatives of Beirut blast victims attempt to storm minister’s residence
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A woman whose brother was killed during last year's massive blast at Beirut's seaport, holds his portrait as she chants slogans during a protest outside caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi’s home in Beirut Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 15 July 2021

Angry relatives of Beirut blast victims attempt to storm minister’s residence

Relatives of people who were killed in last year's massive blast at Beirut's seaport, push a gate as they try to storm the home of caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (AP)
  • Coffins thrown over fence as protesters continue to demand officials blamed for port explosion be stripped of immunity from prosecution
  • Victims' families are charging that political interference has derailed the process

BEIRUT: Hundreds of relatives of people who died last year in the explosion at Beirut’s port threw coffins over the fence at the residence of caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmy on Tuesday evening, as they attempted to storm the building.

They were protesting against his refusal to lift the immunity granted to Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the General Security, who is a suspect in the investigation into the Aug. 4 blast.

Families of the victims are putting pressure on the authorities to rescind the immunity enjoyed by former ministers, current lawmakers and senior security officials who are accused by Judge Tarek Bitar, the judicial investigator in the case, of contributing to the disaster.

The families are preparing to mark the first anniversary of the explosion, which claimed the lives of 215 people, injured more 6,000, and destroyed Beirut’s waterfront along with large sections of neighboring residential areas. Judicial investigations into the case are continuing and have not yet reached the stage of issuing indictments.

The protesters carried coffins, symbolizing those of their children and other relatives, as they marched toward Fahmy’s residence in Beirut, where the Internal Security Forces were waiting.

Women dressed in black wept and shouted for the suspects in the case to be stripped of their immunity from prosecution. Men who lost their children in the explosion warned that Fahmy will be considered a terrorist if he fails to do so. “Woe betide you if you do not lift immunity,” they chanted.

The protest escalated into a confrontation with the security forces as the protesters tried to storm the residence and threw the coffins over its fence.

The women managed to reach the entrance to the building, where they were confronted by security forces. The protesters shouted insults directed at those responsible for the situation that led to the blast, which was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port since 2014 without proper safety precautions. The explosion has been ranked as one of the most powerful non-nuclear blasts in history.

The families of the victims, who also threw stones and tomatoes at the building, said they would end their protests when Fahmy lifts immunity from the suspects. They also urged the security forces “not to defend the officials who starved them.”

Some protesters spray-painted “$50” on shields carried by members of the security forces, saying: “This is what the value of your salaries has become because of these killers. Do not defend them; stand with us.”

The confrontation continued for more than three hours. Protesters eventually smashed glass at the building’s entrance, and riot police responded with tear gas canisters.

Families of the blast victims have been protesting daily outside of the homes of officials whose actions are blamed for the explosion, in an attempt to ensure that they appear in court to answer the charges. In the past few days they have protested at the residences of former ministers Nohad El-Machnouk and Ghazi Zaiter, and in front of parliament. A number of protesters and members of the security forces have been injured in the confrontations that ensued, and in a couple of cases people fainted as a result of exposure to tear gas.

Meanwhile, Judge Bitar refused to provide politicians with any additional documents relating to Al-Machnouk, Zaiter and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil. Parliamentary authorities had demanded additional evidence from the judge before making a decision on the request to lift immunity.

Bitar was quoted as saying that he “is not obligated to submit any additional documents, because this would violate the confidentiality of the investigation.”

He has charged politicians and security officials, including Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the director-general of State Security, with a misdemeanor charge of negligence and a felony charge of possible intent to kill because they knew that explosive materials were being stored at the port in an unsafe manner but failed to act on that knowledge.

 


Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

Biden in UN call for independent Palestine
Updated 12 sec ago

Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

Biden in UN call for independent Palestine
  • “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,”

NEW YORK: A sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the best way to ensure Israel’s future, US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said on the opening day of the UN General Assembly.
“I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.” Biden repeated his promise to return to the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, provided Tehran did the same. Talks on the issue are deadlocked over who takes the first step.
The world faced a “decisive decade,” Biden said, in which leaders must work together to combat a raging coronavirus pandemic, global climate change and cyber threats. He said the US would double its financial commitment on climate aid and spend $10 billion to fight hunger.
Earlier, Antonio Guterres, who begins a second five-year term as secretary-general on Jan. 1, warned of the dangers of the growing gap between China and the US, the world’s largest economies.
“I fear our world is creeping toward two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence — and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies,” Guterres said.
“This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War.”


Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll
Updated 22 September 2021

Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll
  • International community still views him as a crucial partner in peace process

JERUSALEM: A new poll has found that nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, reflecting widespread anger over the death of an activist in security forces’ custody and a crackdown on protests over the summer.

The survey released Tuesday found support for Abbas’ Hamas rivals remained high months after the 11-day Gaza war in May, when the Islamic militant group was widely seen by Palestinians as having scored a victory against a far more powerful Israel while the Western-backed Abbas was sidelined.

The latest poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 45 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas should lead and represent them, while only 19 percent said Abbas’ secular Fatah deserved that role, showing only a slight shift in favor of Fatah over the last three months.

“This is the worst polling we’ve ever seen for the president,” said Khalil Shikaki, the head of the center, who has been surveying Palestinian public opinion for more than two decades. “He has never been in as bad a position as today.”

Despite his plummeting popularity and refusal to hold elections, the international community still views the 85-year-old Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian cause and a crucial partner in the peace process with Israel, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.

His Palestinian Authority administers parts of the occupied West Bank under interim agreements signed with Israel at the height of the peace process in the 1990s. Hamas drove Abbas’ forces out of Gaza when it seized power there in 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections.

Abbas’ latest woes began in April, when he called off the first Palestinian elections in 15 years as Fatah appeared to be headed for another embarrassing loss. Hamas’ popularity soared the following month amid protests in Jerusalem and the Gaza war, as many Palestinians accused the PA of doing nothing to aid their struggle against Israeli occupation.

The death of Nizar Banat, a harsh critic of the PA who died after being beaten by Palestinian security forces during a late-night arrest in June, ignited protests in the occupied West Bank calling on Abbas to resign.

His security forces launched a crackdown in response, beating and arresting several demonstrators.

The poll found that 78 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign and just 19 percent think he should remain in office.

It found that 63 percent of Palestinians think Banat was killed on the orders of PA political or security leaders, with only 22 percent believing it was a mistake. The PA recently announced that 14 security officials who took part in the arrest will stand trial. Sixty-nine percent of those polled felt that was an insufficient response.

Sixty-three percent of Palestinians support the demonstrations that broke out after Banat’s death, and 74 percent believe the PA’s arrest of demonstrators was a violation of liberties and civil rights, the poll found.

The PCPSR says it surveyed 1,270 Palestinians face-to-face in the West Bank and Gaza, with a margin of error of three percentage points.


Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

Saied vows new electoral code, transition team
Updated 22 September 2021

Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

Saied vows new electoral code, transition team
  • The North African nation was widely seen as a model for budding democracies but has failed to cure chronic unemployment

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president has announced plans to draft a new electoral code and appoint a transitional leadership — and to hang on to the exceptional powers that he seized in July.

President Kais Saied promised that the new initiatives would respect Tunisians’ hard-fought rights and freedoms and democratic constitution. While many Tunisians welcome his moves, human rights groups and some others are concerned about the future of the only country to emerge from the turbulent Arab Spring uprisings with a new democratic system.

Saied spoke to supporters in the impoverished town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, where many people are disillusioned with the country’s failure to solve economic and social problems since overthrowing its repressive leaders a decade ago.

He defended his July 25 decision to suspend parliament, fire the prime minister and seize executive powers, which he said was needed to save the country amid unrest over financial troubles and the government’s handling of Tunisia’s coronavirus crisis. He invoked a special constitutional article allowing such measures in the event of imminent danger to the nation, and said they would be in place for 30 days. But they have been extended until further notice.

“Danger still hangs over the country and I cannot leave it like a puppet in the hands of those who act in the shadows, and of corrupt people,” Saied said. He accused unidentified players of “conspiring to cause chaos and confusion” in Tunisia, and said, “There is no question of going back.”

He promised a new electoral code to hold lawmakers more accountable to constituents, and transitional arrangements to run the country before he names a new prime minister. He did not detail them.


Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government
Updated 21 September 2021

Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government
  • Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its "Iron Dome"
  • That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel

WASHINGTON: Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday removed $1 billion in military funding for Israel from legislation to fund the US government after objections from House of Representatives liberals, setting the stage for a potential fight over the matter later this year.
Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its “Iron Dome” missile-defense system.
The US company Raytheon produces many Iron Dome components.
The House is debating legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 3 and raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The dispute forced the House Rules Committee to adjourn briefly before leaders of the Appropriations Committee pledged that funding for the Israeli system would be included in a defense spending bill later this year. That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel.
Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman said House members had not been given enough time to consider the matter.
“The problem is leadership (will) just throw something on our table, give us about five minutes to decide what we’re going to do and then tries to move forward with it,” Bowman told reporters.
The United States has already provided more than $1.6 billion for Israel to develop and build the Iron Dome system, according to a US Congressional Research Service report last year. This reflects perennially strong support for aid to Israel among both Democrats and Republicans.
Some liberal Democrats objected to that policy this year, citing Palestinian casualties as Israel struck back after Hamas rocket attacks in May. Israel said most of the 4,350 rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict were blown out of the sky by Iron Dome interceptors.


US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq
Updated 22 September 2021

US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

WASHINGTON: The US will formally return an illegally imported 3,500-year-old tablet recounting the epic of Gilgamesh to Iraq this week, the UNs’ cultural body UNESCO has announced.

The ancient tablet, which a wealthy US collector had acquired along with other Iraqi artifacts to display in the Washington Museum of the Bible, will be handed over to Iraqi officials at the Smithsonian Institution on Sept. 23.

UNESCO called the repatriation of the tablet, along with 17,000 other artifacts sent back to Iraq in July, “a significant victory in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.”

“The theft and illicit trafficking of ancient artefacts continues to be a key funding source for terrorist groups and other organized criminal organizations,” the Paris-based agency said in a statement.

It said that when the terrorist organization Daesh controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria over 2014-2019, Iraqi archaeological sites and museums were systematically looted.

The rare fragment, which recounts a dream sequence from the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian cuneiform script, is one of many ancient artifacts from Iraq and the Middle East collected by David Green, the billionaire owner of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.

It was seized by the US Justice Department in 2019, two years after Green opened the museum dedicated to ancient Christian history in downtown Washington.