Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Updated 14 sec ago

Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
  • Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024

KHARTOUM: Sudanese military leaders said on Wednesday the civilian politicians they share power with had opened the door to a coup attempt by neglecting public welfare while they were consumed by internal squabbles.
A body known as the Sovereign Council has ruled Sudan under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and civilians since the overthrow of Omar Bashir in 2019 but their relationship has remained fractious since then.
Military authorities said on Monday they had detained 21 officers who had attempted to take power in the early hours of the day. The threat appeared to have escalated the tensions between the partners.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia condemned the coup attempt Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Egypt also condemned the coup attempt and stressed its support for its neighbor’s transitional government.
In a statement on its official Facebook page, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry affirmed its support for efforts by Sudan’s government to meet the aspirations of its people at this important stage in the country’s history.
Cairo stressed its keenness to see stability and security in Sudan, and condemned any attempt to obstruct development efforts there.
Speaking at a military graduation in Omdurman, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, accused the civilian politicians of seeking personal gains and forgetting the aims of the revolution.
“The politicians gave an opportunity for the coup because they neglected the citizen and his livelihood and basic services and were occupied with fighting over seats and divvying up positions,” Dagalo said, in unusually strong criticism of the civilian team.
After the coup attempt, civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok reiterated calls to restructure the military and bring its business interests under civilian oversight, a key source of dispute, in a speech that did not emphasize military-civilian unity as he has done previously.
Political parties called on citizens to reject military rule and protect the revolution. Burhan called such statements “unacceptable.”
“Who should they rise to protect the revolution against? From us, the military? We are the ones who are protecting it from them, the ones who want to steal it.”
Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024.
“They are occupied with fighting and yelling and are directing all their arrows at us,” he said.
Both men said they felt their forces were unappreciated.
“The military is met with humiliation and insults day and night, so how can there not be coups,” said Dagalo.


EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Updated 22 min 47 sec ago

EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
  • 400 Iranian-American scholars urge Biden to call for Raisi to stand trial for his role in mass executions
  • Borrell ‘underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks’ at a meeting with Iran’s top diplomat

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday Iran’s top diplomat had assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.
The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.
An EU statement said Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting on Tuesday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement said.
Raisi voiced support on Tuesday in his international debut for reviving the nuclear accord, even as he berated the US.
“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said in a recorded speech to the UN.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he expected a resumption of the talks “in the coming weeks,” without giving an exact date.
The 2015 nuclear agreement offered Iran a reduction of UN sanctions in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, but Tehran has progressively stepped away from its commitments in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal and imposition of sanctions.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to return to the deal, which was negotiated when he was Barack Obama’s vice president and under Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
In a letter to President Biden, ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly, more than 400 Iranian-American scholars urged the president to call for Raisi to stand trial before an international tribunal for his role in the 1988 mass execution of dissidents. Dissidents have zeroed in on his role in a “death commission” that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Iran’s new president slammed US sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first UN address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.
President Ebrahim Raisi delivered a far more critical and blunt take on American foreign policy than his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the UN General Assembly.
“Sanctions are the US’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to “crimes against humanity.”
In taking aim at the US, Raisi also referenced the shocking Jan. 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and the horrific scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US aircraft evacuating people.
“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: The US’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Raisi said.
He said “the project of imposing Westernized identity” had failed, and added erroneously that “today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”


Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 43 sec ago

Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
  • Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

AL-TUHAYTA, Yemen: Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi gives a science lesson to children sprawled across the ground at her home in a remote village in the southern province of Hodeidah.
For these boys and girls, learning at Mahdi’s sun-scorched compound is their only opportunity for an education in the small rural area of Muhib in the Al-Tuhayta district.
She had already been teaching children to read and write before the outbreak of the impoverished country’s devastating war in 2014.
“What pushed me toward teaching was the high rate of ignorance in the village and that children were deprived of an education,” Mahdi told AFP.
With dozens of children to tend to, Mahdi has divided them into three groups based on age, teaching each class for two hours a day.
Other than learning how to read and write, the children also get lessons in maths and science.
But Mahdi said her house, with hundreds of books piled on a single shelf, is not really equipped for teaching. “There is lots of damage from the sun and heat,” she said, wearing an all-black niqab.
Yemen’s war pits the government against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 2,500 schools in the country are unfit for use, with some destroyed and others turned into refugee camps or military facilities.
UNICEF has estimated that 2 million children were without school even before the coronavirus pandemic, a further systemic shock which it warns has likely propelled the number even higher.
“We wouldn’t have been able to read, write or learn if it weren’t for Miss Amina,” one of the pupils, Ibrahim Mohib, told AFP.
His father, Mohammed, said he had no regrets sending his three children to learn at Mahdi’s home.
“They were taught there from the first until the fourth grades, and thank God for (Mahdi) striving to teach them,” he said.
Mahdi said she hopes to get some form of help to teach the children.
“I ask all those who are charitable to bring joy to these children ... and offer aid to establish a real school,” she said. “My small home is not good enough, and it has become a public place where I am no longer comfortable.”


Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
Updated 22 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
  • Saudi Arabia remains the top donor of humanitarian aid to its war-torn neighbor
  • Saudi, Yemeni govts call for pressure on Houthis to choose UN-led political solution to conflict

NEW YORK:  Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU and other nations announced hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of additional humanitarian and development aid for Yemen at a high-level meeting at the UN on Wednesday. 

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, supervisor-general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, announced that Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $90 million in humanitarian aid for war-torn Yemen.

“Over the last six years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided more than $18 billion to support Yemen,” he said. “This year alone, Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen with more than $848 million.” 

The latest pledge means Saudi Arabia is once again the largest donor of aid to Yemen. But “monetary donations alone won’t alleviate the crisis in Yemen,” Al-Rabeeah warned. 

“Unless we work together to end the conflict and minimize the obstructions of aid delivery, the situation will continue to worsen,” he added.

“Ongoing aggression by the Houthi militias against the UN and international NGOs only adds more misery to the Yemeni people.”

Al-Rabeeah expressed the Kingdom’s desire that the international community support its political plan “to put an end to the conflict and bring long-lasting peace to all Yemenis.”

The US promised an additional $290 million in donations for 2021, while the EU announced that it will donate a further €119 million ($139.65 million), which the bloc’s Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said is a “joint humanitarian and development aid pledge.”

She added that “in the immediate term, our support will help families access food and basic commodities,” and that “in the long term, the EU seeks to help Yemen build a bridge from crisis to recover.” In this, she said, “investing in youth and women will play a critical role.”

Canada, Qatar, Sweden and Brazil together pledged additional donations worth over $120 million, some of which will be provided to UN bodies such as the World Food Programme to assist their operations in Yemen.

In total, around $600 million in additional humanitarian funding was announced at the UN meeting.

That money will be used to ensure that food security, sanitation, healthcare and education continues to be delivered to as many Yemenis as possible.

But while the aid provided by the international community will alleviate some of the hardship facing the country’s 29 million people, world leaders repeatedly made clear that a political solution to the conflict is the only way to truly end the humanitarian crisis.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and it was plunged into civil war when the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government in 2015. Since then, famine and conflict have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Yemen’s Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned on Wednesday that “despite the generous contributions of the international community, including the UN-led Humanitarian Response Plan, the humanitarian crisis witnessed by Yemen is still the largest and most urgent in the world.” 

He blamed the Houthis for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, citing their assault on the city of Marib as an example of how they perpetuate the suffering of Yemenis — in this case by preventing the supply of household fuel to people across the country.

“Marib is the main source of household gas in Yemen … The continued brutal attacks by the Houthi militias on Marib exacerbate human suffering,” Bin Mubarak said.

He warned that a continuation of the Marib offensive could force thousands of internally displaced Yemenis who had sought safety in the city to seek refuge overseas.

“All humanitarian efforts provided by the different (UN) agencies won’t end the suffering of the Yemenis unless this war stops,” he said.

“Therefore, I’d like to call upon the international community to exert more effort on the Houthi militias and their supporters to give up the option of war and engage in a peace process that’s led by the UN.”


Tunisian police re-arrest MP hostile to President Saied

A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 35 sec ago

Tunisian police re-arrest MP hostile to President Saied

A member of Tunisian police controls a Libyan citizen driving his car towards the Libyan border, at the border post in Ras Jdir in south-eastern Tunisia. (AFP)
  • Makhlouf and two other Al-Karama MPs are accused of insulting border police who had prevented a woman from flying

TUNIS: Tunisian lawmaker Seifeddine Makhlouf, an outspoken critic of President Kais Saied, has been re-arrested, for “undermining the dignity of the army,” his lawyer told AFP on Wednesday.
Like other MPs, Makhlouf lost his parliamentary immunity when Saied assumed full power on July 25, sacking the prime minister, suspending the assembly and taking control of the prosecution service.
Makhlouf heads Al-Karama, an ultraconservative party allied to the Islamist-inspired Ennahda movement, Saied’s rivals who were previously the strongest party in the legislature.
He was briefly arrested on Sept. 17 on his way to a Tunis military court to appear before an investigating judge.
The MP was already the subject of a warrant issued by military justice on Sept. 2 for a case related to an altercation in March at Tunis airport.
Makhlouf and two other Al-Karama MPs are accused of insulting border police who had prevented a woman from flying.
The latest arrest “is not related to the airport case. It is another judicial file opened against him by the military justice,” said his lawyer Anouar Ouled Ali.
In the latest case, Makhlouf is accused of undermining the army in an exchange with a military official while he was at the military court to support another member of his party, who was being prosecuted in the airport case.
In a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday, the military court of first instance in Tunis said that a judicial enquiry had been opened on Tuesday against Makhlouf, who had “insulted and threatened one of the military judges.”
The lawyer, Ouled Ali, said that “this military prosecution of political opponents is a scandal. What is happening to Seifeddine Makhlouf is the settling of political scores.”