International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million
People put a banner on a building as Lebanon marks one-year anniversary of Beirut port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 August 2021

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million

International conference on Lebanon raises over $357 million
  • The Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people
  • About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference

SAULIEU, France: The French presidency said an international conference on Lebanon has gathered over $357 million in aid required to meet the country’s humanitarian needs, one year after the massive explosion at Beirut’s port.
Wednesday’s virtual conference, co-hosted by France and the United Nations, was meant to show support for the Lebanese people, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
France will provide 100 million euros ($118.6 million) in the coming months, Macron said. Paris will also send 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the country.
President Joe Biden, who addressed the conference in a video message, pledged to give $100 million in new humanitarian assistance.
About 40 heads of state and government, diplomats and heads of international organizations have taken part in the conference, according to Macron’s office. Participants included Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and European Council President Charles Michel.
Lebanon’s current humanitarian needs have been estimated by the UN to be at least $357 million. Aid will focus on food, schools, the health sector and clean water supply, Macron’s office said.
Wednesday’s event was also meant to mount pressure on Lebanese leaders to form a new government able to implement reforms and start rebuilding the country.
Lebanon is going through the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.
Biden said that “no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough, if Lebanon’s own leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption. That’s essential, and has to start now.”
Lebanese politicians have only made the situation ”worse by placing their individual and political interests above the Lebanese people’s interests,” Macron criticized. “Lebanon definitely deserves better.”
Macron said that humanitarian aid promised Wednesday will be unconditional.
However, he warned that “there will be no blank check to the Lebanese political system because it is defaulting. ... Lebanese leaders seem to opt for the deterioration (of the situation). I regret it. I think it’s a historical and moral error.”
Michel, the European Council President, stressed that the EU adopted a few days ago a “sanctions framework ... to target those in Lebanon who obstruct efforts to end the political crisis. We obviously hope that we will not be obliged to activate it.”
Macron, who went to Beirut twice since the explosion at the port, has led international efforts to try to help the former French protectorate by providing emergency aid. Last year’s conference on Lebanon, organized in the wake of the explosion, raised about 280 million euros ($332 million).
According to the UN, over half of Lebanese people now live in poverty, one in three Lebanese suffer from food insecurity and nearly 4 million people are at risk of not accessing safe water.


Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
Updated 9 sec ago

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
DAMASCUS: Hospitals in the Syrian capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia have reached capacity due to rising coronavirus admissions, a health official said Sunday.
“We have started transferring Covid-19 patients from the province of Damascus to the (central) province of Homs, and from Latakia to the province of Tartus,” Tawfiq Hasaba, a health ministry official, was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.
The move came after “hospitals in these areas reached capacity because of a large spike in coronavirus cases,” he added.
Syria on Saturday logged 442 new coronavirus infections in government-held areas — a new daily record for a conflict-hit country that has documented more than 32,580 cases, including 2,198 deaths in regime controlled territory, since the start of its outbreak last year.
“It is the first time the number of cases reaches 400” in one day, Hasaba said, adding that the number of new infections was highest in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise across Syria since mid-August, including in the northwest and northeast, large parts of which fall beyond government control.
According to the World Health Organization, only two percent of Syria’s population has been at least partially vaccinated.
Syria’s conflict has since 2011 killed nearly half a million people and ravaged a health care sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals.
Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the war.

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
Updated 1 min 24 sec ago

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
  • Strikes hit school used as a ‘military base’ by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin
BEIRUT: At least 11 fighters from a pro-Turkish rebel group were killed Sunday in Russian air raids in northern Syria, a war monitor said Sunday.
The strikes hit a school used as a “military base” by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin which has been under the control of Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies since 2018, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Eleven fighters were killed and another 13 were wounded in the Russian strikes,” said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
It said the death toll could climb further amid ongoing efforts to pull victims from the rubble.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said such Russian raids are rare in this region of Syria, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies for three years.
A Russian raid outside Afrin last month targeted a position of Faylaq Al-Sham, another Turkey-backed rebel group, he said.
A spokesperson for the National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called Sunday’s attack a “clear message from Russia” to Turkey, showing that there are no “red lines.”
Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar Assad’s government and it has also launched multiple operations across Syria’s northern border against Kurdish forces and against the Daesh group.
Russia, on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime and has intervened militarily in support of Assad since 2015.
Although they back opposite sides, Ankara and Moscow have worked together to broker several cease-fire deals in Syria’s northwest, including a 2020 truce agreement in the Idlib region, the country’s last major opposition bastion.

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
Updated 26 September 2021

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
  • Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates

TEHRAN: Iranian prison authorities confirmed the deaths of two inmates within a week at a jail south of the capital and opened investigations into the circumstances.
“A committee has been set up to probe the death of Amir-Hossein Hatami in Grand Tehran prison,” penitentiary authorities in the capital announced in a brief statement issued late Saturday.
The Ghanoun newspaper said Hatami was a 22-year who worked in Tehran bazaar and had been arrested after getting into a fight.
On Thursday, the chief of Iran’s prisons, Mohammad-Mehdi Hadj-Mohammadi, ordered an investigation into the death of Chahine Nasseri, another inmate of Grand Tehran, located some 30 kilometers from the capital.
Hadj-Mohammadi last month acknowledged cases of “unacceptable behavior” after footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Tehran’s Evin prison.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.


Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference
Updated 12 min 14 sec ago

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference
  • ‘Legal action will be taken against the rest of the participants once their full names are known’

DUBAI: Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council issued warrants on Sunday for the arrest of people who attended a conference that called for the normalization of ties with Israel in autonomous Kurdistan.

The council mentioned in a statement carried by the Iraq News Agency (INA) that the names of three individuals whom it issues arrest warrants against for calling normalizing ties with Israel. 

They are Wissam Al-Hardan, Mithal Al-Alusi, and a ministry employee Sahar Al-Taie. 

“Legal action will be taken against the rest of the participants once their full names are known,” the council statement added.

The conference drew a chorus of condemnation Saturday from the federal government in Baghdad who rejected the conference's call for normalisation and dismissed the gathering as an “illegal meeting.”

The conference “was not representative of the population’s (opinion) and that of residents in Iraqi cities, in whose name these individuals purported to speak,” the statement said.

The office of Iraqi President Barham Saleh, himself a Kurd, joined in the condemnation.
Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr urged the government to “arrest all the participants,” while Ahmed Assadi, an MP with the ex-paramilitary group Hashed al-Shaabi, branded them “traitors in the eyes of the law.”

The culture ministry, in a statement, said its employee, Tai, who attended the Arbil forum did not represent the ministry, but she had taken part as “a member of a (civil society) organisation.”

(with input from AFP)


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
Updated 26 September 2021

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.