Lebanon condemns Israeli airstrikes along border

Special Lebanon condemns Israeli airstrikes along border
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicles patrolling in Sahl Al-Khiyam near the border with Israel, August 5, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2021

Lebanon condemns Israeli airstrikes along border

Lebanon condemns Israeli airstrikes along border
  • UN peacekeeping force launches investigation and urges both countries to ‘act with urgency’ to defuse the tensions
  • The Israeli attacks came after three rockets were launched from Lebanese territory on Wednesday by unknown forces

BEIRUT: Authorities in Lebanon on Thursday condemned airstrikes carried out by the Israeli Air Force, the first in seven years to target Lebanese villages along the border.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been deployed in the country since 1978 and has patrolled the border since the 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Israel, said both countries should “act with urgency” to de-escalate tensions.

Following a complaint lodged by Lebanon, UNIFIL has launched an investigation into violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in southern Lebanon in the past 48 hours. Resolution 1701 was adopted as part of the efforts to end the 2006 war.

Candice Ardell, the deputy director of UNIFIL’s media office, said that at dawn on Thursday “UNIFIL peacekeepers heard powerful explosions near Tyre and Marjeyoun and Mahmoudiya in the south of Lebanon.”

She added that Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, commander of the UNIFIL peacekeeping forces, led a tripartite meeting with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces at a UN facility in Ras Al-Naqoura. Del Col urged both sides to “use this trilateral forum to explore ways to reinforce security and stability along the Blue Line.”

The Israeli attacks came after three rockets were launched from Lebanese territory on Wednesday by unknown forces. Two of them fell on the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. The Israeli response set fire to crops.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun described the Israeli strikes as “a flagrant and dangerous violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and a direct threat to the security and stability in the south.”

He said that they indicate “escalatory and hostile intentions that coincide with the continuing threats against Lebanon and its sovereignty” and added: “Filing a complaint to the UN is a necessary step to deter Israel from continuing its attacks on Lebanon.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he had instructed Lebanon’s Permanent Representative to the UN Amal Mudallali to lodge an urgent complaint with the Security Council about the Israeli aggression.

“Israel’s excuse for its explicit hostile attack against the Lebanese sovereignty was the suspicious rockets that fell north of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, fired from Lebanese territories, while nobody claimed responsibility for them,” Diab added.

The attack is the latest in a long series of Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, including the use of Lebanese airspace to carry out attacks in Syria.

Lebanon has been without a proper government for a year now. The previous authority, led by Diab, resigned on Aug. 10 last year, six days after the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port.

After his fifth meeting with Aoun at the presidential palace, recently appointed PM-designate Najib Mikati on Thursday said he felt optimistic about the prospect of reaching an agreement on the formation of a new government. He said the process was proceeding “at a slow pace but they are definitely determined to form a government.”

He added: “I do not have a deadline but I will not leave the time frame open. Today’s session is a positive step forward. The parliamentary elections alone will decide the future of Lebanon.”

A general election is scheduled to take place in May next year.

Regarding developments on Wednesday at an international conference to support Lebanon, which was co-convened by France and the UN, Mikati said: “France was clear that no support will be provided before the formation of a government.”

Thirty-three countries and 10 international organizations took part in the conference. The participants urged Lebanese authorities “to urgently form a rescue cabinet to carry out reforms and save the country from collapse.”

They agreed that aid will be provided “directly to the people of Lebanon, without having to go through governmental institutions.”

The US State Department said late on Wednesday: “Lebanon’s leaders must support, without any delay, the formation of a new government capable of carrying out the reforms that are long overdue.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized “a collective failure on the part of those who call themselves leaders in Lebanese society.”

He added: “A true leader should show flexibility and leadership skills by putting the interests of their people first. We have not seen Lebanese officials do that for a while now, as Lebanon has been without a government for a year. It is time for that to change. It is time for Lebanese officials to do the right thing.

“There are means to hold those responsible for this situation to account,” he said, referring to EU sanctions.


Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
Updated 24 June 2022

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
  • PM-designate to meet MPs as first step towards forming new govt

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s newly reappointed prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has called on the Lebanese to leave their differences aside and put the country on the path to recovery.

Mikati, currently serving as caretaker PM, was named prime minister-designate by President Michel Aoun on Thursday after binding parliamentary consultations.

The billionaire, who has already served in the role three times, received the support of 54 of 128 MPs.

However, if he fails to form a new government in the four months before President Michel Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 31, no executive decisions will be able to be taken during that time.

Meanwhile, 25 MPs designated Nawaf Salam, a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and now a judge at the International Court of Justice, while one MP, Jihad Al-Samad, designated former premier Saad Hariri, arguing that “Hariri is the top representative of the Sunni community in Lebanon.”

Forty-six MPs, including Christian MPs affiliated with the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, in addition to some reformist MPs, refrained from designating anyone.

Mikati is expected to hold non-binding parliamentary consultations by Monday or Tuesday to elicit MPs’ opinions, and to see whether the new government will be a government of national unity.

Following the binding parliamentary consultations, many MPs stressed the importance of forming a government.

MP Sami Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “I wish MPs would stop saying that there will be no government before the presidential elections. The country cannot wait, and the people cannot wait, nor can the economy or the national currency. Lebanon cannot withstand four more months like this.”

Calling on the forces of change to unite to form an opposition force, opposition MP Michel Moawad said: “The dispersal of the opposition is a major obstacle to our ability to achieve change.

“We have a collective responsibility in the opposition to agree on the crucial milestones; otherwise we will bear the responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

Hezbollah did not announce its position on participating in the government, but did designate Mikati to form it.

MP Bilal Abdallah, from the Democratic Gathering bloc, told Arab News: “When it comes to forming a government, the current stage is different from the previous ones. Last time, we designated Mikati and participated in his government, but we have a different approach today. We have called on unifying the political position of the opposition, but no one answered our call. The majority remains divided.”

Abdallah said that the FPM did not designate Mikati the last time, but insisted on selecting all the Christian ministers in his government.

“Will this happen again this time? That political team’s demands will be even more impossible to meet if it wishes to disrupt the presidential elections. We got so used to seeing this team disrupting political life; how can we trust that it wants to hold presidential elections on time? They have always disrupted government just to have their way. Disruption is their middle name.”

Meanwhile, the FPM is continuing its campaign against Riad Salameh, seeking to have the central bank governor replaced before the end of Aoun’s term.

Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun filed another lawsuit against Salameh, his four former deputies, former director-general of the Ministry of Finance Alain Biffany, and several central bank employees in light of a complaint submitted by the People Want Reform group against Salameh and anyone whom the investigations show to be involved in illicit enrichment, money laundering, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud.

Aoun, who is affiliated with the FPM, referred the case to the first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, requesting the arrest of Salameh and the others, and referring them to the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court, while maintaining the travel ban issued against Salameh.

Earlier, Aoun personally supervised a raid on Salameh’s home in the Rabieh area.

State security officers searched the house and opened safes, only to find that the property had been abandoned and the safes contained only some papers, which were confiscated.


Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
Updated 24 June 2022

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
  • About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: Moroccan authorities said that five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.
About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence. It said five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.
Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.
Several migrants and police officers were slightly injured, said the spokesperson, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules.
People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.
Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.
Over two days at the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) barrier that surrounds Melilla and nearly 1,000 made it across, according to Spanish authorities.
Friday’s crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.
Morocco loosened its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was viewed as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.
Tensions between the two countries began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, where activists are seeking full independence.


Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Updated 24 June 2022

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
  • Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks

RAMALLAH: Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site which they claim has caused cracks and other damage to the building’s structure.

And Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the city’s Islamic Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs department, has warned that the mosque could be in danger of collapse if the digging continued at its current intensity.

The Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks which officials say has led to cracks appearing and stones being dislodged from walls and ceilings.

Al-Khatib said: “There are dangerous and unknown excavations, and no one knows what they are and what their goals are. We see the removal of large quantities of dust and hear the sounds of digging equipment and the breaking of stones.

“The vibrations led to the fall of several stones from the mosque’s ceilings in the southern prayer halls.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow specialized engineers and technicians from our department to find out what is going on and what is happening, and for a week we have been talking to the Israeli police about these excavations, which are taking place day and night, and they just ignore our request,” he added.

Al-Khatib noted that similar activities had taken place in the past but digging work had been stepped up in recent weeks.

He said: “We are concerned about the tunnels being dug that may lead to the collapse of the Al-Aqsa. So, we informed the Jordanian Royal Court, the Jordanian Ministry of the Islamic Awqaf, the Jordanian ambassador, and most importantly, we appealed to (Jordan’s) King Abdullah, custodian of the holy sites, to intervene in this issue.

“The Islamic Awqaf does not want friction but is deeply concerned about surprises for Al-Aqsa and stability in the region.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow us to repair the wall from which stones came off, and which might be in danger of collapsing, but they refused.

“Neither the Waqf, nor UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) knows what is happening. We are entrusted with Al-Aqsa and carrying out our mission. What is happening is a dangerous matter that worries and frightens us,” Al-Khatib added.

Technical sources in the Islamic Awqaf told Arab News that a committee of engineers and experts affiliated with the department had been set up to look into what was happening and report back to officials.


Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
Updated 24 June 2022

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
  • Palestinian people have the right ‘to establish their independent state,’ president says
  • ‘Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon,’ Ismail Haniyeh, head of group’s political bureau, says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Friday reaffirmed his country’s position on the Palestinian cause during a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the political bureau of Hamas.

Aoun expressed “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all their national territory, with Jerusalem as its capital,” and stressed Palestinian refugees’ right to return home.

“Palestinians’ resistance to occupation is not terrorism,” Aoun said, adding that “no one can imagine Jerusalem without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy sites,” and stressing the need “to preserve Jerusalem, where Christianity, Islam and Judaism meet.”

After the meeting, Haniyeh said: “The Israeli occupation does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem.

“Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon and condemns the Israeli enemy’s attempt to steal from Lebanon’s maritime resources.”

He added that he wished Lebanon “security, stability and more solidarity.”

Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon is his third in two years and coincided with World Refugee Day. On his first visit, he said: “Our missiles will be launched from our land (targeting Israel) and we will not involve Lebanon.”

Raafat Murra, a Hamas official, said Haniyeh’s visit to Beirut “highlights the need to resolve the crisis of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Haniyeh’s office said one of the aims of the trip was “addressing the reality of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon” as well as “consulting and cooperating with the Palestinian factions’ officials, in a way that serves the Palestinian cause.”

A Palestine Liberation Organization official in Lebanon, who chose to remain anonymous, told Arab News that “the PLO and Fatah are not involved with Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon. This visit is part of the special program between Hamas and Hezbollah.”

During his time in Lebanon, Haniyeh also visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah said that “Haniyeh and Nasrallah underlined the importance of cooperation between the Axis of Resistance to serve the central goal, which is concerned with Jerusalem, holy sites and the Palestinian cause.”

The PLO official said that Hezbollah was “trying to solve the problems between Hamas and the Syrian regime.”

Asked about a Hamas announcement that Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon was related to the Palestinian refugee camps, he said the refugees had their own authority — the PLO — and that Lebanon recognized the independent state of Palestine and deals with it to address all issues facing the camps.


Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
Updated 19 min 42 sec ago

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
  • The ministry said both internal and external elements were involved in plans targeting the president
  • An attacker was arrested after injuring two police while targeting a security point outside a Tunis synagogue overnight

JEDDAH: Security chiefs in Tunisia have uncovered plots to assassinate President Kais Saied amid concerns over a growing political crisis, they said on Friday.

The threats were revealed as an attacker previously jailed on terrorism charges and released in 2021 tried to stab two police officers guarding a synagogue in the center of Tunis.

“According to credible information and investigations still underway, the president of the republic and the presidency as an institution are the target of serious threats,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Fadhila Khelifi said.

“There is a plan by groups both at home and abroad to target the security of the president” and to “damage state security and create chaos,” she said.

In Tunis, the man armed with a knife attacked police deployed to guard the Grand Synagogue in the city center, wounding two officers before he was overpowered. The ministry said an investigation was underway.

Before its independence from France in 1956, Tunisia was home to over 100,000 Jews, but emigration has brought their numbers down to about 1,000.

Since the so-called “Arab Spring” revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El-Abidine ben Ali in 2011, a number of jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of people.

The latest attack comes amid a deep economic and political crisis almost a year since Saied assumed complete power in July 2021. The president’s opponents accuse him of a coup for ruling by decree and preparing a new constitution that he plans to put to a referendum next month.

Opposition to Saied has broadened over recent months as nearly all major political parties and the powerful labor union have come out against his plans, holding street rallies against him.

However, while critics of the president say his moves have raised concerns over rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution, there has been no widespread crackdown on the opposition.

Saied says his moves are legal and were needed to save Tunisia from years of political
paralysis, economic stagnation and the malign influence of Islamist groups.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, a prominent left-wing politician and Saied opponent, cast doubt on claims of a plot to kill the president. “This is just to justify new arrests and to take revenge against his rivals,” Chebbi said. “The president is politically isolated and is trying to stir up public sympathy.”

Ennahdha, the Islamist party that had dominated Tunisian politics before Saied took power, dismissed the threats as “theater.”