No end in sight: Lebanon’s government crisis rages on as country on its knees 

No end in sight: Lebanon’s government crisis rages on as country on its knees 
Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, July 26, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 August 2021

No end in sight: Lebanon’s government crisis rages on as country on its knees 

No end in sight: Lebanon’s government crisis rages on as country on its knees 
  • Despite the Beirut Port explosion, soaring hyperinflation, food insecurity and crippling fuel shortages, the country’s leaders continue to prevaricate
  • Najib Mikati is the latest to take on the mantle, promising the swift formation of a government when he was appointed PM-designate on Jul. 26

DUBAI: More than 12 months since Lebanon’s cabinet resigned and with the country teetering on the brink of collapse, politicians look unlikely to form a much-needed government any time soon, sources warn.

Despite one of the world’s largest-ever non-nuclear explosions killing more than 200 people, soaring hyperinflation, food insecurity and crippling fuel shortages, leaders have continued to dig their heels in while two designated prime ministers have come and gone.

Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman and former PM, is the latest to take on the mantle, promising a swift formation of a government within a month when he was appointed on Jul. 26.

“I gave my proposals, President Michel Aoun approved most of them and he made some remarks which are acceptable. God willing, we will be able to form a government soon,” Mikati said two days later. 

A month has passed, and Mikati is facing the same fate as his two predecessors — Mustapha Adib and Saad Hariri — who both failed to come to terms with Aoun.

Mikati is set to meet with the president on Thursday afternoon, with sources noting that both men are far from coming to terms on a government.  

“I believe Mikati will be forced to step down at some point like the others,” Mustapha Allouche, the Future Movement’s vice president, the party formed by Hariri’s late father, told Arab News.

According to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing model, the president, a Maronite Christian, and the prime minister-designate, a Sunni Muslim, must both agree on a cabinet lineup in unison that is split equally between Christians and Muslims.

“What is happening now is merely a continuation of what has transpired over the past 12 months, with each political bloc maneuvering based on its own calculations,” Rosana Bou Monsef, a political analyst and veteran columnist for Lebanese daily An-Nahar, told Arab News. 

At the core of the issue, she said, is the president’s Free Patriotic Movement trying to secure favorable terms in the upcoming government, which could stay in power until after Aoun leaves office next year.

Lebanon is set to hold parliamentary elections in May, which given the turbulent political landscape and security situation, could be delayed. This would pave the way for the upcoming government to stay in place, take key decisions moving forward and exert pressure on political opponents.  

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the problem doesn’t lie with who will head the government but with the president’s group’s unwillingness to form a government except on its terms,” Bou Monsef said.

After nine months of grueling negotiations and a number of public spats with the president, Hariri stepped down in mid-July, saying “God help Lebanon” as he left the presidential palace.

Hariri had accused the president of blocking the formation of a cabinet in which the FPM, the party he founded and currently headed by his son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil, lacks veto power.

Eddy Maalouf, an FPM parliamentarian, denied the accusations, telling Arab News that the deadlock stems from Hariri and Mikati’s attempts to encroach on the constitution and name several Christian ministers.

“They must afford the president’s bloc the same rights afforded to the other parties,” he said.

Further complicating matters is Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement on Aug. 19 that the party had secured fuel shipments from Iran. 

Amid typical governmental absenteeism, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has seemingly taken matters into its own hands, vowing that fuel tankers would set sail to Lebanon from the sanction-ridden country. 

If Hezbollah follows through with its promise and the tankers actually do dock in Lebanon, it would open up the Lebanese state to the possibility of sanctions from the US, which has vowed to punish anyone that deals with Tehran. 

“The Iranian fuel has put Mikati in an extremely tough position as his government program was based on cooperating with the international community and Gulf countries to secure financial assistance for Lebanon,” Bou Monsef told Arab News. 

This was echoed by Maalouf, who maintained that Mikati is “hesitating in moving forward with the formation of the government in light of this development.” 

The possibility of Mikati stepping down is now gaining traction, Bou Monsef noted, “despite the international community urging him to move forward with negotiations.”

Mikati’s resignation would have a ripple effect across Lebanon’s political landscape, Allouche said. 

“If Mikati steps down, we’ll have to reconsider our calculations,” Allouche said when responding to a question on whether Hariri’s Future Movement bloc would resign from parliament. 

Sami Fatfat, a Future Movement MP, held out hope that a government would be formed but assured his party is “looking into different options, including mass resignations” if Mikati steps down.

“The next couple of days will be decisive,” he noted, as Lebanon braces for the potential arrival of the first shipment of Iranian fuel coupled with the end of Mikati’s one-month deadline. 


Biden considers restoring terror listing of Yemen’s Houthis

Biden considers restoring terror listing of Yemen’s Houthis
Updated 20 January 2022

Biden considers restoring terror listing of Yemen’s Houthis

Biden considers restoring terror listing of Yemen’s Houthis

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden says the US is considering restoring its designation of Yemen’s Houthis as a terrorist group.
Biden’s comment, made at a White House news conference Wednesday, came after a cross-border strike Monday that killed three people in the United Arab Emirates. The Houthis, a militia group that now controls much of Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack, which Emiratis say used both missiles and drones, and started fires at a fuel depot and international airport.
The attack led Emiratis and Saudis to step up months of demands that the US restore its terrorist designation for the Houthis. Biden lifted that designation shortly after taking office, as his administration worked without success to jump-start peace talks and wind down the eight-year war in Yemen.
Aid groups had complained that the terror designation, which limits interaction by US entities, complicated humanitarian work in the impoverished Gulf country of Yemen. Biden said Wednesday returning the terrorist designation was “under consideration.”
His defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, expressed solidarity for the UAE’s security in a conversation earlier Wednesday with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed.
The UAE was a member of the coalition that entered Yemen’s civil war in 2015, after the Houthis had overrun the capital of Sanaa the previous year and ousted the country’s president from power.
The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and oil targets in the Arabian Gulf over the course of Yemen’s war. Monday’s attack was the UAE’s first acknowledgement of being hit by the Houthis.
The coalition intensified airstrikes on the Houthis across Yemen late Monday, including in Sanaa. At least 14 people, including a senior Houthi military official, were killed in one airstrike in Saana, the group said. The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that there were five civilians among the dead.


International apathy has emboldened Yemen’s Houthis, Saudi envoy tells UN

International apathy has emboldened Yemen’s Houthis, Saudi envoy tells UN
Updated 20 January 2022

International apathy has emboldened Yemen’s Houthis, Saudi envoy tells UN

International apathy has emboldened Yemen’s Houthis, Saudi envoy tells UN
  • Mohammed Abdulaziz Alateek also reaffirmed Kingdom’s support for people of Lebanon and urged authorities there to end ‘terrorist Hezbollah’s control of state’
  • He also pledged his country’s continuing support and commitment to the Palestinian cause, and to comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East

NEW YORK: The failure of the international community to take decisive action to address the terrorist activities of the Houthis in Yemen has emboldened the Iran-backed militia to attack the Yemeni people and threaten peace and security in the region and beyond, Saudi Arabia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN said on Wednesday.

Mohammed Abdulaziz Alateek told the Security Council that the Kingdom reserves the right to “take any necessary measure in line with international law” to respond to Houthi aggression. It came two days after a deadly attack on neighboring Abu Dhabi by the militia.

The envoy said authorities in the UAE have the full support of the Kingdom “as they address any threat to their stability and security,” and called on the international community “to confront the terrorist Houthi militias.”

The ministerial-level meeting was convened by Norway, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, to discuss the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN Mohammed Abdulaziz Alateek. (SPA)

Alateek said that Tehran provides support to the Houthis “day after day” and added: “These terrorist militias continue to disregard the aspirations of the Yemeni people and to threaten regional and international peace and security.

“A case in point is their violation and threats to international navigation and their use of civilian facilities and Yemeni ports to undermine regional security and attack civilians in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

On Monday this week, three people were killed and six injured by a drone strike on a key oil facility in the Emirati capital, and a separate fire was sparked at Abu Dhabi’s international airport. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, which immediately drew condemnation worldwide.

Last Friday the Security Council unanimously condemned another hostile Houthi act, the seizure on Jan. 3 of the UAE-flagged ship Rwabee in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen and the detention of its crew.

In a statement drafted by the UK, council members demanded the immediate release of the vessel and those on board, and urged the Houthis to guarantee the safety and well-being of the crew.

Civilian targets in Saudi Arabia have also repeatedly come under attack from Houthi-launched drone and missile strikes.

Highlighting the Saudi peace initiative to end the conflict in Yemen, Alateek called on the international community and the Security Council to “take all necessary measures against these terrorist militias that obstruct peace and any attempt to reach a political solution sponsored by the UN in line with resolution 2216, the Gulf Initiative and the outcome of the National Dialogue.”

Turning to the crisis in Lebanon, Alateek reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for the people of the country and urged Lebanese authorities to prioritize “their people, to meet their aspirations for security, stability and well-being, and to end terrorist Hezbollah’s control of the state.”

Regarding the Palestinian question, Alateek said Riyadh remains committed to ending the occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and ensuring Palestinian refugees can return home.

“We stress that comprehensive and lasting peace in the middle East is a strategic choice to end one of the most protracted conflicts in our modern history, based on the two-state solution and international terms of reference, as well as the Arab peace initiative of 2022,” he said.

“All these initiatives call for the establishment of the Palestinian state along the borders of June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the return of refugees, and an end to the Israeli occupation of all Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan and Lebanese territories.”

Alateek accused Israel of continuing “to violate international laws and norms in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, committing the most heinous forms of injustice and aggression against the Palestinian people.”

He called on the Security Council and the wider international community to assume their responsibilities toward Palestinians by “ensuring justice,

achieving the aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state as guaranteed in international laws, and deal firmly with the Israeli violations of international law and relevant UN resolutions.”


European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem
Updated 20 January 2022

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem
  • Earlier in the month, Israeli authorities approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem

PARIS: The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities on Wednesday evening to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem.
Earlier in the month, Israeli authorities approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, nearly half of which are to be built in the controversial areas of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa.
In a statement, the European countries said that the hundreds of new buildings would “constitute an additional obstacle to the two-state solution,” referring to international peace efforts to create a state for Palestinians.
They said that building in this area would further disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem and that these settlements are a violation of international law.
The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Israel captured East Jerusalem including the Old City in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which abuts the city, and the Gaza Strip. Israel views the entire city as its indivisible capital.
Most world powers deem the Israeli settlements illegal for taking in territory where Palestinians seek statehood.
The four countries also expressed concern about the evictions and demolitions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where residents say they are being displaced.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their East Jerusalem home — which they say they had lived in for decades — before a digger tore down the property, prompting criticism from rights activists and diplomats.


Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
Updated 20 January 2022

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
  • World must deal with their ‘criminal acts,’ Yemen’s prime minister says

AL-MUKALLA: Demands grew on Wednesday for the US to restore the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to its list of designated terrorist groups.

The government in Yemen joined calls for the reinstatement by authorities in the UAE after Monday’s Houthi drone attack on Abu Dhabi in which three people died.

“These criminal acts require designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization,” Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said. “The international community has to deal with this group.

More pressure needs to be applied to stop these terrorist crimes that threaten regional and international peace and stability.”

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization on Jan. 16, 2021, a few hours before the Trump administration handed the White House over to Joe Biden.

The new administration quickly reversed the move, paused a ban on financial transactions in Houthi-controlled areas on Jan. 25, and fully revoked the terrorist designation on Feb. 16.

The revocation was followed by a barrage of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis targeting civilians and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

On the ground, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy escalated airstrikes on Houthi military sites and reinforcements on Wednesday as government troops repelled the militia’s attempts to seize control of new areas.

"We are carrying out a large-scale military operation to paralyze the Houthis' capabilities in a number of governorates," the Coalition said in a statement carried by El-Akhbariyah TV. "We are monitoring the terrorist leaders responsible for targeting civilians.|"

Earlier on Wednesday, Coalition warplanes destroyed military vehicles carrying Houthi fighters in Marib and struck Houthi gatherings and locations in the province. Thick smoke and large balls of fire billowed over targeted locations in southwestern Sanaa, including Attan Mountain, which hosts a ballistic missile depot.

The coalition said it had carried out 19 airstrikes in Marib that killed 90 Houthis and destroyed 11 of their vehicles.There was heavy fighting between government troops and the Houthis south of the strategic central city of Marib. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at Yemen’s Armed Forces Guidance Department, told Arab News the Houthis had mounted several counterattacks on government troops around Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range in a bid to break a siege on pockets of their fighters on the strategic mountain.

The Houthis failed to achieve their goal of reaching the mountain and were forced into stopping their attacks after suffering heavy casualties. “They have to either surrender or die,” Al-Mekhlafi said. Loyalist Giants Brigades troops also engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis south of Marib.

In the western governorate of Hodeidah, Houthi weapons storages at the naval forces camp were also targeted, the Coalition said early Thursday.

It said the port was being used by the Houthis as a military barracks to threaten regional and international security. Houthis reportedly transferred the weapons from the port to the military camp under commercial cover.

Houthis had also been accused of engaging in sea piracy, attacking civilian ships passing along the Red Sea.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began visits on Wednesday to the Gulf states and the UK. “The special envoy and his team will press the parties to deescalate militarily and...participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.


US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts
Updated 20 January 2022

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

RIYADH: US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.
Lenderking is on a tour of Gulf states and the British capital, London, to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials, and other international partners, the State Department said.
During the meeting, GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al-Hajraf stressed the importance of applying international pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militia to end its terrorist activities and seriously engage in the Yemen peace process.
The two sides discussed regional and international efforts to reach the political solution sought by the bloc, in accordance with the GCC initiative and its Executive Mechanism, the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference and UN Security Council resolution 2216.
Al-Hajraf praised Washington’s significant role and the efforts of the US envoy to end the Yemeni war, and the humanitarian and development assistance it provides to the Yemeni people.
He also strongly condemned the continued targeting of civilians and civilian targets with missiles and drones in Saudi Arabia, as well as the cowardly terrorist attack that targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport on Monday, killing three people.
Al-Hajraf said it constitutes a terrorist act, a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to regional security and stability.
During his tour, Lenderking “will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.
He will also call on donors to provide additional funding to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis, after the UN had said that around $3.9 billion is needed this year to help millions of people in the war-torn country.