Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
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Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, August 10, 2020. (Reuters)
Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
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Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab speaks to reporters at the presidential palace in Beirut, November 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2021

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show

Beirut blast judge issues subpoena for PM Diab after no-show
  • Tarek Bitar, a Lebanese judge leading the probe into last year’s explosion at Beirut’s port, made the decision after weeks of delay by Hassan Diab
  • Security forces have been ordered to bring in Diab by force, 24 hours before the date of the next questioning session, which Bitar set for Sept. 20

BEIRUT: A subpoena for Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister was issued on Thursday after he failed to show up for questioning in a growing case surrounding last year’s Beirut blast.

Tarek Bitar, a Lebanese judge leading the probe into last year’s explosion at Beirut’s port, made the decision after weeks of delay by Hassan Diab.

Last month, Bitar confirmed charges filed by his predecessor against Diab and three former ministers.

Security forces have been ordered to bring in Diab by force, 24 hours before the date of the next questioning session, which Bitar set for Sept. 20.

A judicial source told Arab News: “This step will be followed by similar ones. Judge Bitar may issue similar subpoenas, based on Article 106 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, against other defendants, including former ministers and security officials.”

Bitar and judicial investigator Fadi Sawan — who handled the case before him —  charged former ministers and current MPs in addition to Diab, namely Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, Nohad Machnouk and former minister Youssef Fenianos.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4 last year, killing 215 people, injuring more than 6,500 and devastating nearby neighborhoods.

“The failure of the political class to facilitate Bitar’s judicial work in a crime that took place a year and three weeks ago without accountability is the reason for him to take this path in order to reach the truth,” the judicial source added.

On Wednesday, Bitar simulated the circumstances that preceded the explosion, which occurred after a gap was welded in the structure of a warehouse in which the ammonium nitrate was stored.

The simulation was attended by several lawyers representing the concerned parties, a joint committee of army officers and the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces, while members of the Civil Defense supervised field preparations.

The Lebanese Meteorological Department was also present to link the simulation with climatic conditions on the day of the explosion.

The simulation took four to five hours and was documented without a media presence.

A detailed reenactment of the welding was carried out to verify whether it had a direct effect in causing the fire that preceded the explosion.

A model similar to the original warehouse was constructed for the purposes of the simulation, just meters away from the hole created by the explosion.

Bitar assigned technical experts to draw up a report showing whether the welding caused the explosion after investigators previously ruled out the potential of an aerial bombardment.

He is expected to issue an indictment at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Bitar is struggling with a lack of harmony with the Public Prosecution in the Beirut blast probe.

In December 2020, Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat stopped pursuing the investigation as a judicial prosecutor in the case because he is related to MP Ghazi Zeaiter, who was later charged.

The families of fire brigade members who died in the blast have also met Bitar. William Noun, whose brother Joe was one of the victims, said: “The families of all the victims will take action next week and organize a sit-in in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut to support the investigation’s progress. History will prove that politicians are failures.”

Meanwhile, three people have been charged for the Aug. 15 explosion of a fuel tank that killed 31 people in the town of Al-Tleil in the Akkar region.

Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki accused detainees George Rashid Ibrahim and Ali Sobhi Faraj of “unsafely storing flammable materials, despite their knowledge of the danger they pose to the lives of citizens, and causing the death of 31 soldiers and civilians.” He charged another detainee Jerji Elias Ibrahim with “setting the fire with a lighter.”


Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
Updated 22 sec ago

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
  • The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris

DARBANDIKHAN, Iraq: Iraqi officials warned Tuesday of a drastic drop in the flow of water in a river from Iran due to low rainfall and dam-building in the neighboring Islamic republic.

The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris.

“There has been an unprecedented decline,” said Rahman Khani, the dam’s director. “The water level has fallen by 7.5 meters in one year.”

The drop was attributed to low precipitation and “the building of more dams in Iran which retain water,” he told AFP.

Khani said the dam had this year received 900 million cubic meters of water — a fraction of the annual average of 4.7 billion cubic meters.

The decline had led to a 30 percent fall in electricity production from the dam, he added, warning against the impact on agriculture in Diyala province.

Iraq — which relies on Iran for much of its electricity — has suffered extreme water shortages in many areas in recent years.

This is owing in large part to upstream dam-building in Iran and Turkey, but also to factors relating to climate change and droughts, which have affected the wider region.

The situation has prompted Iraq’s Water Resources Minister, Mahdi Al-Hamdani, to call on his government to file a complaint against Iran at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A foreign ministry spokesperson refused to comment on the matter.

Aoun Thiab, a senior adviser at the water ministry, said Iran was “violating international law by diverting a river flow” based on the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention on the use of water that crosses international borders.

Thiab acknowledged however that seeking justice would be “a political decision and not a technical one.

“The waters of the Sirwan river have been completely cut off,” he told AFP.

Iran has also its own decline in water levels due to drought, said a report from the country’s space agency cited by Mehr news agency.

On Tuesday, an official said Tehran was facing its worst drought in 50 years as he reported a 97 percent drop in monthly rainfall compared with last year.

The Iranian capital has had 0.4 millimeters of rain since Sept. 23, compared with 14.3 mm over the same period in 2020, said Mohammad Shahriari, deputy director of the company that supplies the region.

“Groundwater and surface water are at a critical state and there has not been a similar drought for the past 50 years,” he was quoted as saying by Iran’s ISNA news agency.

In July, deadly protests broke out in the drought-hit southwestern province of Khuzestan after people took to the streets to vent their anger over water shortages.


UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
Updated 4 min 46 sec ago

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
  • The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

GENEVA: Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as outlawed “terrorist organizations” is an unjustified attack, the UN human rights chief said Tuesday.

The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

It accused the six of working covertly with the leftist militant group, which pioneered plane hijackings in the 1970s to highlight the Palestinian cause and is blacklisted by several Western governments.

Michelle Bachelet said the decision was an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation.

She called for the move to be immediately revoked.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said anti-terrorism legislation should not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian aid activities.

“The organizations ... face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund them and work with them,” said Bachelet.

“The crucial work they perform for thousands of Palestinians risks being halted or severely restricted,” she added.

She said the decision would have “a chilling effect” on human rights defenders.


Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
Updated 26 October 2021

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
  • "There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said
  • An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric on Tuesday said the country’s three leading politicians agreed to a “solution” to political tensions and government paralysis tied to high-profile judicial investigations.
“There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said during a news conference after a day spent shuttling between the prime minister, the parliament speaker and president.
An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges while allowing blast investigator Tarek Bitar to continue with the cases of lower-level officials.
The special court, formed by a parliamentary vote, has never held any official to account.
Bitar has sought to question top officials including former ministers affiliated with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal movement and the Marada Movement, both allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has responded with a smear campaign accusing Bitar of politicizing the probe.
Rai had earlier said after a meeting with Berri that issues had to be resolved “because Lebanon is dying, the people are dying and the state is disintegrating.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not convened a Cabinet meeting since Oct. 12, pending a solution to the standoff that has paralyzed government for over two weeks.
The dispute spilt over into the Cabinet when ministers allied to those parties called for Bitar’s removal in a heated discussion during the last session.
Rai also said he was “slightly upset” about the summoning of Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea by army intelligence for a hearing over fatal clashes in Beirut’s Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood this month.
On Oct. 14, seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and Amal, were shot dead during a Beirut protest the parties organized against Bitar, the worst street violence in more than a decade.
The parties said the seven were killed by supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party headed by Samir Geagea, who has backed the blast investigation. Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Geagea was summoned for a hearing on Wednesday by army intelligence. No other top politician has received such a summons.
On Tuesday, Geagea’s lawyers filed a motion claiming the summons was unlawful, while attorneys representing a number of detainees submitted a motion requesting that Judge Fadi Akiki recuse himself from the case.
A group of Ain Al-Remmaneh residents this week filed a lawsuit against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, claiming fighters under his command involved in the clashes had undermined “national unity” and committed terrorist acts.
President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said Bitar’s probe should continue, on Tuesday urged the government to resume Cabinet meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.
Rima Zahed, the sister of port blast victim Amin Zahed and a member of a committee representing the families of victims, warned against “any kind of settlement or deal” that infringed upon the reach of the investigation.
“No-one can threaten us with sectarian tensions or the difficult situation the Lebanese people are in. Politicians need to know this,” she said. “There will be no deals made over the blood of our martyrs.”


Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
Updated 26 October 2021

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
  • Mehrdad Abdarbashi defected when he was ordered to fight in Syria
  • He was recently targeted by 2 Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him

LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.

Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.

In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.

“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.

He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.

Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.

But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.

“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.

“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”

Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.

In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.

The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.

For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.

In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.

But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.

As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.

In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019. 


More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 26 October 2021

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 21 Houthi targets, also destroying nine military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 21 attacks targeting “mechanisms and elements” of the Houthi militia in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said more than 85 Houthi militants have been killed and nine military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
The coalition added in a statement that it will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations.
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers south of the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)