Israeli strikes target pro-Iran groups in Syria: monitor

Israeli strikes target pro-Iran groups in Syria: monitor
Syrian air defences intercept an Israeli missile in the sky over the Syrian capital Damascus. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2021

Israeli strikes target pro-Iran groups in Syria: monitor

Israeli strikes target pro-Iran groups in Syria: monitor

BEIRUT: Israeli missile strikes hit military positions used by pro-Iran groups near the Syrian capital Damascus overnight, a war monitor said Friday.

The strikes on the suburbs of Barzeh and Jamraya “targeted Syrian regime military positions that are used by pro-Iran groups” to store and develop weapons, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory, which is based in Britain and relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its reports, said it could not immediately confirm if there were any casualties.

The official SANA news agency said Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles.

“The Syrian army’s air defenses intercepted after midnight an Israeli missile attack in the vicinity of Damascus,” SANA said, adding the attack only caused material damage.

It published pictures and video footage appearing to show air defenses responding to the attack.

AFP reporters heard loud explosions in the Syrian capital.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has routinely carried out raids in Syria, mostly targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.

The Israeli army rarely acknowledges its strikes but it often says it will not allow Syria to become a stronghold of its arch-foe Iran.

Late last month, Israeli strikes near Damascus killed four pro-Iran militia fighters.


Experts warn upcoming Libyan elections unlikely to heal rifts

Experts warn upcoming Libyan elections unlikely to heal rifts
Updated 22 sec ago

Experts warn upcoming Libyan elections unlikely to heal rifts

Experts warn upcoming Libyan elections unlikely to heal rifts
  • Armed groups have reportedly already strongarmed voters at polling stations and the full list of candidates has still not been finalized

LONDON: The political situation in Libya will remain unstable whether or not planned elections go ahead later this month, experts have warned, pointing to legal, political, and security failings that endanger stability in the near future.

In an event hosted Thursday by London think-tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, a panel of speakers outlined their grim predictions for the future of Libya’s political roadmap.

Wolfram Lacher, senior associate at the German Institute for International Affairs, warned that the political situation is even worse than in the lead-up to the 2014 election, which ultimately saw the eruption of conflict between Tripoli and Benghazi-based parties.

“The current situation is immensely more problematic than it was in 2014. It’s not comparable at all,” said Lacher.

Parliamentary and presidential elections are planned for Dec. 24 for the first time since the cessation of hostilities in a civil war between the Government of National Unity’s Tripoli-based forces, the Government of National Accordand Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, based in Benghazi.

Lacher explained that the years of division that ensued during that civil war have led to a more divided country than in pre-2014.

The creation of rival administrations, Lacher said, “essentially led to the whole constitutional architecture of Libya breaking down. There is no basis anymore than anyone agrees on.”

He continued: “We’ve had two civil wars in Libya since (2014) that have inflicted deep rifts on the social fabric. The militias have grown incredibly powerful since 2014, and much more politically involved.”

But Lacher warned that the legal process convened to run this month’s elections actually threatens to enflame these divisions, not heal them — as the election was intended to do.

Libyan authorities are currently embroiled in a dispute over the legal basis upon which certain candidates, such as former Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, could run. Some candidates have argued that Dbeibeh should be barred from running for President because he did not comply with laws that force officials to resign a minimum of three months before an election takes place.

But these ostensibly legal technical issues — that appear administrative in nature — have an important role in deciding the outcome of the vote itself, as well as the political reality and intra-Libyan dynamics in the days following the vote.

Experts warned that militias and armed factions could refuse to accept the vote if it does not go their way, and use legal issues, such as certain candidates being allowed to run, as grounds to delegitimize the entire process. It is not clear what would happen if losing candidates choose to do this.

Zahraa Langhi, member of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, told participants that both the LNA and GNA are currently benefitting from a political stalemate in Libya, and so they have no true interest in seeing a free and fair election carried out.

“The current political stalemate, the political fragmentation — all these forces are benefitting from it,” Langhi said, explaining that any delay in the election could “reward” those who spoil the election’s integrity.

She also said that interim governments, convened as part of international multilateral measures, “failed miserably” to rectify Libya’s political fragmentation — despite that objective being a “major, basic milestone in the roadmap to creating national unity.”

Langhi lamented a failure by the UN to engage effectively with actors on the ground in Libya.

“The (UN) special envoy is leaving (his post) in a couple of days, leaving the whole process without oversight.”

She said that the UN has left the issue of vetting candidates — fundamentally important to a safe and secure election — to Libya’s judiciary, which she believes has “failed to address the issue.”

Now Libyans are left with a series of candidates that Langhi said do not provide any real choice for Libyans, the most prominent of which are former Prime Minister Dbeibeh, former warlord Haftar, and possibly even Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi — son of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi. “This cannot continue,” she said.

But Otman Gajiji, former chairman of the Libyan High National Election Commission, cast doubt on the possibility that Libyans will manage to vote freely and fairly at all.

Not only do Libyans not have enough time to familiarize themselves with the dozens of candidates currently in the running for election, he said, but a series of attacks on polling stations are a grim omen for voting day.

“There are new unofficial reports that four polling stations were attacked by armed groups in Aziziya, and one was in Tripoli — all voter cards, or most of the voter cards, were taken by these armed groups. For me that is a very bad sign,” Gajiji said.

He added: “We are 22 days, three weeks, ahead of the elections. Such events are not a good indicator for the near future, or for the future of the elections.”


Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
Updated 02 December 2021

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
  • Professional syndicates elections fail to inspire political shifts

BEIRUT: Elections held by professional syndicates in Lebanon over the past few weeks have not ended in tangible change.

The results of polls for the Lebanese bar associations, the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon, and the Lebanese Press Editors’ Syndicate returned expected candidates, while the elections of the Lebanese Dental Association were suspended after a fight broke out between members.

Hezbollah members, meanwhile, entered the vote counting hall and proceeded to destroy ballot boxes.

However, the elections of the Order of Engineers and Architects saw the only official breach for the opposition candidates.

The last of these elections were those of the Press Editors’ Syndicate, which was held on Wednesday and saw an unprecedented voter turnout exceeding 73 percent. Twenty-seven candidates contested 12 seats on the syndicate’s council.

Joseph Kosseifi, the re-elected head of the syndicate, told Arab News that “journalists are part of this Lebanese society, but the syndicate is not politicized. It is the least politicized of the liberal professions syndicates. It is normal for journalists to have political tendencies, however, the work of the syndicate is related to the profession.”

Many of the candidates had called for change. May Abi Akl, who scored the second largest number of votes among the candidates who lost, was one of them. She noted that her decision to run for election “aimed at bringing about change within the Press Editors’ Syndicate and preventing the election of a closed list that only represents itself. Our objective was to introduce new blood into the syndicate and we were able to stir up the still water.”

As the results were announced on Wednesday night, the opposition candidates chanted “down with the rule of the ruling class.” However, Kosseifi said: “Whoever wants real change has to be a partner within the public assemblies and this is not happening. All the revolution on the streets was able to achieve is make people protest and scream. Apart from that, they failed to achieve a qualitative breach.”

Activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said that “the elections of the liberal professions syndicates gave indications regarding the alignment of the ruling parties. Their performance was not good, even among themselves. We saw the Shiite duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, working alone, while the Future Movement-Progressive Socialist Party alliance was somewhere else. On the other hand, the weakness of the ruling parties was not matched by a unified opposition.

“There are two opinions within the opposition. Some say that holding on to pure opposition will not achieve anything and that it sometimes needs an alliance with the opposing political forces to bring down the symbols of the ruling class. For example, an alliance between the opposition forces and the Kataeb Party could make a difference in regards to removing the representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement. However, others stress the importance of unifying all of the forces that are not part of the ruling class to be able to confront it,” Abdel Samad explained.

Electoral expert Zeina El-Helou told Arab News: “The political forces, no matter how opposed to the ruling class, want to build an alliance with me in order to take from me, not to give me. There are fundamental differences between the forces of the revolution and the opposing political forces. We do not agree on any political objective. How can we be their allies? They tell us to be their allies now and oppose them in Parliament. Does that mean that we are replacing one party of the ruling class with another party? We do not want to fight battles in Parliament. We want the Parliament to work. We want to make changes.”


Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets
Updated 02 December 2021

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets

Yemen army advances in Shabwa as coalition pounds Houthi targets
  • The Yemeni army troops have mounted many attacks on the Houthis in Bayhan, Ousylan and Ain since September

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen government forces liberated a large swathe of land in the southern province of Shabwa after heavy clashes with the Iran-backed Houthis as the Arab coalition struck more militia sites across Yemen.

Backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled Bayhan and Ousylan districts, expelling militia fighters from wide areas and taking control of a strategic road that connects the two districts, a military official told Arab News on Thursday.

The official said that at least 60 Houthis were killed in the fighting and government troops are pressing ahead with their attacks on the Houthis in the two districts.

The Yemeni army troops have mounted many attacks on the Houthis in Bayhan, Ousylan and Ain since September, when the Houthis seized control of the three districts and rolled into government-controlled areas in the neighboring Marib province.

In addition, government forces pushed to cut off key supply routes to the Houthis south of Marib, thereby alleviating the militia’s pressure on the central city of Marib.

At least 35 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government troops west and south of Marib city amid intensifying airstrikes by the Arab coalition warplanes, the military source said.

The heaviest battles occurred in Al-Amud and Abu Resh, where government forces repelled Houthi attacks. Less intensive fighting broke out in Mashjah and Al-Kasara, west of Marib, and the Houthis were forced to retreat after failing to make headway.

The Arab coalition announced on Thursday that it carried out precision airstrikes on targets in Sanaa, Saada and Marib that killed more than 45 Houthis.

The coalition said that early on Thursday its warplanes struck major weapon and supply warehouses and two sites under construction for military use in Sanaa and destroyed workshops for assembling drone and ballistic missiles in Saada, the Houthi heartland.

Hundreds of Houthi fighters have been killed in Marib province since last month when the Arab coalition intensified its air raids, paving the way for government forces on the ground to push back Houthi attacks.


Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos
Updated 02 December 2021

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos

Libya court reinstates Qaddafi presidential bid amid election chaos
  • Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's appeal against disqualification for the Dec. 24 vote was delayed for days as fighters blocked off the court
  • The elections commission said armed men had stormed five election centres in western Libya, stealing ballot cards

TRIPOLI: A Libyan court ruled on Thursday that the late leader Muammar Qaddafi’s son could run for president, his lawyer said, as arguments intensified over the conduct of an election aimed at ending a decade of turmoil.
Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi’s appeal against disqualification for the Dec. 24 vote was delayed for days as fighters blocked off the court, one of several incidents that may foreshadow wider election unrest.
In another incident on Thursday, the elections commission said armed men had stormed five election centers in western Libya, stealing ballot cards.
Analysts fear a contested vote, or one with clear violations, could derail a peace process that this year led to the formation of a unity government in an effort to bridge the rift between warring eastern and western factions.
A final list of candidates for the election has not yet been released amid a chaotic appeals process after the election commission initially disqualified 25 of the 98 who registered to run for president.
Qaddafi, who was sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in absentia in 2015 for warcrimes committed during the failed battle to save his father’s 40-year rule from a NATO-backed uprising, is one of several divisive candidates in the race.
He is a figurehead for Libyans still loyal to the former government of his father, whose toppling and death in 2011 heralded a decade of strife. After his lawyer announced the decision, his supporters celebrated in the streets across Sebha, witnesses said.
However, many other Libyans, including in the armed groups that hold the balance of power across swathes of the country, view his presence on the ballot as unacceptable after the bloody struggle to oust his father.
The blockade of the Sebha court this week by fighters allied to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar indicated the potential chaos that the planned election could unleash with armed groups backing or opposing rival candidates.
Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls much of eastern and southern Libya, is himself a candidate for the election. The LNA said the units allied to it had been protecting the court rather than blocking it.


El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security
Updated 02 December 2021

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security

El-Sisi on Renaissance Dam: We are committed to preserving our water security
  • Speaking after a meeting with Spanish prime minister, Egyptian president stressed the importance of a just agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on use of the dam
  • He also warned against any unilateral action that results in a fait accompli that ignores the rights of peoples in countries downstream of the dam

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday reiterated Egypt’s determination to guarantee and maintain its water security, now and in the future, in light of concerns about the new Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

Speaking in Cairo after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, he stressed the importance of reaching a comprehensive, just and legally binding agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the rules for filling and operating the dam, which is on the Blue Nile River. He also highlighted the important role of the international community in pushing for this and working to support an effective negotiation process to achieve it.

El-Sisi also warned against any unilateral actions that result in a fait accompli that ignores the rights of the countries’ peoples, and Egypt’s vision to make the Nile River a source of cooperation and development as a lifeline for all the people of the Nile Basin countries.

Regarding the other issues discussed by the two leaders, El-Sisi said: “I had fruitful and constructive discussions with the Spanish prime minister which clearly reflected our common political will to strengthen cooperation frameworks between Egypt and Spain in various fields, allowing optimal use of our capabilities to serve the interests of both countries.

“I also exchanged views with the Spanish prime minister regarding developments in our region in general, and with regard to the overall strategic situation in the Mediterranean Basin and our common regional neighborhood."

According to the official spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Sanchez stressed that Egyptian-European cooperation reflects common interests and enhances the distinguished relationship between the two sides, especially in light of the fact that Egypt hosts millions of refugees, and its efforts to control its coasts which have resulted in no cases of illegal immigration since 2016.

Ethiopia’s decision to proceed with the second phase of the filling of the Renaissance Dam this year before reaching a binding agreement with downstream countries Sudan and Egypt has been the most prominent challenge during the decade-long negotiation process between the three countries about the dam. The talks have been officially suspended since April after they failed to reach an understanding prior to the start of phase two. Egypt and Sudan reject Ethiopia’s decision to proceed before reaching a binding agreement on filling the dam and its operation.