Lebanese delegation in Syria to discuss energy imports from Jordan and Egypt

Lebanese delegation in Syria to discuss energy imports from Jordan and Egypt
Syrian FM Faisal Al-Mekdad meets with a delegation from Lebanon's caretaker government in Damascus, Syria September 4, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 September 2021

Lebanese delegation in Syria to discuss energy imports from Jordan and Egypt

Lebanese delegation in Syria to discuss energy imports from Jordan and Egypt
  • Lebanon is expecting a shipment of fuel from Iran, which local media said was to be delivered at a Syrian port
  • Fuel crisis hitting crucial sectors like healthcare, telecoms

DAMASCUS: A Lebanese ministerial delegation arrived in Damascus on Saturday to discuss importing electricity and natural gas from Jordan and Egypt through Syria. 

Some Lebanese news websites said that this visit relaunched “the era of official normalization with the Syrian regime.”

The visit came more than two weeks after the US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, informed the Lebanese presidency of the administration’s “approval to help the country obtain electricity by facilitating the transfer of Egyptian natural gas through Jordan and Syria to northern Lebanon.”

This implies the US has agreed to exempt Lebanon from the international sanctions imposed on Syria, which prohibit any financial or commercial transaction with it.

Lebanese officials have not held such talks with Syria in a decade.

Ministers and figures representing parties allied to Damascus have visited Syria in recent years, mostly in a personal capacity, without being assigned to do so on behalf of the Lebanese government.




Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad and his Lebanese counterpart Zeina Akar leave a press conference following a meeting in the capital Damascus on September 4, 2021. (AFP)

The delegation included Deputy Prime Minister Zeina Akar, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni and the director-general of Lebanese General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

Lebanon is experiencing a fuel crisis that is affecting various sectors, including healthcare, retail, and telecommunications.

Electricité du Liban is no longer able to provide an acceptable level of electricity supply to all regions, leading to rationing hours exceeding 22 hours a day.

Private generators are no longer able to get enough diesel to cover the hours of power outages, as suppliers are either hoarding fuel or only selling it on the black market.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad greeted the delegation at the Jdeidet Yabous border entry point, saying: “Syria is positive about this meeting. It welcomes any initiative and will not stand in the way of any agreement that serves Lebanon.”

Marc Ayoub, an expert on energy affairs in Lebanon and the Middle East, said the visit was necessary to discuss the technical issues related to the safety of gas pipelines passing through Syria, as well as the safety of the electricity network and the areas it crossed. 

“The delegation needs to address the agreements concluded with Syria concerning the energy charges and whether they should be adjusted since the situation is different from what it was before the war,” he told Arab News. “They need to find out whether the charges will be paid in cash or gas. The Lebanese delegation should hold talks with the Egyptian and Jordanian sides next. Things will certainly take time, but if there is a will, the deal may be concluded within two or three months.”

Lebanon is expecting a shipment of fuel from Iran, which local media said was to be delivered at a major Syrian port and transported by land. Hezbollah’s leader has arranged with allies in Tehran to ship the fuel to Lebanon.

“The Iranian ship loaded with diesel that Hezbollah said was coming to Lebanon, along with other ships, stirred this whole issue,” Ayoub added. “If the US now turns a blind eye to dealing with Syria, why did it not do so in previous years?”

Diana Qaisi, an expert in oil affairs, said the Lebanese delegation ought to discuss the demarcation of the maritime borders between the two countries to resolve the dispute over the 750 square kilometers.

“Bringing Iranian ships loaded with fuel to Lebanon will be a very complicated process. There is no clear mechanism for how to distribute the fuel, how to price it, or who will benefit from the collected money,” Qaisi added.

Christina Abu Haidar, a legal expert in the energy field, said the delegation’s visit and discussions in Syria were “very important” from a legal point of view.

“A serious negotiation is required and, if it is achieved, it would be the best option for obtaining sustainable and environmentally clean energy at an acceptable price, which is better than the current band-aid solutions, such as Iraqi oil and the Iranian fuel.”

The Iranian ship is still waiting to pass through the Suez Canal.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the media office at the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon, told Lebanon’s National News Agency: “UNIFIL’s role is to communicate with ships approaching Lebanon and refer those with violations or those that need clarification to the Lebanese authorities for inspection. UNIFIL’s role ends there. The Lebanese authorities are ultimately responsible for allowing — or not allowing — any ship to enter Lebanese territorial waters and unload its cargo on Lebanese shores.”


Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood
Updated 57 min 52 sec ago

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood
  • "We are clearing the area for the beginning of the new project," said Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for Hebron's Jewish community
  • The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now is suing to stop the project

JERUSALEM: Jewish residents of an explosive settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron said Thursday they had begun work in the construction of a new neighborhood.
“We are clearing the area for the beginning of the new project,” said Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community.
Israel approved the construction four years ago on an Israeli military base and allocated more than $6 million to it.
The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now is suing to stop the project, which it says is the first major expansion of the Jewish community in Hebron in two decades.
The neighborhood would eventually contain 31 homes, Fleisher said.
About 1,000 Jewish settlers live in Hebron under heavy Israeli military protection among more than 200,000 Palestinians.
Israel occupied the West Bank, including Hebron, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians eye the areas for their future state.
Hebron contains a holy site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque and to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is revered by both faiths.
Palestinian Hebron resident Issa Amro, an activist against settlements, said the new neighborhood would exacerbate friction in the area.
“It means an increase in violence. It means the restrictions on us as Palestinians. It means changing the identity of our own city to an Israeli, Hebrew city,” he said.
The construction was revealed by Peace Now, which published video showing a digger at work.
The Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, COGAT, approved the new settler units in central Hebron in 2017.
Peace Now and the Hebron municipality challenged the apartment project in Jerusalem’s district court and lost, said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now.
The area had previously served as a bus station before the Israeli army closed it for security reasons, Ofran said.
“Now Israel decided there was no military purpose anymore, there is no security need, so it should return to the (Palestinians),” Ofran said. “But instead of returning it, they are taking it and giving it to settlers.”
Fleisher said no court issued an injunction against construction.
Ofran said her group and Hebron are now appealing to Israel’s supreme court.


P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib
Updated 21 October 2021

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib
  • P5: All Yemeni parties should promote dialogue and that “there is no military solution to the crisis”
  • The call took place a day after the UN Security Council condemned Houthi cross-border attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The UN Security Council’s five permanent members called for the unconditional protection of civilians in Marib on Thursday.
During a call with Marib’s governor, the heads of missions of the UK, US, France, Russia and China to Yemen said that “a fully inclusive political solution in Yemen is the only way to end to the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
They added that all Yemeni parties should promote dialogue and that “there is no military solution to the crisis.”
The governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada, briefed the ambassadors on the dire humanitarian situation in the governorate.
The call took place a day after the UN Security Council condemned Houthi cross-border attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia, car-bomb attacks targeting a Yemeni official convoy, and attacks on civilian and commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since early this year when the Houthis resumed a major military offensive to control Marib city.
The Arab coalition has recently been carrying out operations in Marib’s besieged Abedia district which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23.
The militia has been hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.


Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
Updated 21 October 2021

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
KHARTOUM: Tens of thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy took to the streets Thursday, as rival demonstrators kept up a sit-in demanding a return to military rule.
Both sides appealed to their supporters to keep apart and refrain from any violence, but there was a heavy police and troop presence around potential flashpoints.
Security forces fired tear gas as pro-civilian rule protesters rallied outside parliament in Omdurman, across the Nile river from the capital Khartoum, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.
The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded the nationwide demonstrations that led to the army’s overthrow of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir in 2019.
The mainstream faction backs the transition to civilian rule, while supporters of the breakaway faction are demanding that the military takeover.
Demonstrators joined the march organized by the mainstream faction in several cities across Sudan including Khartoum, its twin city Omdurman, Port Sudan in the east, and Atbara to the north.
Banners proclaimed “Civilian (rule) is the people’s choice,” while the marchers chanted slogans against Islamists and the military, the two main pillars of the former Bashir regime.
“Give up power, (Abdel Fattah) Al-Burhan,” they chanted in reference to the general who chairs the Sovereign Council, the joint civilian-military body which oversees the work of the transitional government.
“Burhan is dirty, and was installed by the Islamists.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman of the mainstream FFC faction, said supporters backed two key agreements — the 2019 power-sharing deal between the civilians the military, and a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups.
The two deals stipulate power will be handed over to civilian rule by the end of a three-year transition period in 2023.
“Our main goal is to have the military hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereign Council to the civilians,” Hassan told AFP. “We also want the armed groups to be integrated in the Sudanese army.”
Their rivals, the pro-military faction, have been holding a sit-in outside the presidential palace since Saturday.
It has drawn support from some of the many Sudanese who have been hit hard by the tough IMF-backed economic reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN economist.
“We are in the right,” said protester Hamada Abdelrahman, standing outside the presidential palace. “This government has not offered the Sudanese people anything for two years.”
The sit-in’s opponents charge it has been orchestrated by leading figures in the security forces with the support of Bashir sympathizers and other “counter-revolutionaries.”
The same groups were blamed for a September 21 coup attempt that was thwarted by the government.
Ahead of Thursday’s demonstrations, leaders of the rival factions appealed for calm.
Ali Ammar, a leader of the mainstream FFC, said pro-government demonstrators would stay away from the presidential palace and the cabinet building, so “there would be no friction with protesters” there.
Prominent ex-rebel figures in the pro-military faction, like Darfur governor Minni Minnawi and Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim, called for the rival demonstrations to remain peaceful.
On Thursday, troops and police sealed off roads leading to the large open space outside army headquarters, where tens of thousands of protesters camped out for weeks before and after Bashir’s ouster in April 2019.
Hamdok has described the deep divisions over Sudan’s transition as “the worst and most dangerous” since Bashir’s overthrow.
The prime minister has made his top priorities addressing the chronic economic woes inherited from the Bashir regime, and making peace with the multiple rebel groups that took up arms during its three decades in power.
A sharp improvement in relations with the United States has led to the lifting of economic sanctions giving some help to the economy.
But a package of painful structural reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound, has proved widely unpopular and has cost Hamdok’s government much of its support.
In October last year, the government signed a peace deal with multiple rebel groups in Sudan’s far-flung regions with a view to ending the ethnic conflicts that have dogged the country since independence.
The deal was widely hailed as a step forward, but its focus on the three battleground regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan left minority communities in other parts of Sudan feeling sidelined.
Resentment has been particularly strong among the Beja people of the Red Sea coast, who have mounted protests across the east since mid-September, including a blockade of the key trade hub of Port Sudan.

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
Updated 21 October 2021

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
  • Those executed on Wednesday were charged with "committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure”
  • Eleven others were sentenced to hard labour for life, 4 were hit with temporary penal labour and 5 minors were handed jail sentences

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government has executed 24 people it convicted of deliberately starting deadly wildfires that raged in the summer of last year, state media reported Thursday.
Those executed on Wednesday were charged with “committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material,” the official SANA news agency said.
Eleven others were sentenced to hard labor for life, four were hit with temporary penal labor and five minors were handed jail sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years over similar charges, SANA added.
Their identities were not disclosed, and no details were provided on where and how the executions took place.
The suspects, the state agency said, were identified late last year in an interior ministry probe into wildfires in the provinces of Latakia, Tartus and Homs.
“They confessed that they had started fires at several locations in the three provinces and they also confessed to convening meetings to plan the fires” that occurred intermittently in September and October 2020, according to SANA.
The agency said it documented 187 fires affecting 280 towns and villages last year.
They devastated 13,000 hectares of agricultural land and 11,000 hectares of forest land, while also damaging more than 370 homes, SANA said.
At least three people were killed and dozens wounded, state media reported at the time.
Syrian law still provides for the death penalty for offenses including terrorism, arson and army desertion, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In its latest death penalty report published this year, Amnesty said it was able to corroborate information indicating that executions took place in Syria in 2020 but said it did not have sufficient information to give a reliable minimum figure.
The death penalty is usually carried out by hanging in Syria.


Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
Updated 21 October 2021

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
  • The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” if Houthi violations continue
  • Operation is a response to the Houthi threat and aims to deter the militia from targeting civilians

RIYADH: The Arab coalition has launched an operation in Sanaa to stop the Houthis attacking civilian targets.
The coalition said the offensive would neutralize the threat of imminent attacks on civilian facilities in the Kingdom.
The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” within the framework of international humanitarian law if Houthi violations continue.
The operation took into account preventive measures to protect civilians and the militia is an existential threat to international peace and security, the coalition said.
It said the alliance had exercised the highest degree of restraint in the face of recent Houthi violations.