As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
Residents of the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs were surprised when the army withdrew its forces from checkpoints in the area. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 24 September 2021

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
  • The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army has ‘redeployed’ soldiers away from several regions, notably Beirut’s southern suburbs, with its command saying in a statement that the redeployment is intended “to reduce the economic burdens on the army.”

The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown. In his notorious speech in March, Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Army, said: “Soldiers are struggling like other people; a soldier’s salary has lost its value and soldiers are going hungry like others.”

Aoun, who is currently visiting Turkey, met with his Turkish counterpart and other officials on Friday and requested logistical support, including equipment and machinery.

He will also visit Washington at the end of September to ask for direct American aid and promises of military assistance for the Lebanese army.

In recent months, some soldiers have deserted as the depreciation of the Lebanese pound has seen the relative value of their salaries plummet to the equivalent of $60 per month. Army command claims the number of deserters is “limited.”

Residents of the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs were surprised when the army withdrew its forces from checkpoints in the area. Soldiers have been deployed there since 2013, when the suburbs were targeted by bombings that were blamed on Daesh, and seen as connected to the war in Syria and Hezbollah’s interference in the interests of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Lebanese army command stressed on Friday that its troops would “continue to set up observation points in all areas, work on patrols, and carry out security missions.”

Meanwhile, dozens of families of victims of the August 2020 explosion in Beirut Port gathered in the capital to protest against the political pressure being placed on Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the blast.

Bitar was recently threatened by Hezbollah and, on Friday, the attorney representing Nohad Machnouk, the former interior minister who is accused in the case, filed a request to dismiss Bitar from the investigation.

If Bitar were to be dismissed from the case, he would be the second judge to have been removed from the investigation. Like his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, Bitar has issued a subpoena for a former prime minister, ministers and security officials in connection with the explosion..

Machnouk visited Dar Al-Fatwa — Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority — and gave a speech there in which he claimed that Bitar “takes his orders from” Salim Jreissati, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil and an advisor to Lebanese President Michael Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law.

Machnouk warned against summoning former Prime Minister Hassan Diab — also accused in the case — based on a subpoena Bitar issued after Diab failed to show up for questioning. He said Bitar is implementing “a political agenda, away from the constitution, law and logic.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also previously accused Bitar of being “politicized.”

Former minister Youssef Fenianos — another accused in the case — has requested that the file be transferred from Bitar to another judge.

The campaign against Bitar intensified on Friday. Jaafarite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in his Friday sermon: “It is not allowed to play with fire. What happened in the investigation … increases strong doubts about fabrication as well as (demands for) the dismissal of Judge Bitar, as the country is teeming with corruption.”

After his meeting with the president on Friday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi said: “Sects should not deal with justice; we are a country that separates between religion and state.”


Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon
Updated 10 sec ago

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon
  • Local media say Najib Mikati would not ask for another meeting to convene before a framework agreement was reached
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday he hoped cabinet meetings would resume after a two-week hiatus since a row over the Beirut blast probe led some ministers to ask for his removal.
Local media had said that Mikati would not ask for another meeting to convene before a framework agreement was reached.

Arab nations call for calm amid Sudan coup

Arab nations call for calm amid Sudan coup
Updated 56 min 51 sec ago

Arab nations call for calm amid Sudan coup

Arab nations call for calm amid Sudan coup
  • Saudi Arabia previously expressed concern regarding the developments in Sudan

DUBAI: Arab nations have called for calm in Sudan after the military staged a coup, overthrowing the transitional government and imposing a state of emergency.
General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the head of the military, announced the dissolution, on Monday, of the government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created after the April 2019 overthrow of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
Burhan said quarrels among political factions prompted the military intervention. The Council was supposed to pave the way for full civilian rule.
Jordan’s foreign affairs ministry, in a statement, urged Sudan’s conflicting parties to ensure that ‘national interest trumps personal interest’, and to bring calm to the country.
Amman earlier expressed concern on the conditions of Jordanian citizens residing in Sudan in light of developments in the country.
Bahrain said that it was “following with concern the developments of the current events taking place in the Republic of Sudan.”
Manama expressed its “confidence in the ability of the Sudanese political forces to overcome this with dialogue and understanding,” state news agency BNA reported, but stressed the need to maintain security, stability and peace in Sudan.
The UAE emphasized the need to avoid an escalation of the conflict in Sudan and “see stability as soon as possible in a manner that achieves the interests and aspirations of the Sudanese people in development and prosperity.”
There was a need to “preserve the political and economic gains that have been achieved and all that aims to protect the sovereignty and unity of Sudan,” state news agency WAM reported.
Saudi Arabia previously expressed concern regarding the developments in Sudan, and similarly stressed the importance of restraint and a de-escalation of tensions.
It was important to preserve all the political and economic gains and everything that aimed to protect the unity among all the political components in Sudan, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said in a statement.


Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup

Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup
Updated 26 October 2021

Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup

Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup
  • There was no official confirmation of the communications interruption

KHARTOUM: Telecommunications were interrupted in Sudan, a Reuters witness said on Tuesday, a day after the country’s military seized power in a coup and a health ministry official said seven people were killed in clashes between soldiers and street protesters.
There was no official confirmation of the communications interruption. A Reuters witness said Internet and phone services were severely limited.
Life is at a standstill in the capital Khartoum, where shops and services are closed and some roads are still blocked by the military after a mostly quiet night.
The leader of the takeover, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, dissolved the military-civilian Sovereign Council that had been established to guide the country to democracy following the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years ago.
Burhan announced a state of emergency, saying the armed forces needed to protect safety and security. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an elected civilian government then.
Events in Sudan mirror those in several other Arab countries, where the military has consolidated its grip following popular uprisings.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an activist coalition in the uprising against Bashir, has called for a strike. The call for a general strike could be heard from the loudspeakers of mosques in Khartoum.
The Sudan information ministry, which is still loyal to ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, said on its Facebook page the transitional constitution gives only the prime minister the right to declare a state of emergency and that the military’s actions are a crime. Hamdok is still the legitimate transitional authority, it said.
Hamdok, an economist and former senior UN official, was detained and taken to an undisclosed location after refusing to issue a statement in support of the takeover, the information ministry said.
The governments of the United States, UK and Norway condemned the coup in Sudan, saying they were deeply concerned about the situation in the country.
They called on security forces to release those who were detained unlawfully, according to a joint statement released by the US State Department.


UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists
Updated 26 October 2021

UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists
  • Group of special rapporteurs said designation of six organizations is an ‘attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere’
  • They said it is not what a democracy following accepted humanitarian standards would do; called on the international community to ‘defend the defenders’

NEW YORK: UN human rights experts on Monday “strongly and unequivocally” condemned the decision by Israeli authorities to designate six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations.
“This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere,” the special rapporteurs said.
“Silencing their voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do.” 
They called on the international community to “defend the defenders” and added: “These civil society organizations are the canaries in the human rights coalmine, alerting us to the patterns of violations, reminding the international community of its obligations to ensure accountability, and providing voices for those who have none.”
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.
They include Martin Lynk, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
The experts said that antiterrorism laws must not be used as a tool to undermine freedoms, and reminded Israeli authorities that the Security Council and all other UN bodies “have all been clear about the requirement to apply counter-terrorism measures in a manner which is consistent with international law and does not violate states’ international obligations.”
Such “egregious misuse” of counterterrorism measures by Israel, the experts added, undermines the security of all.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday designated as terrorist groups the Palestinian organizations Addameer, which provides legal support for prisoners and collects data on arrests and detentions; Al-Haq, which documents rights violations; Defense for Children International Palestine; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
“These organizations speak the language of universal human rights (and document abuses in Palestine),” the experts said. 
They added that the decision to designate them as terrorist organizations effectively bans their work and gives the Israeli military free rein to arrest employees, close offices and confiscate assets.
The experts expressed concern that in the case of one of the organizations, the decision might be a reprisal for cooperation with UN groups.
“The Israeli military has frequently targeted human rights defenders in recent years as its occupation has deepened, its defiance of international law has continued and its record of human rights violations has worsened,” the experts said.
“While international and Israeli human rights organizations have faced heavy criticism, legislative restrictions and even deportations, Palestinian human rights defenders have always encountered the severest constraints.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN office in Jerusalem, in addressing the issue, continues to engage with the Israeli authorities and the concerned parties.
“The secretary-general has repeatedly expressed concern about the shrinking space for civil society in many places around the world, including in Israel,” he added.


Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments

Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments
Updated 26 October 2021

Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments

Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments
  • In Jordan the prince and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall with meet King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, and representatives of humanitarian organizations
  • In Egypt they will meet the president and first lady, and discuss with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar ‘religious harmony and the role of faith in preserving the environment’

LONDON: Britain’s Prince Charles will travel to the Middle East next month on a trip that aims to showcase strong bilateral relationships and address the climate crisis.

The prince and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will visit Jordan and Egypt from Nov. 16 to 19, as part of his autumn tour, at the request of the British government, his office announced on Monday. During his last autumn tour, in 2019, he visited India, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.

Prince Charles “will explore how leaders, the private sector and wider society can implement commitments” following the World Leaders’ Summit that will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1, during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

During his visit to Jordan, which coincides with the nation’s centenary celebrations this year and 100 years of the UK-Jordan bilateral relationship, the royal couple will meet King Abdullah II and Queen Rania at Al-Husseiniya Palace.

They will also tour cultural and religions sites in Jordan and meet representatives of humanitarian organizations, including the UN Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee, the latter of which he became patron in January last year.

Charles will use his visit to focus on environmental issues, heritage preservation, and the creation of jobs and opportunities for young people. He will also participate in an interfaith discussion that “will acknowledge the diverse, tolerant and integrated nature of Jordanian society, highlighting the importance placed on religious freedom,” the prince’s office said. Camilla will focus on supporting education for women and girls and will discuss with Queen Rania her efforts in this area.

“Their royal highnesses’ return to Jordan underlines the importance that Her Majesty’s Government places on its close ties with Jordan, which is underpinned by the countries’ deep security cooperation and the long-standing relationship between the two royal families,” according to the prince’s office.

It added that Charles, who last visited Jordan in February 2015, will highlight the nation’s generosity in hosting refugees forced to flee conflicts in neighboring countries.

During their visit to Egypt, the royal couple will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and First Lady Entissar Amer at Al-Ittihadiya Palace. They will also meet the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar to discuss “religious harmony and the role of faith in preserving the environment, (which) will serve to further strengthen religious ties between the UK and Egypt,” the prince’s office said.

Egypt will assume the presidency of COP27 in 2022, so the talks will also focus on efforts to combat climate change, it added.

“Their visit to Egypt will highlight the country’s close relationship with the UK, and will provide an opportunity to demonstrate Egypt’s growing commitment to protecting the environment,” the prince’s office said.

Charles and Camilla last visited the North African country in 2006. The trip will conclude with a reception in the shadow of the pyramids in Giza to celebrate the bond between the nations, and a visit to the ancient city of Alexandria.