Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months
Mourners carry the coffin of Ibrahim Harb, 35, who was critically injured in the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year and died Monday nearly 14 months after the blast. (AP)
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Updated 28 September 2021

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months
  • Ibrahim Mustafa Harb fell into a coma after the explosion and spent more than three months in the hospital before passing away Monday
  • Judge Tarek Bitar suspended his investigation into the blast this week after a complaint filed by former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk

BEIRUT: Ibrahim Mustafa Harb, who was critically injured in the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year has died, nearly 14 months after the blast.

Harb, a 36-year-old accountant, was at his downtown office when the explosion wiped out the port and devastated nearby neighborhoods. He finally succumbed to his serious head injuries while at his parents’ home on Monday night.

Harb was in a coma after the blast and spent more than three months in the hospital. His condition began to improve until he suffered a setback last week.

“He sustained serious injuries to his face,” one of Harb’s relatives told Arab News. “As soon as he woke up from his coma, Harb underwent medical rehabilitation that cost his family unimaginable amounts.”

On Aug. 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, ignited after a massive fire at the port. It later emerged that the nitrate had been improperly stored at a port warehouse for years while senior political and security officials knew of its existence and did nothing about it.

Harb brings the death toll from the blast to 215.

The investigation into the case has produced few answers of accountability due to political pressure on investigators. The families of the victims continue to protest in the streets demanding justice.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who was investigating the explosion had to suspend his work on Monday. A court will now vote on whether to replace him in response to a complaint filed last week by former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.

Machnouk is one of the top officials suspected of negligence, a charge brought by Judge Bitar. Other suspects include former premier Hassan Diab, three other ministers, a former army commander, current directors of public security and state security, judges, senior officials at the Beirut port, and customs agents, some of whom have already been detained.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday that he hopes the court of appeal will reject Bitar’s suspension “because Lebanon cannot handle another judge being removed,” as he believes the investigation will lose credibility if a third judge will be named.

Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, was sacked in February.

The suspension of the probe has sparked an outcry from the families of the blast victims. They protested against the possible removal of Judge Bitar during a meeting with Justice Minister Henry Al-Khoury on Tuesday.

Al-Khoury said he was “confident about the judges of Lebanon” and called for leaving the case to its legal course.

“The smear campaigns against the judiciary system and judges must be stopped as this will only lead to weakening the case and delaying justice,” Al-Khoury said.

William Noun, brother of blast victim Joe Noun, was optimistic and wants Judge Bitar to remain on the case.

“The families of the victims hope that the court of cassation, which has the right to decide on Machnouk’s request, will not remove Judge Bitar and that its decision will be fair,” he said.

Rima Zahed, sister of victim Amin Zahed said: “We will not stop. We will sleep in the middle of the roads for this cause. The political authority has exposed itself. They are trying to obscure the truth.”

Shukri Sader, former head of the Shoura Council, said that removing judge Bitar “paves the way for more requests of removal that aim to buy time until the next session of parliament. During this period, there are no immunities for deputies and Judge Bitar can use this to question the defendants.”

He said there is “a corrupt class that destroys the rest of the judicial authorities under the cover of immunities that are the biggest curse.”

Bitar’s investigation, Sader said, has been transparent and impartial.

“We must stand with the families of the martyrs,” he said.

UN Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi tweeted: “There is an urgent need for an independent and impartial investigation into the explosion. Justice must be served and the families of the victims of the explosion have the right to know the truth.”

Meanwhile, defense attorneys for the director-general of Lebanese General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is a defendant in the blast case, accused Judge Bitar of “committing legal irregularities while investigating the case, either to gain time or to dilute the truth.”

The lawyers accused Bitar of “abnormal behavior” and a “double standard.” They accused him of giving a media interview and talking to families of the victims, who are a party in the case.


France’s Le Drian says expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

France’s Le Drian says expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday
Updated 6 sec ago

France’s Le Drian says expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

France’s Le Drian says expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

PARIS: French foreign minister Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday he expects nuclear talks with Iran to resume on Thursday.

More to follow...


Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
Updated 28 min 18 sec ago

Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
  • It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels

LONDON: An Iranian warship due to launch next year has capsized before leaving its dry dock at Bandar Abbas port, according to a video and imagery published online at the weekend.

Satellite images appeared to confirm that the naval vessel Talayieh, which was going through the final stages of construction before its launch, was lying on its side and partially flooded. It is not clear how the ship had toppled over.

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media.

The Planetscope satellite image, taken on Dec. 4, was tweeted by Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

The photo shows the ship on its side in the same location as where the Talayieh was pictured being built in an image published by Iranian media in August.

Iranian naval officials said the Talayieh would be an “intelligence reconnaissance” vessel specializing in electronic warfare, while also providing assistance to other Iranian ships.  

According to experts, if a ship of the size of the Talayieh lies in the water for an extended period of time, it can lead to a number of issues that would require considerable time and energy to rectify.

It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels. In June, the Kharg — one of Iran’s largest naval vessels — caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman.

In May 2020, 19 naval servicemen died and another 15 were injured when an Iranian warship accidentally opened fire on one of its own support vessels during a training exercise in the same body of water.


Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
Updated 36 min 5 sec ago

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
  • Razan Al-Mubarak wants to ‘debunk myth’ that fighting climate change automatically preserves biodiversity
  • She hopes to see more regional cooperation on protection of indigenous wildlife

LONDON: The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to prevent global biodiversity loss, which she said often “plays second fiddle” to the issue of climate change in international agreements.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak said: “Often we link biodiversity and climate change as one and the same … But what’s important for us to understand and recognize is that addressing the issue of climate change won’t necessarily address the issue of biodiversity loss … because the drivers are different.”

She added that the disconnect between addressing climate change, which is caused largely by excess greenhouse gas emissions, and tackling biodiversity loss, which has an array of localized causes, became abundantly clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent — the greatest decrease in 100 years. But if you look at what happened in the biodiversity agenda, it actually increased,” said Al-Mubarak.

This was partly because urban-to-rural population flows increased, but global lockdowns also meant that conservation workers were prevented from carrying out their essential duties that preserve biodiverse systems.

The Zoological Society of London’s Director General Dominic Jermey told participants that a key indicator of global biodiversity change that his organization produces, the Living Planet Index, shows that land use for products such as palm oil or cotton is “one of the critical killers of wildlife.”

Al-Mubarak, who was recently appointed as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said biodiversity, and nature more broadly, are essential to human survival, but the “myth” that addressing climate change will also protect diverse biological systems needs to be “debunked.”

In her home country of the UAE, her work has already proved successful in protecting or rejuvenating ecosystems, while also building relationships with international partners.

One of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s crowning successes was the re-introduction of the scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild, back into its native Saharan habitat, an initiative carried out jointly with Chadian environmental officials, the ZSL and others.

In Europe, too, Al-Mubarak’s team has made inroads to protect endangered species. The UK and the UAE are signatories to the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, an international agreement that protects the migration routes of birds of prey such as falcons.

And Abu Dhabi is host to the only office dedicated to the administration of the UN’s Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

Al-Mubarak said: “What spurred the Raptors MoU between the UK and the UAE is the story of falconry. If you trace the story of falconry and falcon conservation in the UAE context … it was this fantastic bird, the fastest animal on the planet, that spurred the imagination of the leadership of institutions in the UAE to protect it.”

This went “beyond borders,” she added, explaining that their work to protect falcons and other migratory birds now extends to cooperation with Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. 

She said cooperation with the UAE’s neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, could also improve conservation efforts.

Responding to a question by Arab News, she said: “In our region we share species, and we need to be able to share and work on cross-boundary protected areas, which we really haven’t exploited yet. It’s something that we really need to do more of.”

Adding to the point, Jermey said: “Wild animals don’t have passports. It’s news to them that there are borders between countries, and we do need to think in a trans-border, trans-boundary way.”


Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
Updated 42 min 18 sec ago

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
  • Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani discussed options for their countries to jointly run Kabul airport
  • Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, while Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans

ANKARA: The foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar have reviewed plans for the return to normal operations of Kabul’s international airport in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Monday discussed options for their countries to jointly run the airport and ways to deliver further humanitarian aid to the Afghan people under conditions agreeable with the Taliban.

Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans, and a Turkish overseas education foundation has kept its schools open for girls and boys.

During a joint press conference in Doha, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar and Turkey were ready to control Kabul airport if the Taliban agreed to it.

“Qatar and Turkey are continuously working with the interim government in Afghanistan to reach an agreement to open the airport (so it can function) normally,” he added.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Doha on Monday for two days of talks to rebuild ties.

In November, the US signed an agreement with Qatar to designate the Gulf country as the power to protect American interests in Afghanistan, considering it a trusted mediator. Qatar and Turkey played significant roles in the evacuation process out of Afghanistan after the Taliban swept to power.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, told Arab News that Turkey and Qatar could cooperate on calling for limited waivers on US-imposed asset freezes against the Taliban, and leverage their respective bargaining power in Western capitals to achieve that outcome.

He said: “Turkey and Qatar can also coordinate on alleviating Afghanistan’s food security crisis, as Qatar’s experience working with the World Food Program in theaters such as Yemen, could be effective in Afghanistan.”

Ramani noted that Turkey had also been ramping up food aid shipments, such as wheat, to Afghanistan over the past month.

“Neither Turkey nor Qatar is likely to provide the Taliban with recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate authority, but both will encourage engagement with the new Islamic emirate,” he added.

During Monday’s meeting, Cavusoglu urged the international community to engage in dialogue with the Taliban by “distinguishing” between the political and humanitarian aspects.

Zalmai Nishat, research fellow at the University of Sussex’s Asia Center, said the Taliban wanted Turkey to get involved in the operationalization of Kabul airport alongside Qatar.

He told Arab News: “From a historical perspective, Turkey is seen as the successor of the Ottoman empire and is respected by the people of Afghanistan, with the memories of the Caliphate. Also, Turkey is an ally of the US and the EU being a key country within NATO.”

Nishat pointed out that during peace talks between the former government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, control of Kabul airport had been a critical issue and the parties had looked upon Turkey as an ideal partner.

“Ankara must design a robust policy about Afghanistan, which would enable it to put pressure on the Taliban and their supporters to create a political system where diverse ethnic communities of Afghanistan feel themselves at home and feel included in the political system, with a fair representation,” he added.

Turkey, allegedly having established intelligence contacts with some Taliban-linked militia in the country, also has strong historical and ethnic ties in Afghanistan, with its non-combat troops on the ground in the past as a member of the NATO alliance.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, told Arab News that the Taliban needed legitimacy at this stage by establishing themselves as credible actors through the channels of Qatar and Turkey and in doing so help connect the group with the rest of the world.

He said: “Turkey is still looking to position itself as a connection between the Taliban and the outside world. Qatar comes first, with closer ties with the Taliban historically and politically. Turkey would come after Qatar in this political play, but the two countries can play a critical role in maintaining the security of flights in the short term.”

In the medium term, Cagaptay added, Turkey had significant soft power on the ground in Afghanistan that had been developed since the beginning of the early years of the Turkish republic, and it could be used to reach out to Afghan society through its local ties.


Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
Updated 07 December 2021

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
  • The 65-kilometer barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect tunnels
  • Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since the organization seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May

JERUSALEM: Israel on Tuesday announced the completion of an enhanced security barrier around the Gaza Strip.

The 65-kilometer (40-mile) barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect tunnels.

Existing fencing was replaced with a 6-meter (6.5-yard) high “smart fence” with sensors and cameras.

Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since the organization seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May.

During a 2014 war, Palestinian fighters tunneled into Israel and clashed with Israeli troops.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the completion of the barrier after more than three years of construction, saying it places an “iron wall” between Hamas and the residents of southern Israel.

During May’s fighting, Hamas used a sophisticated tunnel system within Gaza but did not infiltrate fighters into Israel. The group fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel in 11 days, with large volleys that occasionally overwhelmed Israel’s sophisticated missile defenses.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes during the conflict and brought down several multistory buildings. The war killed over 250 people in Gaza, including at least 129 civilians, according to the UN, while 13 people died on the Israeli side.

Since Hamas seized power, Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza that has severely restricted travel for the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents and strangled the economy.

Israel says the closures are needed to prevent Hamas from expanding its military capabilities, while the Palestinians and rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas organized violent mass protests along the frontier in order to pressure Israel to ease the blockade. More than 200 Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Rights groups recently accused Israel of failing to hold its forces accountable for the deaths and serious injuries.

Israel says its forces prevented the mass infiltration of Hamas operatives. It says allegations of wrongdoing were fully investigated and soldiers were held to account.