Hezbollah threats undermine unity of Lebanese government

Hezbollah threats undermine unity of Lebanese government
Demonstrators wave Lebanese flags during protests near the site of a blast at Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 11, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Hezbollah threats undermine unity of Lebanese government

Hezbollah threats undermine unity of Lebanese government
  • Judge Tarek Bitar’s efforts to hold senior officials to account for suspected negligence are facing mounting political pushback

BEIRUT: The Cabinet session that was scheduled for Wednesday has been adjourned as ministers were at odds following the speech of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the presidency’s media office announced on Wednesday.

The announcement came following consultations between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati after Nasrallah’s speech, in which he insisted on removing Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the Beirut port blast.

The ministers of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement threatened to suspend their participation in the Cabinet.

According to a government source, these ministers believe that “Bitar was appointed in virtue of a decree and can thus be removed in virtue of another one.”

Aoun’s ministers and those from the Free Patriotic Movement who support Bitar have hit back, arguing that “it is not possible to remove him from the case like this, based on the principle of the separation of powers.”

Officials have stepped up their communications in an attempt to find a compromise that takes into account legal and constitutional principles.

A judicial source told Arab News: “The government issued a decree referring the crime to the Supreme Judicial Council; it did not appoint the judicial investigator. The Minister of Justice together with the Supreme Judicial Council did, and no political party has the right to take Bitar off the case.”

On Wednesday, Bitar headed to the Palace of Justice in Beirut to wait for the Court of Cassation to decide on a request to dismiss him from the case, but none of the court’s judges appeared at the Palace of Justice.

Protesters organized a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut in support of Bitar. A protester told Arab News: “We do not understand Nasrallah’s attack against the judiciary. What is behind this fear of the results of the investigations into the port explosion?”

Hezbollah and Amal supporters called for demonstrations on Thursday “to denounce Bitar’s actions.”

These escalating tensions could lead to a face-off between protesters in the streets. This approach was adopted following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 when Hezbollah did not recognize the Special Tribunal for the Lebanese, nor its verdicts, and refused to hand over any of the accused.

Hezbollah brought Washington into its criticism of the port explosion investigation, with MP Hassan Fadlallah releasing a statement on Wednesday that said the US State Department’s position on the probe is “a direct intervention in the investigations to divert them from the right track, in order to keep them within the US political agenda to settle scores with the resistance and its allies in Lebanon.”

The State Department urged the Lebanese authorities “to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion in the Port of Beirut. The victims of the August 2020 port explosion deserve justice; they deserve accountability. We support Lebanon’s judicial independence. Judges must be free from threats and intimidation, including Hezbollah’s.”

The department added in a press briefing: “We’ve long been clear that Hezbollah’s terrorists and illicit activities threaten Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty. Hezbollah, we believe, is more concerned with its own interests and those of its patron, Iran, than in the best interests of the Lebanese people.”

Bitar had suspended his inquiry into the explosion on Tuesday after being notified of a dismissal request from the defendants, MP Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, as part of the pressure exerted on him.

Minutes before he halted his inquiry, Bitar issued an arrest warrant in absentia against Khalil for refusing to appear for questioning on Tuesday.

Hezbollah and the politicians who are accused of “negligence and causing the death and injury of hundreds of people,” are insisting on a trial before the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers instead of the Supreme Judicial Council.

On Wednesday, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party, Samir Geagea, called on those who are subject to Hezbollah’s intimidation to “immediately resign, starting with the president — who is supposed to be vigilant about respecting the Constitution — the prime minister and the government.”

The solidarity of the Lebanese government did not last long, with division breaking out at its first real test.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound was being traded at 21,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market. This devaluation affected fuel prices, chaos prevailed in markets, and public transportation drivers threatened to take to the streets.

In a brief report published on Wednesday, the World Bank warned of the Lebanese authority’s “ambiguity in terms of the solutions it is putting together, and the Central Bank’s reluctance to explain the details of its plans and perceptions.”

The World Bank expressed fears of “the ongoing depletion of the Central Bank’s reserves, albeit at slower rates.”

The report expected “a further deterioration in economic indicators related to the direct living situation and an increase in the proportion of groups suffering under poverty in all its dimensions.”


Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan
Updated 08 December 2021

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Egypt sends medical aid to South Sudan

Cairo: Egypt’s military announced that under the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, tons of medical and pharmaceutical aid have been sent to South Sudan.

The aid, transported by a military plane, was provided by the Ministry of Health and Population.

Officials in South Sudan expressed their appreciation for Egypt’s support, which they said strengthens bilateral relations.

During floods that swept South Sudan earlier this year, Egypt sent aid such as food and medical supplies.

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022
Updated 08 December 2021

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

Cairo selected as culture capital of Islamic world for 2022

CAIRO: The Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has announced the selection of Cairo as next year’s culture capital of the Muslim world.

Egypt’s Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem told a press conference that this choice reflects Cairo’s position as a meeting place for different cultures, a creative hub and a center for thought and art.

She praised ISESCO’s efforts to celebrate the capitals of Islamic countries and promote relationships between them.

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’
Updated 08 December 2021

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’

Morocco state schools face ‘crisis’
  • Just nine percent of students in state secondary schools pass exams in French, Arabic and mathematics — against 62, 38 and 49 percent respectively in private schools

RABAT: Morocco’s state schools are failing students and “deepening inequality,” a supervisory body has warned, as authorities scramble to raise the quality of teaching after years of neglect
The High Council for Education (CSE) has warned of a “crisis” in public education and said that government schools “are not giving the majority of pupils basic skills or a fundamental education.”
Despite a string of reforms, state schools “are becoming a machine for reproducing inequalities in society,” said the CSE in a report last month, cautioning that this “poses a serious threat.”
The situation has pushed many, including middle class families, to tighten their belts so they can scrape together fees for private schools.
“I pay almost 400 euros a month,” says Siham, an employee in the private sector. “It’s a lot, but it’s essential to guarantee that my two children get a better French and English education, which public school can’t give them.”
Just nine percent of students in state secondary schools pass exams in French, Arabic and mathematics — against 62, 38 and 49 percent respectively in private schools.
“These figures are distressing; they show that we’re raising illiterate citizens,” said Abderazzak Drissi, head of the kingdom’s National Teachers’ Federation.
The situation contrasts with the lofty goals of Morocco’s “New Development Model” presented by a royal commission in May and laying out a string of targets to be met by 2035.
The council’s warning is just the latest in a string of official reports to raise the alarm over problems in the education system and the resulting high unemployment rate among youth, the age group hardest hit by social inequality.
Chakib Benmoussa, who took office as education minister in October, described the system as “painful.”
“Improving the quality of public education depends first of all on the quality of teacher training,” he told parliament this month.
The CSE report agreed, adding that some choose the profession for “lack of alternatives.”
According to ministry figures, this year more than 100,000 candidates applied for fewer than 17,000 teaching jobs.
Under Benmoussa, the ministry has brought in new rules requiring prospective teachers to be aged under 30 and have a university degree with distinction.
The aim is “to select the best candidates who really want to practice this profession, as is the case at medical or engineering schools,” a ministry official told AFP.
But while there is agreement on the problems, opinions vary on the solutions.
The new conditions sparked a backlash from the teachers’ union and trainee teachers, with street demonstrations erupting last month.
Drissi, the union member, said what was needed was “a tougher entrance exam, not an age limit.”
But the ministry official said that “now it is urgent to reform the education system. We’ve delayed too much.”

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing
Updated 08 December 2021

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing

Israel police arrest teenage suspect after Jerusalem stabbing
  • The stabbing took place in Sheikh Jarrah, where several Palestinian extended families are at risk of being evicted by Jewish settlers
  • The attack came days after a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli man

JERUSALEM: Israeli officers arrested a young woman after a Wednesday stabbing in a tense neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem, police said.
“In the last few minutes, police forces arrested a suspect, a minor, who was located by the police inside an educational institution near the scene of the incident,” police said.
The victim, 26, was taken to hospital after the knife attack on the road into the flashpoint neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and was being treated for “mild” injuries, police said.
Police deployed helicopters as part of a massive manhunt following the 7:30 am (0530 GMT) stabbing.
Sheikh Jarrah has been hit by waves of unrest linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The neighborhood is home to at least seven Palestinian families who have been waiting for a Israeli legal ruling on whether they must surrender their homes to Jewish settlers in a case that exploded into armed conflict in and around Gaza in May.
There have been sporadic attacks on Israeli targets in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank in recent months, most of them carried out by lone wolf assailants apparently unconnected to established Palestinian militant groups.
A Palestinian teenager rammed his car into an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank early Monday before being shot dead by a security guard, officials said.
On Saturday, a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli civilian and attempted to attack police near the Damascus Gate entry to east Jerusalem’s Old City.
The assailant was shot dead by officers, who appeared to fire on the suspect after he was on the ground, stirring debate about excessive force.
Israeli authorities have insisted the officers acted appropriately.
Last month, a civilian was killed and three people wounded when a Palestinian opened fire in the Old City in a rare gun attack by a militant of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time
Updated 08 December 2021

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

Renewed Iran nuclear talks seen Thursday, but France believes Tehran playing for time

DOHA: Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are expected to resume on Thursday, France’s foreign minister said, although he added that he feared Iran was playing for time.

“The elements... are not very encouraging,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French parliament committee, referring to the seventh round of nuclear talks between Iran and major powers that began on Nov. 29 and paused on Friday.

“We have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon,” Le Drian said.

Under the 2015 deal struck by Tehran and six major powers, Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from US, European Union and UN sanctions.

Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, and Iran began violating the nuclear restrictions a year later.

While Le Drian and Iranian media reports said talks were expected to resume Thursday, a senior US State Department official said Washington did not yet have a confirmed date.

The indirect US-Iranian talks in Vienna, in which other diplomats shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct talks with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume compliance with the deal.

However, last week’s discussions broke off with European and US officials voicing dismay at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hard-line government under anti-Western President Ebrahim Raisi, whose June election caused a five-month pause in the talks.

A senior US official on Saturday said Iran abandoned any compromises it had made in the previous six rounds of talks, pocketed those made by others, and demanded more last week.

Each side appears to be trying to blame the other for the lack of progress.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the presidents of the United States and Russia — two of the six major powers in the deal along with Britain, China, France, and Germany — had a “productive” discussion about Iran on Tuesday.

“The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation,” he told reporters, referring to the six powers.

Speaking on Monday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns said the agency does not believe Iran’s supreme leader has decided to take steps to “weaponize” a nuclear device but noted that it has made advances in its ability to enrich uranium, one pathway to the fissile material for a bomb.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying it only wants to master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

“We don’t see any evidence as an agency right now that Iran’s supreme leader has made a decision to move to weaponize,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit.

Burns described Iran’s challenge as “a three-legged race” to obtain fissile material, to “weaponize” by placing such material into a device designed to cause a nuclear explosion, and to mate it to a delivery system such as a ballistic missile.

On weaponization, Burns said “the Iranians still have a lot of work to do there as far as we judge it.”