Hezbollah accuses US of meddling in Lebanon’s port probe

Hezbollah accuses US of meddling in Lebanon’s port probe
The families of the victims of the Beirut port blast have decried attempts to derail and politicize the investigation. (AFP)
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Updated 13 October 2021

Hezbollah accuses US of meddling in Lebanon’s port probe

Hezbollah accuses US of meddling in Lebanon’s port probe
  • Probe temporarily suspended amid legal challenges from defendants against the lead investigator
  • Lebanon was without a fully functioning government for over a year amid political haggling over its composition

BEIRUT: Hezbollah accused the US on Wednesday of interfering in Lebanon’s investigation into last year’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, with the aim of implicating the militant group and its allies.
Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadallah’s response to criticism from a State Department spokesperson comes amid a developing crisis engulfing the domestic probe. The investigation was temporarily suspended Tuesday amid legal challenges from defendants against lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.
The US official’s comments are a “new violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty” that expose “the extent of interference aimed at controlling and steering the investigation,” Fadallah said.
Hezbollah’s comments are the first to directly accuse Washington of interfering and dictating how the port probe should go. They signal an escalation of a campaign against the 46-year-old judge that rights groups say is aimed at discrediting the investigation.
Bitar is the second judge to lead the probe into what caused thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the Port of Beirut for years to explode. He has come under heavy criticism from politicians in Lebanon for what they say is a politicized and biased line of investigation. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, asked that Bitar be replaced.
Families of the victims have rallied behind Bitar, decrying attempts to derail and politicize the investigation.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price late Tuesday criticized Nasrallah’s comments and said Washington supports Lebanon’s judicial independence.
“Judges must be free from threats and intimidation, including (Hezbollah’s),” Price said. “We’ve long been clear that Hezbollah’s terrorism and illicit activities threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty.”
Price accused Hezbollah of being “more concerned with its own interests and those of its patron, Iran, than in the best interests of the Lebanese people.”
Fadallah accused Washington of imposing “dictates that aim to obstruct justice and cover up the truth” against segments of the population that the US considers as enemies.
Bitar has issued two arrest warrants against former government officials, a rare move against Lebanon’s entrenched political elites, where impunity has prevailed for decades. The former officials remain at large.
Hezbollah and other political groups have accused Bitar of going after some senior former government officials, most of them allied with Hezbollah, and not others. None of Hezbollah’s officials have so far been charged in the 14-month-old investigation.
Hezbollah’s call to remove Bitar has caused a crisis within Lebanon’s newly formed government. Allies of Hezbollah in the Cabinet have asked for urgent government action against the judge — a call perceived by most as interference in judicial affairs.
A government minister threatened that street protests or walkouts by Cabinet members could take place if there was no action to replace Bitar. A Cabinet meeting that was expected Wednesday was postponed following a request from new Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Lebanon was without a fully functioning government for over a year amid political haggling over its composition. The new government just took office last month as Lebanon sinks deeper into an unparalleled economic and energy crisis.
Elie Hasrouti, whose father was killed in the port explosion, said dragging the case into a political showdown doesn’t provide justice for such a major crime.
“We are asking for justice not just for us, but from those criminals ... who have lost their humanity and it has become impossible to continue to live with them,” Hasrouti said, referring to those who he holds responsible for the explosion. “We will not drop this case. We will go to the end, and we are aware of the traps set along the way.”


Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 17 min 50 sec ago

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.


Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria

CAIRO: Fires caused by an Israeli “aggression” at Syria’s Latakia port on Tuesday had been extinguished, leaving material damage, but the status of any casualties was unclear, Syria’s state media reported.

Five explosions rocked the port city after an Israeli “aggression” hit the port’s container yard, sending fire trucks racing to the site, Syrian state TV said.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar Assad.

The Mediterranean port of Latakia is the country’s main port, through which food and other crucial supplies flow into war-torn Syria, and is close to Russia’s main air base of Hmeimim.


Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard
Updated 07 December 2021

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli guard

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager who drove his car into an Israeli security checkpoint in the occupied West Bank was shot dead on Monday by a security guard at the scene, officials said.

The car-ramming occurred after 1 a.m. at the Te’enim checkpoint near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, an Israeli Defense Ministry statement said, adding that the assailant had been “neutralized.”

It was not immediately clear if the alleged attacker was killed, but the official Palestinian news agency Wafa later reported that 15-year-old Mohammed Nidal Yunes died from injuries after being fired on at a checkpoint.

An Israeli security official confirmed to AFP that the driver of the vehicle was killed.

The Defense Ministry said that a security guard was “seriously injured” in the attack.

Israel’s Sheba Hospital said the guard’s injuries were not life threatening.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and the Palestinian territory is now home to roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers living in communities widely considered illegal under international law.

Attacks on checkpoints are common, often carried out by individual Palestinians armed with knives, as well as attempted car-rammings and occasional shootings.

Monday’s incident came after a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli civilian and attempted to attack police on Saturday near the Damascus Gate entry to the Old City in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

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.

BACKGROUND

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and the Palestinian territory is now home to roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers living in communities widely considered illegal under international law.

On Sunday, Israeli authorities freed a prominent Palestinian prisoner, two weeks after striking a release deal that ended his marathon 131-day hunger strike.

Kayed Fasfous, 32, had remained in an Israeli hospital since ending his strike on Nov. 23.

He was the symbolic figurehead of six hunger strikers protesting Israel’s controversial policy of “administrative detention,” which allows suspects to be held indefinitely without charge.

Israel claims the policy is necessary to keep dangerous suspects locked away without disclosing sensitive information that could expose valuable sources.

Palestinians and rights groups say the practice denies the right of due process, allowing Israel to hold prisoners for months or even years without seeing the evidence against them.  The law is rarely applied to Israelis.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, confirmed Fasfous had returned home to the occupied West Bank through a military checkpoint near the southern city of Hebron on Sunday afternoon.

Online footage showed the former prisoner in a wheelchair celebrating his return to his southern hometown of Dura before being taken to a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The plight of the six hunger strikers ignited solidarity demonstrations across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza in November mounting pressure on Israel to release the detainees.

At least four of the five other hunger strikers have since ended their protests after reaching similar deals with Israeli authorities. They are expected to be released in the coming months.

Hunger strikes are common among Palestinian prisoners and have helped secure numerous concessions from Israeli authorities.

The nature of these strikes vary from individuals protesting detention without charge to groups calling for improved cell conditions.

Around 500 of the 4,600 Palestinians detained by Israel are held in administrative detention according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner rights group.