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.”


Sudan PM Hamdok under house arrest, several others seized in apparent power grab

Sudan PM Hamdok under house arrest, several others seized in apparent power grab
Updated 23 min 22 sec ago

Sudan PM Hamdok under house arrest, several others seized in apparent power grab

Sudan PM Hamdok under house arrest, several others seized in apparent power grab

RIYADH: Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been placed under house arrest and a number of Cabinet ministers and other officials arrested in an apparent coup by a still unidentified military force, local and regional media reported early Monday.

Alhadath TV said four cabinet ministers and a member of Sudan’s Sovereign Council  were among those arrested. 

There was no immediate comment from the military.

Reacting to the developments, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, Sudan’s main pro-democratic political group, called on people to take to the street to counter an apparent military coup.  

The association  also said there were Internet and phone signal outages in the country. 

One of those arrested was Ali Al-Rayh Al-Sanhouri, secretary-general of the Sudanese Baath Party, Al-Sharq reported, quoting unnamed sources. 

The report said Council of Sovereignty member Mohammed Al-Jawki was also under arrest, along with Minister of Cabinet Affairs Khaled Omar Yusuf.

The raiders have surrounded the residence of Hamdok and stormed the house of his media adviser, whom they then took under custody, various media reports said.

The arrests have come as the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met with Sudanese military and civilian leaders Saturday and Sunday in efforts to resolve a growing dispute. Sudan’s Stat News website highlighted the meetings with military officials.

A failed coup attempt in September fractured the country along old lines, pitting more conservative Islamists who want a military government against those who toppled autocratic former ruler Omar Al-Bashir in mass protests. In recent days, both camps have taken to the street in demonstrations.

(with agencies)

A Sudanese protester walks past a poster bearing a crossed out face of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on the ground, during a rally on Oct. 21, 2021 in Khartoum, demanding a return to military rule. (AFP file)

 


Dozens of Yemenis feared dead in botched Houthi missile launch

Dozens of Yemenis feared dead in botched Houthi missile launch
Updated 25 October 2021

Dozens of Yemenis feared dead in botched Houthi missile launch

Dozens of Yemenis feared dead in botched Houthi missile launch
  • PM urges factions to unify and foil ‘Iranian-led criminal project’

AL-MUKALLA: Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed or wounded in Yemen’s northern province of Dhamar on Saturday when a ballistic missile fired by the Iran-backed Houthis failed to reach its target and ripped through a residential area, residents and local media said.

Launched by the Houthis from a military base under their control in Dhamar city, the missile landed in a densely populated area close to the base, triggering a huge explosion that rocked the city.

The Houthis quickly sealed off the streets and banned people from entering or leaving the area.

Al-Sharae newspaper reported that the missile “destroyed many houses” in the Al-Najeda neighborhood as ambulances with blaring sirens were seen rushing to the area.

Images seen on social media showed a large fireball and smoke billowing from the site.

The Houthis have intensified drone and missile strikes on the central city of Marib as their ground forces have aggressively pushed to seize control of the strategic city since February.

During the last several days, Arab coalition jets targeted military sites in Houthi-held Hodeidah and Sanaa, where ballistic missiles, explosive drones and bomb boats are manufactured and stored.

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed. (AFP/File)

In the southern city of Aden, the interim capital, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed on Saturday urged factions to forge unified ranks for war against the Houthis and to end the Iranian regime’s strategy in the country.

During a virtual meeting with representatives of political parties included in the government, the prime minister warned that the Houthis are “seeking to seize control of Yemen and would target all opponents who challenged their rule,” urging Yemenis to “come together” to defeat the Houthis.

“The Houthi danger and the Iranian project in Yemen will not exclude anyone, and no party is immune. If we don’t fight it together today, no party will find the time and ground to fight this Iranian-led criminal project in the region,” Saeed said, according to the official news agency.

Yemeni political analysts and officials argue that ongoing infighting among the anti-Houthi camp has weakened it politically and militarily, and enabled the militia to expand across Yemen.

Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s information ministry and a political analyst, urged Yemeni parties to “positively respond” to the prime minister’s call, adding that unifying splintered groups and factions would lead to defeat of the Houthis and push them into accepting peace initiatives.

“The only beneficiary of the conflicts and splits within anti-Houthi forces is the Houthis. Unifying factions would place powerful pressure on them,” Ghallab told Arab News.

On the ground, dozens of Houthis and several government troops were killed in fierce clashes over the past day in Juba district, south of Marib province, a Yemeni military official who visited the battlefield told Arab News. The Yemeni army and allied tribesmen foiled consecutive attacks by more than 15 groups of Houthi fighters in Juba who staged a bid to break through Marib defenses.

“The Houthis seized control of a remote village in Juba in the morning and we liberated it by the end of the day,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.


Pope: Don’t send migrants back to Libya and ‘inhumane’ camps

Pope: Don’t send migrants back to Libya and ‘inhumane’ camps
Updated 24 October 2021

Pope: Don’t send migrants back to Libya and ‘inhumane’ camps

Pope: Don’t send migrants back to Libya and ‘inhumane’ camps

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday made an impassioned plea to end the practice of returning migrants rescued at sea to Libya and other unsafe countries where they suffer “inhumane violence.”
Francis also waded into a highly contentious political debate in Europe, calling on the international community to find concrete ways to manage the “migratory flows” in the Mediterranean.
“I express my closeness to the thousands of migrants, refugees and others in need of protection in Libya,” Francis said. ”I never forget you, I hear your cries and I pray for you.”
Even as the pontiff appealed for changes of migrant policy and of heart in his remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square, hundreds of migrants were either at sea in the central Mediterranean awaiting a port after rescue or recently coming ashore in Sicily or the Italian mainland after setting sail from Libya or Turkey, according to authorities.
“So many of these men, women and children are subject to inhumane violence,” he added. ”Yet again I ask the international community to keep the promises to search for common, concrete and lasting solutions to manage the migratory flows in Libya and in all the Mediterranean.”
“How they suffer, those who are sent back” after rescue at sea, the pope said. Detention facilities in Libya, he said “are true concentration camps.”
“We need to stop sending back (migrants) to unsafe countries and to give priority to the saving of human lives at sea with protocols of rescue and predictable disembarking, to guarantee them dignified conditions of life, alternatives to detention, regular paths of migration and access to asylum procedures,” Francis said.
UN refugee agency officials and human rights organizations have long denounced the conditions of detention centers for migrants in Libya, citing practices of beatings, rape and other forms of torture and insufficient food. Migrants endure weeks and months of those conditions, awaiting passage in unseaworthy rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats arranged by human traffickers.
Hours after the pope’s appeal, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders said that its rescue ship, Geo Barents, reached a rubber boat that was taking on water, with the sea buffeted by strong winds and waves up to three meters (10 feet) high. It tweeted that “we managed to rescue all the 71 people on board.”
The group thanked the charity group Alarm Phone for signaling that the boat crowded with migrants was in distressed.
Earlier, Geo Barents, then with 296 migrants aboard its rescue ship, was awaiting permission in waters off Malta to disembark. Six migrants tested positive for COVID-19, but because of the crowded conditions aboard, it was difficult to keep them sufficiently distant from the others, Doctors Without Borders said.
In Sicily, a ship operated by the German charity Sea-Watch, with 406 rescued migrants aboard, was granted permission to enter port. But Sea-Watch said that a rescue vessel operated by a Spanish charity, with 105 migrants aboard, has been awaiting a port assignment to disembark them for four days.
While hundreds of thousands of migrants have departed in traffickers’ boats for European shores in recent years and set foot on Sicily or nearby Italian islands, many reach the Italian mainland.
Red Cross officials in Roccella Ionica, a town on the coast of the “toe” of the Italian peninsula said on Sunday that about 700 migrants, some of them from Afghanistan, reached the Calabrian coast in recent days on boats that apparently departed from Turkey.
Authorities said so far this year, about 3,400 migrants had reached Roccella Ionica, a town of 6,000 people, compared to 480 in all of 2019. The migrants who arrived in the last several days were being housed in tent shelters, RAI state television said.
Italy and Malta have come under criticism by human rights advocates for leaving migrants aboard crowded rescue boats before assigning them a safe port.
The Libyan coast guard, which has been trained and equipped by Italy, has also been criticized for rescuing migrants in Libyan waters and then returning them to land where the detention centers awaited them.
On Friday, Doctors Without Borders tweeted that crew aboard the Geo Barents had “witnessed an interception” by the Libyan coast guard and that the migrants “”will be forcibly taken to dangerous detention facilities and exposed to violence and exploitation.”
With rising popularity of right-wing, anti-migrant parties in Italy in recent years, the Italian government has been under increasing domestic political pressure to crack down on illegal immigration.
Italy and Malta have lobbied theirs European Union partner countries, mainly in vain, to take in some of those rescued at sea.


Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration
Updated 25 October 2021

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordeed the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata”
  • Ankara’s foreign policy being driven by domestic political considerations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The joint declaration by 10 ambassadors of Western countries urging the release of the 64-year-old jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala continues to shape domestic politics in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordering the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata.”

The move is expected to have domestic and international political and economic repercussions.

Kavala, who denies the charges, is behind bars for four years, accused of financing nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

The ambassadors of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands called for a quick and just resolution of Kavala’s case on Oct. 18 — the day marking four years of the start of his detention.

We “believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,” the ambassadors’ statement read, echoing the European Court of Human Rights ruling on its member country Turkey.

An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)

The ambassadors were summoned by the Foreign Ministry after the release of the statement.

“I gave the necessary instruction to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These ten ambassadors must be declared persona non grata immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.

“They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand it they will leave,” he added, noting that these ambassadors would not release “terrorists” in their own countries.

A declaration of “persona non grata” — an envoy who is no longer welcome — is a diplomatic move that is one step before expulsion.

The Turkish government considers the ambassadors' declaration as direct interference into domestic politics, rather than reminding European top court's ruling.

In the meantime, Kavala, who served on the advisory board of US philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society’s national foundation in Turkey until 2018, released a statement on Friday saying that he would not attend his next trial on Nov. 26 to deliver his defense, as he believes his hearing would be not fair in light of recent circumstances.

The ambassadors referred to the ECHR in their declaration. The top European court urged the immediate release of the Turkish philanthropist in late 2019, saying that his detention was aimed at silencing him.

Last month, the Council of Europe warned that infringement proceedings against Ankara would begin at the end of November if Kavala was not released.

The Danish, Dutch and Norwegian embassies in Turkey said that they had not received any notification from Turkish authorities and would continue to urge Turkey to comply with its international obligations.

Experts, however, note that the expulsion of 10 European and North American ambassadors — unprecedented in Turkish political history — may trigger actions in kind from these countries.

“As elsewhere in the world, all politics is local,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News.

“Turkish foreign policy has been driven excessively driven by domestic political considerations and this case is no different,” he said.

According to Unluhisarcikli, Erdogan’s instruction to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare these ambassadors as “persona non grata” may please his voters and divert attention from domestic troubles, but it will also contribute to Turkey’s international isolation at a time when the country is already under US sanctions and came close to being sanctioned by the EU last year.

Last year, the US administration sanctioned the Turkish defense industry over its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The action was taken under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“Moreover ,Turkey is going through a currency crisis, which could trigger a financial crisis about 18 months before the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023,” Unluhisarcikli said.

In public statements, Turkey’s former ambassadors underlined that although harsh reactions could be given in diplomatic proceedings, the main goal should be the management and resolution of the crises.

Abdurrahman Bilgic, a retired envoy who served as the ambassador to Tokyo and the UK, said the ambassadors in Turkey had the right to declare their countries’ stance on Kavala’s release, either individually or through a joint declaration.

“In return, the Turkish Foreign Ministry can also retaliate with a declaration to show their uneasiness. But in the meantime the ambassadors should not target our ruling government and judiciary with their consecutive social media statements,” he told Arab News.

However, for Bilgic, declaring these diplomats “persona non grata” would not serve Turkey’s interests and could trigger retaliation.

“If the process is being handled like this, Turkey could not only loose its voting rights at the Council of Europe but even its membership,” he said.

Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution provides that in the case of conflict between international agreements in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

“Expelling ambassadors is not the way to defend national interests or to explain one’s position on any given matter. Impulsive foreign policy with an eye on domestic politics has only served to aggravate Turkey’s isolation. This should not be deepened through rash action,” tweeted Alper Coskun, the former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan and senior fellow at Washington-based think-tank Carnegie Endowment.

In the past 50 years, Turkey has declared only three diplomats — one from Libya in 1986, Syria in 1986, and Iran in 1989 — as persona non grata, while the last foreign ambassador Ankara declared persona non grata was an Iranian envoy.


Arab coalition: Over 200 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition: Over 200 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
Updated 24 October 2021

Arab coalition: Over 200 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition: Over 200 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
  • The coalition said it had carried out 88 air strikes on the districts of Juba and Al-Kasarah during the last 72 hours
  • Arab coalition said it had destroyed four explosive-laden Houthi boats in Hodeidah on Saturday

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Sunday that more than 264 Houthis had been killed and 36 military vehicles destroyed in air strikes on two districts near the central Yemeni city of Marib.

The coalition said it had carried out 88 air strikes on the districts of Juba and Al-Kasarah during the last 72 hours.

Juba is some 50 km south of Marib, whilst Al-Kasarah is 30 km northwest of the city.

Later on Sunday, the coalition said it had destroyed an explosive-laden Houthi boat on the Kamaran Island that had been prepared to carry out an imminent attack.

The Houthi militia continues to violate the Stockholm Agreement and the cease-fire in Hodeidah, the coalition said.

The coalition added that the hostile behavior of the Houthi militia threatens navigation in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the southern Red Sea

On Saturday, the Arab coalition said it had destroyed four explosive-laden Houthi boats in Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah.

Warplanes targeted Al-Jabanah coastal base, east of Hodeidah city, where the vessels had been prepared to attack international ships sailing through the Red Sea, the coalition said.