Lebanon political crisis brews over fate of blast judge

Lebanon political crisis brews over fate of blast judge
A general view shows the site of the 2020 Beirut port explosion, Lebanon, October 13, 2021. The Arabic reads: ‘The right to justice.’ (Reuters)
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Updated 13 October 2021

Lebanon political crisis brews over fate of blast judge

Lebanon political crisis brews over fate of blast judge
  • Judge Tarek Bitar was forced to suspend his probe after former ministers he had summoned on suspicion of negligence filed lawsuits against him
  • Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal have called for an anti-Bitar rally on Thursday near the Justice Palace in Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s month-old government called off a cabinet session Wednesday as a political crisis brewed within its ranks over whether to remove a judge investigating the massive August 2020 Beirut port blast.
The debate comes at a time when Lebanese are desperately waiting for the government, formed in September after protracted horse-trading, to tackle Lebanon’s dire economic crisis.
Judge Tarek Bitar was forced to suspend his probe on Tuesday after former ministers he had summoned on suspicion of negligence filed lawsuits against him.
He is now emerging as the target of a political campaign led by the Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah accused him this week of political bias.
Senior Amal lawmaker and former minister Ali Hasan Khalil threatened a “political escalation” if the course of the investigation “was not rectified,” after Bitar on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant against him for failing to show up for questioning.
A cabinet session Tuesday ended with a row as ministers affiliated with Hezbollah and Amal pressed the government to support their demand to replace Bitar, according to a senior official who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
A follow-up session scheduled for Wednesday was postponed, signalling no agreement has been reached between factions in the cabinet, with some ministers arguing the government should not intervene in judicial matters.
Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal called for an anti-Bitar rally on Thursday near the Justice Palace in Beirut, the site where relatives of blast victims usually stage protests denouncing political interference.
Since taking up the case, Bitar has summoned an array of former premiers and ministers as well as top military and security officials for questioning on suspicion of criminal negligence.
He also called in two other ex-ministers for questioning this week before he was forced to pause his probe for the second time in less than a month.
The country’s political leaders, including a group of former premiers, have criticized him for trying to investigate officials who can only be tried by a special court.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly accused officials of interfering with the course of the investigation in order to dodge accountability.
Blast victims’ relatives, who are avid supporters of Bitar, fear he will meet the same fate as his predecessor, Fadi Sawan, who was also forced to suspend investigations then removed in February.
The August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands more and destroyed swathes of the capital.


Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
Updated 23 min 50 sec ago

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
  • The current crisis surfaced with a coup attempt last month

CAIRO: Pro-military protesters briefly blocked major roads and bridges in Sudan’s capital Sunday, amid growing tensions between the generals and the pro-democracy movement that fueled the uprising against autocratic former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The development came a day after US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met with military and civilian leaders in Khartoum to find a compromise to the dispute.
The souring ties between the military and civilians in the ruling government threaten Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy since the military’s ouster of Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019 after nearly three decades of autocratic rule.
The current crisis surfaced with a coup attempt last month. Officials blamed Al-Bashir loyalists for the move. But the generals lashed out at the civilian part of the government, accusing politicians of seeking government posts rather than helping ease people’s economic suffering.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling Sovereign Council, said that dissolving the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok could resolve the ongoing political crisis. That suggestion was rejected by hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country Thursday.
That generals’ accusations, echoed by Burhan and his deputy, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, have aroused fears among civilians that the military may eventually hijack the country’s transition to civilian rule.
Pro-military protesters rallied in Khartoum earlier this month, echoing Burhan’s demands. The protesters have since held a sit-in outside the presidential palace in the capital. Last week, they attempted to storm the Cabinet headquarters as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with his Cabinet. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas.
On Saturday, dozens of pro-military protesters stormed the reception area of the headquarters of the country’s state-run news agency and set tires ablaze outside the agency offices. It delayed a news conference for pro-democracy activists, according to Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, director of SUNA news agency.
In an escalation Sunday, pro-military demonstrators cut off major roads and bridges, including the Mec Nimr Bridge, which links Khartoum’s downtown with other areas of the capital, according to activist and rights defender Tahani Abbas. The move caused traffic to clog the streets early Sunday, the first work day of the week, especially Nile Street, a main traffic artery in Khartoum.
“What is happening ... is an official coup sponsored by Burhan,” she said. Abbas shared photos of protesters blocking a bridge with passenger buses and vehicles being turned back.
Later in the day, security forces dispersed the protesters using tear gas to open the blocked roads. Video on social media purportedly showed protesters fleeing over the bridge and on Nile Street.
Feltman, the US envoy, met in Khartoum with Buhan, Dagalo and Hamdok and “emphasized US support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Sudanese people,” the US Embassy in Khartoum said.
He urged Sudanese leaders “to commit to working together to implement the constitutional declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement” between the government and an alliance of rebel groups, the embassy said.
The tensions come weeks ahead of a scheduled rotation of the leadership on the ruling sovereign council from the military to civilians, according to the constitutional declaration that established the joint government in August 2019.


Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says
Updated 25 min 43 sec ago

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

DUBAI: Registration for candidates in Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections should open in November, the head of the High National Elections Commission, said on Sunday.
Emad Al-Sayah said the registration process should open by mid-November after technical and logistical preparations are completed.
Elections have been viewed as a key step in efforts to end a decade of violence by creating a new political leadership whose legitimacy is widely accepted.
But wrangling over the constitutional basis for elections, the rules governing the vote and questions over its credibility have threatened to unravel the country’s peace process in recent months.
Libya’s prime minister and several foreign powers on Thursday endorsed the holding of a national election on Dec. 24 as envisaged in a UN-backed peace plan aimed at resolving years of turmoil and division.
However, although parliament has issued a law for the presidential election on that date, it has also issued a separate law saying the parliamentary election will happen at a later date. Other political institutions in Libya have rejected parliament’s proposals.
The first round of the presidential election is due to be held on Dec. 24. A second round, along with a parliamentary election, will then be held at a later date, said Al-Sayah.


Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
  • Passengers vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel freely between the two countries

DUBAI: Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a “green corridor” agreement allowing passengers vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to travel freely between the two countries, the Israeli consulate in Dubai said on Twitter on Sunday.


Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

TEL AVIV: Israel is expected to move forward with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank this week, a settlement watchdog group said Sunday.
The plan for some 3,000 new settler units in the West Bank has already drawn calls for restraint from the US, which on Friday voiced “concern” over the expected approvals.
Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now said a committee is set to meet Wednesday to approve 2,800 units deep in the West Bank, complicating any efforts to create a Palestinian state. More than half of those are receiving final approval, meaning construction could begin in the coming year.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about the housing plans. He called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” to the conflict.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements, which house some 700,000 settlers, as the main obstacle to peace. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal.
Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Ofran said Israel is also set to approve 1,600 units for Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank that it controls. But critics say the move comes at the initiative of villagers and not the Israeli government and that the figure is a fraction of the building permits requested by Palestinians over the years.


Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
Updated 24 October 2021

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
  • High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore
  • The permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Crashing through the Mediterranean waves at sunset, Palestinian fisherman Mohammed Al-Nahal leads a convoy of rickety boats out for another risky night under the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Forced to stay close to shore due to Israeli restrictions on powerful engines, the men complain they must seek a catch from overfished shallow waters with declining stocks.
“If we catch 200 kilos (450 pounds) of sardines, that would be great,” Nahal says. “But we can also come back empty-handed.”
High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore.
“The further we go, the more we pay for fuel without guarantees about the catch,” Nahal says, leading a line of five boats, the air heavy with the stench of diesel and sardines.
For Gaza, fenced in by Israel and Egypt, and where Hamas Islamists took power in 2007, the open sea seems to offer the promise of freedom — but it is deceptive.
Israel’s navy fully controls the waters off Gaza’s 40-kilometer (25-mile) long coastline, and regularly restricts or expands the size of the fishing zone in response to security conditions.
After months of relative calm following an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, the permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles, its maximum under the blockade, including deep water with richer fish stocks.
But Nahal’s crew does not venture that far. Six miles is their outer limit, good for sardines, but too close to shore for the bigger value fish such as tuna.
“We fishermen do not have appropriate engines to reach a distance of 15 miles,” Nahal says. “Currently, we are not allowed to enter Gaza with these modern engines.”
Some Palestinian fishermen are also fearful of heading out too far to sea. In the past, Israeli gunboats have opened fire and damaged nets to enforce access restrictions.
Making a living requires resourcefulness, and Nahal has repurposed a Volvo car engine to power the boat and run the powerful lights — which the fishermen shine into the night waters to attract the sardines.
Due to the blockade’s import restrictions, Israel also limits access to other key equipment such as sonar devices to find fish shoals.
Israel restricts such items citing their “dual use,” saying they could either aid Hamas weapons production, or the powerful engines could be used by smugglers.
It says the blockade is necessary to protect Israeli civilians who have been targeted with thousands of rockets fired by militants in the enclave since the Hamas takeover.
But Yussef, 22, keeping watch on Nahal’s boat, complains that with all Gaza’s fishermen forced into the same small area, they struggle to catch enough to turn a profit.
“There’s not enough fish,” he says. “I’ve lived off of fishing since I was 14. Every day, when the water is open, I go out. It’s the only thing I know how to do in life.”
For Gaza, home to some two million Palestinians — roughly half of whom are unemployed — fish from the sea offer a critical source of protein.
But as well as overfishing, the industry faces multiple challenges.
They include poorly treated sewage pumped into the sea from the tightly packed city, “affecting the entire marine environment and public health,” according to a 2020 World Bank report.
“Many of the fish that people depend on are already overexploited,” the World Bank adds.
This time, for Nahal, there is moderate success.
After hours shining bright lights into the waters, the boats encircle the area and cast their nets.
“Here are the fish, catch them, for it is my fish that I love,” the men sing as the catch is hauled up.
Exhausted and back in port, the fishermen sell the catch in the busy port, where auctioneers shout prices to waiting wholesalers.
For Nahal, the half-ton sells within 90 seconds for 3,000 Israeli shekels ($935).
It is more than he had hoped for, but is barely a profitable night once his costs and crew’s wages are deducted.