Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation

Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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An army soldier carries a schoolchild as civilians flee after gunfire erupted erupted in Beirut. (Reuters)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Army soldiers help civilians fleeing after gunfire erupted in Beirut. (Reuters)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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A fighter from the Amal movement takes aim during clashes in the area of Tayouneh. (AFP)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Lebanese security forces react to gunfire during a protest in Beirut on Oct. 14, 2021. (AP)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Lebanese army soldiers take a position in the area of Tayouneh in Beirut on Oct. 14, 2021. (AFP)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Lebanese army soldiers take a position in the area of Tayouneh in Beirut on Oct. 14, 2021. (AFP)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Lebanese army soldiers take a position in the area of Tayouneh in Beirut on Oct. 14, 2021. (AFP)
Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
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Lebanese army soldiers take a position in the area of Tayouneh in Beirut on Oct. 14, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 October 2021

Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation

Six killed in Beirut clashes as tensions soar over port blast investigation
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and sniper shots fired
  • People trapped in homes, shops and schools

BEIRUT: At least six people were killed in Beirut on Thursday amid a protest organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast at the city’s port. 

Dozens were wounded in the most protracted street fighting in the city in years.

The protest, called by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, was demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation. 

But it turned into armed clashes between the groups’ supporters and armed men whose political identity was unknown.

Rocket-propelled grenades and sniper shots were fired during the protest that people called a “genocide against them.” Among the dead was a woman shot in the head while she was sitting in her house.

Serious material damage was also reported in the area, according to preliminary reports from the Lebanese Red Cross.

People were trapped inside houses and shops, while hundreds of students were stuck inside their schools near the violence-hit area. 

The clashes lasted around three hours, with the Lebanese army failing in its attempts to contain the situation.

The injured and trapped made calls to be evacuated.

Students in schools rushed to the hallways separating classrooms. Several were injured by shattered glass and were taken to hospital.

Lebanon's army said on Thursday evening that it arrested nine people, including a Syrian, over the violence. 
The army said on Twitter that it remained deployed in the area to ensure violence did not occur again.

Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement showed up on Thursday at around 10.30 a.m. in response to a call for a peaceful demonstration outside the Justice Palace to protest against measures taken by Bitar that Hezbollah had objected to.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened a few days ago to remove Bitar from the probe.

The protest was called in an attempt to silence Bitar, who issued an arrest warrant against former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of Amal. 

The duo accuses Bitar of bias and singling out politicians for questioning, most of them allied with Hezbollah. Speaking Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Bitar of using “the blood of victims to serve political interests" while demanding that the investigation be headed by a  “transparent judge."

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Most protesters wore black shirts. Some wore masks to cover their faces. They chanted slogans against Bitar and in support of Nasrallah and the head of the Amal Movement, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Some carried the flags of the two parties. Others carried the Lebanese flag. The army took tough measures to prevent the situation from further escalating in an area already considered sensitive on a security and political level.

As they reached the Tayouneh roundabout, and as they were heading to Sami Al-Solh Street on their way to the Justice Palace, they were fired at by snipers from rooftops of buildings, according to a witness.

Duha, who was standing at the roundabout watching the protest, told Arab News: “A person suddenly fell on the ground and was covered in his own blood and people started running in all directions when bullets started raining.”

Protesters panicked and started running in all directions. 

Armed members emerged and fired shots at the building. Clashes broke out and B7-RPG anti-tank grenades were launched, targeting the buildings between Shiyah and Ain Al-Remaneh.

Protesters concluded their protest outside the Justice Palace, while the Tayouneh area turned into a war zone. Neighboring buildings were rocked by the missiles and the Lebanese watched the exchange of fire and people being killed live on TV.

A military source told Arab News that “calls were immediately made to contain the situation and prevent an escalation” but the violence continued despite the army’s threats to “open fire against any armed person on the road.”

The clashes ended at around 3 p.m. The army urged citizens to evacuate the streets and arrested several armed men.

A source close to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement said: “What happened in Tayouneh cannot be tolerated.”

The two Shiite parties later issued a joint statement: “When the participants in the peaceful demonstration arrived at Tayouneh, they were attacked by snipers from rooftops, followed by a heavy fire resulting in deaths and injuries. Gunshots targeted the heads.”

They accused groups from the Lebanese Forces party that were present in nearby neighborhoods and on rooftops of using sniper rifles to kill people and “willfully drag the country into a deliberate strife.”

They called on the army “to take responsibility and intervene to stop those criminals,” while also urging their supporters to “remain calm and not to be dragged into this vicious strife.”

The leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, condemned the events. “The main reason behind them is the lack of gun control threatening the lives of citizens at any moment and any place,” he said.

He called for “full and accurate investigations” to determine what had happened.

The dead and wounded were taken to hospital. But injuries were not limited to one side, with civilians from all religious sects hurt. 

There were fires in properties and old men and women were evacuated.

Tensions extended to sensitive areas in the Bekaa Valley, where armed members supporting Hezbollah and the Amal Movement were seen in convoys waving the parties’ flags.

Officials and politicians rushed to contain the situation and condemn it.

The Central Security Council held an emergency meeting, after which Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi warned: “Civil peace is not to be messed with. The clashes started with gunshots by snipers. Someone was shot in the head, and this is not acceptable. Shooting people in the head is a very dangerous matter. Chaos is not in anyone’s interest. Relevant bodies will start arresting people to allow the law to take its course.”

France on Thursday expressed concern over the deadly unrest and urged all parties to calm the situation.

"France is deeply concerned over the recent hindering of the smooth running of the investigation... and the violence that has occurred in this context. France calls on all parties to bring about a de-escalation," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

On Aug. 4, 2020, some 2750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate blew up in the port of Beirut after being inadequately stored there since 2013, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands.

* With Agencies


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
Updated 27 October 2021

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
  • The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health

CAIRO: Envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his residence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 27 October 2021

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
  • Iran's negotiator said after talks with EU mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks
  • “This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps”: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
Iran's nuclear negotiator said after talks with European Union mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks in Vienna next month. These discussions had been on hiatus since June.
"We are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said.
The talks should focus on "closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June," he said.
"As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith."
President Joe Biden has repeatedly offered to return to the nuclear accord reached in 2015 but his administration has voiced growing frustration at the prolonged delay, which comes as a new hardline government gets settled in Tehran.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, leading Iran to step up contested nuclear work in protest.


Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
Updated 27 October 2021

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes

Arab coalition says 105 rebels killed in latest Yemen strikes
  • EU delegation in Aden to support government, implementation of Riyadh Agreement
  • Coalition has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported since Oct. 11

AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition said on Wednesday it killed 105 Houthi rebels in airstrikes around Yemen’s strategic city of Marib.

The coalition, supporting the internationally recognized government, has claimed the deaths of 2,000 Houthis around Marib in strikes it has reported almost daily since Oct. 11.

“Thirteen military vehicles were destroyed and 105” insurgents were killed in strikes in the past 24 hours, the coalition said, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The latest bombing was carried out in Al-Jawba, about 50 km south of Marib, and Al-Kassara, 30 km to the northwest.

Marib, capital of the oil-rich province of the same name, is the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in northern Yemen.

The UN Security Council last week called for “de-escalation” in Yemen, in a unanimously adopted statement to counter “the growing risk of large-scale famine” in the country.

Meanwhile, a group of EU diplomats visiting the port city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, has expressed support for the internationally recognized government of Yemen, hailed its return to Aden, and called upon the country’s political forces to accelerate the full implementation of the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement. 

The EU delegation also urged the Iran-backed Houthis to end their deadly offensive in the central province of Marib and engage with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

The delegation includes the deputy head of the EU mission in Yemen, Marion Lalisse, French Ambassador Jean-Marie Safa, German Ambassador Hubert Jaeger, Dutch Ambassador Peter-Derrek Hof, and Swedish Envoy for Yemen Peter Semneby. 

“The EU ambassadors welcome the return of the Yemen government to Aden, express full support for the government and call for the full implementation of the Riyadh agreement,” the mission said in a statement.

The EU delegation touched down in Aden airport on Tuesday and then headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Saeed. 

The official news agency SABA reported that the prime minister told the EU envoys that the Houthis are spoiling efforts to end the war by aggressively attacking internally displaced people in Marib and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. 

He called for the Houthis and their supporters in Iran to be punished for undermining peace and security in Yemen. 

“The terrorist behavior of the Houthis, their war crimes against civilians and IDPs in Marib, and the attack on civilian properties in Saudi Arabia test the international community,” Saeed said. 

“Peace process should be based on effective pressure and sanctions on the Houthis and their sponsors in Tehran,” the premier said, urging international donors to expand their assistance to Yemen to include supporting the country’s exacerbating economic meltdown. 

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, who also met the delegation, said that the Europeans discussed offering assistance to the economy and to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. 

“There is great European interest in discussing ways to support the Yemeni government, especially in the economic field,” Bin Mubarak said. 

The Dutch ambassador to Yemen said they held an “excellent” meeting with the government and discussed ways to help address the devaluation of the riyal, fight corruption and tackle other economic challenges. 

“Excellent meeting today with @Yemen_PM in Aden, expressing EU support for the Government of Yemen and discussing the economic challenges including the exchange rate, inflation, boosting revenues, the needed government reforms and the fight against corruption,” Peter Derrek Hof said on Twitter.

During a meeting with the EU delegation on Wednesday, Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamid Lamlis thanked the Europeans for visiting Aden, stressing that the visit carries a message that the city is safe and ready to receive international delegations. 

The Europeans also discussed the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and supporting the government to smoothly resume its duties in Aden with the leader of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council Aidarous Al-Zubaidi.

Yemeni officials and experts believe that the EU mission visit to Aden would spur the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, help the government function effectively in Aden and convince many international diplomats to visit the city. 

“This is an indication that Aden is safe. The presence of the Europeans in Aden mounts pressure on parties to put into place the Riyadh Agreement and end hostilities in the city,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.


Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
Updated 27 October 2021

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes

Israel advances plans for more than 3,000 settler homes
  • The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344
  • About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law

JERUSALEM: Israel advanced plans for building more than 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a military spokesman said, a day after the US forcefully criticized such construction.
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344, a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories told AFP.
The approvals came a day after the United States criticized Israel for its policy of building settlements, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction on the West Bank.
His administration’s position on the matter stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose presidency saw the US offer a green light to Israel’s activity on occupied Palestinian land.
The homes approved on Wednesday were spread across the West Bank, from the suburbs of Jerusalem to new neighborhoods of settlements deep inside the territory.
Israel’s housing ministry had separately on Sunday published tenders to build 1,355 new homes in the West Bank.
About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law, on land Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.