Lebanese hold funerals for 7 killed in Beirut gunbattles

Lebanese hold funerals for 7 killed in Beirut gunbattles
Shiite Amal movement’s members carry the flag-draped casket of a fellow fighter, who was killed in the Tayouneh clashes on Thursday, during his funeral in Al-Numairiyah village on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2021

Lebanese hold funerals for 7 killed in Beirut gunbattles

Lebanese hold funerals for 7 killed in Beirut gunbattles
  • Schools, banks and government offices across Lebanon shut down for a day of mourning Friday, while funerals were held in several parts of the country
  • Mariam Farhat, a mother of five, was shot by a sniper bullet as she sat near the door of the balcony of her second floor apartment

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Friday mourned seven people killed in gunbattles in the streets of Beirut the previous day. The confrontation erupted over a long-running probe into last year’s massive port blast in the city and raised fears of the country being drawn into further violence.
Underlying the violence are Lebanon’s entrenched sectarian divides and growing pushback against the port investigation by the two main Shiite Muslim parties, the powerful Hezbollah militant group and its allied Amal Movement.
Schools, banks and government offices across Lebanon shut down for a day of mourning Friday, while funerals were held in several parts of the country.
At a cemetery in a southern suburb of Beirut, Hezbollah members in military uniforms paid their respects, standing before three coffins draped with the group’s yellow flag and covered with white roses. Senior Hezbollah officials were present. Hundreds of women, dressed in black robes, also attended the funeral.
At a separate funeral for an Amal fighter, also in southern Beirut, gunmen opened fire in the air for several minutes.
Thursday’s clashes saw gunmen battling each other for several hours with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in the streets of Beirut. It was the most violent confrontation in the city in years, echoing the nation’s darkest era of the 1975-90 civil war.
The firefight raised the specter of a return to sectarian violence in a country already struggling through one of the world’s worst economic crises of the past 150 years.
The violence broke out at a protest organized by Hezbollah and Amal which called for the removal of the lead judge investigating last year’s massive explosion at Beirut port. Officials from both parties have suggested the judge’s investigation is heading toward holding them responsible for the blast, which killed at least 215 people.
Many of the protesters on Thursday had been armed.
Ali Haidar, a 23-year-old Shiite who took part in the protest, said nearby residents first started throwing rocks, bottles and furniture, before snipers on rooftops opened fire on the protesters from two directions, leaving people stuck in the middle.
“Then everyone started defending their neighborhood,” he said.
It was not clear who fired the first shot, but the confrontation quickly devolved into heavy exchanges of gunfire along a former civil war front line separating predominantly Muslim and Christian areas of Beirut.
The two Shiite groups accused the Christian Lebanese Forces party of starting the shooting. The Lebanese Forces party denied the charges.
The death toll rose to seven of Friday, after an man succumbed to his injuries, the Health Ministry said. The dead included two fighters from Hezbollah and three from Amal.
Residents in the Tayouneh area of Beirut, where most of the fighting played out, swept glass from the streets in front of shops and apartment buildings. Soldiers in armored personnel carriers deployed on the streets, and barbed wire was erected at some street entrances. Several cars were still parked in the area, damaged in Thursday’s firefight.
Tayouneh has a huge roundabout that separates Christian and Muslim neighborhoods. Newly pockmarked buildings off the roundabout sat next to the ones scarred from the days of the civil war.
One of those killed in the neighborhood was identified as Mariam Farhat, a mother of five. She was shot by a sniper bullet as she sat near the door of the balcony of her second floor apartment, her family said Friday.
“We started screaming, she was taken on a stretcher but did not reach the hospital,” said Munira Hamdar, Farhat’s mother-in-law. She said Farhat’s youngest daughter does not know that her mother was killed, and has been staying with her maternal aunt since Thursday.
Farhat was laid to rest Friday, along with the two Hezbollah fighters, in the Hezbollah ceremony in south Beirut. Her casket also draped with a Hezbollah flag.
Tensions over the port blast have contributed to Lebanon’s many troubles, including a currency collapse, hyperinflation, soaring poverty and an energy crisis leading to extended electricity blackouts.
The probe centers on hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that were improperly stored at a port warehouse that detonated on Aug. 4, 2020. The blast killed at least 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of nearby neighborhoods. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and further devastated the country already beset with political divisions and financial woes.
Judge Tarek Bitar has charged and issued an arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former finance minister, who is a senior member of Amal and a close ally of Hezbollah. Bitar also charged three other former senior government officials with intentional killing and negligence that led to the blast.
Officials from both Shiite parties, as well as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, had attacked Bitar for days, accusing him of politicizing the investigation by charging and summoning some officials and not others.
A senior Hezbollah official, Mohammed Daamoush, said in a sermon during Friday prayers that the group will keep pushing to get Bitar removed and “return the port investigation on its right track.” He did not elaborate but analysts close to Hezbollah said they expect Shiite Cabinet ministers and some of their allies to boycott Cabinet meetings.
No Hezbollah officials have so far been charged in the 14-month investigation.
Bitar is the second judge to lead the complicated investigation. His predecessor was removed following legal challenges.


Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
Updated 9 sec ago

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
  • Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin was messaging UK-based fiance when dinghy began to sink
  • 27 people died while attempting perilous journey from French coast to UK

LONDON: A Kurdish woman from northern Iraq has been named as the first identified victim of this week’s mass drowning in the English Channel.

Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, 24, was messaging her UK-based fiance when the dinghy she was traveling on began to sink on Wednesday. 

She was one of 27 people who died while attempting the perilous journey from the French coast to Britain, which has claimed dozens of lives this year.

Her fiance told the BBC that she tried to reassure him that they would be rescued while they were sinking, but she perished along with 26 others. Just two passengers survived. 

There were 17 male casualties, six women — one of whom was pregnant — and three children. 

The two survivors, a Somali and an Iraqi, have been discharged from a French hospital and are expected to be questioned about the incident.

Amin had attempted the journey with a female relative, both hoping to join family in Britain.

She was messaging her fiance on social media app Snapchat moments before the dinghy began to capsize. 

She hailed from Souran, a town in northeast Iraqi Kurdistan. Her family are awaiting the return of her body for a funeral.

A relative said: “Her story is the same as everyone else — she was looking for a better life. One of her uncles was one of the people closest to me. He cared for us when my father was a political prisoner. But the family have had such a tragic life.”


President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
Updated 27 November 2021

President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
  • Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.


Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.


Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant
Updated 27 November 2021

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

DUBAI: Oman, UAE and Egypt joined a series of countries worldwide who banned direct flights from seven African countries temporarily in response to the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

Starting from Nov. 28, directs flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini would be blocked and a range of measures would be introduced for any travellers arriving from such countries via indirect flights, whether for transit or otherwise. 


Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
Updated 27 November 2021

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
  • Several high profile politicians remain in custody

CAIRO: Sudan’s former minister of cabinet affairs Khalid Omer Yousif was released from detention along with others less than a day after beginning a hunger strike, the country’s information ministry said in a statement early on Saturday.
An army takeover on Oct. 25 halted a power sharing deal between the military and civilians from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, and a number of ministers and top civilian officials were detained.
Also released on Saturday were former Khartoum State governor Ayman Nimir and anti-corruption taskforce member Maher Abouljokh.
Several high profile politicians remain in custody.
Yousif and others had began the hunger strike, according to the Sudanese Congress Party, to protest their continued detention despite the signing of a deal between military leaders and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok which provided for the release of all civilian detainees.
Several other prominent civilian politicians and activists had been released on Monday and Friday.
Protests calling for the military to exit politics and be held to account for the deaths of civilian protesters have continued https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/hundreds-sudanese-protest-against-deal-between-pm-hamdok-military-2021-11-25 since the announcement of the deal between military leaders and Hamdok.
A call has been issued for more mass rallies on Sunday.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said late on Friday that 63 people had been injured during the dispersal of protests on Thursday, including one by gunshot wound in the city of Bahri.


Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital
Updated 27 November 2021

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

RIYADH: Operational objectives of airstrikes on locations in Yemen’s capital had been achieved, the Arab coalition said early Saturday.

Recently, the coalition has been striking Houthi militia assets in the city in an effort to degrade the Iran-backed group’s capabilities to launch attacks toward Saudi Arabia.

The coalition said they had hit drone workshops and weapons depots in the Dhahan neighborhood and warned civilians from crowding around the targeted areas.

On Friday, the coalition release satellite images of the aftermath of airstrikes on Houthi camps in the presidential palace.

“We have taken preventative measures to spare civilians and civilian objects from collateral damage,” the statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said. “The operation was conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and its customary rules.”

The Arab coalition said on Monday that the Houthi militia in Yemen have turned Sanaa airport into a military base for experiments and cross-border attacks.

Video footage released by the coalition showed the Iran-backed Houthis carrying out training exercises on UN planes, with the intent of testing a missile air system, Saudi state TV reported.

Last week, coalition airstrikes took out a secret hideout in Sanaa housing experts belonging to the Iran Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia is targeted by the militia nearly daily using explosive drones, which are often easily destroyed by the Kingdom’s air defenses.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition has been fighting to restore legitimacy to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, after Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.