Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
The devastated port area of Lebanon's capital Beirut can be seen in darkness during a power outage. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 October 2021

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
  • The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman on social media Friday in which he calls on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down
  • The spokesman could not be reached for comment and it was unclear if he had made the video under pressure

BEIRUT: Families of the Beirut blast victims on Saturday reaffirmed their support for the judge leading the investigation into the tragedy, days after deadly clashes in the capital between those backing him and those demanding his removal from the case.  

The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman late on Friday in which he called on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down.

The families said the spokesman, Ibrahim Hoteit, had not coordinated with them and that the video had taken them by surprise.

Some of them said the video “may have been filmed under threat” as Hoteit was reading from a written statement.

William Noun, one of the families’ representatives, said: “We do not blame him. This is not his language, but he lives in Hezbollah's security square.”

Thursday saw gun battles erupt on Beirut’s streets between rival camps over Bitar’s role. At least six people were killed and dozens were wounded.  

Lebanese Justice Minister Henry El-Khoury said on Saturday that he stood by Bitar and that the judge had the right to summon whoever he wanted in the case.

The minister also said he did not have the authority to replace Bitar and that he faced no pressure to do so, media reported.

There was a meeting between Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the president of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat, and El-Khoury on Saturday to discuss Bitar’s case.

It was decided that Bitar would be invited to a meeting on Tuesday with the Supreme Judicial Council.

A judicial source told Arab News: “Judge Abboud is committed to judicial, not political, approaches to resolving the current problem."

The Council of Ministers cannot dismiss Bitar from the port explosion probe. It requires the minister of justice, along with the Supreme Judicial Council, to remove him and appoint another investigator.

During the meeting, Mikati stressed that “the full file of what happened is with the security services under the supervision of the competent judiciary.”

Mikati, according to his office, also said the government was “keen not to interfere in any file related to the judiciary, and that the judicial authority must take whatever measures it deems appropriate.”

Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement decided not to attend any Cabinet session unless two demands were resolved. One was the removal of Bitar from the blast probe and the second was arresting those responsible for triggering the deadly fighting on Thursday. They have both accused the Lebanese Forces party of being behind the violence.

Bitar had summoned three ministers for questioning during a period in which they did not enjoy immunity. He issued an arrest warrant in absentia against former Minister Ali Hassan Khalil for not appearing before him.

The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported that some MPs “stayed in their homes based on advice given to them by some security services, and to avoid any dangers they might be exposed to in the street.”

Charles Jabbour, head of the media and communications wing of the Lebanese Forces party, told Arab News: “Yes, this advice was given to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces. There is fear of them being exposed to assassination and murder. Hezbollah previously practiced this method. The solution of the emerging crisis requires that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the state because it is about time to do that.”

He also commented on the embarrassment facing President Michel Aoun because of his duty to defend Bitar’s work and the independence of the judiciary while approving the demand of his ally Hezbollah to dismiss Bitar from the position of judicial investigator. “The president must bear his responsibility to implement justice. This has been our original demand and we are still insisting on it,” he said.

Free Patriotic Movement MP Asaad Dergham said there was disagreement between the movement and Hezbollah on the issue of the Beirut blast.

He said: “If Hezbollah's goal is to change a specific reality and impose opinion by force, then this has its caveats. If the tensions remain, this will certainly affect the relationship between Hezbollah and the movement, because it is not enough to be strong only in the front line, there is a need for strength in the ranks of the base.”

The blast on Aug. 4, 2020, killed more than 200 people. It wounded thousands more and devastated swathes of the capital.  


Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
Updated 23 sec ago

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian man in annexed east Jerusalem on Saturday after he stabbed an Israeli civilian and tried to attack police, Israeli police and Palestinian medics said.
The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city’s Damascus Gate and then “attempted to stab a border police officer,” police said in a statement.
“Police neutralized the stabber,” it added.
A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency service said the stabbing victim was a 20-year-old religious Jewish man who was taken to hospital in “moderate to severe condition.”
The assailant was not immediately identified. Israeli public radio said he was a 25-year-old from the northern West Bank town of Salfit.
Footage filmed by a bystander near the Damascus Gate and widely shared on social media showed a man in jeans lying prone on a sidewalk as police fired shots at him.
The official Palestinian state news agency Wafa said the man was killed “when Israeli police officers opened fire on him at point blank range.”
Mohammed Hamadeh, Jerusalem spokesman for Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, decried the “deliberate shooting of a wounded young man lying on the ground.”
After the shooting, police fired tear gas near the Damascus Gate to disperse Palestinians gathered there.
The incident came after a Hamas-affiliated gunman fatally shot a Jewish tour guide in Jerusalem’s Old City before police killed him last month.
Days before that, security forces shot dead a 16-year-old assailant in the Old City who they said stabbed two police officers.
The Old City is located in east Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967 and which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
Updated 11 min 26 sec ago

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
  • Yemeni FM: Iranians using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks
  • Lenderking: Houthi military activities in Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia prove militia is not willing to end war

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni and American officials have accused the Iranian regime of perpetuating the war in Yemen through arming and training the Houthis, renewing demands that the Houthis abandon military activities and comply with peace efforts. 

Speaking on Friday during Mediterranean Dialogues, an annual high-level gathering sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies in Rome, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak and the US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking agreed that the Iranians played a negative role in Yemen and the Houthis were not serious about striking a peace deal to end the war. 

The foreign minister said that the Iranians were using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks and to settle scores with their opponents. 

“Iran is using Yemen as a bargaining chip and they want to get something in Yemen while they are holding talks in Vienna,” the Yemeni minister said, arguing that the Houthis’ hard-line beliefs that they had a heavenly mandate to rule Yemen stopped them from accepting peace initiatives. 

“They believe that they are superior and they have a divine right to rule Yemen. It is rooted in their ideology . . . we want them to admit that all Yemenis are equal.”

The US Yemen envoy said that the Houthis escalating military activities in Yemen — mainly in the central province of Marib — and their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, proved that they were not willing to end the war, and repeated accusations that Iran was seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government. 

“It is clear that the Houthis intend to try to bring down the Yemen government. The Iranians I believe would like to see the same . . . the Marib offensive should stop if the Houthis are serious about peace,” Lenderking said, adding that the Houthis “forcibly recruit” young men in densely populated areas under their control through intimidation and pressure to compensate for the high casualties they have suffered during their offensive in Marib. 

“The Houthis are really going against the current world opinion here and this is seen as a sort of a test case here of Houthis’ willingness to move away from a military solution into a political solution,” Lenderking said about the Marib offensive. 

Bin Mubarak warned that the Houthi occupation of Marib would bring an end to the political process in Yemen and have an impact on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He urged international donors to help his government in Aden address the country’s economic problems, including the rapid devolution of the Yemeni riyal. 

“Marib is a cornerstone. If the fighting continues in Marib and the Houthis think they can make a military victory . . . this will collapse the entire peace process and it will have a negative impact on everything.”

Separately, the Arab coalition announced on Saturday that it carried out 11 air raids on Houthi targets in the central province of Marib, killing 60 Houthis and destroying seven military vehicles.  

The announcement comes as fierce fighting continues in the main battlefields outside the city of Marib as government troops battle relentless attacks by the Houthis.  

Intensive airstrikes by the Arab coalition supported Yemeni government troops on the ground and thwarted Houthi attempts to reinforce their forces.


Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes
Updated 04 December 2021

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes
  • On Friday Egypt recorded 933 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths

CAIRO: Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, the acting Egyptian minister of health, confirmed no cases of the new coronavirus Omicron variant have been found in the North African country.

Abdel Ghaffar said recent studies had taken samples from all of Egypt’s governorates, so far failing to report a single case.

He added that no country is able to prevent the entry of any mutation, but that the government was ready for all variants of the virus.

Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, a spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Health, denied claims that two people were infected with the Omicron variant on a plane from Ethiopia, and also denied the arrival of an Egyptian citizen carrying the mutation in Cairo on a plane from South Africa.

He stressed people would need to continue to adhere to the precautionary measures implemented at all entry points to the country. 

The Ministry of Health decided to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests for those flying into Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini, sending back any positive cases on the plane they arrived on, or quarantining them if their final destination was Egypt. 

The minister stressed that the state’s procedures are within the framework of preventing the entry of the Omicron variant into Egypt, and added that when a case is identified, it will be announced with full transparency.

On Friday Egypt recorded 933 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths, bringing the total number of cases recorded in Egypt to 361,368, of which 299,434 have recovered, and 20,643 deaths.


Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened
Updated 04 December 2021

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened
  • The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful UGTT union called for early elections on Saturday, saying it was concerned for the country’s democratic gains because of the president’s reluctance to announce a roadmap for political reforms.
UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi’s comments, in a speech to thousands of his supporters, put more pressure on President Kais Saied, more than four months after he seized all political powers.
“We supported July 25 because it was an opportunity to save the country and implement reforms ... but we have become afraid for Tunisians’ democratic gains because of the excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap,” Taboubi said.
He added that the president should call for a dialogue with political parties and national organizations that includes reviewing the electoral law and agreeing on early and transparent elections.
The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia.
Saied suspended parliament and dismissed the government on July 25, installing a new prime minister and announcing he would rule by decree. Critics denounced his move as a coup.
The president has defended his takeover as the only way to end governmental paralysis after years of political squabbling and economic stagnation. He has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution.
Saied also promised to end the emergency state quickly but has not given a date for this, and pressure has mounted for him to present a roadmap to return to parliamentary democracy.


Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 
Updated 04 December 2021

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut. 

There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan and Harib, the major general told Al-Arabiya, noting that army forces cut the Houthis’ supply line between Bayhan and Harib.

He explained that military operations continued on all fronts, with the southern front seeing most of the action. He also noted the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s support with airstrikes. 

“Marib is not besieged, and the Houthis are far from achieving this,” he said. 

He added that most of those fighting for the Houthis were children and young men. 

“They do not care about the children of Yemenis who are killed by the dozens every day,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia. 

The coalition announced on Friday night that it had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher south of Sanaa.

The coalition added that it also destroyed a “mine-making workshop” in the capital, stressing that it had taken “preventive measures to spare civilians and civilian structures from collateral damage” during the airstrikes.