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.  


Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
  • Unclear whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president
  • It may also signal serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran struck a maximalist tone Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated as Tehran demands all American sanctions be lifted.

Iranian state media reported the comments by Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, and Mohammed Eslami, the country’s civilian nuclear chief.

It remained unclear, however, whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.

Speaking to Iranian state television, Bagheri referred to the previous rounds of talks only as a “draft.”

“Drafts are subject to negotiation. Therefore nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on,” he said. “On that basis, all discussions that took place in the six rounds are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today’s meeting as well.”

Another state TV segment saw Bagheri in Vienna also saying Iran demanded a “guarantee by American not to impose new sanctions” or not re-impose previously lifted sanctions.

Eslami, speaking to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, reiterated that demand.

“The talks (in Vienna) are about return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” he said.

Talks in Vienna resumed Monday after an over five-month hiatus as hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi took power. Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, campaigned on getting sanctions lifted. However, fellow hard-liners within Iran’s theocracy long have criticized the nuclear deal as giving too much away to the West.

Iran’s comments Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the optimistic tone offered by the European Union diplomat leading the talks.

“I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks,” Enrique Mora told reporters on Monday.

Israel, Iran’s regional, nuclear-armed rival, kept up its own pressure amid the negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video that he later posted to Twitter. “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

Iran maintains its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear the brinkmanship could push Tehran toward even more extreme measures to try to force the West to lift sanctions.

Making matters more difficult, United Nations nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran limited their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make any progress on that issue.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 30 November 2021

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

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

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

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.


Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2021

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
  • At start of conference devoted to a nuclear-free Middle East, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on all parties to work to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
  • Expansion of existing nuclear-free zones around the world would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms, he added

NEW YORK: The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development,” the UN chief said as he again called on all in the region to exercise restraint and avoid the escalation of conflicts.

The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019.

In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”

Guterres praised Kuwait for “actively engaging participants during the intersessional period to learn from the other nuclear weapon-free zones and continue moving the process forward.”

He said the conference represents a chance to produce tangible results for the Middle East and to reinstate dialogue on the “full and effective” implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

He urged “all parties” to work to salvage the agreement, signed in 2015 by world powers and Iran, under which Tehran pledged to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. A sixth round of negotiations to revive the JCPOA began on Monday in Vienna.

“Your strong political will, together with the international community’s support, can transform the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction into a reality,” Guterres told the participants.


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 29 November 2021

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.