Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins

A Hezbollah fighter fires his gun during the funeral on October 15, 2021 of members who were killed during clashes in Beirut's southern suburbs a day earlier. (IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)
A Hezbollah fighter fires his gun during the funeral on October 15, 2021 of members who were killed during clashes in Beirut's southern suburbs a day earlier. (IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins

Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins
  • Crisis surrounds probe being conducted by Judge Tarek Bitar, who wants to question former and serving ministers linked to Hezbollah and the allied Amal Party about their responsibility for the deadly port blast

BEIRUT: Members of parliament hid in their homes on Saturday in fear of assassination by Hezbollah gunmen as new turmoil in Lebanon threatened to spiral out of control.

Security services advised MPs from the Lebanese Forces party not to venture out amid growing tension over a judicial investigation into the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swaths of Beirut.

“Yes, this advice was given to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces,” party media chief Charles Jabbour told Arab News. “There is fear of them being exposed to assassination and murder, which Hezbollah has practiced before. The solution requires that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the state.”

The crisis surrounds the investigation being conducted by Judge Tarek Bitar, who wants to question former and serving ministers linked to Hezbollah and the allied Amal Party about their responsibility for the deadly port blast. The ministers claim the judge’s actions are political, and have refused to cooperate.

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Tensions erupted into violence last Thursday, when seven people were killed after gunfire erupted during a Hezbollah and Amal protest against the investigation in a mainly Christian area of central Beirut.

Justice Minister Henry El-Khoury said on Saturday he supported Judge Bitar, who had the right to summon whoever he wanted in the case. “I stand by the ... investigator,” El-Khoury said. He said he did not have the authority to replace Bitar, and faced no pressure to do so.

The minister held crisis talks on Saturday to discuss the investigation with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Supreme Judicial Council president Suhail Abboud and public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. They decided to invite Bitar to a meeting of the council on Tuesday.

“Judge Abboud is committed to judicial, not political, approaches to resolving the problem,” a judicial source told Arab News.

There was also support for Bitar’s investigation from a surprising source —  former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian bloc. “The Free Patriotic Movement is for continuing the probe, revealing the truth and putting those responsible on trial,” Bassil said on Saturday.

Bassil, who is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and is widely thought to be angling to replace him, is under US sanctions for alleged corruption, and for having ties to Hezbollah.


Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 12 sec ago

Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
  • Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

BEIRUT: Tons of wheat, corn and barley stored at the Port of Beirut since the devastating explosion that rocked the city 16 months ago are to be disposed of as they are no longer fit for consumption, it has been found.

As temperatures change, mold, weevils and other insects have made it impossible to reach the contents of silos at the site without protective equipment; according to the World Health Organization, mold produces mycotoxins “which can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock … ranging from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.”

Before the blast, the port’s silos contained about 45 tons of wheat, barley and corn, most of which was lost during the explosion. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin said that six to seven tons remain at the site.

Lab tests run on samples of wheat in cooperation with the ministries of economy, agriculture and environment, the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University, and the French Embassy, which brought in experts to assist, showed that the crops “are suitable for neither human nor animal use.”

In August, a year after the explosion, the remaining grains were removed from their silos and stored in the open air to reduce the risks of accidental fires in the hot weather, but resulted in hastening the demise of the crops as fit for consumption.

A committee formed under the government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab failed to reach a solution.

Yassin told Arab News: “We decided to ferment these quantities and turn them into compost to be distributed to farmers for free, or turn them into industrial firewood to be given to the Lebanese Army to heat its units in the high mountains, or donate them to needy families living in cold areas.”

He added: “Turning them into compost allows us to avoid any procedure that produces heavy metals, and we started with this process with the help of MAN Group, which obtained funding from France to treat organic waste resulting from the explosion, and had signed the contract with the Lebanese state in May.”

The grain is set to be moved to the municipality of Zahle, which has a landfill site able to treat waste and transform it into compost and firewood.

Yassin noted: “We seek to produce 3,000 tons of compost and 3,000 tons of industrial firewood. We have so far been able to produce 500 tons of compost, which is an organic fertilizer and will be distributed free of charge to farmers and we have finished producing 1,000 tons of industrial firewood through special presses.

“Indeed, this type of firewood does not last long while it burns, but we hope that it will alleviate the distress of people who cannot buy diesel for heating during winter, and curb the phenomenon of cutting trees to secure firewood for homes as an alternative to diesel.”

The silos at the port absorbed about 20 percent of the blast wave, which resulted from storing 1,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port alongside seized explosives. Over 220 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and the city’s waterfront was destroyed.

Experts who initially examined the site stressed that the wheat silos, which were severely damaged, would need to be be demolished because they were on the verge of collapsing.

Former Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said in November 2020: “The government will demolish the silos due to public safety concerns.”

However, the Lebanese authorities are yet to take action.

The wheat silos are made up of a giant 48-meter concrete structure built between 1968 and 1970, with a huge storage capacity of over 100,000 tons.

Once considered a key element in Lebanon’s food security, the silos have today become a symbol of the catastrophe.


Iran holds air defence exercise over nuclear town Natanz: State TV

Iran holds air defence exercise over nuclear town Natanz: State TV
Updated 11 min 33 sec ago

Iran holds air defence exercise over nuclear town Natanz: State TV

Iran holds air defence exercise over nuclear town Natanz: State TV
  • Iranian news agencies earlier reported a large explosion in the sky above Natanz
  • Fars news agency quoted its reporter as saying short blast was heard accompanied by an intense light in sky

DUBAI: Iranian air defences fired a missile as part of an exercise on Saturday over the central town of Natanz, which houses nuclear installations, state TV reported, after local residents reported hearing a large blast.
The TV said air defence units fired the missile to test a rapid reaction force over Natanz.
Iranian news agencies earlier reported a large explosion in the sky above Natanz, but said there was no official explanation of the incident.
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted its reporter in nearby Badroud as saying a short blast was heard which was accompanied by an intense light in the sky.


US warns it will not let Iran ‘slow walk’ nuclear talks

US warns it will not let Iran ‘slow walk’ nuclear talks
Updated 04 December 2021

US warns it will not let Iran ‘slow walk’ nuclear talks

US warns it will not let Iran ‘slow walk’ nuclear talks
  • The US was not yet planning to walk away from the talks in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The United States warned Saturday that it would not allow Iran to “slow walk” international negotiations over its nuclear program, a day after heaping blame on Tehran for the stalled process.
“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” said a senior administration official.
The official said the United States was not yet planning to walk away from the talks in Vienna, but that it hoped Iran would return “with a serious attitude.”


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

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
Updated 04 December 2021

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

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media
  • The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city's Damascus Gate and then "attempted to stab a border police officer,"
  • A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant

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 04 December 2021

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.