‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2021

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.

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MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”


Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
Updated 10 sec ago

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
  • Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008

GAZA CITY: Specialists in the besieged Gaza Strip are mixing psychiatry and music in therapy sessions designed to improve positivity among the Palestinian enclave’s war-weary population.

And 12-year-old Reem, whose family home was bombed in May during the latest clashes in the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, has been one of those to benefit.

The youngster was left traumatized after an explosion at her house in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, an experience that has since regularly reduced her to tears and caused her to feel isolated and depressed.

But after getting involved in a music therapy scheme run by the Sununu Association for Culture and Arts and funded by the German GIZ organization, her stresses and fears have been significantly eased.

Reem listens to music without words during her weekly psychological support sessions organized as part of the Enjoy Your Life with Music initiative.

Program coordinator, Rania Al-Shurihi, said Reem’s mental health had improved dramatically as a result of her treatment, adding that the association also held group sessions for Gazans suffering from the psychological effects of years of war and economic hardship.

Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and it is now used to treat a range of conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, heart irregularities, and blood pressure issues.

Al-Shurihi pointed out that sometimes exposing people to sad music helped them shed negative energy through crying but added that happy and relaxing music incorporating the sound of rain and waves could have similar positive outcomes.

She noted that psychological pressure often generated the need to listen to music or readings from the Holy Qur’an for relaxation.

Mental health specialists also use therapeutic methods such as writing, cooking, sailing, and breathing exercises to relieve tensions.

“Despite society’s inherited and negative view of mental health center visitors, the success of the music therapy experience has greatly contributed to changing these concepts,” Al-Shurihi said.

Experts believe that many children living in Gaza suffer from psychological damage related to the conflict including depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, urinary incontinence, and nervous mood swings.

According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008. The aid organization said the deadly conflict in May had a devastating impact on many youngsters after schools, health facilities, homes, and offices were damaged or flattened in missile attacks.

Al-Shurihi said it was important that music therapy continued to be offered in Gaza not just to tackle the effects of war but also the daily pressures of life faced by Palestinians.

“We all need psychological intervention to varying degrees. And through music, we seek to help the neediest people to overcome difficult circumstances and not drown in a sea of psychological crises,” she added.


Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
Updated 27 min 32 sec ago

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
  • Banks and money changers deny taking commissions on old bills

BEIRUT: Lebanese money changers refusing to accept older $100 banknotes, known as “white notes,” is causing confusion, particularly after some people were charged an extra $5 fee for exchanging $100 white bills.

Dozens of customers flocked to banks to learn more about the news, especially since some of the white $100 notes were issued by banks.

A customer told Arab News: “Every Lebanese is keeping a stack of $100 bills in their home for when they need them the most since the banks confiscated our deposits, and no one dares to deposit a single dollar in the bank nowadays.”

He added: “I went to my bank to inquire about this new rule adopted by money changers. My daughter told me that one refused to exchange the $100 that she gave him, claiming it was an old edition and he had the right to take $5 as commission if she wanted to exchange it. Who gave them the right to do this? I, my wife and my children all work and we save whatever we make in dollars. Does this mean that our savings have become worthless?”

He said: “The bank manager told me that the problem is with money changers, not banks, since they do not have instructions to stop dealing with the old $100 bills; on the contrary, banks are using both the old and new editions. He suggested that I occasionally bring him $200 to $400, in exchange for which he would give me $50 bills until the issue with money changers is resolved.”

Over the past few days, the topic of “old, white” $100 and the “new, blue” $100 banknotes has dominated conversation.

Money transfer companies were also said to have refused to deal with the older notes. Some money changers have taken advantage of the ambiguity to impose a $10 fee for exchanging white $100 bills.

The confusion was said to said to have been stirred by one of the largest money shipping companies, shut down after it was subject to a judicial investigation into smuggling funds abroad after Oct. 17, 2019 — when the financial crisis hit Lebanon, and in light of which Banque du Liban froze transfers inside and outside Lebanon.

Mahmoud Murad, former head of the Syndicate of Money Changers, told Arab News: “This fad has been circulating in the Lebanese financial market for about a week now. We do not know its source, nor who invented it. The problem is that people believe anything in Lebanon.”

He added: “People who come to my business to buy dollar bills only accept the blue-colored edition now. We, as money changers, are buying and selling both the old and new editions; nothing has changed.”

Murad said: “If the $100 notes are worn-out or torn, we buy them from people but never sell them again. Instead, we give them to shipping companies to return them to the US and replace them with brand-new ones.

“But everyone in Lebanon is now a money changer. The Lebanese, the Syrian, the Sri Lankan, the Bengali, the supermarket cashier, the butcher, all engage in exchanging money. Money changers should not be blamed for this.”

Murad said that the Syndicate of Money Changers met on Wednesday and stressed that all money changers follow legal and moral rules when dealing with customers.

However, Banque du Liban revealed in a statement on Wednesday that “some banks and money changers have charged fees for exchanging $100 banknotes, claiming that they are outdated.”

It added: “The specifications of valid $100 notes are determined by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an agency affiliated with the US Treasury,” noting: “BDL alone determines the specifications of valid Lebanese currency.”

The US Embassy in Lebanon also stated on Wednesday that “it is US government policy that all designs of Federal Reserve notes remain legal tender, or legally valid for payments, regardless of when they were issued. This policy includes all denominations of Federal Reserve notes, from 1914 to present.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that “after the great controversy surrounding some money changers taking commissions on old $100 bills, ABL would like to clarify that Lebanese banks deal with banknotes without any amendment to existing procedures. No additional fee is charged for accepting white $100 banknotes.”

OMT Exchange also stated that it “has not stopped accepting white $100 bills, if they are in good condition, and no additional fee is charged at any of our centers. OMT does not accept any banknotes that are torn, burnt, yellowed, or even partially damaged.”


Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant
Updated 43 min 22 sec ago

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant
  • The variant was detected in a European traveler who arrived from an African country

KUWAIT: Kuwait has detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, state news agency KUNA reported on Wednesday.
The variant was detected in a European traveler who arrived to Kuwait from an African country where the variant had been detected, KUNA reported, citing a health ministry spokesman.
Speaking to KUNA, Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad said the traveler had received both dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine previously and now he is under institutional quarantine, according to the health protocol.
He added that the ministry has taken necessary precautions since several nations announced discovering the new variant.
Currently, the pandemic situation in Kuwait is stable, according to Al-Sanad, however, citizens and residents have been advised to take the booster shot to help the ministry curb the spread.
Studies have shown that current vaccines are effective against omicron, he stressed.
On Wednesday, health authorities recorded 18 recoveries, one death and 33 new coronavirus infections, bringing the cases to a total of 413,588 in Kuwait.


Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel
Updated 53 min 49 sec ago

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel
  • The two countries and the UAE signed a declaration of intent on Nov. 22 to explore the feasibility of a the joint project

AMMAN: MPs in Jordan walked out of a parliamentary session on Wednesday in protest against the presence of the minister who signed a controversial “energy-for-water” agreement with Israel and the UAE.

Amid angry scenes, veteran MP Saleh Al-Armouti threatened to walk out if the minister remained. Without mentioning the minister by name, Al-Armouti said: “Someone who signed a deal with the Zionist enemy, either he leaves the hall or I leave. I don’t allow his presence (in the chamber).”

When speaker Abdulkarim Al-Dughmi accused Al-Armouti of violating parliamentary rules, the latter walked out of the session and was joined by a majority of MPs, which meant that there was no longer a quorum in the House. A majority of the remaining lawmakers voted in favor of a proposal to hold a special session to discuss the energy agreement.

The declaration of intent to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project was signed at Expo 2020 Dubai on Nov. 22 by Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al-Najjar, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri, and Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar.

At the time, the Jordanian government said the declaration was “neither a technical nor legal agreement” and only means that the three nations will begin to carry out feasibility studies early next year for the megaproject. It added that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 million cubic meters of water a year under the proposed project.

In the past two weeks, hundreds of Jordanians have marched in Amman in protest against the agreement, demanding the resignation of the government over the “shameful deals” with Israel.

Water and Irrigation Ministry spokesperson Omar Salameh previously pointed out that Jordan obtains 35 million cubic meters of water annually from Israel under the 1994 Wadi Araba Peace Treaty between the two countries, and another 10 million cubic meters as a result of a deal in 2010. In October, Jordan signed an agreement with Israel to purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water.

A few days before water-far-energy agreement was signed, US news website Axios reported that a massive solar-energy farm will be built in the Jordanian desert as part of a project to generate clean energy that would be sold to Israel in return for desalinated water. Axios said the solar facility would be built by Masdar, the renewable-energy company owned by the Emirati government.

The plans reportedly call for the solar farm to be operational by 2026 and supply 2 percent of Israel’s energy requirements by 2030, with Israel paying $180 million a year that would be divided between the Jordanian government and the Emirati company.


Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis
Updated 08 December 2021

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis
  • The Arab coalition and the Yemeni government have long accused Iran of sending military and financial assistance to the Houthis

AL-MUKALLA: The Yemeni Army battling the Houthis across the country has demanded that the UN Security Council and the UN special envoy to Yemen name and shame the Iranian regime for continuing to send military supplies to the Houthis, responsible for killing thousands of Yemenis and undermining peace and stability. 

Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News on Wednesday that the Houthis are using advanced weapons from Iran to kill Yemenis and attack targets in neighboring Saudi Arabia and renewed the call to impose sanctions on Iran for fueling violence in Yemen. 

“Yemen is in need of humanitarian assistance, not weapons,” Majili said, commenting on the latest and largest-ever seizure of Iranian weapons bound for the Houthis in Yemen. 

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department announced intercepting two large caches of Iranian weapons, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, heading to the Houthis in Yemen on two vessels in the Arabian Sea. 

The Arab coalition and the Yemeni government have long accused Iran of sending military and financial assistance to the Houthis, fueling their deadly military operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. 

Meanwhile, the US pledged support to the Yemeni government and the new administration of the Aden-based Central Bank of Yemen in delivering economic policies to rescue the devaluating rial and address aggravating economic problems. 

During a meeting with the new governor of the central bank Ahmed bin Ahmed Ghaleb on Wednesday, Cathy Westley, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yemen, said Washington would help him and his economic team to put into place vital reforms to rescue the economy. 

“CDA Westley pledged US support for comprehensive economic reforms to benefit the Yemeni people in her meeting with CBY Gov. Ahmed Ghaleb. They also discussed the need for continued strong international cooperation and financial assistance to help shore up Yemen’s economy,” the US Embassy in Yemen said in a brief statement. 

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking repeated the same pledges of support to the Yemeni government during a virtual meeting with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed on Tuesday. 

“The US strongly supports the prime minister office’s efforts to reform the Yemeni economy,” Lenderking’s office said. 

Similarly, the EU welcomed the restructuring of the central bank board and demanded the new leaders work on fixing the severe economic meltdown in the country and fighting corruption. 

“The EU welcomes the appointment of a new governor, deputy governor and the board of the central bank of Yemen, as part of urgently needed economic and monetary reforms. It is essential to stabilize the currency, establish and implement a budget and fight corruption throughout #Yemen,” the EU Mission in Yemen said on Twitter.

The international support to the Yemeni government comes as the Yemeni rial on Wednesday stabilized at 1255 against the dollar for the first time in two weeks, recovering from a historic record of 1700 against the dollar. 

On the ground, dozens of Houthis were killed in fierce fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday morning in contested areas south of Marib, a local military official told Arab News. 

Waves of Houthi fighters attacked government troops on Tuesday night in the Juba district in a desperate attempt to break through defenses and seize control of new areas that would put them closer to the city of Marib.

The consecutive attacks triggered heavy fighting with government troops who managed to push back the Houthis after killing dozens, and the fighting subsided early on Wednesday. 

“The Houthis have carried out human wave attacks in a bid to make a breakthrough. They suffered heavy losses. The attacks sparked intense airstrikes from Arab coalition warplanes,” the official said. 

On Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed alarm over the escalating military operations across Yemen and called upon warring factions in the country to end hostilities and comply with UN efforts to reach a peace agreement. 

“Military options won’t result in sustainable solutions. The parties have a responsibility to prioritize the needs of civilians & cooperate with #UN efforts to revive a political process aimed at reaching a just, negotiated settlement to comprehensively end the conflict in #Yemen,” Grundberg said in a statement on Twitter.