Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
It emerged after the Beirut port blast that officials had known that hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had for years been left to linger in a warehouse near residential neighborhoods. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2021

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
  • Explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people
  • ‘Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system’

BEIRUT: They may often squabble but Lebanon’s political parties seem united in rejecting an investigation into Beirut’s massive port explosion that they fear could threaten their survival, analysts say.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.
In the aftermath of mass protests in late 2019 demanding the ouster of the traditional ruling class, many said the disaster was just the latest example of official incompetence and corruption.
But months into a domestic investigation, no one has been held accountable.
Politicians have repeatedly obstructed the work of judge Tarek Bitar by refusing to show up for questioning, filing legal complaints against him or calling for his dismissal, which last week sparked deadly violence in the heart of Beirut.
Analyst Lina Khatib said hopes were fading of holding those responsible for the port blast accountable.
“The ruling class in Lebanon is in agreement about wanting the port probe to be abandoned and they will use all available means to derail it,” said Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank.
The country’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah has spearheaded a campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of political bias.
The debate over his future, which comes after the previous investigator was removed in February, has already triggered the postponement of one cabinet meeting despite the urgency of addressing Lebanon’s acute economic crisis.
Nadim Houry, executive director at the Arab Reform Initiative, said that the whole ruling class felt under threat in what he described as “an essential battle in Lebanon for rule of law.”
“A section of society has decided that they want to go all the way and ask for truth,” but they face “a political class that is willing to use threats, use violence, use even launching into another civil war to prevent that quest for truth from leading to a result,” he said.
It emerged after the port blast that officials had known that hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had for years been left to linger in a warehouse near residential neighborhoods.
Families of the victims see in Bitar the only hope for justice in a country where impunity has long been the norm.
After the 1975 to 1990 civil war, Lebanon issued a broad amnesty that benefited the country’s warlords, allowing many of them to become political leaders.
“Regardless of what Bitar finds, it’s the idea itself that any of them can somehow be held accountable that they are resisting,” Houry said.
Any success in the blast probe would set a precedent and unravel a “impunity regime” under which each party agrees not to pursue the other for its crimes, as long as it is not targeted itself.
Tensions came to a boil last week after a rally against Bitar organized by Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal descended into violence that killed seven of their supporters.
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades trapped residents indoors for hours, reviving memories of the civil war.
Hezbollah accused snipers of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, of causing the bloodshed, but the latter has denied this.
The army, meanwhile, is investigating a video circulated on social media that appears to show a soldier shooting at protesters.
“Hezbollah is increasingly acting as the praetorian guard of the regime that has come into place since the 1990s,” Houry said.
The Iran-backed movement, the only one not to have disarmed after the civil war, is at least partly blacklisted by most Western governments but holds seats in parliament.
While political parties have publicly supported an investigation, analysts say they ultimately wish to protect their own interests.
“Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system... and they therefore oppose any steps to reform it or to instil accountability within it,” Khatib said.
A spokesman for the families of blast victims quit on Saturday, after many feared he had been intimidated into toeing the Hezbollah line and calling for Bitar to step down.
Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother in the explosion, lives in a Shiite-majority neighborhood.
The following day, many refrained from taking part in a protest to mark the second anniversary of the now-defunct 2019 protest movement, fearing further violence.
“Ultimately, the ruling class want to push the Lebanese to conclude that the price of accountability is too high,” Khatib said.


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.