Lebanon’s Hezbollah warns Israel against drilling in disputed maritime border area

Lebanon’s Hezbollah warns Israel against drilling in disputed maritime border area
A billboard featuring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a highway near Tyre, southern Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Lebanon’s Hezbollah warns Israel against drilling in disputed maritime border area

Lebanon’s Hezbollah warns Israel against drilling in disputed maritime border area
  • "If the enemy thinks they can act as they please before reaching a solution to this issue they are wrong," Nasrallah said in a televised speech
  • Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Friday warned Israel against drilling for oil and gas in the disputed maritime border area between the two countries until the issue is resolved, and said the Iran-backed group would take action if it did so.
“If the enemy thinks they can act as they please before reaching a solution to this issue they are wrong,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
Lebanon’s cabinet had raised the question to the United Nations permanent representative and others in the international community after Israel granted US oilfield services group Halliburton an offshore drilling contract in the Mediterranean, asking to clarify whether the drilling would take place in disputed areas.
Lebanon and Israel are in dispute over the delineation of their territorial waters and negotiations between the old foes could lead to Lebanon being able to unlock valuable gas reserves amid its worst-ever financial crisis.
Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields.
The two countries have been holding on-off US mediated talks since October to try to resolve the issue.
“I will not state any positions on this as I don’t want to complicate the negotiations but for sure the resistance in Lebanon at the right time through following this issue when it finds that Lebanese oil and gas is in danger in the disputed area it will act accordingly,” Nasrallah said.
The US mediator for the indirect talks, Amos Hochstein, visited Beirut this week and said a period of shuttle diplomacy would proceed any return to indirect talks between the two countries similar those held in October 2020 at the United Nations’ peackepeers base in Lebanon’s Naqoura.


UN warns Sudan’s future hangs in balance as political stalemate persists

UN warns Sudan’s future hangs in balance as political stalemate persists
Updated 24 May 2022

UN warns Sudan’s future hangs in balance as political stalemate persists

UN warns Sudan’s future hangs in balance as political stalemate persists
  • The organization’s special representative for Sudan stressed the need for dialogue between civilians and the military authorities
  • Volker Perthes also warned of ‘spoilers’ who do not want a peaceful transition to democracy and refuse efforts to find a negotiated solution

NEW YORK: The UN on Tuesday urged the ruling authorities in Sudan to reassure the public that they support dialogue as the only way to reach a political solution to the unrest in the country.

Volker Perthes, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Sudan, said that to get the political transition in the country back on track, the authorities first need to release remaining detainees, halt arbitrary arrests, and lift the state of emergency.

Time is running out for a political solution that can chart a path out of the current situation, he added, which remains precarious and with much at stake, including the country’s political, social and economic stability.

Perthes was speaking during a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the latest developments in the African country, a few days after another peaceful protester was killed by the authorities. The number of demonstrators killed since the military coup on Oct. 25 last year now stands at 96.

“If the authorities want to build trust, it is essential that those responsible for violence against protesters be held to account,” Perthes said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s latest report on Sudan stated that the lack of political agreement and of a “fully credible” government is affecting the security situation.

The Security Council meeting also came in the wake of armed clashes between Arab and Masalit communities in Kereneik, West Darfur, in April during which, initial reports suggested, 150 people were killed, many more injured, thousands displaced, and homes, a police station, a hospital and a market were burned down.

Perthes welcomed the decision by armed groups and regular forces to accept the Permanent Ceasefire Committee, chaired by the UN mission in the country, as a joint institution to help bring the conflict under control but warned that despite this, “the risk of a new outbreak of violence remains high.”

Although he welcomed the recent release of 86 detainees as an important step toward creating conditions conducive to rebuilding trust, he stressed that at least 111 people are still being held in Khartoum, Port Sudan and other cities.

Peaceful protests continue in Sudan amid public demands for change and the restoration of the democratic transitional process, even as several political parties and coalitions form new alliances and put forward proposals for talks with rivals.

“As Sudan continues to confront further uncertainty, the shared sense of urgency, combined with their vision for a better future, is driving many parties to seek common ground and increasing openness to dialogue,” Perthes told the members of the Security Council.

“There is also a growing recognition of the need for civilian-military dialogue.”

However, he added that some key stakeholders continue to reject calls for face-to-face talks with their counterparts and prefer to participate indirectly. For that reason, on May 12 the UN launched indirect talks to address a number of core issues, including “the term and composition of key constitutional organs, the future relationship between the military and civilian components, and the mechanism and criteria for the selection of a prime minister.”

Once an understanding is reached on such issues, Perthes said a trilateral mechanism that includes the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country African trade bloc, will convene for negotiations.

He warned, however, of “‘spoilers,’ who do not want a peaceful transition to democracy or refuse a solution through dialogue. The Sudanese parties should not allow such spoilers to undermine the opportunity of finding a negotiated exit to the crisis.”

The envoy also stressed that the protection of civilians requires the root causes of the conflict to be addressed, including decades of marginalization, land issues, and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

The political stalemate, combined with an economic crisis, poor harvests and global supply shocks, continues to exact a heavy socioeconomic toll on Sudan, where humanitarian needs are incessantly growing amid a 250 percent increase in food prices. According to the UN, the number of people in the country facing acute hunger is projected to double to about 18 million by September this year.

Perthes lamented the fact that the 2022 humanitarian response plan for Sudan has only received “an abysmal” 13 percent of funding, with international donors and financial institutions balking at providing assistance that goes through state systems in the absence of a political agreement to restore constitutional legitimacy.

“While the primary responsibility for these changes lies with the Sudanese stakeholders themselves, I am concerned about the long-term consequences as we watch the further erosion of Sudan’s already fragile state capacity and human capital,” he said.

He also warned that some of the critical assistance from the World Bank Group’s International Development Association 19 that is allocated to Sudan will go to other countries by the end of June if a political agreement cannot be reached in the country by then.

“If a solution to the current impasse is not found, the consequences will be felt beyond Sudan’s borders and for a generation,” Perthes said.


Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages
Updated 24 May 2022

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages

Lebanon crippled by electricity, water outages
  • Crisis-hit country has exhausted its oil stocks, with a tanker arriving at the end of the week
  • The Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment has announced that it has been “reluctantly forced” to subject the locations to “severe and harsh” water rationing

BEIRUT: Lebanon has been plunged into darkness after oil stocks in the country’s last functional power plant in Deir Ammar ran out on Tuesday morning.
Lebanon exhausted its oil stock, which it imports from Iraq, during the parliamentary elections to ensure power was maintained during the electoral process. The country has to wait for an oil tanker to arrive at the end of the week, then wait some more until the oil is tested before it can be unloaded.
Elsewhere, the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment has announced that it has been “reluctantly forced” to subject the locations to “severe and harsh” water rationing.
The shortage of diesel, the steady rise in prices and the extensive power cuts are hindering pumping stations from providing water supply, the authorities said, warning of further deterioration. The water establishment added that should any pumping station go out of service, securing the needed funds to repair it would be close to impossible.
The Lebanese have for many years provided alternatives to the basic state services, including a mass market for power generators. However, hundreds of thousands can no longer afford any of these alternatives.
On Tuesday, the local currency hit a new record low, trading at 34,100 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market.
Pharmacy owners staged a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Health on Tuesday to demand “implementing the laws of delivering medicines to pharmacies and fighting the phenomenon of smuggling drugs outside Lebanon, specifically to Syria.”
Dr. Joe Salloum, head of the Pharmacists’ Syndicate, said patients are being subjected to several types of fraud. “Some cancer patients bought medicine that turned out to be counterfeit, while the state and the ministry fails to draw up a solid plan to provide necessary, quality medication.”
He added: “Leaving room for smuggled and counterfeit medicine amid chaos and fraud threatens the lives of patients, if they can even afford to buy any medicine.”
Salloum said the whole mess could have been avoided if the medication card had been approved two years ago. “(It looks) as if there was a plan to destroy the entire sector, including pharmacies, importing companies, and Lebanon’s medical identity.”
Amid the chaos, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government has entered into caretaker mode after failing to approve an electricity plan.
The picture in the newly elected parliament remains blurred as MPs struggle to find ground with the new reformist MP surge.
Mikati revealed that Energy Minister Walid Fayyad deliberately obstructed the offers submitted by General Electric and Siemens in agreement with international groups to supply Lebanon with electricity at a reasonable price.
Mikati said Fayyad withdrew the file from the Cabinet’s agenda 15 minutes before the final session was held on May 21, claiming the offers needed “further reviewing.”
Mikati insisted on pursuing the issue and asked Fayyad “to dare to name the person who asked him to withdraw the file from the Cabinet’s agenda and why,” in an indirect reference to Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
“The government had decided to negotiate with four international companies, namely Ensaldo, Mitsubishi, General Electric and Siemens on the possibility of providing Lebanon with generators needed to produce 24-hour electricity permanently,” Mikati said, adding: “General Electric and Siemens, in agreement with international groups, made offers to supply Lebanon with electricity before next summer at a very reasonable price, even about the price of gas for energy production, and we simply needed to draw up the terms of reference following the applicable laws.”
A source close to Mikati said: “The cost of preparing the terms of reference was agreed upon with the French side but without any warning. President Michel Aoun’s political team decided to withdraw the file from the Cabinet’s agenda in refusal to record achievement in securing electricity for a government in which the FPM is not directly present.”
Aoun’s meeting on Tuesday with Anne Grillo, the French ambassador to Lebanon, focused on the upcoming elections and the Lebanese-French cooperation in all fields. Grillo conveyed French President Emmanuel Macron’s continued support for Lebanon and its people.
During the Fifth Saudi-Lebanese Cultural Forum, held on Monday evening at the residence of Walid Bukhari, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, he spoke about Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled, who was assassinated in an explosion targeting his convoy on May 16, 1989.
“His assassination was a prelude to the assassination of all of Lebanon, which is experiencing difficult circumstances, foremost of which is the targeting of its Arab identity and its relationship with its Arab environment.”
Bukhari also mentioned the “martyrdom” of Lebanon and the Arab world regarding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“We know Sheikh Khaled would be happy with the results of the honorable elections and the downfall of all symbols of treachery, betrayal, death and hate,” Bukhari said.
Speaking at the forum, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian stressed the comprehensive role that Sheikh Khaled played “so that the political quorum and Beirut remain standing, lest the divisions of the war affect the relations between Muslims and Christians, the sons of one nation.”


Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement
Updated 24 May 2022

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement

Turkey hints at Syria operation amid discussions of NATO enlargement
  • Turkey’s operation is expected to focus on areas where the country is targeted the most by cross-border attacks
  • The announcement comes at a time in which Turkey is vehemently objecting to the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday evening an impending military operation into northern Syria to establish a 30 km-deep safe zone along the southern border. 

Turkey’s operation is expected to focus on areas where the country is targeted the most by cross-border attacks. But Erdogan did not go into further detail. 

Turkish forces have launched three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and took control of areas along the border against threats from Daesh and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, listed as a terror group by Turkey. 

The withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish forces up to 30 km into Syria was part of the Russia-Turkey deal in Sochi. 

The announcement comes at a time in which Turkey is vehemently objecting to the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland, citing the two Scandinavian countries’ support for the terror groups and their arms embargoes following Turkey’s previous Syria operation in 2019. 

Although the two countries deny any support given to the terror groups on their soil, Ankara asked Sweden and Finland for the extradition of 33 members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an end to the ongoing military export bans to Turkey. 

Turkey considers the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. 

The timing of the announcement, therefore, stirred debate about whether it would be part of a grand bargain between Turkey and the Western alliance to decrease its support for the Syrian Kurdish militants in exchange for Ankara lessening its pressure on the enlargement goals of the organization. 

Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, thinks the northwestern Syrian city of Tal Rifaat is the most likely target of the operation, while Kobane or Manbij is the next most likely option. 

“I believe Erdogan still seeks a broader deal with US President Joe Biden on NATO enlargement and the purchase of American-made F-16s and would not like to confront US forces further east near Al-Malikiyah,” he told Arab News. 

An operation in Tal Rifaat, situated halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border, has been on the agenda for years as the YPG seized control in the region. The city houses Kurds who fled Afrin when Turkey carried out an operation there in 2018 to root the YPG out.  

Ankara, however, perceives a threat coming from the Tal Rifaat area, which is believed to be used by Kurdish forces to conduct cross-border attacks on Turkey. 

There have been several fire exchanges between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish militants for a couple of months. 

As Tal Rifaat is home to many refugees living in Kilis and Azaz and has limited Russian and Iranian presence, Ringler said that Russia is likely willing to let Turkey attack within certain areas with some pre-conditions, like ensuring the lack of Turkish sanctions on Russian goods and services. 

“Russia may also ask Turkey to put pressure on the PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) to return them to the table with Syrian President Bashar Assad, as talks have stalled,” he added. 

Experts also note that any such operation could take advantage of Russia’s preoccupation with the invasion of Ukraine and US commitments to defend Taiwan against China.  

According to Ringler, Turkey’s drone strikes on the YPG in northeastern Syria have always been satisficing, as elections in Turkey draw near. 

“Erdogan considers taking new steps as vital to distract the attention from domestic issues and divide the opposition over Kurdish and Syrian issues,” he said. 

The details of the operation and the decision to launch it will however be discussed during Turkey’s National Security Council meeting on Thursday.

Whether the operation has or will have the green light from Russia and US is still unclear. 

“Turkish Armed Forces have the capacity to attack all of the above areas, but for political reasons it is likely the best for Erdogan to do sequential operations, threatening additional action closer to next year’s elections and in order to gain concessions from the US, Iran, Russia and the YPG,” said Ringler.

He added: “I think Assad’s forces will fight back like in February 2020, and the extent of Russian air support will be a key indicator of the extent to which Turkey is coordinating with Russia. Assad’s forces are unlikely to give up positions without trying to impose costs on Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups and the Turkish Armed Forces for their presence in Syria.”

According to Ringler, US Congressional elections will also play a role in negotiations with the US, as presidential powers do not allow Biden to lift some of the existing sanctions and Congress remains committed to arms sanctions on Turkey related to its S-400 Russian missile defense purchase and Operation Peace Spring into Syria. 

Currently hosting about 3.7 million refugees from Syria whose presence in the country has increasingly become a hot topic among several opposition parties pledging their immediate repatriation, Ankara has been discussing their resettlement to briquette houses in safe areas along the border. 

The Turkish government is also worried that public anger over the refugees’ widespread presence will dominate the upcoming election round and influence electoral preferences. 

The latest official figures revealed that 400-500 people are returning each week to the safe zones on the Turkey-Syria border. Since 2016, around half a million Syrians have returned to those zones, which are controlled by Ankara-backed groups.  

“The regions they returned to are Jarablus, A’zaz, Marea, Al-Bab, Ras Al-Ayn, and Tal Abyad. These are all safe regions in Syria that we have created,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently said.

However, the Syrian government considers the presence of safe zones as a kind of “colonialism” and “ethnic cleansing.” Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently urged the international community to stop Ankara from proceeding with its plans for building houses and local infrastructure in safe zones to send 1 million refugees back to their country.  

Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at the New Lines Institute, thinks that the recently announced Turkish military operation in northern Syria is certainly a tactic Ankara has employed to test Russia in Syria amid its intervention in Ukraine. 

“It is also a message Turkey is wishing to send following its opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO due to grievances related to the PKK, as well as to take advantage of Russian distraction in Ukraine to alter the status quo in Syria and deepen its footprint in the northeast,” she told Arab News. 

Rose, however, does not think the US will offer any public or private green light for this operation, nor will Russia publicly support it.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, in a statement on Tuesday, accused Turkey of “destabilizing the region.”

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, believes there is always an opportunity for Turkey to launch a tactic operation targeting a specific area. 

“The most reasonable targets would be Tal Rifaat and Manbij. I don’t expect any operation on the eastern side of Syria. Turkey should concentrate its efforts and forces on controlling the strategic points on the M4 highway in Idlib that became a de facto frontier between Turkish-controlled pockets and Kurdish forces,” he told Arab News. 

Erdogan’s announcement also came a day before diplomatic delegations from Sweden and Finland landed in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss their NATO membership bid, where Turkey is expected to present some files on PKK activities during their meeting with the Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal on Wednesday. 


Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo
Updated 24 May 2022

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo

Yemenia to operate direct flights between Houthi-held Sanaa, Cairo
  • Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry said that the Egyptian authorities would allow the resumption of flights between Sanaa and Cairo as part of efforts to cement the truce
  • Under the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2, Yemenia will operate weekly flights from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government on Tuesday praised Egypt for allowing the country’s national carrier, Yemenia, to operate direct flights from Houthi-held Sanaa to Cairo as part of the UN-brokered truce.

The agreement facilitated the resumption of flights from Sanaa airport for the first time in six years.

On Monday, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said that Egyptian authorities would allow the resumption of flights between Sanaa and Cairo as part of efforts to cement the truce and support peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

During a call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Shoukry expressed his hope that the move would consolidate the UN truce in Yemen, alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and contribute to efforts to establish stability in Yemen.

Under the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2, Yemenia will operate weekly flights from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo as warring factions commit to stopping hostilities across the country. The agreement also allows fuel ships to enter Hodeidah seaport.

The first commercial flight since 2016 left Sanaa airport on May 16 — a move that enhanced hopes of strengthening the truce and finding a peace deal to end the war.

The Egyptian decision sparked jubilation among Yemenis, especially among medical patients who seek treatment in Egypt. It was also met with praise from foreign envoys and international mediators.

Baligh Al-Mekhlafi, the information counselor at the Yemeni embassy in Cairo, told Arab News that thousands of Yemenis, mainly patients, will benefit from the resumption of flights, since Egypt is a top destination for Yemenis.

“Opening the airport will contribute to alleviating human suffering and the cost of travel for citizens, especially that 80 percent of the passengers come to Egypt for medical treatment,” Al-Mekhlafi said, announcing the departure of the first flight from Sanaa to Cairo next week.

During a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador in Washington DC, the US Yemen envoy, Tim Lenderking, thanked Egypt for supporting peace in Yemen and the UN-brokered truce.

“The US appreciates Egypt’s strong support for Yemen peace efforts, including the ongoing truce,” Lenderking tweeted.

The Chinese Embassy in Yemen also tweeted praise for Egypt. “We appreciate the Egyptian efforts to operate direct flights from Sanaa to Cairo, hoping that the suffering of the Yemeni people will be alleviated,” it said.

Separately, in the southern port city of Aden, Rashad Al-Alimi, chief of the Presidential Leadership Council, received foreign delegations that visited the interim capital of Aden to express support for the government and listen to plans for reforming state bodies, unifying military and security units, and reviving the economy.

Official media reported on Monday that Al-Alimi met Peter-Derrek Hof, the Dutch ambassador to Yemen, and Birgitta Tazelaar, deputy director general for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We talked about the reforms the Presidential Leadership Council is working on, including the unification of the military and security institutions under the Riyadh Agreement, and the economic, service and judicial files,” Al-Alimi said, according to SABA news agency.

The Yemeni leader also met with Richard Oppenheim, the UK ambassador to Yemen. Al-Alimi urged the international community and the UK to mount pressure on the Houthis to respect the truce and open roads in Taiz.

The UK ambassador tweeted from Aden that he had “fruitful” meetings with Al-Alimi and Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed. “I urge all parties to continue with the constructive approach taken. Yemen needs peace,” he said.


UAE announces first case of monkeypox

UAE announces first case of monkeypox
Updated 24 May 2022

UAE announces first case of monkeypox

UAE announces first case of monkeypox
  • The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa
  • The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures to ensure safety

DUBAI: The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the country’s first case of monkeypox on Tuesday.

The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa and is receiving the necessary medical care, Emirates News Agency reported.

The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures including investigation, the examination of contacts, and monitoring their health.

It added that it is cooperating with other health authorities in implementing an epidemiological surveillance system to ensure sustainable efficiency, protection from communicable diseases, and rapid detection of all diseases and viruses, including monkeypox, in the UAE.

The ministry called on members of the public to obtain information from official sources in the UAE, and to refrain from spreading rumours and false information, highlighting the importance of staying updated on developments and guidelines issued by UAE health authorities.