Top Arab League official holds talks in Lebanon over Gulf row

Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki, left, speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, in Beirut on Monday. (AP)
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Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki, left, speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, in Beirut on Monday. (AP)
Top Arab League official holds talks in Lebanon over Gulf row
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Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Lebanon on Oct. 29 after remarks made by George Kordahi on the Yemen war. (AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2021

Top Arab League official holds talks in Lebanon over Gulf row

Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki, left, speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, in Beirut on Monday. (AP)
  • Arab League assistant secretary-general tells Lebanese politicians: ‘You know the way to solution and yet you are not taking any steps’

BEIRUT: Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki held talks in Lebanon on Monday to try to ease a rift with Saudi Arabia over criticism of its role in the Yemen war.

Zaki said the purpose of his visit is to “familiarize himeself with the Lebanese position and make an effort to promote a convergence of opinion and resolve problems with Saudi Arabia.”

Zaki stressed that the Lebanese crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries “is not simple and goes beyond a minister’s account of what is happening in Yemen. It is an integrated position on the situation, and this is what Saudi Arabia has condemned. The Lebanese position is different from Arab decisions on the Yemeni issue.”

Zaki held talks with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bou Habib.

His talks came against the backdrop of the diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon that started on Oct. 29 after the airing of remarks by Information Minister George Kordahi on the Yemen conflict.

Mikati told Zaki that “Lebanon is keen on restoring normal relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and will make every possible effort to remove the gaps in these relations and address the differences in the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation.”

He said Lebanon “is committed to all Arab League decisions regarding the Yemeni crisis, stemming from the Security Council resolution, the Gulf initiative, and the principle of dialogue between the concerned parties.”

Zaki confirmed in a statement that if he needs to visit to Saudi Arabia, he will do so.

However, he said that “the majority know the way to solve the Saudi-Lebanese crisis, but no one has taken a single step.”

Political observers say that “Kordahi’s resignation and taking serious steps to prevent drug smuggling into the Kingdom may be the gateway to the solution.”

Addressing a press conference at the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, Zaki said: “What must be done to start addressing the current crisis is clear and we must all continue to work hard because the relationship between Lebanon and the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, is an old, well-established and important relationship for both parties, but the matter needs an effort that we hope everyone will make and seek to achieve.”

He said that “the issue is far from being taken lightly.”

The prime minister has been unable to achieve any breakthrough in the crisis of the relationship with the Gulf as Hezbollah is rejecting Kordahi’s resignation unless it receives guarantees.

Last weekend, Mikati asked Kordahi to “do what his national conscience dictates,” that is, to submit his resignation.

Kordahi refused to do so, taking the position of the leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Hezbollah has said that Kordahi’s resignation would undermine “national sovereignty.”

The diplomatic rift has put further pressure on the Lebanese government, which is already suffering from a crisis provoked by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has blocked the participation of its deputies and those of the Amal movement in the Cabinet sessions until the dismissal of the judicial investigator in the port explosion case, Judge Tarek Bitar, and the ending of investigations into the Tayouneh clashes.

The Tayouneh clashes started after Hezbollah’s protest against Judge Bitar turned into an armed confrontation with the people of Ain Al-Rummaneh neighbourhood, including members of the Lebanese Forces party.

There are still efforts to dismiss Judge Bitar from the port blast case.

The most recent of these was the ruling of Judge Habib Mezher, head of Chamber 15 of the Appeals Court, to dismiss Bitar.

Mezher’s move provoked a storm of reaction.

Prosecutors for the foreign victims of the explosion filed a complaint with the Judicial Inspection Authority and the Supreme Judicial Council against Mezher “due to the grave errors in his decision.”

The Beirut Bar Association submitted a review to the Civil Court of Appeal to say that Judge Mezher’s “intervention in Judge Bitar’s response file and taking unilateral decisions is illegal.”

As of Monday, the number of lawsuits filed against Bitar by politicians he had accused over the explosion reached 16.

These aim to paralyze his investigations and dismiss him from his role.

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ali Zuaiter, Nohad Al-Machnouk and Youssef Finianos are all seeking to avoid appearing before the judge.


UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice
Updated 12 sec ago

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice
  • At least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep on Friday by suspected Daesh gunmen

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned “in the strongest terms” a recent terrorist attack in Iraq’s Diyala Province, and called for all “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.
At dawn on Friday, Jan. 21, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep during an attack on their barracks by suspected Daesh gunmen, according to reports citing Iraqi security officials. It happened in the Al-Azim district, a mountainous area more than 70 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.
The Security Council urged all states to actively cooperate with the Iraqi Government in seeking to hold the perpetrators to account, in line with their obligations under international law and the council’s resolutions. It reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
In a joint statement, council members reaffirmed that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
They highlighted the need for all states “to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
Council members also shared “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Iraq, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”


Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert
Updated 25 min 10 sec ago

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert
  • More than 700 child citizens of 57 countries, including France, Germany, the UK and the US, are detained at Al-Ghuwayran prison, which holds Daesh militants and their families
  • Fighting continues at the prison, where almost 300 detainees have been killed since a deadly jailbreak attempt by hundreds of Daesh insurgents began last week

NEW YORK: A UN human rights expert on Tuesday voiced serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children incarcerated at Al-Ghuwayran prison, in Al-Hasakeh in northeast Syria, and called on all countries to repatriate their young citizens held in the country.
The prison was the scene of a deadly attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week.
“Boys as young as 12 are living in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“They are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.
“The treatment of hundreds of boys who have been detained in grotesque prison conditions is an affront to the dignity of the child and the right of every child to be treated with dignity.”
Almost 300 detainees have been killed during days of fighting at Al-Ghuwayran, which began last Thursday with the detonation of two car bombs. Clashes are continuing at the prison, which holds more than 5,000 alleged Daesh militants from almost 60 countries. The insurgents had seized control of the children’s section of the facility.
Fighters from the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces are said to be closing in on the final section of prison still held by Daesh attackers, as the situation becomes increasingly worrying for inmates.
Humanitarian groups have renewed calls for all governments to repatriate their citizens from Syria.
“The abject refusal of states to repatriate their children is a contributory factor in the security and human rights morass that has ignited in Al-Hasakeh in recent days,” said Ni Aolain, who last year sent official letters to 57 governments of countries believed to have citizens in Syrian camps. They include France, Germany, the UK, Finland and the US.
The failure of governments to repatriate detained children, who are victims of terrorism and in need of protection under international law, “beggars belief,” Ni Aolain said.
“Many of these boys, forcibly separated from their mothers and family members in recent years, have been denied their most fundamental human rights their entire lives,” she added.
“They have been held arbitrarily and never participated in any legal process that would justify depriving them of their liberty, and in conditions that constitute torture, cruel and degrading treatment under international law.
“Treating boys as a distinct class, refusing to recognize in practice their rights as children, is a form of gender discrimination that has had horrific consequences for these children now caught up in the violent confrontation at Al-Hasakeh prison.”
Ni Aolain called on all states and other entities active in northeastern Syria to ensure that civilians are protected, and for those involved in regaining control of the prison to protect the children held there and prevent further harm coming to them.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Opposition group estimates 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in Iran

In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. (WANA/File Photo)
In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. (WANA/File Photo)
Updated 42 min 18 sec ago

Opposition group estimates 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in Iran

In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. (WANA/File Photo)
  • People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran claim 499,800 have died in country from COVID-19
  • Official Iranian figures show 132,274 virus-related deaths, still highest in region

LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country.

According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274.

In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19.

Even by official figures, Iran is the worst-hit country in the Middle East, with deaths and hospitalizations far exceeding those of its neighbors. It was also the first country in the region where the virus was detected.

Official sources have reported that Iran was currently experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, with a rising number of cases being linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

On Monday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, the secretary of Iran’s epidemiologist committee said: “If we reimpose all the restrictions today, and if people fully abide by these regulations, the number of our patients will still reach five figures. More than 50 percent of the coronavirus cases are of omicron.”

And the spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences said: “Omicron has become the main variant in (Isfahan) province. During the past week the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases has reached more than 1,500 cases.”

Also on Monday, ISNA reported that the dean of Kerman University of Medical Sciences said: “Expect omicron to flare up in the not-so-distant future. The number of positive coronavirus cases has increased from 30 to 50 percent. Therefore, the alarm bell has sounded.”

Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak has been blamed in some quarters on regime incompetence and Tehran prioritizing ideology over effective response.

Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of British and American-made vaccines, significantly hindering the country’s vaccination drive and, critics have said, causing more deaths.

In August, Dr. Mohammed-Reza Zafarghandi, chairman of Iran’s non-governmental licensing and regulatory Medical Council, criticized the vaccine ban, and said: “Mortality has significantly dropped in countries where they vaccinated the population without any limits and setting (political) borders.

“Will those who said vaccine imports should be restricted be accountable today?”


Iran nuclear talks approaching dangerous impasse — UK’s Truss

Iran nuclear talks approaching dangerous impasse — UK’s Truss
Updated 50 min 4 sec ago

Iran nuclear talks approaching dangerous impasse — UK’s Truss

Iran nuclear talks approaching dangerous impasse — UK’s Truss
  • Truss also held a phone call with the US secretary of state to discuss Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

LONDON: Talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran are approaching a dangerous impasse, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Tuesday.
“This negotiation is urgent and progress has not been fast enough. We continue to work in close partnership with our allies but the negotiations are reaching a dangerous impasse,” Truss told parliament.
“Iran must now choose whether it wants to conclude a deal or be responsible for the collapse of the JCPOA (nuclear deal). And if the JCPOA collapses, all options are on the table.” 
Truss also held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss how to reach a successful conclusion on talks with Iran on mutual return to implementation of the nuclear deal, the US State Department said.
Her comments come a day after a senior member of the US team negotiating with Iran has left the role amid a report of differences of opinion on the way forward, as the urgency to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal intensifies.
A State Department official confirmed on Monday that Richard Nephew, US Deputy Special Envoy for Iran, is no longer on the negotiating team, but was still a State Department employee. The official did not give a reason for the change but said personnel moves were ‘very common’ a year into an administration.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Nephew left after differences of opinion within the US negotiating team on Iran. The paper said he had advocated a tougher posture in the current negotiations.
Iran for the first time Monday said it was open to direct nuclear negotiations with the United States, which declared itself ready to hold talks “urgently” — in a possible turning point in efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.
Tehran has been engaged since last year in talks with the five other world powers still part of the agreement, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
After unilaterally withdrawing in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, Washington has been taking part indirectly in the Vienna negotiations, which seek to bring the United States back into the nuclear accord and ensure Iran returns to its commitments.
But Washington has said on multiple occasions it would prefer to hold direct talks, and on Monday Iran’s foreign minister said his country would consider doing so if it proved the key to a “good agreement” to salvage the floundering deal.
“If during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” said Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
(With Reuters and AFP)


Egyptian, Algerian presidents hold talks in Cairo

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune on January 24, 2022 in the capital Cairo. (AFP)
A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune on January 24, 2022 in the capital Cairo. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Egyptian, Algerian presidents hold talks in Cairo

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune on January 24, 2022 in the capital Cairo. (AFP)
  • Tebboune hails ‘complete consensus of visions, points of view’
  • El-Sisi cites agreement on Libya, water security, Palestinian state

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Tuesday expressed their agreement on the need to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya.

During a joint press conference in Cairo, Tebboune said his talks with El-Sisi represented “a complete consensus of visions and points of view.”

El-Sisi said the talks included the issue of “water security,” adding that “our visions coincided with the need to reach a comprehensive agreement on the Renaissance Dam” in Ethiopia, which threatens to reduce Egypt’s and Sudan’s shares of Nile water.

El-Sisi said he and Tebboune also agreed on the need for foreign fighters to leave Libya “in a way that achieves security” for the country and its people.

Egypt’s president added that they held “intensive and constructive discussions that dealt with international and regional issues,” and “reflected the common will to strengthen all frameworks of cooperation between the two countries … taking into account confronting and rejecting foreign interference in the region.”

He said they also agreed on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state.

El-Sisi wished Algeria success in its presidency of the upcoming Arab Summit.