Lebanon celebrates Independence Day with dull military parade

Lebanon celebrates Independence Day with dull military parade
Lebanese Army troops take part in a military parade marking the 78th anniversary of Lebanon's Independence Day held at the Defence Ministry in Yarzeh on the eastern outskirts of Beirut on November 22, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 22 November 2021

Lebanon celebrates Independence Day with dull military parade

Lebanon celebrates Independence Day with dull military parade
  • President hopes crisis with Gulf countries will be resolved soon
  • PM Mikati holds ‘serious dialogue’ with Aoun and Berri

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun has urged the Lebanese not to “drown in despair and to trust their state and take part in the next parliamentary elections.”

His remarks came as Lebanon celebrated its 78th Independence Day on Monday with a dull symbolic military parade at the Defense Ministry.

Meanwhile, civil society celebrated the day with a powerful and crowded gathering near the Beirut port where the massive blast that shook the city took place on Aug. 4, 2020.

In his televised speech on the eve of the Independence Day, Aoun indicated that the way out of the current government crisis was “not that difficult.”

Aoun said the solution would be to commit to the constitution, which required “the separation of powers.”

On Sunday night, the Culture Ministry lit up the national museum’s building with the Lebanese flag’s colors.

The traditional reception that usually takes place at the presidential palace was not held this year due to the current situation in Lebanon and the circumstances brought about by the coronavirus.

The impact of the political and economic crises were clear — whether through the dull presence of President Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Najib Mikati at the military parade, or the sad statements delivered by some politicians and even diplomats.

The symbolic civil show that was held near the port reflected people’s suffering and unrest due to the disasters that have hit the Lebanese.

The US Embassy in Lebanon simply tweeted a picture featuring a natural scene from a Lebanese region and wrote: “May we celebrate Independence Day in better conditions.”

French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo extended wishes in a tweet “for a Lebanon that is sovereign and united to overcome the challenges it faces today. A nation and a country that stem from the Lebanese’ strong attachment to living together in an open, free and pluralistic country.”

Grillo, whose country has led an initiative to solve the Lebanese crisis, said that “France stands beside the Lebanese population that is committed with determination, talent and courage to building the nation they aspire to and deserve.”

“The tragic situation in Lebanon requires all authorities, as well as the political class, to assume their responsibilities without further delay,” she said.

Grillo took part in the symbolic parade held by the army command and with the participation of military units, the General Directorate of the Civil Defense and the Lebanese Red Cross.

Following the parade, Aoun, Berri and Mikati shared the same vehicle and headed to the Baabda presidential palace.

Following their meeting, Berri expressed hope for a better situation.

Mikati said: “We cannot have independence if we are not united, and understanding is key.”

“During our meeting today, we had a serious dialogue and I hope it will be fruitful,” he said.

Regarding the crisis with Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia, President Aoun said: “Lebanon seeks to establish the best relations with its Arab brothers, and especially the Gulf countries.”

The president hoped “the matter will be resolved soon.”

Aoun, however, did not take any clear position regarding the resignation of Information Minister Georges Kordahi, “based on the need to separate the positions of the Lebanese state and the positions of individuals or groups, specially that the democratic regime in Lebanon guarantees the freedom of opinion and expression.”

This year, Aoun delivered his last speech on that occasion, as his mandate ends in October 2022.

During his speech, Aoun seemed to defend his performance during the past five years of his mandate.

He said that 40 percent of his mandate “passed by without a government, as the formation process was hindered due to artificial obstacles and clashes, which delayed reforms and exacerbated crises.”

Aoun highlighted the “army’s role in assuming responsibility in preserving Lebanon’s stability and security, despite the impacts of the economic crises on the army.”

Former minister May Chidiac commented on the parade: “The symbolism of independence does not lay in a symbolic parade, while Lebanon is actually a nation in captivity, with Hezbollah and its branches controlling its sovereignty and confiscating its role. The people of Lebanon have been humiliated enough because of your false promises.”

Civil society marked the day with a vibrant and powerful show in the square across from the port and not the Martyrs’ Square, where they celebrated that day two years ago.

Participants raised the Lebanese flag and signs that read: “We will bring our country back,” “We will rise from the darkness,” “Lebanon is our home” and “We refuse to leave.”

The parade this year reflected the repercussions of the port explosion and the economic and political crises.

The slogans of the symbolic march focused on the “people, army, and judicial system to stress the importance of building a state of law, away from political interference.”

Among those who took part in the civil show were the families of those who were abducted or went missing during the devastating civil war, and whose fate remains unknown 31 years after the war ended.

The families of the victims of the Beirut blast also took part, fearing the truth would never come out and that those responsible for the crime would go unpunished due to political interference in the judiciary.

Mothers, children, college students, organizations, journalists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, fire fighters and volunteers also took part in the civil parade.

Participants placed a large iron sculpture of the Lebanese flag across the port, next to the “Torch of the Revolution” and the “Hammer of Justice” sculptures, as a reminder that “we shall never forget.”

Google celebrated the day by displaying the Lebanese flag on its homepage.


Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults
Updated 25 January 2022

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults
  • Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk
  • Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020

JERUSALEM: An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.
The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.
Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.
Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, 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,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”