Information minister resigns from Lebanon government

Information minister resigns from Lebanon government
Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi speaks during a press conference to announce his resignation at the Ministry of Information in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 03 December 2021

Information minister resigns from Lebanon government

Information minister resigns from Lebanon government
  • Kordahi hopes his move will allow better relations with Gulf states; says he “didn’t mean to offend anyone”

BEIRUT: Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi announced on Friday that he had decided to “give up” his position in Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, which was formed on Sept. 10.

“Staying in the government has become absurd because I have been asked to resign and it is better to make way for other endeavors,” he said.

Kordahi signed his letter of resignation, a copy of which was handed to President Michel Aoun and another to Mikati.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have paralyzed the Cabinet’s work since Oct. 12 by preventing their ministers from attending sessions for several reasons, one of which is their objection to Kordahi resigning due to his offensive statements toward Saudi Arabia.

In a press conference at the Ministry of Information, Kordahi said: “In light of the new developments and French President Emmanuel Marcon’s visit to Saudi Arabia, I understood from Mikati, whom I met three days ago, the importance of my resignation prior to Macron’s visit to Riyadh to pave the way for talks about the future of Saudi-Lebanese ties.”

He said that he had spoken to “the head of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, and the allies, and they said I was free to take whichever decision I see fit.”

Kordahi said: “I have thought about this long and hard, and I have called you all here to say that I will not accept to be used as a cause for harm.”

“I prefer that my position be in the interest of Lebanon, not my own, so I decided to give up my ministerial position,” he said.

“I hope that my resignation will allow better relations with the Gulf states.”

Kordahi stressed that what he said before he became a minister was “out of good faith and love; I did not mean to offend anyone.”

Following Kordahi’s resignation, the exchange rate dropped by more than 2,500 Lebanese pounds in less than 24 hours. (It is currently trading at 22,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.)

Mikati had asked Kordahi, who is the representative of the Marada movement in the government, several times to submit his resignation, but the latter demanded “guarantees” before doing so, based on the position of Frangieh and his ally Hezbollah, citing “national dignity.”

Kordahi’s statements, made against the backdrop of the Yemen war, in addition to Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanon and the continued smuggling of drugs to Saudi Arabia, pushed the Kingdom and several Gulf countries to sever diplomatic and economic ties with Lebanon.

Observers in Beirut believed that Kordahi’s decision was “the culmination of internal and external contacts, in which Macron and his adviser Patrick Dorrell participated, to strengthen any proposal regarding the Lebanese issue with the Saudi leadership.”

However, some political observers said that Kordahi’s resignation would “not have potential effects on Riyadh’s position because the issue goes beyond Kordahi himself; it is rather about Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and the region.”

However, resuming Cabinet sessions is not a given, since Hezbollah and the Amal movement insist on dismissing Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the Beirut port blast investigation.

They have accused him of politicizing the investigation and Hezbollah fears Bitar is trying to implicate the party in the blast.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on parliament’s general assembly to hold a legislative session next Tuesday to discuss items postponed from the previous session that lacked a quorum, in addition to proposals for new and urgent laws.

It remains unclear whether parliament will discuss forming a parliamentary investigation committee that will refer the former PM and ministers who are accused of being involved in the port explosion to the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers, thus separating the investigation into the politicians from the one conducted by Bitar.

This is what Hezbollah and the Amal movement want but Bitar is against this because it affects the confidentiality of the investigation, and too many courts will have to get involved, especially since some judges are being prosecuted as well and they will have to be tried before a court of their own.

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
Updated 57 min 54 sec ago

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
  • He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned

TUNIS: At least 11 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, while 21 others were rescued by the coast guard, the army spokesman said on Friday.
He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned.

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
Updated 8 min 2 sec ago

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said five Daesh prisoners managed to break out
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces said arrested two Daesh fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison

BEIRUT: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on Friday killed a number of Daesh group fighters after their attack on a Kurdish-run prison housing fellow militants, a war monitor reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces further announced the death of  several of its soldiers in the attack, the report added.
The rare attack on Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh province on Thursday saw the militia detonate a car bomb near the jail and attack Kurdish forces guarding the facility in an attempt to free some of the group’s members, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said “five IS prisoners managed to break out,” but it remains unclear whether they have since been killed or recaptured.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, described Friday’s attack as the largest such attack since the IS proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.

The US-led coalition battling Daesh said “SDF casualties ensued during the attack,” but it did not disclose how many.
The assault triggered clashes between the militants and US-backed SDF forces around the prison that continued into Friday amid heightened security measures, the Observatory said.
“Clashes are ongoing between IS fighters and (Kurdish) military forces in the area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, describing it as one of the largest such attacks by Daesh since its proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.
The SDF, which oversees the jail, said on Friday that it “arrested two IS fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison” as part of combing operations following the attack.
The militants were captured in the vicinity of the jail, it said.
It said Daesh fighters that carried out the attack were hiding in civilian homes in the neighborhood of Al-Zuhoor near the jail.
“Exceptional security measures in the vicinity of the prison and surrounding neighborhoods are ongoing,” it said in a statement on Friday morning.
Daesh fighters “are using civilians in the Al-Zuhoor neighborhood and areas north of the prison as human shields,” it said, adding that the militia had killed some civilians in the area.
“Our forces and the relevant security services are moving with great precision and sensitivity to contain these incident.”

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in a semi-autonomous region controlled by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said in a statement after Thursday’s attack.
“Coalition forces will continue to defend against and deter hostile activities against ourselves and our partners.”
The extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.
A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the Daesh proto-state in March 2019.
The remnants of the group mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to attack Syrian government and allied forces.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters shot dead an aid worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent at the Al-Hol camp for displaced people.
Last week, a militant attack near Syria’s border with Iraq killed five Syrian pro-regime fighters and wounded 14 others, according to the Observatory.

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 21 January 2022

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
Updated 21 January 2022

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
  • The brazen attack was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months

BAGHDAD: Daesh gunmen attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept, Iraqi security officials said.
The officials said the attack occurred in the Al-Azim district, an open area north of of Baqouba in Diyala province. The circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear, but two officials who spoke to The Associated Press said Daesh group militants broke into the barracks at 3 a.m. local time and shot dead the soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to issue official statements.
The brazen attack more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Baghdad was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months.

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic
Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”