Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 16 January 2022

Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision
  • Ending of 3-month boycott serves an “external agenda,” analysts warn
  • Mikati said he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget

BEIRUT: A decision by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to end a boycott of Lebanon’s Cabinet has led to speculation that Iran is making moves to control Lebanon’s political system.

Lebanese Forces MP Ziad Hawat said: “The order came from Tehran, so the ‘disruption duo’ decided to set the Cabinet meetings free. These are the repercussions of external negotiations.”

He added: “The ‘disruption duo’ pawned the country to the outside will. But the parliamentary elections are coming and the hour of reckoning is upon us.”

The two parties said on Saturday that they would take part in Cabinet meetings after a three-month boycott.

The decision came as a surprise to many, and positively impacted the currency rate on Sunday.

Reacting to the announcement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as the Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget.

He added that the decision “aligns with his personal repeated calls for everyone to participate in assuming the national responsibility in a way that preserves the national pact, especially during these critical times the country is going through.”

Mikati’s office noted the need “to set a recovery plan to launch the negotiation process with the International Monetary Fund.”

Some political observers said that the two parties are facing a political stalemate and popular pressure accusing them of escalating crises.

Parliamentary elections are around the corner and the two parties “want to absorb people’s resentment before the date of the said elections next May.”

Other observers linked the decision by the two parties to “regional developments regarding the Vienna talks.”

They believe that “the decision to disrupt the Cabinet meetings served an external agenda, specifically an Iranian one, and that perhaps they ended their boycott to demonstrate flexibility in the complicated negotiations.”

The two parties said in their joint statement on Saturday: “We announce our agreement to participate in Cabinet meetings to approve the national budget and discuss the economic rescue plan, and all that concerns improving the living conditions of the Lebanese.”

They claimed that the decision came “following the acceleration of events and the escalation of the internal political and economic crisis to an unprecedented level, with the collapse of the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate, the decline of the public sector and the collapse of citizen income and purchasing power.”

Hezbollah and Amal also mentioned in their mutual statement that their boycott was due to “the unconstitutional steps undertaken by Judge Tarek Bitar in the Beirut Port blast case — the gross legal infringements, flagrant politicization, lack of justice and lack of respect for standardization.”

Instead of Bitar presiding over the case, the two parties have requested that a parliamentary panel should look into the matter.

This requirement, however, has not been executed yet, as the prime minister has refused to “interfere with judicial operations,” with his party firmly backing Bitar.

Phalanges Party MP Samy Gemayel said that Hezbollah and Amal “think they owe us a favor by ending the boycott.”

He added: “They paralyzed the country for a year to form the government they wanted and they boycotted it to prevent justice from prevailing in the ‘crime of the century.’

“The Lebanese people are the ones paying the price. There’s no work, no electricity, no heating, no bread and no medicine,” said Gemayel.

He added: “Accountability for humiliating people will be achieved through the elections.”

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi commented on the latest development regarding Cabinet sessions.

“In the democratic system, the procedural authority shall operate according to the powers conferred upon it by the constitution, without being subject to any illegal pressure or condition,” he said.

He warned against “resorting to the disruption of parliamentary and presidential elections — scheduled for next October — for suspicious personal objectives.

“The Cabinet disruption, the political escalation, the continued provocation, the use of justice to undermine the opponents and the inversion of priorities reassure neither the Lebanese people nor Lebanon’s brothers and friends.”

Internet services were disrupted in Lebanon on Sunday because of diesel shortages, adding another essential service to the list of casualties of the country’s economic crisis.

The Energy Ministry, however, categorically denied an Israeli Channel 12 report entitled “Washington approves an agreement to supply Lebanon with Israeli gas.”

The ministry said that “the gas supply agreement between the Lebanese government and the Egyptian government clearly states that the gas must come from Egypt, which owns large gas quantities.

“This gas will pass through Jordan, and then into Syria, which will in turn benefit from it.”


Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 16 May 2022

Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
  • Bashar Al-Mizhen, the 10th terrorist caught this year, has confessed to planning the attack Terror group using new tactics to operate and reconstitute itself, retired military officer tells Arab News

ANKARA: As part of its countrywide counterterrorism operations, Turkey has arrested a suicide bomber allegedly linked to Daesh who was planning an attack in the southeastern province of Urfa, bordering Syria.

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to the authorities.

Mizhen, who joined Daesh in 2015 and received special arms training from the terror group, was allegedly preparing the attack in coordination with the Damascus branch of Daesh.

He is the 10th terrorist caught this year on Turkish soil. The authorities seized several digital materials and are currently examining various organizational documents belonging to the terror group.

FASTFACT

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to authorities.

Daesh members have carried out a number of attacks against Turkey, including at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings, and four armed attacks, which killed 315 people and injured hundreds of others.

Last year, Turkey also arrested a Daesh terrorist identified as the right-hand man of the late terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In the first quarter of this year, dozens of Daesh members, including the sons of its top officials in Iraq, were caught in several Turkey cities, including Urfa, the northern province of Samsun and the western province of Izmir.

Last month, Turkey’s intelligence agents also caught two Daesh terrorists who were planning attacks against the country’s troops on home soil and in Syria.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said such operations are held consecutively because one operation feeds another with the intelligence data that is gathered.

“Within its territories, Turkey hosts about 3.7 million unregistered Syrian refugees right now. Adding the unregistered refugees and those who are settled in the safe zones in northern Syria, this number has reached 7.5 million,” he told Arab News.

“We cannot assume that all of them are innocent people,” he said.

“There are several Daesh sympathizers among them. All immigrant-receiving countries are at the same time importing the domestic problems of their countries of origin,” said the retired major.

“In Turkey, one can identify several kinds of economic, cultural and security-related challenges that Syria has exported along with several ideological(ly-driven actors who are in competition with one another),” Ozcan added.

There are about 430,000 registered Syrian refugees in Sanliurfa, making the city the fourth-largest host of displaced people after Istanbul, Gaziantep and Hatay.

Ozcan also underlined the impact of faith-based actors in Sanliurfa, including tribes and clans that have linguistic, religious, and kinship ties with Syrians, which also feed this security eco-system and boost the sympathizer base of Daesh in this city.

Experts have emphasized that any attack plan of Daesh, including its timing and scope, is related to its own organizational dynamics, and should be considered a reminder of how dangerous the current situation in neighboring Syria and Iraq is, as the terrorists move across borders to fulfill their wider objectives.

“Daesh acts according to its own rationale. It uses terror to influence great masses, (send) message(s) to the political actors and show(s) … the world that it steps up efforts to bolster its presence in other regions as well,” Ozcan said.

Daesh still retains a significant presence in northern Iraq and Syria, as shown by one of the biggest assaults in years, which was the prison attack in the Kurdish-controlled northeast Syrian city of Hasakah in January that left hundreds dead and allowed several prisoners to escape.

In April, two Iraqi soldiers were killed and two others wounded in an attack by Daesh in the western Anbar province, while seven Peshmerga and three civilians were killed in another Daesh attack in northern Iraq in December 2021 — an assault that was condemned by Turkey.

“Several years ago, Daesh seized huge (swathes) of Iraq and Syria. Today, despite its significant loss of a territorial base, the terror group still struggles to maintain its existence through new tactics,” Ozcan said.

The global coalition against Daesh, which was formed in 2014 and now includes 84 states and international organizations, gathered last Wednesday in Morocco to coordinate efforts against any resurgence of the extremists in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Over the last several years, Daesh has been considerably weakened in Iraq and Syria, but it remains a threat, seeking any opportunity to reconstitute itself,” senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland said during the meeting.

Daesh recently urged its sympathizers to take advantage of the ongoing war in Ukraine to stage new attacks against European nations.


Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
Updated 16 May 2022

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • ‘We have called on the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions,’ Palestinian PM says

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority has reiterated its appeal to the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions.

The authority is concerned about the continuing uncertainty over the EU’s annual financial support for its budget despite holding several meetings with senior EU officials in recent months.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh, who met EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles in Brussels last week, urged the bloc to expedite the transfer of its financial support, which has been suspended for two years.

Shtayyieh pointed to a growing financial crisis caused by the drop in external support and the continuation of Israel’s deductions from the tax it collects on behalf of the PA.

“We have called on the European Union to provide its pledged aid without conditions. We hope to accomplish this very soon,” Shtayyieh said at the start of the Palestinian Authority’s weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah.

The EU postponed the transfer of $223 million in annual aid to the PA after EU members supported Hungary’s condition to change the curriculum in West Bank schools because it “contains incitement against Israel and anti-Semitic content.”

The EU contributed about $156 million annually to the PA budget of which $93 million went to pay the salaries of its civilian employees. Those workers have received between 70 and 80 percent of their salaries for five consecutive months.

The PA suffered a sharp decline in international aid to its budget from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $129 million in 2021.

Samir Hulileh, a Palestinian economist, told Arab News that the policy of European countries has recently been to provide direct support to the Palestinian private sector, marginalizing the PA.

“European countries continue to expand their support for the Palestinian private sector economy, but the official support provided to the Palestinian government is completely halted,” he said.

“This leads to the weak performance of the Palestinian Authority in its functional role and tasks — especially with the halt to US and Arab support for it.”

The value of the budget deficit had reached $1.3 billion, Hulileh said.

At the beginning of this month, the Palestinian Authority presented a broad reform program to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to encourage donor countries — especially EU states — to resume their financial support for the PA, a Palestinian source told Arab News.

A senior European source told Arab News: “The EU continued to support UNRWA. What remains pending is the funding to the PA, which is still stuck in Brussels.”

Nevertheless, news reports said that the EU reduced its aid to the UNRWA by 40 percent for the 2022-24 period, from $135 million to $82 million.

The EU said that aid could return to normal levels by changing school curricula and removing what it termed incitement materials against Israel while it continues to delay the $156 million annual financial support to the PA.

The reduction in the EU budget comes amid intense pressure and incitement campaigns against UNRWA last year by Israeli institutions. That led the EU to condemn UNRWA’s use of educational materials, which it claimed incited hatred and violence against Israel and Jews in schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was the first time the EU had condemned the UN relief agency for its curricula.

The EU demanded the UNRWA “immediately” remove the so-called inflammatory material, stating that its funding “should be conditioned” on the adaptation of educational materials to match the values of the UN that promote peace and tolerance.


First commercial flight in six years leaves Sanaa for Amman

Yemeni passengers leave the Queen Alia Airport following their arrival to the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2022. (AFP)
Yemeni passengers leave the Queen Alia Airport following their arrival to the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2022

First commercial flight in six years leaves Sanaa for Amman

Yemeni passengers leave the Queen Alia Airport following their arrival to the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2022. (AFP)
  • Yemenia flight takes off days after people with Houthi-issued passports are allowed to travel abroad
  • UN envoy calls for other elements of truce to be put into place, including ending seige of Taiz

AL-MUKALLA: The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from the Houthi-held Sanaa International Airport in Yemen on Monday morning, further cementing the UN-brokered truce between warring factions and rekindling hopes for a peace deal in the country.

The Yemenia flight, carrying 130 passengers, left the country’s largest airport bound for the Jordanian capital Amman just days after the internationally recognized government of Yemen allowed passengers with Houthi-issued passports to travel abroad.

BACKGROUND

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the resumption of flights and expressed his gratitude to UN envoy Hans Grundberg and countries in the region for helping to make it happen.

The flag carrier announced on Monday that a second scheduled flight from Sanaa to Amman would take off at 4pm on Wednesday.

The resumption of flights is part of the two-month truce agreed between the Yemeni government and the Houthis that came into effect on April 2.

The deal also includes allowing fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah seaport, ending hostilities across the country — mainly outside the central city of Marib — and the reopening of roads in Taiz and other areas.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen offered his congratulations at the resumption of air travel and thanked the Yemeni and Jordanian governments for facilitating the flight.

“I would like to congratulate all Yemenis on this important and long-awaited step,” he said.

“I hope this provides some relief to the Yemenis who need to seek medical treatment abroad, pursue education and business opportunities, or reunite with loved ones,” he added, while repeating his call for all remaining elements of the truce to be put into place, including opening roads in the besieged city of Taiz.

“Making progress toward opening roads in Taiz is key for the fulfillment of this promise,” Grundberg said. “I expect the parties to meet their obligations, including by urgently meeting to agree on opening roads on Taiz and other governorates in Yemen as per the terms of the truce agreement.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the resumption of flights and expressed his gratitude to Grundberg and countries in the region for helping to make it happen.

He also renewed US support for the truce and called for the Houthis to end their siege of Taiz.

“We urge all parties to adhere to the terms of the truce and make progress on other steps to bring relief to Yemenis – including urgently opening roads to Taiz, the third-largest city with hundreds of thousands of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance, and other contested areas, where Yemenis have suffered for far too long.”

Western diplomats and international aid workers in Yemen also expressed their support for the resumption of flights and called for a permanent cessation of fighting.

“This is indeed good news and an important step, demonstrating to Yemenis more concrete benefits from the truce. I support the work of @OSE_Yemen,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly said on Twitter, referring to Grundberg’s office.

Erin Hutchinson, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director for Yemen, called Monday’s flight a “stepping stone” to achieving a permanent deal, adding that a full resumption of flights into and out of Sanaa would save thousands of lives and bolster the country’s economy.

“Yemenis will enjoy greater freedom of movement, and it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to bring goods and aid into the country,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yemenis urged the UN mediator to push for the quick implementation of the remaining components of the truce, including lifting the siege on Taiz and reopening roads.

“Before talking about any political dialogue, all civilian facilities, roads in provinces and Yemen’s border crossings with neighboring countries must be immediately opened to end the great suffering of the Yemenis,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, the editor of the news site Aden Al-Ghad, told Arab News.


Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
  • The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase
  • The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices

TEHRAN: Dozens of bus drivers went on strike in the Iranian capital Monday to protest over their living conditions following demonstrations in other cities in past days, local media reported.
The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase, reformist Shargh newspaper wrote on Twitter.
The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices.
Demonstrators on Monday chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and calling on him to resign, as seen in a video of the protest tweeted by Shargh.
Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani attended a meeting with the striking workers and spoke with their representative, Mehr news agency reported.
The authorities announced last week a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the prices of staple goods, including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds took to the streets in a number of Iranian cities to protest the government’s decision, including in Tehran province, state news agency IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai confirmed Saturday that one person had been killed during the demonstrations, according to the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA).
IRNA had reported Friday that more than 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations in the cities of Dezful and Yasuj, but made no mention of any casualties.
Iran has been reeling under the effect of sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018 — exacerbated by rising prices worldwide since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.


Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
Updated 16 May 2022

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
  • Flights at Kuwait International Airport resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity
  • The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled to May 23 due to the adverse weather conditions

LONDON: All maritime operations at three Kuwaiti ports have been suspended after bad weather struck the Gulf country.

Shuwaikh port, Shuaiba port, and Doha port are temporarily supsnded, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Earlier, the news agency reported that navigation to and from Kuwait International Airport had been halted due to a dust storm reducing visibility across the country.

Flights later resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity.

The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled due to the adverse weather conditions.

Kazma and Salmiya football clubs were due to play on Monday but will play on May 23 instead.