US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen in Lebanon

US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen in Lebanon
The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three individuals and one entity linked to Hezbollah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2022

US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen in Lebanon

US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen in Lebanon
  • Tuesday's action requires all property owned by the three men and their business that is in the US to be blocked
  • Lebanon's cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three businessmen with ties to Hezbollah, saying their activity as financial facilitators for the Iran-backed group was exploiting Lebanon's economic resources at a time of crisis for that country.
The Treasury Department has added Adel Diab, Ali Mohamad Daoun, Jihad Salem Alame, and their company Dar Al Salam for Travel & Tourism, to its sanctions list, the department said in a statement.
“Through businessmen like those designated today, Hezbollah gains access to material and financial support through the legitimate commercial sector to fund its acts of terrorism and attempts to destabilize Lebanon's political institutions,” the US Treasury said in the statement.

Commenting on the sanctions, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “US stands in solidarity with the Lebanese people, whose security and sovereignty remains threatened by Hezbollah’s corrupt and destabilizing activities.”

The group continues to engage in illicit activity and amass wealth at the expense of the Lebanese people, Blinken said.

“It is clear Hezbollah and its associates are more concerned with advancing their own interests and those of their patron, Iran, than the best interests of the Lebanese people,” he added.

Lebanon's economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt. Its currency plunged to a new low last week, and swathes of the nation have been driven into poverty.
Lebanon's cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported on Monday, after Hezbollah and another group, Amal, ended their boycott of the cabinet at the weekend.
The two groups, which back several ministers, had been boycotting the cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut's port in 2020.
The US Treasury said Tuesday's action requires all property owned by the three men and their business that is in the United States to be blocked and reported to the department, and that all transactions related to the property by US citizens be prohibited. 


US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
Updated 27 May 2022

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
  • Cargo confiscated off coast of Greece 
  • Sanctions enforced again as nuclear deal hopes fade

JEDDAH: The US has confiscated more than 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil from a tanker off the coast of Greece in a new wave of sanctions enforcement.
The cargo of oil was pumped off the tanker into another vessel on Thursday and is now being transferred to the US.
The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.
The Pegas was one of five vessels named by Washington on Feb. 22, two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector. The tanker was renamed Lana on March 1 and has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.
The vessel, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was initially impounded by Greek authorities last month off the coast of the southern Greek island of Evia.
Greece said the ship had been seized as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, but the vessel was later released.

FASTFACT

The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.

However, the US imposed new sanctions this week on a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for the Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As a result, the oil tanker was seized again.
Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the tanker had sought refuge along Greece’s coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, and the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo.
The ship was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government, the ministry said.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargos of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners on to two other ships which then sailed to the US.
Operations against smuggled Iranian oil had tailed off recently amid hopes for a revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, including those targeting oil exports.
However, talks on reviving the deal have stalled, and the new oil cargo seizure suggests that the US is again enforcing sanctions.
Washington’s Iran envoy said this week the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were now shaky at best, and the US was ready to tighten sanctions on Iran.


Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says
Updated 27 May 2022

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says
  • Cross-border agreement set to expire on July 10, with Security Council members already sparring over whether it should be extended
  • Number of Syrians facing hunger has almost doubled since 2019, as Ukraine war pushes up prices, and hits wheat and fuel supplies

NEW YORK: With the current UN Security Council’s exceptional authorization for humanitarian aid delivery through the last remaining border crossing into northwest Syria set to expire on July 10, the UN Syria Commission of Inquiry warned that it would be a “failure of the highest order” if the council failed to extend the life-saving operation.

“As the country faces its worst economic and humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict, the international community must safeguard existing, life-saving cross-border assistance and increase their funding pledges to support this aid,” said a commission statement, which also expressed alarm at what it called a “trajectory of consistent narrowing of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery.”

When deliveries of international aid to Syria began in 2014, the Security Council approved four border crossings. In January 2020, permanent member Russia used its power of veto to force the closure of all but one, Bab-al-Hawa.

Moscow argues that international aid operations violate Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Security Council discussions about the issue often prove difficult, with Russia and China consistently insisting that all humanitarian aid deliveries require the consent of the Syrian authorities.

Opposing views among council members last week on the need to extend the cross-border mechanism have sparked concern among humanitarian agencies, as the crossing so far has guaranteed access to desperately needed aid for millions of Syrians since 2014.

“It is a moral abomination that a Security Council resolution was in itself deemed necessary to facilitate cross-border aid in the face of consistent violations — by the government of Syria and other parties — of their obligations under international law to allow and facilitate humanitarian relief for civilians in need,” Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN Syria Commission, said.

The July 10 renewal vote comes as humanitarian needs throughout Syria are at their highest since the start of the war 11 years ago.

The UN estimates that 14.6 million Syrians are now in need of aid. Across the war-ravaged country, 12 million people face acute food insecurity, a staggering 51 percent increase since 2019, amid a conflict in Ukraine that has sent food prices skyrocketing and threatened supplies of wheat and other commodities.
 
In opposition-held northwest Syria, conditions are deteriorating due to continuing hostilities and a deepening economic crisis. About 4.1 million people there, mostly women and children, depend on aid to meet their basic needs.

Cross-border operations authorized by the Security Council allow aid to reach around 2.4 million people every month.

The commission said in its latest report that this lifeline is vital to the population in northwest Syria, adding that while some aid is delivered cross-line from within Syria, these deliveries contain much smaller, insufficient quantities and are exposed to attacks along a dangerous delivery route that crosses active front lines.

During its 11 years of investigating the conflict, the commission has documented that both the government and armed groups have repeatedly used humanitarian aid as a political bargaining chip, often deliberately withholding it for specific populations, particularly those under siege.

The commission also maintains that across all territories of Syria, staff members of humanitarian organizations constantly run the risk of being harassed, arbitrarily arrested and detained.

Commissioner Hanny Megally said: “Parties to the conflict have consistently failed in their obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need across Syria. It is unconscionable that the discussion seems to focus on whether to close the one remaining authorized border crossing for aid, rather than how to expand access to life-saving aid across the country and through every appropriate route.”

Earlier this month, humanitarian aid organizations sounded the alarm at an EU-hosted Brussels VI Conference on Syria.

“The funds for humanitarian assistance are simply not sufficient to address the needs and protect the Syrians right now,” Pinheiro said.

“The international community cannot now abandon the Syrian people. They have endured 11 years of devastating conflict that has inflicted unspeakable suffering. They have never been more impoverished and in need of our help.”


Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike
Updated 27 May 2022

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike
  • The strike was declared by two medical professionals’ unions, which say they could no longer put up with Central Bank policies that have allowed banks to impose random capital controls

BEIRUT: Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical personnel rallied on Thursday outside the Central Bank in the Lebanese capital of Beirut after declaring a two-day general strike to protest rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.

The strike was declared by two medical professionals’ unions — The Syndicates of Doctors in Beirut and the North and the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners — which say they could no longer put up with Central Bank policies that have allowed banks to impose random capital controls and other restrictions.

During the strike, which ends on Friday, only emergency cases and dialysis patients would be admitted to hospitals, the unions said.

Lebanon’s medical sector, which up until few years ago was among the best in the Middle East, is on the brink of collapse, barely surviving the country’s unprecedented economic and financial meltdown.

The crisis that started in October 2019 has seen the local currency lose more than 90 percent of its value to the dollar, wiping out salaries and savings.

The hardship has led to the emigration of thousands of doctors and nurses and the closure of a large number of pharmacies, as well as severe shortages in medicines and medical equipment.

A number of hospitals have been warning they will have to close because they can no longer pay for their expenses or pay their employees’ salaries.

“Hospitals will close because there is no way they can continue. We have to pay cash when we have no access to cash,” said Suleiman Haroun, head of the private hospitals’ union, who joined the protest in Beirut along with a few hundred other colleagues.

He blamed Central Bank policies for destroying the sector.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound continued to hit new lows against the dollar, which was selling at around 35,600 pounds on the black market Wednesday.

The Lebanese currency was pegged at 1,500 pounds to the dollar for 22 years until the crisis erupted in late 2019.


Blast in Yemen fish market kills at least 4 people, wounds over 30

Blast in Yemen fish market kills at least 4 people, wounds over 30
Updated 26 May 2022

Blast in Yemen fish market kills at least 4 people, wounds over 30

Blast in Yemen fish market kills at least 4 people, wounds over 30
  • The police statement said that several suspects had been detained for questioning, but gave no further details

ADEN: At least four people were killed and more than 30 injured at a Yemen fish market when an explosive device planted in a trash can detonated, police in the port city of Aden said on Thursday.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter that its trauma hospital in Aden received 50 wounded patients, five of whom had died while six were seriously injured.
The police statement said that several suspects had been detained for questioning, but gave no further details.


Iraq makes it illegal to attempt normalizing ties with Israel

Iraq makes it illegal to attempt normalizing ties with Israel
Updated 26 May 2022

Iraq makes it illegal to attempt normalizing ties with Israel

Iraq makes it illegal to attempt normalizing ties with Israel
  • The Iraqi parliament has been unable to convene on any other issue including electing a new president
  • Iraq has never recognised the state of Israel since its establishment in 1948

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament approved a law on Thursday that will ban normalizing relations with Israel, at a time when several Arab countries have established formal ties.
The Iraqi parliament has been unable to convene on any other issue including electing a new president and forming its own government, prolonging a political standoff.
Iraq has never recognized the state of Israel since its establishment in 1948 and Iraqi citizens and companies cannot visit Israel, but the new law goes further, specifically criminalizing any attempts to normalize relations with Israel.
The law was proposed by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr whose party, which opposes close ties with the United States and Israel, won more seats in parliament in elections last October.
“Approving the law is not only a victory for the Iraqi people but to the heroes in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” said Iraqi shi’ite lawmaker Hassan Salim who represents Iranian-backed militia Asaib Ahl Al-Haq.
Lawmakers from Sadr’s party said they proposed the law to curb any claims by Iranian-backed rival parties that Sadr is making coalitions with Sunni and Kurds who may have secret ties with Israel.
Some Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are forging ties with Israel against a backdrop of shared concerns about the threat that Iran may pose to the region.
Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, has made it a condition of any eventual normalization with Israel that Palestinians’ quest for statehood on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war must be addressed.