Aoun condemns fresh attack on UN forces in Lebanon, announces probe

Aoun condemns fresh attack on UN forces in Lebanon, announces probe
UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol near the village of Meiss El Jabal, along the southern Lebanese border with Israel, Aug. 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2022

Aoun condemns fresh attack on UN forces in Lebanon, announces probe

Aoun condemns fresh attack on UN forces in Lebanon, announces probe
  • Hezbollah is striking troops to show rejection of Kuwaiti initiative, claim analysts
  • Anonymous source with Hezbollah links rejects this analysis, tells Arab News attack was due to water tank breakage by Ghanaian troops 

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has condemned “any attack that targets the UN Interim Force in Lebanon,” after UNIFIL troops were injured during violence on Tuesday. 

In a meeting on Wednesday, Aoun informed Joanna Wronecka, the UN’s special coordinator in Lebanon, that the government had launched a probe into the attack west of the southern village of Ramyeh. He pledged to establish who was responsible. 

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said on Tuesday night that a number of peacekeepers on a routine patrol were attacked after their cars were intercepted. The incident left one soldier wounded.

He said that “the attackers sabotaged two vehicles and stole a number of items,” adding that “the Lebanese armed forces were present at the scene and managed to defuse the situation.”

Tenenti stressed that “the peacekeepers weren’t in private properties but on a public road they usually take.” 

They were doing their job, executing decision No. 1701, and maintaining stability in south Lebanon, he said.

Tenenti warned in a statement that “the attacks on the men and women who serve the cause of peace are considered crimes pursuant to the Lebanese and international laws.”

He called on the Lebanese authorities to “investigate this incident and prosecute those responsible for it.”

The UNIFIL patrols have been the target of two other attacks recently. Troops were targeted in the border village of Chakra at the end of last year and in Bint Jbeil village earlier this month.

The area where these attacks took place is considered critical to Hezbollah as it is adjacent to the border, where several important Israeli military positions are found on the other side.

The latest attack on the UNIFIL patrol occurred while Lebanese officials discussed messages conveyed by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, in the name of Kuwait, the Arab and Gulf family and the international community, to Lebanon at the end of last week.

The minister sent a message of “sympathy, solidarity, synergy and love for the brotherly Lebanese people,” urging Lebanese officials to adopt a position of neutrality and ensure that the country “will not be a platform for any aggression, while refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries in general, and the Gulf in particular.”

Al-Sabah reaffirmed a regional desire “to see a stable, secure and strong Lebanon by implementing international and Arab resolutions.”

Kuwait is expecting to receive a response through the Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib next Saturday during his visit to Kuwait. 

While Hezbollah has not reacted to the Kuwaiti initiative, some political observers saw the attack on the UNIFIL patrol as an indirect display of Hezbollah’s objection. 

However, a source who works as a link between the UNIFIL, the villagers and Hezbollah, told Arab News: “The attack that took place has nothing to do with any political or security messages.”

He said: “The patrol that was attacked is affiliated to the Ghanaian force participating in the UNIFIL.

“It appeared that while it was using a public road, one of its cars hit, intentionally or unintentionally, a water tank belonging to a farmer who used it to water his plants.

“The patrol didn’t stop but instead kept going without probably noticing that it had hit the tank. The tank owner, joined by a number of villagers who usually stand by each other in the village, followed the patrol and attacked it. This is what happened.”

The source, who requested anonymity, said the previous two attacks were different. “One of them happened because some UNIFIL soldiers were taking pictures in internal alleyways, whereas the other one took place because they entered some private properties and this is not allowed as per decision no. 1701.”

The source added that “this attack doesn’t align with any of Hezbollah’s positions regarding the Kuwaiti initiative.

“If Hezbollah wanted to object to the Kuwaiti initiative that targets in its essence the management of the country, attacking the Ghanaian force is not going to be the response.”

This development coincided with the announcement by Israeli Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz that “border negotiations with Lebanon on US-mediated maritime demarcation, hosted by the UNIFIL in its headquarters in Naqoura, will resume next week.”

Lebanon has been waiting since the end of last year for the return of the US mediator Amos Hochstein to the region with fresh proposals to resume talks over maritime borders demarcation between Lebanon and Israel.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced during his visit to Lebanon at the end of last year that “the nations are ready to sponsor these negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon signed deals on Wednesday to purchase electricity from Jordan via Syria to help the country deal with its crippling energy crisis.

The electricity will be transmitted through Syria. The deals are expected to bring Lebanon up to 250 MW of electricity a day within two months, enough for about two hours of power a day.

The World Bank is expected to finance the deals, with negotiations underway.

Lebanon’s Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said he expects financing negotiations to conclude within two months.


UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote
Updated 20 sec ago

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote
  • UN chief also calls on country’s new parliament ‘to urgently adopt all legislation necessary to stabilize the economy and improve governance’
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Lebanon to form an “inclusive government” to tackle the country’s economic crisis, after elections held over the weekend, his office said Monday.
Guterres “looks forward to the swift formation of an inclusive government that can finalize the agreement with the International Monetary Fund and accelerate the implementation of reforms necessary to set Lebanon on the path to recovery,” his office said in a statement.
The UN chief also called on the country’s new parliament “to urgently adopt all legislation necessary to stabilize the economy and improve governance.”
He stressed the need for Lebanon’s “political leaders to work jointly with the best interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people in mind.”
Lebanon’s largest parliamentary bloc, led by the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah armed movement, appeared to have suffered a setback against the opposition and independents, according to partial results released on Monday.
Turnout was particularly low in Sunni-dominated areas mostly inhabited by Sunnis — one of the main communities in the country governed by a political system based on communal power-sharing.

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.


Blow to Hezbollah in Lebanese election

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2022

Blow to Hezbollah in Lebanese election

Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Iran-backed group set to lose parliamentary majority
  • Lebanese Forces win most Christian seats amid heavy losses for traditional MPs
  • But Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally likely to retain the 27 seats allocated to the sect

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and their allies in Lebanon are set to lose their parliamentary majority after voters delivered a stunning rejection of the country’s corrupt political elite.

Election results showed major wins for non-traditional political forces since the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Vote counting is continuing after Sunday’s election and full results are not expected until Tuesday, but the Iran-backed group admitted on Monday they were unlikely to obtain 64 of parliament’s 128 seats. At the last election in 2018 they won 71.

Among the high-profile losers was leading Hezbollah ally and deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, 72, who was ousted by a candidate backed by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan also lost his seat.

Anti-Hezbollah groups including Lebanese Forces and reformist independent candidates scored significant wins. LF said they had won 22 seats, up from 15 in 2018. This would enable them to overtake the Free Patriotic Movement led by controversial former minister Gebran Bassil, which won 16 seats, down from 18 in 2018.

Turnout inside Lebanon exceeded 40 percent, lower than the 45 percent at the 2018 elections.

Despite recent weeks of sectarian incitement and irregularities and chaos prevailing in some polling stations and counting operations, the popular mood showed a rejection of the traditional forces that rule the country in light of the crippling economic and financial crisis that has impoverished more than 80 percent of the people.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement reacted to the polls closing with premature celebrations in the northern Bekaa region, interspersed with shooting and even rocket-propelled grenades.

The two parties forced their voters to go to the polls, but were surprised to learn that more than 4,000 spoiled ballots were found inside the boxes, indicating that some voters preferred to distort their election papers instead of voting for the Shiite duo.

More surprises followed, with Lebanese Forces candidate, Antoine Habashi (Maronite), penetrating the list of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement and reserving a seat for him in the new parliament.

The candidate for the Greek Orthodox seat, Elias Jaradi, managed to break the list of the Shiite duo and win the seat that had been won for decades by the representative of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, an ally of Hezbollah, Asaad Hardan.

The candidate of the Forces for Change, Firas Hamdan, was also able to enter the same list and win the Druze seat instead of the banker Marwan Khair Al-Din, who was nominated by the Shiite duo on their list.

The absence of the Future Movement from the electoral arena was evident in the results of Sunday’s elections.

The vote share of the Future Movement was captured by the Shiite and the Free Patriotic Movement parties, the Forces for Change, MP Fouad Makhzoumi and other figures who have a popular presence on the scene.

This sharing appeared in Beirut, Tripoli and Akkar, despite figures opposed to Hezbollah reaching the parliamentary symposium, according to unconfirmed results.

Ibrahim Mneimneh, 46, an architect, who initially won one of the Sunni seats in Beirut’s second district, told Arab News that “the way in which the Beirut elections were held confirmed that electoral money does not rule the people, and that sectarian mobilization and all the tools of political fraud failed resoundingly.”

Mneimneh stressed that he has “no intention of voting for the re-election of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri again to head the parliament, nor for any of the symbols of authority.”

Physician Bilal Al-Hashimi won a Sunni seat in the Zahle district on the list of the Lebanese Forces and Rami Abu Hamdan won the Shiite seat in the district.

Al-Bizri, one of the personalities calling for change and whose father, MP Nazih Al-Bizri, was known for his integrity in parliament, told Arab News: “We have to work within the parliament to find a kind of alliance to confront the alliances of the political system and start real legislation and real control over the performance of political work.”

Other electoral surprises include the head of the Lebanese Democratic Party Talal Arslan losing his Druze seat, which he held for nearly 30 years in the Chouf-Aley district.

He is a close ally of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. He lost the seat to Mark Daou, a prominent figure in the change groups and a member of the “United for Change” list. Hezbollah’s other ally, Wiam Wahhab, was unable to win a Druze seat.

In the Chouf-Aley district, two female candidates from the “United for Change” list managed to initially penetrate the Free Patriotic Movement’s list.

These two women had protested against the authority in downtown Beirut and had emerged in the media through their opposition to its corruption.

In the Christian community, the electoral battle was fierce between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party, with the latter winning 22 seats according to preliminary results, while the number of Free Patriotic Movement MPs decreased to 16.

Lebanese Forces candidate Ghiath Yazbek (Maronite) won the largest share of votes in the third northern constituency with 9,350 votes, surpassing the MP of the region and head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gibran Bassil, who got 8,250 votes.

Delegates at the vote-counting center said that the ballot box and all 256 ballot papers were coded, which means that this box should be canceled.

There were protests outside the center and chants for the revolution, fearing that the initial results that had brought down the current deputy speaker of parliament, Elie Ferzli, would be reversed in favor of one of the opposition candidates.

Representatives from the electoral machines spoke of “pressure from very high authorities in the state on the registration committees in the western Bekaa to manipulate the results in order to secure the victory of Elie Ferzli.”

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections confirmed in a report on Monday that there had been “flagrant violations during the electoral process and inaction by the Ministry of Interior in implementing the law in, as well as attacks against candidates, voters and delegates.”

The UN Special Coordinator in Lebanon Ioana Frontka took to Twitter to congratulate Lebanon for “holding the parliamentary elections on time.” She reminded them that


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.