Lebanon commemorates Rafik Hariri assassination amid political dispute

Special Lebanon commemorates Rafik Hariri assassination amid political dispute
Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 13 February 2022

Lebanon commemorates Rafik Hariri assassination amid political dispute

Lebanon commemorates Rafik Hariri assassination amid political dispute
  • Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian laments ‘political failure, and financial and economic collapse’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian warned on Sunday that the country was once again “falling apart as if those in charge had not learned from previous experiences, which have cost the Lebanese their lives and livelihoods.”

His warning came as Lebanon prepares to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday amid an ongoing political dispute, fueled by Hezbollah, over how the Cabinet will approve the 2022 draft budget.

The commemoration of Feb. 14 in Beirut is taking place amid uncertainty within the Future Movement after Sunni leader and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his withdrawal from political life and asked his parliamentary bloc not to run for the upcoming parliamentary elections under the party’s name.

Hariri will thus participate in commemorating his father’s assassination without giving his usual speech.

Meanwhile, several political and religious figures visited Rafik Hariri’s tomb in downtown Beirut on Sunday.

“How long can the list of martyrs get? Lebanon itself has almost become a martyr,” Derian commented as he stood before the tomb.

He added: “Today, Lebanon is mired in moral corruption, political failure, and financial and economic collapse.

“Honoring the martyr Hariri lies in preserving his moral and national heritage and continuing public work in light of the constructive approach that he adopted throughout his career until his last breath.”

Also speaking before the tomb, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said: “The moment Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005, the project to destroy the state was launched, aiming at creating multiple powers and disrupting the state’s pillars.

“The attempts to sabotage Lebanon’s parliamentary democratic system are ongoing, intending to change Lebanon’s identity and append it to the well-known regional project.”

Siniora stressed Lebanon’s need for national rescue action by reviving the principles of Rafik Hariri’s national project.

“This is based on restoring the role of the state and extending its full authority over all its lands and facilities,” said Siniora, adding that there is a need to adopt reform policies and rely on Islamic-Christian coexistence. 

Siniora stressed the importance of respecting the constitution and implementing the Taif Agreement to restore the national, economic and social wellbeing of Lebanon and the Lebanese. 

Meanwhile, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement accused President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati of “passing the budget in the last session without voting on it and making appointments that were not agreed upon.”

Culture Minister Mohammed Wissam Al-Murtada said: “The draft budget was still under discussion, but some proposed amendments and some figures had not yet been handed over to the ministers, despite our repeated requests.

“This means that the Cabinet did not conclude its discussion of the draft budget, did not vote on it, nor did it approve or reject it.”

Al-Murtada claimed that the appointments that were made were not on the Cabinet’s agenda.

“We objected, but suddenly and without a vote, and after the session was adjourned, we learned that the Cabinet had decided on the appointments.”

Ali Khreis, an MP with the Development and Liberation bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said that what happened “does not reflect any responsibility toward basic issues, and only reflects the reality of the law of the jungle and chaos.”

The recovery plan that the government is working on and the draft budget approved by the Cabinet face political and popular objections, mainly from Hezbollah and the Amal movement.

Activists staged a sit-in on Saturday evening near Mikati’s residence, expressing their anger at burdening the people.

The National Salvation Front said: “The ruling authority wants to place the losses of the economic and financial crisis on citizens’ shoulders in defense of the interests of its mafia-militia alliance, without taking any reform steps that help the country overcome the crisis.”

Addressing the Lebanese after approving the draft budget, Mikati said that “a correction has been made to taxes and fees based on the inflation occurring in the exchange rate,” meaning that the budget will adopt the price of an exchange platform in which the dollar exchange rate is equivalent to the black-market rate.

He noted that the economic recovery plan that was being worked on “is the basis for discussion with the (International Monetary Fund). We must set our priorities and carry out the required reforms.

“There are over 14 reform decrees that must be issued by the government, and over 30 reform laws must be issued by parliament.”

Mikati added: “We can no longer provide electricity, telecom, and water for free, and citizens should be more understanding.”

The prime minister warned: “If we do not speed up reform, we may reach a point where we may no longer be able to import wheat. If the issue had been resolved a year ago, the fiscal deficit would have been around $40 billion, while today it is around $70 billion.” 

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Beirut Elias Audi referred to the economic crisis during his Sunday sermon.

The bishop said: “From where will citizens get the money to pay the expected price increases when they are barely able to feed their children?

“Are citizens responsible for the state’s collapse and bankruptcy and the Lebanese pound devaluation?

“Is it not the state’s duty to put an end to corruption in its institutions, control its borders, stop waste and smuggling, curb tax and customs evasion, close useless funds and unproductive councils, and collect their dues?”


Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry

Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry
Updated 01 December 2022

Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry

Two killed in Israeli West Bank raid – Palestinian health ministry
  • Israeli media: The two men killed were commanders in the Islamic Jihad militant group
  • The military has been conducting months of arrest raids in the West Bank

JERUSALEM: Two Palestinians were killed Thursday during an Israeli military raid in a militant stronghold in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Reports by Israeli media said the two men killed were commanders in the Islamic Jihad militant group. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the men as Naeem Jamal Zubaidi, 27, and Mohammad Ayman Saadi, 26, but did not confirm whether they were militants.
According to the reports, the military was conducting an arrest raid in the city of Jenin and was met by gunfire. The military responded, killing the two men.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The military has been conducting months of arrest raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people. The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation and undermine their own security forces.
The raids have ratcheted up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, triggering another wave of Palestinian attacks in recent weeks that have killed an additional eight people.
More than 130 Palestinians have been killed this year, making 2022 the deadliest since 2006. The Israeli military says many of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as others not involved in the violence have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want those territories for their hoped-for future state. Substantive peace talks were last held more than a decade ago, and with Israel headed toward what’s likely to be its most right-wing government ever, there appears to be no prospect for a negotiated solution in the near future.


UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time
Updated 01 December 2022

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time
  • A new launch date will be shared in the coming days

DUBAI: The UAE’s lunar mission has been postponed for the second time on Thursday, SpaceX said.

The Japanese HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander, carrying the UAE’s 10-kilogram Rashid rover aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was due to take off at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US.

“After further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review, we’re standing down from tomorrow’s launch of ispace inc.’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1,” said SpaceX in a statement.

A new launch date will be shared in the coming days, the company added.

 

 

If Rashid rover successfully lands on the moon, it will be the Arab world’s first lunar mission, placing the UAE as the fourth country to reach the moon.

The mission would also see the first spacecraft funded and built by a private Japanese firm to land on the moon.

Rashid rover is the latest of the UAE’s endeavors in space exploration after successfully launching an unmanned probe to Mars in the first Arab mission to the red planet.


Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria
Updated 01 December 2022

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his “strong opposition” to a new Turkish military operation in Syria and voiced concern over the escalating situation in the country, the Pentagon said.

Austin, in the call, expressed condolences over a Nov. 13 attack in Istanbul, the Pentagon said.

“He also expressed concern over escalating action in northern Syria and Turkey, including recent airstrikes, some of which directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working with local partners in Syria to defeat ISIS,” it said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

“Secretary Austin called for de-escalation, and shared the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria.” 


Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods
Updated 01 December 2022

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods
  • Yemenis say militias placed mines as retaliation against those who resisted their ambitions

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Two Yemeni children were killed by a landmine laid by the Houthis in the central province of Marib on Tuesday, increasing the total number of civilians killed or injured by Houthi landmines in one week to nine.

The news comes as a government body confirmed the discovery of wide tracts of ground extensively polluted by Houthi landmines in six provinces.

Yemeni Landmine Monitor reported that two brothers, Abbad and Saleh Abdullah Al-Muradi, were killed and their sister Nemah was severely injured in a landmine explosion in the Rahbah district in Marib, bringing the total number of civilians killed in one week to four and the total number of civilians wounded to five.

The Yemeni group said that two additional individuals were killed and two more were injured in a landmine and ordnance explosion in the western province of Hodeidah, in addition to a child who was injured after touching a landmine in the central province of Al-Bayda.

The Iran-backed Houthis have buried thousands of landmines at previous flashpoints around the country over the last eight years to impede the military advances of their opponents.

The landmines have been planted in farms, schools, health institutions and residential areas and hindered individuals from reaching their places of employment or gaining access to food.

The UN-brokered truce that went into effect on April 2 has restored relative calm to certain hot battlefields, like the city of Marib, enabling some displaced individuals to return home.

Despite the cessation of hostilities, the threat of death and danger posed by Houthi landmines has not abated.

Locals have accused the Houthis of placing landmines in Marib and other Yemeni cities as retaliation against anyone who resisted their military ambitions.

“The Houthi battle in a specific territory does not stop with their loss. Instead, they plant landmines …to make the inhabitants of this area pay dearly for their persistent opposition,” Dhayfullah Al-Dahmashi, a Marib resident, said on Facebook.

Karama Naji, a 7-year-old from the Al-Juthan’an area of Marib, said that while playing outside her home, she tampered with a piece of metal she discovered. The metal was an explosive device left by the Houthis in her village, which detonated, injuring and paralyzing the child’s legs.

“I hope to be able to walk, receive treatment, and find a ride to my distant school,” the child said, according to the Saudi-funded demining program Masam in Yemen.

Yemeni government officials said that this year they uncovered landmine fields planted by the Houthis in the provinces of Abyan, Lahj, Aden, Taiz, Hodeidah and Dhale.

Ameen Saleh Al-Aqeli, director of the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center, praised the efforts of Saudi Arabia to help Yemenis clear Houthi mines.

During his speech on Saturday at the 20th meeting of signatory countries to the Ottawa Treaty, which aims to eliminate landmines around the world, he said the Saudi demining program, which operates in 29 Yemeni districts, has retrieved and destroyed roughly 70,000 anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicle mines and explosive devices since early this year.

Al-Aqeli said that this year 487 non-technical survey trips by deminers in Yemen’s mine-contaminated regions in six provinces uncovered 68 potentially hazardous locations with a total area of 16,571,000 square meters and 21 verified problematic areas with a total area of 25,917,000 square meters.


UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’
Updated 30 November 2022

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

NEW YORK: The UN special envoy for Syria warned on Tuesday that the current military escalation in Syria is dangerous for civilians and regional stability, and he urged Turkiye and Kurdish-led forces in the north to de-escalate immediately and restore the relative calm that has prevailed for the last three years.

Geir Pedersen told the Security Council that the UN’s call for maximum restraint and de-escalation also applies to other areas in Syria. He pointed to the upsurge in truce violations in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Idlib, airstrikes attributed to Israel in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Latakia, as well as reported airstrikes on the Syria-Iraq border and security incidents and fresh military clashes in the south.

In northwest Idlib, he said, government airstrikes have killed and injured civilians who fled fighting during the nearly 12-year war and now live in camps. 

He said the attacks destroyed their tents and displaced hundreds of families.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group, the most powerful militant group in Idlib, reportedly attacked government forces and government-controlled areas with civilian casualties, he added.

But Pedersen said his major concern now is the slow increase in mutual strikes between the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main US-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria, and Turkiye and armed opposition groups across northern Syria, with violence spilling into Turkish territory.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to order a land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups following a Nov. 3, explosion in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded dozens, and the government has launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in retaliation.

The Kurdish groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the fight against the Daesh group. But Pedersen cited reports of Syrian Democratic Forces attacks on Turkish forces including inside Turkish territory.

The UN envoy said he came to New York to warn the Security Council of “the dangers of military escalation” taking place and of his fear of what a major military operation would mean for Syrian civilian and for wider regional security.

“And I equally fear a scenario where the situation escalates in part because there is today no serious effort to resolve the conflict politically,” Pedersen said.

He expressed concern that the committee comprising government, opposition and civil society representatives that is supposed to revise Syria’s constitution has not met for six months and reiterated his call for a meeting in Geneva in January.

Russia had raised issues over Geneva as the venue, which Pedersen said were “comprehensively addressed” by Swiss authorities, but Moscow has now raised another issue — which he refused to disclose.

“It is now the question of political will from Russia to move on or not to move on,” the UN envoy said. “And as I said to the council, the longer it takes before we meet again, the more problematic it will be. So, I really hope I will get some positive news on this.”

Pedersen said there is a way forward in the weeks ahead — stop the military escalation, renew cross-border aid deliveries to northwest Idlib which expire in January, resume constitutional committee meetings, prioritize work on Syrians detained and missing, and identify and implement step-for-step confidence-building measures.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia hinted at Moscow’s concerns, saying decisions on further inter-Syrian dialogue in the constitutional committee “should be made by the Syrians themselves without external interference.”

To that end, he said, Russia welcomes Pedersen’s contacts with Damascus and the opposition, but not his “step-by-step initiative,” saying this is not part of the special envoy’s mandate.

Nebenzia called the overall situation in Syria tense, with terrorist threats persisting, and the north, northeast and south “exposed to illegal foreign military presence while the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation keeps deteriorating.” He blamed US and European sanctions for making the situation worse.