BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government on Tuesday approved the allocation of 360 billion Lebanese pounds ($18 million) to hold a parliamentary election, Telecoms Minister Johnny Corm told Reuters following a cabinet meeting.
Lebanon went into financial meltdown in 2019 and some officials had raised concerns over elections potentially being postponed over financial constraints.
Speaking after the cabinet session, acting Information Minister Abbas Halabi quoted Prime Minister Najib Mikati as saying the last vote in 2018 had cost the state $54 million, but only a much smaller amount was available now.
The United Nations and Western governments have repeatedly urged Lebanese leaders to hold elections on time and allocate the appropriate funding, amid fears that powerful political parties could seek to use the financial crisis as a pretext to postpone the vote.
The May 15 election would be the first for the 128-member legislature since mass protests in October 2019 against political elites widely seen as responsible for decades of corruption and mismanagement.
The United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, had earlier on Tuesday “stressed the importance of holding the elections on time,” a UN statement said.
“I hope that the Council of Ministers will approve the electoral budget...so that preparations can proceed swiftly and no shadow of uncertainty hangs over the election,” Wronecka said, according to the statement.
Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria
Updated 01 December 2022
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
Yemenis say militias placed mines as retaliation against those who resisted their ambitions
Updated 01 December 2022
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’
Updated 30 November 2022
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.
Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’
He said it will enhance US-Palestinian relations and he will work to ensure the freedom, security, prosperity, justice and dignity of Palestinians
Reiterated that President Joe Biden remains ‘committed’ to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was closed by former President Donald Trump
Updated 30 November 2022
CHICAGO: Hady Amr, the new US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, described his appointment as an “unprecedented” move that will “elevate” the American relationship with the Palestinian people.
It will also help to coordinate engagement with the US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem, which was established in June, he added.
Amr was appointed to his new post Nov. 22. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the US Department of State.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Amr said he has two main objectives: “To advance and work toward equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity and justice and dignity for the Palestinian people; and to take steps to try to try to preserve and advance the two-state solution along the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed (land) swaps.”
He also stressed that President Joe Biden remains “committed” to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was shut down in 2018 by the former Trump administration.
He also acknowledged that his appointment comes at a crucial time, as tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated in the past year.
“It is very clear that 2022 has been an extremely painful year on the ground over there,” said Amr.
“In fact, for West Bank Palestinians it has been the deadliest year since 2004, with about 150 West Bank Palestinians killed out of about 200 overall, alongside 31 Israeli deaths, and also over 9,000 Palestinian injuries and over 150 Israeli injuries. So we are aware the situation on the ground is very difficult.
“I’ll be engaging with the Palestinian people and leadership to better understand the challenges we face, and to better align our policy to address those challenges. And I’ll also be engaging with the Israeli government and other governments in the region to try to advance our policy objectives.”
Amr said his appointment reflects Biden’s commitment to pursuing efforts that can ensure Israelis and Palestinians are able to “live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, dignity and justice,” and to supporting a two-state solution to a conflict that has persisted for more than 70 years.
“The creation of this position is a step forward for the US-Palestinian relationship,” said Amr. “It is also an unprecedented step, elevating the attention that will be paid to issues of concern to Palestinians in Washington.
“And so our goal, week-on-week, month-on-month, is to seek ways to make the world a better place … that is our objective and that is how we plan to move forward.
“I think the administration and the secretary of state felt it was important for the administration to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the Palestinian people. And so, they sought to create this position, for the first time ever to have a Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs engaging with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. In my new role, my primary responsibilities will be to do just that.”
Although he declined to go into detail about what actions he has taken since his appointment a little over a week ago, Amr said the Biden administration has already done a lot to improve the lives of Palestinians.
“I don’t want to speak about any steps in the last week but what I do want to point to is the commitment of the United States to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people,” he said.
“We are now the world’s largest donor to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East); we have given more than $680 million in the past 18 months. We’ve restarted our assistance, through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), to the Palestinian people and we are tripling that assistance, nearly tripling it this year from $75 million last year to $219 million in the year ahead. And we are continuing to provide a full range of assistance.
“In my new role, essentially, I am going to be focusing in a little bit more on this assistance and making sure it aligns with our foreign policy objectives as the United States.”
Amr also highlighted a key issue that needs to be addressed by all sides as he pursues his goals in his new position.
“The key thing, as we have said for some time, is we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence and to contain the armed conflict,” he said.
“The US and international partners stand ready to help but we can’t substitute for vital actions by the parties themselves. So when it comes to whatever those actions are — whether it is Palestinian violence against Israelis, Israeli violence against Palestinians, home demolitions, settlement expansion — these are all areas where the United States cares deeply and where we will continue to address those issues with the parties.
“But we call on the parties themselves to do their utmost to contain violence and armed conflict.”
Amr said that in his new role he expects to travel to the Middle East more often than he has in the past.
“I will be able to focus the main portion of my time on engagement with the Palestinian people and leadership and on Palestinian-related issues with other governments in the region, including, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and other governments, as well as with European governments,” he said.
In addition to his exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Amr also held a press briefing on Wednesday during which he reiterated Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution, and to the fundamental principle that both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal right to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and dignity.
“We remain committed to reopening a consulate in Jerusalem,” he said at the briefing. “We continue to believe it is an important way to engage with the Palestinian people … and we will continue to discuss the timeline.”
Amr also reiterated that he will work to strengthen the US relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, and “engage on important reforms we believe are important to make Palestinian society more vibrant and more free.”
On the issue of Palestinian elections, he said: “Elections are a decision for the Palestinian people.”
Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News
Norway is “working tirelessly” to renew the cross-border aid mechanism for Syria, says country’s permanent representative to UN
Along with Ireland, Norway is the current penholder of the Syrian humanitarian file at the Security Council
Updated 01 December 2022
NEW YORK CITY: While the world’s media may have stopped counting the dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the second largest number of internally displaced people in the world both drive home the point that the war is far from over.
Syria continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive — an increase of 1.2 million compared to last year.
The collapsing economy coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine have added new layers of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking at Syria’s door.
“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York.
“We have been worried for many years. But now the situation seems to be continuously deteriorating. And of course, with winter coming up, that adds to the suffering of millions and millions of Syrian people that are in dire need, in acute need, of humanitarian assistance.
“This is pretty much across the whole country. But of course, we are also very concerned about the situation in the northwest, outside the government-controlled area.”
Especially alarming is the condition of 4.4 million people in the opposition-held northwest of the country who rely on foreign aid to survive and who are now unsure whether there will be sufficient bread on the table come January.
That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire and its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council. Diplomats fear the regime’s ally Russia will use its veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated aid gateway into Syria — Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish border.
As the co-penholder of Syria’s humanitarian file in the Security Council, Norway, together with Ireland, is responsible for following up on the humanitarian situation in Syria by drafting resolutions, requesting emergency meetings, and organizing mission visits.
The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow for the delivery of UN aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria.
International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries go through the host government. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings — from Jordan, Iraq, and two from Turkiye.
Until Dec. 2019, the UNSC renewed the mandate for these crossings without obstruction. However, in Jan. 2020, Russia used its veto to force the closure of all but one crossing: Bab Al-Hawa.
If this last remaining crossing is closed, humanitarian agencies fear an alternative would be near impossible to find.
“And that’s why we are working tirelessly to make sure that we can extend the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that allows cross-border humanitarian assistance at Bab Al-Hawa,” said Juul.
Since 2020, the renewal has become the subject of much delicate negotiations, at a time when diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been all but shut, impacting every issue on the UNSC agenda.
“It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism,” said Juul. “That has been the starting point since the mechanism was established back in 2014.”
Moscow argues the international aid operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since Syria has been “liberated,” it says all aid destined for the north should go via the capital, Damascus.
Although internal shipments from Damascus to opposition-held areas would provide a welcome addition to the cross-border lifeline, Juul says they are no substitute. Even if deployed regularly, such convoys could not replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations.
Although the UN says its internal aid delivery operations are conducted in a “transparent and principled” manner, aid agencies say assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose the Assad regime.
They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.
A recent investigation into the UN’s procurement operations in Syria, conducted by the Syrian Legal Development Program and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, found around 50 percent of UN procurement involves actors linked to the regime, many of them implicated in rights violations and war crimes.
Asked to comment on the report’s findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Arab News the UN is “well aware of the challenges” posed by working in such contexts.
He said the UN is engaging with the authors of the report, and that UN teams in Syria continue “to try to improve” their methods.
“The other thing I would say is that there is an increase in terms of the value of items that are procured outside of Syria, but there are items that can only be procured in-country, (such as) telephones, fuel, and so on.
• 4.1m People in northwestern Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.
• 80% Syrians receiving cross-border aid who are women and children.
•* 1/3 Proportion of children under the age of 5 who are undernourished.
• 800 Average number of trucks delivering supplies via Turkiye per month.
“It is also important to note that we operate in Syria under the same rules that we operate in every country, in terms of currency exchange and vendors.
“So we are well aware of the challenges posed by us working in many countries, including Syria, and I think the general effort has been one of trying continuously to improve how we work and how we manage the global taxpayers’ money.”
For her part, Juul underscored her country’s advocacy for Syria is anchored in purely humanitarian values. “Our very, very strong argument is that this is not about aiding the opposition or helping the other side and not the government,” she said.
“We are (motivated) purely by the humanitarian imperative to help the people. It’s the people of Syria that we care about and that goes back to a very strong humanitarian tradition in Norway. We are almost always there when there is a humanitarian crisis and we want to help.”
That long tradition was at the heart of Norway’s message when it campaigned for a seat at the Security Council two years ago, and also expressed its willingness to take up the Syrian file.
“We have always had a pretty large portion of our foreign assistance purely for humanitarian work,” said Juul.
“So for us, going into the council, bringing that tradition with us, having for a long time been one of the largest humanitarian contributors to Syria, not only per capita, but in real terms, and having seen the merit of the cross-border operation, we were very much willing to take up that difficult file and Ireland the same.”
Long before it became a wealthy oil and gas producer, Norway had at one time been an aid recipient, and is no stranger to invasion, war and displacement.
“A third of the Norwegian population migrated to America to find livelihoods because we didn’t find it at home. Norway is a very cold country. It’s difficult to survive during winter if you’re poor. So we migrated,” said Juul.
“And then we were occupied by the Germans for five years. We were on the other, aid recipient end. We received Marshall aid from America. We know what it’s like to need aid. And then, of course, we now have the resources to contribute.
“So, there is this strong solidarity with the underdogs, those who are suffering. This is what drives us. We are not being naive about the political complexity in Syria, but we really see no alternative to continuing with the cross-border operation.”
In the run-up to the last renewal vote in July, intensive negotiations went on behind closed doors. Juul and her Irish counterpart at that time, Geraldine Nason Byrne, were seen rushing between UN chambers trying to rally Security Council members to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.
Securing the coming renewal vote is unlikely to be any easier.
“One needs to work very hard in order to get it renewed, every time,” Juul told Arab News. “This has been a continuous challenge for the Security Council to be able to uphold this crucial mechanism.”
Although Norway and Ireland’s Security Council tenure is coming to a close by the year’s end, Juul vowed to continue to “do as much as possible to prepare the ground for extension.”
She draws hope from the successful renewal they achieved in July.
“We had to go through a veto. It was really tough negotiations mainly between us and the Russians. But we managed in the end to find — I will not even call it a compromise — we found a way to agree that we extend it to January, but with a very clear intention that there will be another extension in six months.”
She added: “That is what diplomacy is all about. I dare say it is what diplomacy is all about when the situation is as it is.
“We cannot stop relating to those we disagree with on other files. Norway has been very clear on condemning Russia’s invasion and the war on Ukraine. But, at the same time, we see that it’s very important that the Security Council is not paralyzed on all the other files.
“And I think, so far, the council has proven that we have been able to do that.”
She added: “We also worked very much together with the other elected members. And we feel that this is an elected-member resolution. We have 100 percent support from all the elected members. And as we say, when the E10 agrees, we are the sixth veto power in the council.”