Anger in Lebanon with army after people-smuggling boat sinks

Lebanese army soldiers stand near a vehicle entering port of Tripoli after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
Lebanese army soldiers stand near a vehicle entering port of Tripoli after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 24 April 2022

Anger in Lebanon with army after people-smuggling boat sinks

Lebanese army soldiers stand near a vehicle entering port of Tripoli after a boat capsized off the Lebanese coast of Tripoli overnight, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon April 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Former PM Hariri calls for quick investigation
  • Monday declared as day of national mourning

BEIRUT: Tensions rose in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Sunday after a boat capsized and sank off its coast as it was being pursued by the army, with agitated crowds gathering outside the hospitals treating the survivors.

Six people, including an 18-month-old girl called Taleen Al-Hamwi and two women, died.

There were 45 survivors as of Sunday morning, and more than 10 people remain missing.

About 60 people had boarded the boat from an area between Qalamoun and Harisha, a beach that is not subject to strict security control and is often used for human smuggling activities.

The boat was headed toward Cyprus and then onto mainland Europe.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a national day of mourning on Monday.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for a “quick investigation that reveals the circumstances and determines the responsibility. Otherwise, we have something else to say.”

He tweeted: “When conditions force Lebanese citizens to resort to death boats to escape from the state's hell, this means that we are in a fallen state. Tripoli is announcing today this fall through its victims. The testimonies of the victims of the death boat are dangerous, and we will not allow (these testimonies) to be buried in the sea of the city.”

Families of the victims headed to the shore to find out the fate of the missing. Their anger also focused on the Lebanese army.

Journalist Ghassan Rifi from Tripoli told Arab News that the boat had a lower cabin where the women and children were probably hiding. There was a possibility they may have sunk along with the boat, he said.

The commander of the naval forces, Col. Haitham Dannawi, accused the boat's captain of trying to escape and crashing the vessel into the naval forces' cruiser.

The ill-fated boat was made in 1974, he said.

It was small, 10 meters long, 3 meters wide, and the permitted load was only 10 people, he told a press conference. But it lacked safety measures.

He said: “The patrol that followed the boat a few miles from the shore and in the territorial waters tried to urge it to return because the situation was not safe and, if we did not stop the boat, it would have sunk outside the territorial waters.”

No weapons were used by naval forces, he said.

“The boat sank quickly because of the overload and were it not for the presence of our forces near it, the number of victims would have been greater.”

He said the boat carried 15 times more weight than it could handle and that the army did not commit any mistake on a technical and ground level.

“We bear our full responsibilities in the army leadership, and if there is any verbal offense, we will hold the person concerned responsible.”

A dispute broke out between soldiers and the families at the port of Tripoli after the families tried to prevent Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, delegated by Mikati, from completing his press statement.

The families confronted him and the other officials present with insults, while the Al-Qubba area witnessed heavy gunfire during the victims’ funerals.

Angry protesters in Tripoli destroyed a military medical center amid calls to take to the city’s streets and “declare a major escalation.”

One of the survivors, a young man in his twenties who was wet and shivering, said shortly after midnight on Saturday: “The security cruiser chased us, and the officers on board said they would bury us. Then, they rammed the boat in the middle and on the sides until it sank.”

Security sources suggested that the number of victims could rise.

The tragic incident came a week after the army thwarted an illegal immigration operation at the Arida border point in the north with the capture of a boat that had 20 Syrians on board, including women and children.

“Smugglers get thousands of dollars from migrants. In the Saturday incident, each person paid at least $2,000,” said Rifi.

Last year, the army stopped 21 boats carrying 707 people, according to the Lebanese Army Guidance Directorate.

In 2020, the army stopped four boats carrying 126 people.


11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
Updated 7 min 31 sec ago

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
  • Canister with 25 tons of chlorine plunges from crane
  • Workers flee for lives from deadly clouds

AMMAN: At least 11 people died and more than 250 were injured on Monday when a tank of toxic chlorine gas plunged from a crane and exploded at Aqaba port in Jordan.

The force of the blast sent a truck rolling down the harborside, while clouds of yellow gas billowed overhead and dock workers ran for their lives.

Nearby areas were evacuated and residents told to close and seal doors and windows and to avoid going out.

Public Security Department spokesman Amer Sartawy said “specialists and the hazardous substances team in the civil defense” were dealing with the incident.

Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh and Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya immediately headed to the scene, visited a hospital where some of the injured were being treated, and formed an investigation team into the incident.

The accident happened when a tank filled with 25 tons of chlorine gas being exported to Djibouti fell while being transported. Video footage showed showed a crane hoisting the tank from a truck, and then the tank falling on to the deck of a ship and exploding.

The injured were transported to two state hospitals, one private facility and a field hospital.

Aqaba health director Jamal Obeidat said hospitals in the area were full and could not receive more cases. “The injured people are in medium to critical condition,” he said.

Aqaba port is the Jordan’s only marine terminal and a key transit point for much of its imports and exports. Its beaches are also a major major tourist attraction, and were evacuated after Monday’s incident.

Dr. Mhammed Al-Tarawneh, a chest diseases consultant, said chlorine gas was extremely toxic, and the leakcould significantly affect areas surrounding the explosion.

He said contact with this gas could cause irritation of the mucous membranes and a red skin rash. Inhaling the gas could cause pneumonia, burning in the esophagus, diarrhea, headaches, vision impairment, and loss of consciousness.

The US offered its condolences to the families of the victims of the blast. “We stand ready to support the government of Jordan as it responds to this tragedy,” US Ambassador Henry Wooster said. “I urge all US citizens in Aqaba to follow all public health guidance.”

The secretary-general of the GCC, Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, also expressed his condolences. “The GCC stands with the government and the Jordanian people in these difficult moments,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
  • The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt,

CAIRO: A delegation from the Saudi National Real Estate Committee has held talks with the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Egypt on how to boost investment cooperation between the two countries.

The talks were led by Mohamed Abdullah Abdel Aziz Al-Murshed, who chairs the Saudi committee, and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, CEO of the Egyptian investment authority. Also present were Tariq Shukri, who chairs Egypt’s real estate development chamber, and representatives of 27 leading Saudi companies in the fields of real estate development, industry, agriculture and building materials.

The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, on the sidelines of which 14 investment agreements were signed between the two nations, according to a press release.

Abdel-Wahab stressed the “importance of strengthening investment relations between the two countries, especially in light of what the current period is witnessing in providing unprecedented support to the private sector, and encouraging Arab and foreign companies to pump more investment into the Egyptian market, including the construction sector.”

He said the sector was “one of the main pillars of the national projects being implemented, such as the Suez Canal axis, and fourth generation cities such as the Administrative Capital, New Alamein and others, which aim to create smart cities based on electronic services and renewable energy, in addition to implementing a huge network of roads and bridges to connect national projects and new cities.”

The meeting looked at ways to enhance cooperation by exploiting the competitive advantages of Egypt as a destination for investment in the region, and reviewing the investment opportunities available.

It also highlighted the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries.

Abdel-Wahab said the investment authority was keen to attract more Saudi investment in Egypt by intensifying communication with major companies and introducing the Saudi business community to the latest developments there.


Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
Updated 27 June 2022

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
  • Ukrainian local community in Gaza highlight similar struggles civilians face in the Russian occupation and Israeli occupation

LONDON: There are around 830 Ukrainian-born people living in Gaza, the largest population of foreigners living in the blockaded coastal zone, according to community leaders.

While for decades, their families in Ukraine have feared for safety in the Gaza Strip, these expats are now also fear for their families’ safety in Ukraine.

Natalya Hassoumi, a endocrinologist in Beit Lahia, was frequently unable to contact her family in Ukraine for days at a time while airstrikes targeted the Palestinian territory.

Now, she has not heard from her parents and siblings in Russian-occupied Kherson for three weeks.

“I never thought that war could happen in Ukraine, no food, no electricity … Gaza and Ukraine have the same problems now,” she told the Guardian.

The Soviet Union was a major supporter of the Palestinian cause, offering scholarships and business visas to people from West Bank and Gaza for decades, according to Hassoumi.

Many of those ties remained after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.

The vast majority of Ukrainians in Gaza are women who met their Palestinian husbands while studying at Ukrainian universities.

Approximately 120 Gaza families with ties to Ukraine were evacuated during the 11-day war last May between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups, which killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel.

However, less than a year later, Viktoria Saidam and her husband Ibrahim have decided to seek refuge with Ibrahim's parents in the southern Gaza Strip, where the population suffers from electricity shortages, polluted water and political turmoil, according to the Guardian report.

Natalya Mabhouh has lived in Gaza since 1997. Her mother, sister are still in her home town of Kharkiv.

“When I came to Gaza the economic situation was good, there was peace, but we got used to wars and escalation since then. This has been a huge shock. Russians and Ukrainians are like one people … I still don’t understand how this could happen,” the hairdresser said to the Guardian.

In general, the Palestinian society have supported Russia over Ukraine, viewing it as a proxy superpower struggle with the US, Israel’s most important ally.However, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority has taken a public position on the Russian invasion.

The Russian invasion has also heightened tensions between Gaza's Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities.

Many local Ukrainians were upset after a pro-Moscow demonstration was held in March.

In March, many local Ukrainians were upset after a group of Russians held a pro-Moscow demonstration, causing many long lived friendships to end.“It is really difficult,” said Hassoumi. “My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Russian and suddenly people are not talking to me. I feel like many people don’t care about the details, but it’s an occupation, like the Israelis.”

The Ukrainian community in Gaza remains worried about the prospects of both their homeland and their adopted home.Ashraf Al-Nimr, a leader of the local Ukrainian community, told the Guardian: “We built a life here, so despite everything we will stay”.

He says that 15 of his wife’s family members in Mariupol have gone missing since Russia’s siege began. “We can help by giving people in Ukraine instructions on how to deal with war, how to hide, and raising money. Any way we can help, we will,” he said.


Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
Updated 27 June 2022

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
  • Country’s anti-torture unit lacks govt budget, laws and courts ‘ineffective’

LONDON: Lebanese authorities must protect people from torture and ill-treatment in detention, a group of organizations including Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The appeal came on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said: “Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive.

“Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combating torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2019, 44-year-old Hassan Al-Dika died in custody reportedly as a result of torture. An HRW investigation found that judicial authorities failed to investigate Al-Dika’s allegations of torture before his death.

They had also tasked the same security agency that Al-Dika accused of torture with investigating his claims.

And in the case of actor Ziad Itani, who was accused and later exonerated of spying for Israel, Lebanese justice authorities have yet to take action regarding his claims of torture at the hands of State Security officials.

The Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing torture in 2017. Two years later the government appointed five members to the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

But the unit has yet to be allocated a budget to allow the fulfillment of its mandate.

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

Torture remains prevalent in Lebanon, despite complaints regularly being filed under the 2017 law.

The HRW warned that the 2017 law fails to abide by Lebanon’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, because it fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.


Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday
Updated 27 June 2022

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

CAIRO: Bahraini Royal Court says Egyptian President to visit kingdom on Tuesday, will hold talks with King, the state-run news agency said.  

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will receive President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his accompanying delegation upon his arrival in Bahrain tomorrow, Bahrain news agency said. 

During  the visit, the leaders will hold talks related to bilateral relations, in addition to the latest developments on the regional, Arab and international arenas.