Lebanon to deploy 75,000 troops on eve of crucial poll

UNIFIL vehicles drive past Lebanese parliamentary election billboards on a highway in the southern city of Tyre, on May 5, 2022. (AFP)
UNIFIL vehicles drive past Lebanese parliamentary election billboards on a highway in the southern city of Tyre, on May 5, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Lebanon to deploy 75,000 troops on eve of crucial poll

UNIFIL vehicles drive past Lebanese parliamentary election billboards on a highway in Tyre on May 5, 2022. (AFP)
  • Religious leaders urge people to vote as turnout tipped to be major factor

BEIRUT: More than 75,000 troops and security personnel will be deployed at polling stations and key sites around Lebanon from late on Saturday on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections in the country.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi announced the large-scale deployment after meeting with military commanders overseeing security arrangements for Sunday’s poll.

More than 3.6 million people are expected to cast their votes in 15 electoral districts around Lebanon, according to interior ministry estimates.

Friday was the final day of campaigning for the candidates’ electoral machines, with party leaders and the political forces supporting electoral lists seeking to convince hesitant voters to take part in the elections.

BACKGROUND

Friday was the final day of campaigning for the candidates’ electoral machines, with party leaders and the political forces supporting electoral lists seeking to convince hesitant voters to take part in the elections.

Mawlawi said that security chiefs will work with generator owners to ensure electoral stations have power on polling day.

The election is expected to redraw Lebanon’s political map after years of political and social upheaval, with a new president and the approval of a recovery plan to rescue the country from its severe economic crisis.




Saad Al-Hariri. (REUTERS)

Electoral messaging reached a peak before a moratorium on campaigning entered into force from midnight on Friday until the ballot boxes are sealed late on Sunday.

Amid persistent calls for an election boycott, religious leaders used their Friday sermons to urge Lebanese people to exercise their right to vote.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and the main ally of Hezbollah, said in his live appearances and on social media that “voting for the Lebanese Forces lists equals voting for Israel and its regional allies.”

The Lebanese Forces candidates and leaders said that “whoever votes for the Free Patriotic Movement is, in fact, voting for Hezbollah.”

Electoral expert Walid Fakhreddin told Arab News that voter turnout will be a major factor in the election.

“There’s a desire for change in people that was somehow positively received by the Lebanese Forces, the Phalanges Party, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Amal Movement,” he said.

Fakhreddin said the elections “have a high number of disruptive elements, and the Friday sermons were an attempt to change the stance of boycotters.”

However, he added that “people make up their minds in the last 15 minutes and we have to expect some tactical voting.”

Former prime minister Fouad Siniora, who is sponsoring an electoral campaign in Beirut and candidates in other regions, warned that the outlook for Lebanon would be “harsh and bitter” without serious reforms starting with the parliament.

“This compels every Lebanese to contribute positively to changing the situation, and building a strong state with its exclusively legitimate and official institutions and agencies,” he said.

“It also compels them to steer clear from drowning in the vortex of personal considerations and sectarianism, and to focus on the interests of Lebanon and its citizens.”

Siniora said that electoral lists he had partnered with in many regions had been targeted by a distortion campaign intended to discredit and divert the attention of Lebanese from the fundamental issues facing the country.

 “We want Lebanon to preserve its Arab identity, and remain free and independent,” he said.

“We don’t want to keep repeating statements intended to blind us from the catastrophic project that would put Lebanon under the Iranian domination through Hezbollah and its weapons.”

Siniora believes that “we are running under a poisoned electoral law. However, participating heavily in the polls will counter the fall of Lebanon resulting from the domination of Hezbollah and its allied sectarian parties on the state, its departments, institutions and agencies.”

In parallel with the election preparations, Maj-Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director general of the General Directorate of General Security, inaugurated a new GSS center at the Syrian border point of Mutrabeh.

The new crossing will mean the closure of 18 illegal border points used by Lebanese living in Syria to enter Lebanon, he said.

Ibrahim said that 25 Lebanese towns overlapping Syria and home to 10,000 people will also benefit from a more direct link.


Fighter jets scramble after Beirut-bound commercial plane fails to respond to radio messages

Fighter jets scramble after Beirut-bound commercial plane fails to respond to radio messages
Updated 16 sec ago

Fighter jets scramble after Beirut-bound commercial plane fails to respond to radio messages

Fighter jets scramble after Beirut-bound commercial plane fails to respond to radio messages
  • Two Greek F-16s were sent to intercept and check on the Middle East Airlines flight from Madrid to Beirut with 145 passengers on board, according to aircraft-tracking site IntelSky
  • The fighter pilots found there was nothing to be concerned about; IntelSky said it is thought the airline pilot simply failed to tune his instruments to the correct frequency

DUBAI: Two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled after a Middle East Airlines flight from Madrid to Beirut with 145 passengers on board failed to respond to radio messages, aircraft-tracking site IntelSky said on Monday.

“There were reportedly several attempts to contact the aircraft but no response had been received over the radio, something that was particularly worrying,” IntelSky said in a series of tweets about the incident, which happened on Aug. 10.

As a result, the NATO air traffic control center in Spain sent an alert to Greek authorities. A “Code Renegade” was issued, which is a distress signal usually used to signify that a plane has been hijacked, according to media reports.

Greek authorities sent two F-16 fighters to intercept and check on the aircraft. They did so and determined there was no problem to be concerned about. A video clip posted by IntelSky appeared to show one of the fighter jets flying alongside the passenger jet.

IntelSky said it is thought that the pilot, Abed Al-Hout, the son of the chairman of Middle East Airlines, Mohammed Al-Hout, forgot to tune cockpit instruments to the correct frequency and this was why he failed to respond to hails. The incident did not go unnoticed by residents in the Argos area of Greece, IntelSky said, some of whom reported to the fire department strange noises that sounded like explosions.

In a message posted on Twitter, one of the passengers on the flight, Maria Sfeir, said that after the fighters departed, the “cabin crew reassured us from the captain that these were regular trainings that were notified in advance by the airline.”

However, when other users pointed out that such training activity was unlikely with passengers on board, she said she had not believed the crew’s explanation.

Other Twitter users also commented on the incident. “Why would NATO send armed F-16s on a civilian aircraft unless it’s kind of a political” message, one person asked. Several accused the pilot of negligence.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey
Updated 15 August 2022

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

Greece locates refugees in Evros; trapped for days between Greece, Turkey

ATHENS: Greek police said on Monday afternoon they had located 38 Syrian refugees in the Lavara area of Evros, among them one pregnant woman and seven children.

The refugees had been trapped for days on a small islet in the Evros river along the border between Greece and Turkey, according to media reports and activists.

Greece had said on Sunday that after repeated searches it had not located any people on the islet that was outside Greek territory and had alerted Turkish authorities over the issue. The Turkish Interior Ministry declined comment.

On Monday, Greek police said the refugees were located in the Greek area of Lavara approximately four kilometers (2.5 miles) south of the coordinates of their initially reported position.

“Since they were located, Greek police forces and other government services have rushed to their aid, to provide health care, food and water and to transfer them to an area of temporary accommodation,” police said in a statement.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Twitter that they were in good condition and the pregnant woman was being transferred to hospital out of precaution. Greek police had also found a boat near them, he said.

Earlier, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity and other organizations had called for the immediate evacuation of 39 refugees from the islet.

The IRC said that among them was a nine-year old girl in a critical condition. It also cited media reports saying that her five-year-old sister had died after a scorpion had stung her and that the refugees had tried to reach the Greek mainland but had been pushed back.

“This latest situation at the Evros border highlights the brutality of pushbacks, which we know are taking place at borders across Europe,” said Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director.

Greek authorities have not confirmed the information cited by IRC and have repeatedly denied forcibly repelling refugees or migrants at border points. 
 


Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants
Updated 15 August 2022

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

Tunisia intercepts more than 650 migrants

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities said on Monday they intercepted or rescued more than 650 migrants trying to reach Europe by sea at the weekend, the latest of numerous such cases in the past two months.

Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is just 140 km from Tunisia’s east coast.

In total, 657 people were rescued or prevented from trying to cross in 46 separate incidents between Friday and Monday, maritime and military officials said.

The coast guard thwarted 10 attempted crossings on Sunday night, bringing ashore 156 would-be migrants, the National Guard said in a statement Monday.

Two-thirds of them were from sub-Saharan Africa and the rest were Tunisians.

The previous night, the National Guard said it had foiled 11 other attempts, preventing 219 people from migrating, including 113 from sub-Saharan African countries.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zekri, meanwhile, said that 42 Egyptians who had set sail from Libya were rescued on Sunday off Kerkennah, central Tunisia, after their boat sank and they took refuge on an oil platform.

After a similar incident in the same zone the previous weekend, 10 Tunisian migrants were feared to have drowned while 20 were saved.

Tunisian authorities also said 15 members of a family from Hammamet in central Tunisia, including five women and four small children, were prevented from heading out to sea on Friday night.

They had paid around 50,000 dinars ($15,900) for a boat, two motors and life jackets, a security source told Mosaique FM radio.

Also on Friday, the National Guard said 225 migrants were intercepted in 23 attempted crossings from different points on Tunisia’s coast.

Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.


Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
Updated 15 August 2022

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken in ties
  • Turkey will continue to temporarily provide security in some northwestern territories in Syria if they normalize bilateral relations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s revelation that he met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad last October on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit hinted at the possibility of Ankara and Damascus seeking political rapprochement after 11 years of a rupture in ties. 

Cavusoglu reportedly talked with his counterpart in Serbia’s capital Belgrade about the need to come to terms with the opposition and the Assad regime in Syria for a lasting peace. 

The Turkish foreign minister emphasized that his country supported Syria’s territorial integrity as “the border integrity, territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us directly affect us.”

The pro-government Turkiye newspaper recently claimed that Assad and Erdogan may hold a telephone conservation after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed this during his recent meeting with Erdogan in Sochi. However, Cavusoglu denied rumors about any talks between the Syrian and Turkish presidents.

Having conducted four cross-border military operations in Syria since the start of civil war in 2011 to clear its border from terror groups, Turkey also has a significant military presence through observation posts in northern parts of the country. 

Since 2017, Turkey, Iran and Russia have come together through Astana meetings to try to bring the warring sides in Syria toward finding a permanent solution to the war. 

It is not a secret that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services have been communicating. 

However, as Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, the latest signs of a potential normalization of bilateral ties has angered opposition groups who held mass protests in several areas of northern Aleppo to demonstrate their objections, fearing renewed diplomatic contact with the Assad regime. 

Turkey’s bid for peace with the Assad regime might also have repercussions for the fate of more than 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey who have become a domestic politic issue due to the economic hardship the country is facing. 

Before the outbreak of the civil war, Turkey and Syria had close relationships at the top level, often exemplified by the famous summer holiday of Syrian President Bashar Assad with his family at Turkey’s Aegean resort town of Bodrum where he also met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2008. 

“Given the durability of the Assad regime, Ankara has to have a modus vivendi of sorts; in fact, it exists already at the level of intelligence agency chiefs,“ Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, told Arab News.  

“The political risk for President Erdogan of a rapid or warm reconciliation is incredibly high, though, so the understanding is likely to be incremental and limited,” Outzen said.  

According to Outzen, botching re-engagement would mean compromising the viability of the Turkish-protected safe zone, leading to a new waves of refugees, or inviting new massacres by Assad among populations Ankara wants to protect and to remain in place. 

“Yet the lack of a modus vivendi is also not sustainable over the long-term, because inevitably pressure will grow internationally and within Turkey for Turkish forces to have a pathway to withdrawal, even if the pathway is measured in multiple years,” he said. 

For that reason, Outzen thinks that fears of a rash or rapid reconciliation or re-engagement are overstated. 

“Putin, of course, pressures Erdogan to re-engage, but Erdogan will in my view resist any but the minimum measures to maintain his own freedom of maneuver in Syria,” he said. “As this week’s protests in the Safe Zone demonstrate, going too fast in this process can prompt a backlash among Syrians in northern Syria and perhaps ultimately in Turkey.” 

According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, while Turkey’s endgame in Syria is an Erdogan-Assad handshake, Ankara and Damascus are moving northwestern Syria into a frozen conflict.  

“I don’t think that an arrangement between Turkey and Syria will result in a complete reset of two countries borders and border affairs because many of the Syrians who live in the zones controlled by Turkish-backed forces have been already effectively cleansed by Assad, in some cases twice,” he told Arab News.

“There is zero chance that they would stay in Assad regime-controlled Syria if both leaders shake hands or make exchanges of territories,” he said. 

Cagaptay thinks that Turkey will recognize Assad’s sovereignty over the area, but will continue to temporarily provide security as well as law and order in some in northwestern territories in Syria, while also keeping millions of Sunni Arabs Assad does not want and has no interest in making full citizens again. 

“Assad may even come back to border stations with the Syrian republic flag and might begin to provide some of the social services,” he told Arab News. 

For Cagaptay, the big favor that Turkey is doing for Assad is keeping Syrians refugees inside the country and in northwest Syria under Turkish control, and not forcing them to return to Syria. 

“That is a huge favor to Assad because he used the war in Syria for ethnic engineering. Before the war, Sunni Arabs constituted over two-thirds of the Syrian population, but now they are under half. In return for that favor, Assad can propose to re-ingest the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG under his control. It is a good deal for Erdogan and Turkey,” he said.  

Turkey considers the YPG a national security threat and the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. 

For Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based analyst, the possibility of re-engagement with the Assad regime will be used for domestic consumption ahead of the approaching election term scheduled for June 2023 at a time of deepening economic turmoil in Turkey.

“There is significant external pressure to make this reconciliation happen, while the economic burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees inside Turkey and the rising cost of deploying military officers to the observation posts in Syria also make this issue financially important for the internal dynamics,” he told Arab News. 

Turkey has about 5,000 troops within the areas it controls in Syria, along with some 8,000 soldiers around rebel-held Idlib province, whose maintenance is costing Ankara billions of dollars and risks confrontations with Assad and foreign powers over territory violation. 

“Although the rapprochement cannot happen overnight, it is significant that the ruling government as well as the opposition parties have begun discussing it,” Sezer said. 

Erdogan recently hinted at a fresh operation into Syria to create a 30 km-deep safe zone from the border to push back Kurdish militants, but any military activity does not look imminent following several warnings from regional powers.


Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
Updated 15 August 2022

Lebanon denounces the use of its airspace to bomb Syria

Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 5, 2022. (AFP
  • Israeli warplanes targeted sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus on Sunday

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday condemned “the recent Israeli attack on Syria, and the Israeli enemy’s use of the Lebanese airspace to bomb Syrian territory.”

The previous evening, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported: “Israeli planes bombed sites in the Damascus countryside and the coastal governorate of Tartus, via the Lebanese airspace.”

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry warned of “the consequences of this aggressive behavior and the continuous violation of Lebanese sovereignty in a flagrant breach of international law and treaties.” It added that it “will file a complaint to the (UN) Security Council.”

Israeli airforce jets fly over Beirut while Lebanese parliament members were meeting in downtown Beirut to elect a new president. (AFP file photo)

Aug. 12 marked the 16th anniversary of the approval of UN Resolution 1701, which was designed to end hostilities following Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006.

Marking the anniversary, Fouad Siniora, who was Lebanon’s prime minister at the time, said: “Resolution 1701 protected Lebanon and settled the issue of sovereignty in the south in favor of the Lebanese state in the face of the aggressions and ambitions of the Israeli enemy.

“The implementation of Resolution 1701, 16 years ago, stopped the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, preceded by the unanimous decision adopted by the Lebanese Cabinet based on the National Accord document, the constitution and the seven points document regarding the deployment of the Lebanese army in the entire south, after being prohibited from doing so for more than 30 years.”

Siniora added that the Resolution 1701 “confirmed Resolution 1559 in preventing illegal weapons on Lebanese soil, and Resolution 1680 calling for the demarcation of the borders of Lebanon.”

He recalled the great support his country had received at the time from the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, to help rebuild in record time the infrastructure and public facilities that had been destroyed by Israel.

Siniora also accused Hezbollah, without explicitly naming the group, of “seeking to cause more trouble for the Lebanese and the state, including implicating Lebanon in military confrontations and risks that Lebanon cannot confront or bear.”

The condemnation by Lebanese authorities of Sunday’s Israeli attack coincided with visit to Syria on Monday by Issam Sharafeddine, the Lebanese caretaker minister of the displaced. He was leading a ministry delegation in discussions with Syrian authorities about the repatriation of refugees who have been living in Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war.

He met a number of Syrian officials, including Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf and Interior Minister Mohammed Khalid Al-Rahmoun. The two sides reportedly discussed a plan for the return of Syrian refugees to their home country in “a safe and dignified” way.

Makhlouf said: “Syria’s doors are open for the refugees’ return and the state is ready to provide them with everything they need, from transportation to hospitalization and education. Syrian authorities will secure water and electricity to the liberated areas and will provide shelters for those whose homes have not been rebuilt yet.”

Authorities in Lebanon want 15,000 Syrian refugees to return home each month, a target that will require the cooperation of the Syrian government. The Lebanese government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including 880,000 who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with others who have entered the country, legally or illegally, to work.

The Lebanese government has complained about the “weak” financial aid provided by the UN in comparison to the country’s needs in light of the severe economic crisis it has been grappling with for more than three years.