Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast

Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast
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Analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis as factions barter over portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet, a process that can take months. (AFP)
Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast
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Watchdogs warned that candidates would purchase votes through food packages and fuel vouchers issued to families hit hard by the financial collapse. (AFP)
Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast
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Delegates of Lebanese political parties sit in a room at a polling station in Beirut on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast
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Lebanese voters queue outside a polling station near the Lebanese coastal city of Byblos on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast

Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, Beirut port blast
  • Election seen as a test of whether Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority
  • Country has been rocked by an economic meltdown that the World Bank has blamed on the ruling class

BEIRUT: Lebanese voted on Sunday in the first parliamentary election since the country’s economic collapse, with many saying they hoped to deal a blow to ruling politicians they blame for the crisis even if the odds of major change appear slim.
The election, the first since 2018, is seen as a test of whether the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority amid soaring poverty and anger at parties in power.
Since Lebanon last voted, the country has been rocked by an economic meltdown that the World Bank has blamed on the ruling class, and by a massive explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020.
But while analysts believe public anger could help reform-minded candidates win some seats, expectations are low for a big shift in the balance of power, with Lebanon’s sectarian political system skewed in favor of established parties.
“Lebanon deserves better,” said Nabil Chaya, 57, voting with his father in Beirut.
“It’s not my right it’s my duty — and I think it makes a difference. There’s been an awakening by the people. Too little too late? Maybe, but people feel change is necessary.”
Fadi Ramadan, a 35-year-old voting for the first time, said he wanted to give a “slap to the political system” by picking an independent.
“If the political system wins, but only just, I consider that I would have won,” said Ramadan, casting his vote in Beirut.
In southern Lebanon, a political stronghold for the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Rana Gharib said she had lost her money in Lebanon’s financial collapse, but was still voting for the group.
“We vote for an ideology, not for money,” said Gharib, a woman in her thirties who was casting her vote in the village of Yater, crediting Hezbollah for driving Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000.
Polls are due to close at 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT), with unofficial results expected overnight.
The economic meltdown has marked Lebanon’s most destabilizing crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, sinking the currency by more than 90 percent, plunging about three-quarters of the population into poverty, and freezing savers out of their bank deposits.
The last vote in 2018 saw Hezbollah and its allies — including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party — win 71 out of parliament’s 128 seats.
Those results pulled Lebanon deeper into the orbit of Shiite Muslim-led Iran.
Hezbollah has said it expects few changes from the make-up of the current parliament, though its opponents — including the Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces, another Christian group — say they hope to scoop up seats from the FPM.
Adding a note of uncertainty, a boycott by Sunni leader Saad Al-Hariri has left a vacuum that both Hezbollah allies and opponents are seeking to fill.
As the vote neared, watchdogs warned that candidates would purchase votes through food packages and fuel vouchers issued to families hit hard by the financial collapse.
Nationals over the age of 21 vote in their ancestral towns and villages, sometimes far from home.
The incoming parliament is expected to vote on long-delayed reforms required by the International Monetary Fund to unlock financial support to ease the crisis.
It is also due to elect a president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on Oct. 31.
Whatever the outcome, analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis as factions barter over portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet, a process that can take months.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a tycoon serving his third stint as premier, could be named to form the new government, sources from four factions have told Reuters.
Mikati said last week he was ready to return as premier if he was certain of a quick cabinet formation.


Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
Updated 10 sec ago

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
  • In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage

JABALIYA, Palestine: While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by the militant group Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French nongovernmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries are used to justify the territorial claims of each people.

While the Jewish state has a number of archaeologists reporting on an impressive number of ancient treasures, the sector is largely neglected in Gaza.

Authorities periodically announce discoveries in the territory, but tourism at archaeological sites is limited.

Israel and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the enclave administered by Hamas since 2007.

“However, there is no difference between what you can find in Gaza and on the other side of the barrier” in Israel, Elter said. “It’s the same great history.”

“In Gaza, a lot of sites have disappeared because of conflict and construction, but the territory is an immense archaeological site which needs many teams of experts,” he added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby.

“We are trying to fight antiquities trafficking,” said Jamal Abu Rida, director of the local archaeological service tasked with protecting the necropolis and which hopes to find investors for further excavation.

“The image of Gaza is often associated with violence, but its history is bursting with archaeological treasures that need to be protected for future generations,” said Jihad Abu Hassan, director of the local Premiere Urgence mission.

Demographics add to the pressure. Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

Over the last few years, his organization has helped to educate 84 archaeological technicians. Doing so also offers employment prospects, in an impoverished territory where youth joblessness exceeds 60 percent.


Lebanese politicians urged to form government

Lebanese politicians urged to form government
Updated 6 min 20 sec ago

Lebanese politicians urged to form government

Lebanese politicians urged to form government
  • Lebanon’s Najib Mikati was nominated premier for a fourth time on Thursday after securing the support of 54 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric urged fractious politicians on Sunday to speed up the formation of a government to allow authorities to prepare for presidential elections due before the end of October.

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati was nominated premier for a fourth time on Thursday after securing the support of 54 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, in consultations convened by President Michel Aoun.

But with splits running deep among Lebanon’s ruling elite, it is widely believed Mikati will struggle to form a government, spelling political paralysis that could hamper reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund to unlock aid.

“Again I demand speeding up formation of a national government with the country’s pressing need for it and so that the focus can immediately be on preparations to elect a president who saves the country,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said at a sermon on Sunday.

“We call on all parties to cooperate with the premier designate ...,” he added.

Analysts and politicians expect the process of forming a Cabinet to be further complicated by a looming struggle over who will replace Aoun, the Hezbollah-aligned head of state, when his term ends on Oct. 31.


Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
Updated 26 June 2022

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
  • Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006

AL-MUKALLA: An anti-corruption authority controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in Sanaa has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Abdul Qader Bajamal, a late former prime minister, accusing him of misusing public funds, Yemeni activists and local media said.  

Ahmed Nagi Al-Nabhani, a Yemeni activist based in the city, told Arab News that the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption issued a seizure order targeting houses, bank accounts and other properties owned by Bajamal over a failed project during his tenure in 2003.

Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006.

Al-Nabhani said that the SNACC had sent the case to the Public Funds Court for prosecution, and called for coordinated local and international rights campaigns, mainly from Bajamal’s party, to pressure the Houthis to allow the former premier’s family to access their assets.

“There must be serious and real solidarity with the family of Bajamal, because they are now, according to the decision of the SNACC, banned from using their father’s property,” Al-Nabhani said.

Bajamal died in September 2020 at the age of 67.

In a condolence message to his family, Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of Houthi Supreme Political Council, described Bajamal then as a “sincere, dedicated” national leader who served his country.  

The seizure order against Bajamal came as the Houthis raided the houses of other late Yemeni officials in Sanaa and areas under their control.

In Sanaa, armed Houthis occupied the house of the late Abdul Rahman Bafadhel, an MP and member of the Islamist Islah party, and expelled his daughter and her husband, citing a seizure order, a friend of the family told Arab News.

Bafadhel died in Saudi Arabia in October 2015 in a car accident.

The militia also raided the house of Ameen Ali Al-Kaderi, a late tribal leader who opposed their rule in the central province of Ibb, his son Salah said.

Since taking power militarily in late 2014, the Houthis have issued hundreds of seizure orders and death sentences against military and security leaders, politicians, journalists and activists who rejected their coup and supported the internationally recognized government of the country and military operations by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

The Houthis sold or rented some of the seized properties, turned others into secret detention centers, and gifted others to their leaders.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, told Arab News that the latest string of seizure orders against Bajamal and Bafadhel show the Houthis are moving to dispossess families of dead politicians of their property under the pretext of fighting corruption.

“This is an attempt to impoverish Yemenis to concentrate wealth, power, the economy, the judiciary, the media and all sources of power in the hands of the group,” Barman said.


Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall
Updated 26 June 2022

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall
  • The Wall Brigade started functioning two weeks ago and consists of six battalions numbering 2,100 personnel

RAMALLAH: Israel has established a new special military brigade to protect its barrier in the West Bank and reconstruct several kilometers of wall in southern Jenin, with a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian infiltrators, senior Israeli military sources revealed this week.

The Wall Brigade started functioning two weeks ago and consists of six battalions numbering 2,100 personnel.

The budget for the new 60-kilometer-long, seven-meter-high cement wall, which will start from the south of Jenin and run along the border with the West Bank, is $100 million.

The brigade command is located in the Maccabim area near the village of Ni’lin, close to Israel’s borders west of Ramallah.

“The idea of ​​establishing the new wall brigade came in the wake of the wave of escalation in attacks against Israel from the West Bank in March and April,” a senior Israeli defense source said.

He added that the new brigade is responsible for securing and protecting the existing wall area, supervising the process of building the new Jenin wall and restoring destroyed sections from which Palestinians can enter Israel illegally.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, told Arab News: “These instructions are intended to kill and abuse Palestinians. Since the beginning of this year, more than 70 Palestinians, including 16 children and several workers, have been killed, and all the victims are civilians who were not armed and did not pose a threat to the lives of Israelis.

“The wall is not an international border, but rather military a barrier set up by the Israeli army between the West Bank and Israel on Palestinian land, and the claim that it constitutes an international border for Israel is just a manipulation of words.”

With the launch of the Wall Brigade, the Israeli Army has changed firing rules against Palestinian infiltrators, considering the wall as an official international border.

Barghouti said: “The shooting instructions have been changed, and the Israeli soldiers are allowed to shoot anyone trying to cross the wall into Israel.”

The Israeli civil administration, known as “the coordinator,” publishes warnings through its social media sites telling the 180,000 legal and 24,000 illegal Palestinian workers in Israel to enter the country through official border crossings, threatening those who enter illegally with permit suspension.

A senior Palestinian security official in Ramallah told Arab News: “The killing of any suspected Palestinian trying to approach the wall is a continuation of disregard for their lives. It does not differ from the orders issued to the occupation soldiers to kill the Palestinians as soon as the soldier feels his life is in danger.

“According to the international border protection standards, if the infiltrator is unarmed then it’s permissible to shoot in the air, then at his feet, but not to shoot to kill. Still, the Israelis apply their arrogant laws that do not value the lives of the Palestinians.”

The Israeli army killed a 53-year-old Palestinian worker, Nabil Ghanim, from Nablus, south of Qalqilya, when he tried to cross the separation wall from the West Bank into Israel on June 19.

Soldiers in the new brigade have been provided with modern night vision equipment, GPS devices, fast armored vehicles and drones to track infiltrators inside Israel, and carry out round-the-clock patrols over sections of the wall.

Before the establishment of the Wall Brigade, Israel relied on replaceable forces from the border guards, the regular army and the reservists.

The Israeli Army and security services claim that in attacks that took place in Israel between March and May, armed perpetrators illegally entered the country.


Jordanian police: Killer of university student shoots himself, is clinically dead

Jordanian police: Killer of university student shoots himself, is clinically dead
Updated 26 June 2022

Jordanian police: Killer of university student shoots himself, is clinically dead

Jordanian police: Killer of university student shoots himself, is clinically dead
  • Ersheid, 18, was a nursing student at the Applied Science University in Amman’s Shafa Badran neighborhood
  • She was killed on campus after sitting an exam

AMMAN: The killer of a female university student shot himself after being surrounded by police on Sunday and was later declared clinically dead.

Oday Khaled Abdallah Hassan killed 18-year-old nursing student Iman Ersheid on her university campus last Thursday. She was reportedly shot five times after she left an exam hall.

She had been studying at Applied Science University in Amman’s Shafa Badran neighborhood, and was buried on Friday in the northern city of Irbid.

Hassan’s suicide attempt in the town of Balama brought the curtain down on one of the most heinous crimes to have shaken Jordanian society.

The police said in a statement that security forces had located the killer in Balama, which is north of Zarqa. When the site was surrounded, it was found that the killer was armed.

The police tried to persuade the fugitive to turn himself in, but he surprised them by shooting himself.

Security forces had moved immediately to raid the site and surrounded the killer, who pointed a gun at his head. He refused to surrender and threatened suicide, police said.

Security forces negotiated with him, but he refused and shot himself on the right side of his head, according to the initial medical report.

He was losing consciousness while he was being taken to hospital and was later declared clinically dead. Hassan was born in 1985.

The police statement also said that the security and intelligence department had swung into action as soon as the crime report was received.

The director of public security ordered the formation of an investigation team comprising all specialist units to work around the clock under his direct supervision.

Hassan had fled the crime scene immediately after shooting the student, but the investigations had led police to determine his identity and his place of residence.

The search process continued after the shooting incident until the killer’s whereabouts were located and raided by a police task force, the statement added.

The Public Security Directorate extended its sincere condolences to Ersheid's family, colleagues, and Jordanian society, stressing that the “hand of justice will reach every criminal.”

It also urged people not to publish any unreliable information about the crime and not to re-publish what was circulating on social media unless it had been issued by official authorities, especially since much of what had been published was incorrect and contributed to the spreading of rumors.