Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos
Libyans celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence at the Martyrs Square in Tripoli on Dec. 24, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos

Divided again, Libya slides back toward violence, chaos
  • The fighting underscored the fragility of Libya’s relative peace that has prevailed for more than a year but it also looked like history was repeating itself

CAIRO: For many Libyans, clashes that erupted in the capital of Tripoli last month were all too familiar — a deja vu of street fighting, reverberating gunfire and people cowering inside their homes. A video circulated online on the day, showing a man shouting from a mosque loudspeaker “Enough war, we want our young generation!“

The fighting underscored the fragility of Libya’s relative peace that has prevailed for more than a year but it also looked like history was repeating itself. Now, observers say that momentum to reunify the country has been lost and that its future is looking grim.

Once again, there are two competing governments vying for control in Libya, already torn by more than a decade of civil war. The clashes in the capital broke out after one of Libya’s two prime ministers challenged the other by coming to Tripoli, his rival’s seat.

Libya has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments. The Mediterranean nation has been in a state of upheaval since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

But a plan had emerged in the past two years that was meant to put the country on the path toward elections. A UN-brokered process installed an interim government in early 2021 to shepherd Libyans to elections that were due late last year.

That government, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, briefly unified the political factions under heavy international pressure. But the voting never took place, and since then, the plan has unraveled and left the country in crisis.

Lawmakers in Libya’s east-based parliament, headed by influential speaker Aguila Saleh, argued that Dbeibah’s mandate ended when the interim government failed to hold elections.

They went ahead and chose Fathi Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, as new prime minister. Their position gained the endorsement of powerful commander Khalifa Haftar whose forces control the country’s east and most of the south, including major oil facilities.

Dbeibah has refused to step down, and factions allied with him in western Libya deeply oppose Haftar. They maintain that Dbeibah, who is also from Misrata with ties to its powerful militias, is working toward holding elections.

Analysts are skeptical.

Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, described the Bashagha-Dbeibah rivalry as “a feud over legitimacy,” with “both governments claiming they are legitimate.”

“I don’t think they will be able to hold elections this year,” she said, and also expressed doubts that UN attempts to get Libyan parties to reach a constitutional consensus on the elections will make any progress.

The power struggle came to a head on May 17, when Bashagha entered Tripoli and attempted to install his government there. He had help from the powerful Nawasi Brigade militia, led by Mustafa Qaddur, deputy head of Libya’s intelligence agency.

But Bashagha faced stiff resistance from militias loyal to Dbeibah, leading to hourslong clashes that rocked the city until Bashagha withdrew and a day later set up his government headquarters in the coastal city of Sirte, half way between Libya’s power centers in the east and the west.

The withdrawal emboldened Dbeibah, who promptly sacked Qaddur and another military official, Osama Juwaili, who heads the military intelligence agency. The dismissal of Qaddur was subsequently reversed by the presidential council — an apparent crack within Dbeibah’s camp.

According to an official close to Dbeibah, the Tripoli-based prime minister is convinced Bashagha could not have entered the Libyan capital without “approval or coordination” with Juwaili, a powerful figure from the western city of Zintan, and also Qaddur.

Juwaili’s forces, the official said, manned checkpoints and control areas near Gharyan, a town south of Tripoli, where Bashagha’s convoy passed on its way to the capital. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence details.

Even after Bashagha’s withdrawal, tensions remain high in Tripoli.

Some, like Libya researcher Jalel Harchaoui, believe Bashagha could make another move on Tripoli — or at least attempt to galvanize more support in the area.

“Given the scars that are now out in the open, such a scenario” is entirely possible, he said.

Meanwhile, Libya’s prized light crude is again being used as a tool in the power struggle. Tribal leaders have shut down crucial oil facilities, including the country’s largest oil field in the south controlled by fighters loyal to Haftar, who supports Bashagha.

The oil blockade — which comes as oil prices are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine — was likely meant to deprive Debeibah’s government of funds and empower his rival. Bashagha and Saleh have said the facilities would be reopened on condition that oil revenues be temporarily frozen until rival factions agree on a mechanism to distribute oil funds.


Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status
Updated 15 August 2022

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status

Kuwait’s Nayef Palace granted Islamic Heritage Site status
  • ICESCO award recognizes historical significance of 219-room building
  • Decision marks another cultural milestone for Kuwait, official says

KUWAIT: Naif Palace in Kuwait City has been designated an Islamic Heritage Site by the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Monday.

Dr. Waleed Al-Saif, president of the heritage committee of the Islamic world at ICESCO, said the decision to recognize the palace was made during the committee’s 10th session in Rabat.

He hailed it as another cultural milestone for the country.

Kuwait’s Kazma area, Failaka Island and Al-Qurainya are already on the list.

Other Kuwaiti sites that made the ICESCO preliminary list were: Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir Palace, Mubarak Al-Kabeer marine reserve and Boubyan Island.

According to Al-Saif, the committee has members from nine Islamic nations chosen by the culture ministers of 54 Muslim countries.

He said the decision to make Naif Palace an Islamic Heritage Site was made in accordance with international standards of evaluation, adding that such monuments needed to be preserved and protected for future generations.

Naif Palace, which covers an area of 28,802 square meters, was built in 1919, during the reign of Emir Sheikh Salem Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah. It has 219 rooms and also houses a mosque, a garrison dormitory and an ammunition depot.

The palace was expanded in 1950 and now serves a ceremonial role during Ramadan, with a canon drill performed and broadcast on national TV to signal the breaking of fast.


Muslim rescues children from Egypt church fire

Muslim rescues children from Egypt church fire
Updated 15 August 2022

Muslim rescues children from Egypt church fire

Muslim rescues children from Egypt church fire
  • Muhammad Yahya: I quickly entered the church to save people … and I encountered a lot of fire and smoke
  • The density of the fumes obstructed Yahya’s breathing and vision, so he took off his T-shirt, doused it in water and placed it over his nose to block the fumes

CAIRO: A young Egyptian Muslim rescued five children from Sunday’s fire at the Abu Sefein church in the city of Giza, which killed 41 people and injured 14.

“I quickly entered the church to save people … and I encountered a lot of fire and smoke,” said Muhammad Yahya, who lives next door and was injured during the rescue.

He added that he headed to the church because he heard screams from inside the building. The density of the fumes obstructed Yahya’s breathing and vision, so he took off his T-shirt, doused it in water and placed it over his nose to block the fumes from his respiratory path.

He tried to rescue an elderly man by carrying him on his back, but he slipped due to the large amount of water used to extinguish the fire, and they both fell to the ground.

Yahya broke his leg in the fall and was taken to hospital. He has been visited by priests checking on his health and thanking him for his bravery.


UN envoy says opening roads in Taiz, other Yemeni governorates remains at forefront of efforts

UN envoy says opening roads in Taiz, other Yemeni governorates remains at forefront of efforts
Updated 15 August 2022

UN envoy says opening roads in Taiz, other Yemeni governorates remains at forefront of efforts

UN envoy says opening roads in Taiz, other Yemeni governorates remains at forefront of efforts
  • UN envoy expressed gratitude for the support of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and UN Security Council
  • Highlighted responsibility of helping Yemen and its people to take the necessary and decisive steps toward peace

LONDON: The UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said on Monday the opening of roads in Taiz and other Yemeni governorates remains at the forefront of his efforts.

Whilst briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in the country, Grundberg said that despite several proposals being presented to the parties, there has been no progress on the issue.

“Several proposals with different sets of roads and sequencing options have been presented to the parties. It is regrettable that, despite these efforts, there has not been more progress achieved on road openings to date,” Grundberg said. 

The UN envoy also expressed gratitude “for the concerted support” of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UN Security Council.

He highlighted the joint responsibility of helping Yemen and its people to take the necessary and decisive steps toward peace to end the conflict and not merely manage it.

He also told the council that since the start of the truce in April, 33 ships were cleared to enter Hodeidah port, bringing in one million metric tons of much-needed fuel products. 

In addition to this, 31 round-trip flights were operated to and from Sanaa, transporting more than 15,000 passengers, he said.

He said that as a result of the support provided by Jordan, the frequency of commercial flights between Sanaa and Amman has increased to three per week.

Grundberg said the latest truce extension that was announced on August 2 “allows us to continue to expeditiously work toward an expanded truce agreement.”

He continued: “I am therefore intensifying my efforts to support the parties in resolving outstanding issues.

“In my discussions with the parties, they continue to emphasize the need to build on the existing truce to achieve a wider array of economic and security priorities and to move toward more durable solutions for issues with political implications.”


Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs
Updated 15 August 2022

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs

Fire-ravaged Abu Sefein Church to undergo repairs
  • Egypt’s Armed Forces Engineering Authority tasked with project
  • Cash support for victims’ families from Al-Azhar and the government

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has tasked the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to restore the Abu Sefein church, which was damaged by a fire that killed 41 people and injured 16 others on Sunday.

Hisham El-Swefy, head of the authority, telephoned Pope Tawadros II to inform him of the plan.

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb has come to the aid of the families of the victims and is coordinating cash payouts for them with various NGOs.

Al-Tayeb sent a message of support to Pope Tawadros II.

“Al-Azhar and its scholars and sheikhs all stand by their brothers in this tragic accident and extend their sincere condolences to the families of the victims,” he said.

El-Sisi had earlier received messages of condolences from the presidents of Tunisia and Lebanon following the tragedy.

Prosecutor General Hamada El-Sawy confirmed that the Public Prosecution authority had completed its investigation into the incident and found that the victims had died of smoke inhalation.

El-Sawy said that 41 people had died, and 16 others, including four police officers, were injured.

El-Sawy stated that the authority had completed its questioning of the injured people.

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior confirmed that an electrical fault caused the fire, and that it broke out in the air-conditioning system on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms.

Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the Minister of Social Solidarity to pay compensation of EGP100,000 ($5,226) to every victim’s family, and a maximum of EGP20,000 ($1,045) to every injured person.

In an earlier statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church had said that the fire broke out during the Divine Liturgy at the building in the north of Giza, and that several worshipers were transferred to the Imbaba and Agouza hospitals.


Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
Updated 15 August 2022

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
  • Oil seized by US from Lana prompted Iranian forces to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf

ATHENS: An Iranian-flagged tanker has retrieved an oil cargo which the United States had confiscated and is set to leave Greece, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The seizure from the Lana, formerly the Pegas, prompted Iranian forces in May to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf which have not yet been released.
The United States had hired a tanker in April to impound the oil onboard the Lana tanker, which had been anchored off Greece.
The oil was then partly removed and placed aboard the Ice Energy tanker, which had been chartered by Washington and had been expected to sail to United States before Greece’s supreme court ruled that the cargo should be returned to Iran.
“The reloading process is complete,” one of the sources said. Another source said it was completed on Sunday.
The embassy of Iran in Athens said on Aug 12 on Twitter that the vessel would sail to Iran after the reloading was completed.
It was not clear if Lana, which had engine problems, could sail unassisted.
For over two months, Lana remained under arrest off the Greek island of Evia, near the town of Karystos. It was tugged to Piraeus following court orders that allowed its release.
The tanker has been anchored off Piraeus since late July.