Beirut welcomes tourists, expatriates after Hezbollah slogans removed from airport road

Lebanon’s tourism Minister walid nassar, who visited the airport road, promised that a tourism campaign would cover all Lebanese territories over the next week with more than 150 billboards. (Supplied)
Lebanon’s tourism Minister walid nassar, who visited the airport road, promised that a tourism campaign would cover all Lebanese territories over the next week with more than 150 billboards. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 June 2022

Beirut welcomes tourists, expatriates after Hezbollah slogans removed from airport road

Beirut welcomes tourists, expatriates after Hezbollah slogans removed from airport road
  • Pictures of Shiite group’s leaders, deceased members, party’s yellow banners, have long occupied airport road space

BEIRUT: The municipality has recently removed Hezbollah slogans, images and billboards that had been put up for years on the road to the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut.

They have been replaced with welcome signs by the Tourism Ministry to greet tourists and expatriates returning to Lebanon for the summer vacation.

Pictures of Hezbollah leaders and deceased party members, as well as the party’s yellow banners, have long occupied the airport road space on both sides and in the median strip.

The airport road borders the neighborhoods hosting the offices of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement — the two main Shiite parties — and their security zones.

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The removal of the propaganda material came in response to a call by caretaker Minister of Tourism Walid Nassar, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, allied to Hezbollah.

The sizes of the pictures almost exceeded that of the houses and small shops located on both sides of the road.

The images were not limited to the party’s Lebanese members but also included Iranian and Iraqi military, religious and political leaders such as Qassem Soleimani, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Khamenei and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, so much so that many people who crossed this road were confused as to whether it was part of Lebanon or Iran.

Politicians opposed to Hezbollah often called for the removal of the images, which they described as “provocative to the Lebanese.”

They blamed the state for its compromise with the party or its inability to confront its authority, prominently displayed on the route taken by diplomats and political figures coming to Lebanon.

The removal of the propaganda material came in response to a call by caretaker Minister of Tourism Walid Nassar, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, allied to Hezbollah.

Earlier this week, Nassar called on the media administration of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to reduce the number of images and symbols in the next three months and replace them with pictures of Lebanon’s tourist attractions.

The ministry launched a tourism promotion campaign targeting expatriates and tourists and urging them to visit Lebanon this summer in an attempt to stimulate the stagnant Lebanese economy. The slogans featured in the campaign are “You are Welcome” and “Do you miss Lebanon?”

Nassar’s call to remove the images and slogans was met with widespread criticism on social media.

Activists expressed their displeasure with the “respect” that Nassar said he had for figures represented in the images, who have nothing to do with Lebanon, namely Soleimani (Iranian) and Al-Muhandis (Iraqi).

Activists said that Nassar’s words “reflected a weak state that is incapable of applying the law to Hezbollah and its ally, while it applies the law harshly to the rest of the parties, as it did on June 1.”

But is Hezbollah’s removal of photos on the airport road a kind of self-review in the face of mounting public criticism or is it a temporary response?

Dr. Ahmad Fatfat, head of the National Council to End the Iranian Occupation of Lebanon, told Arab News he believes that “what happened was coordinated between Minister Nassar and Hezbollah in advance and is no more than a temporary step.”

Fatfat, who was interior minister in 2006, said: “Hezbollah may have agreed to this request because it knows that people are fed up with the economic situation that the party has brought them to, and the results of the parliamentary elections showed this restlessness.”

If Hezbollah did not feel that it was losing support, Fatfat added, it would not agree to remove the images and would instead repeat what it did in the summer of 2006 when it provoked Israel’s aggression, which destroyed Lebanon while the presence of tourists and expatriates in the country was at its peak.

Nassar, who visited the airport road, promised that the tourism campaign would cover all Lebanese territories over the next week with more than 150 billboards.

He said the indicators the government has received from the private sector show that the summer season will be very promising in terms of tourism.

Lebanon is counting on tourism this summer — based on flight, hotel and restaurant reservations — to provide the Lebanese economy with some much-needed oxygen to revive it.


Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya
Updated 02 July 2022

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya



BENGHAZI, Libya: Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at UN-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps toward unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Haftar. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.


Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis
Updated 02 July 2022

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.


Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
Updated 02 July 2022

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
  • Numbers double in six months

JEDDAH: The number of executions in Iran has more than doubled in the past six months in a new campaign to intimidate anti-regime protesters, rights groups said on Friday.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, 251 Iranians were hanged compared with 117 in the first half of last year. The surge in executions has coincided with a series of nationwide protests over Iran’s economic collapse and the soaring price of basic food staples such as bread.
“There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights, an activist group in Norway.
“Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said 137 of the executions had been carried out since the latest wave of anti-regime protests in Iran began on May 7. Six women were among those executed, and eight prisoners were hanged at the Rajai Shahr Prison outside Tehran this week alone.
The group said its estimate of executions included only those published in official media or confirmed by at least two independent sources, so the real number was likely to be higher.
Activists also accuse Iran of executing a disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities, especially Baluch and Kurds. Iran Human Rights said it counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, mainly Sunni Muslims who live in the southeast.
Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty in 2021 said that at least 19 percent of recorded executions in Iran were Baluch, although they make up only about 5 percent of the population.
There is also concern over the execution on June 20 of Firuz Musalou, a Kurd convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged an insurgency in Turkey. His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for human rights.


Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive
Updated 02 July 2022

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement a new accession deal with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit at which the US-led alliance formally invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
The two nations dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their bids were headed for swift approval until Erdogan voiced concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism.”
Erdogan also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three sides on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Tuesday appeared to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan lifted his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden that was followed by a promise of new warplane sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters at an impromptu press conference held as the summit ended that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
New countries’ applications must be approved by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan warned Sweden and Finland’s future behavior would decide whether he forwarded their application to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the very earliest in late September and may wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
One Western diplomatic source in the hallways of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail.”
Erdogan delivered his message one day after Turkey said it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 were all accused of being either outlawed Kurdish militants or members of a group led by a US-based preacher Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists.”
He did not explain when Sweden issued this promise or provide other details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference but stressed that Sweden strictly adhered to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is applied by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if it is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been processed by officials and the courts.
“I would guess that all of these cases have been solved in Finland. There are decisions made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them up again.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
The Brookings Institution warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive framing” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the months to come.
“The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech,” the US-based institute said in a report.


European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2022

European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
  • Israel’s ‘escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations’ rapped

RAMALLAH: The European Commission has told Ramallah-based NGO Al-Haq Human Rights Organization that the 13-month suspension of €40,000 funding from the EU will be lifted after finding that the suspension was “illegal and was not devoid of political dimensions.”

Al-Haq is one of six Palestinian human rights organizations that the Israeli government declared on Oct. 19 to be “outlaws,” citing its association with the (leftist) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it classifies as a terrorist group. On May 21, Israeli authorities issued a military order to close Al-Haq’s headquarters.

Al-Haq was established 43 years ago. It received the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in June.

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq, told Arab News: “The importance of the decision lies in the (fact) that we are trying to defend ourselves against a terrible machine that has friends in the European Commission and the European Union. Israel is working against us politically and ideologically, and we are working professionally. And the truth has triumphed over their political attempts.”

The European Commission said in a letter to Al-Haq on June 28 that the suspension had been lifted “unconditionally and immediately” following an assessment by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

“This decision is based on several elements, including OLAF’s assessment, which did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there is no suspicion of irregularities and fraud affecting EU funds in implementing (Al-Haq’s) EU-funded project,” the letter stated.

In a statement issued on June 30, Al-Haq said: “Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding. Under the direct responsibility of the Hungarian EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, the suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organizations and defenders. No other conclusion can be drawn based on what we have experienced with this suspension in the past 13 months.”

Al-Haq had previously filed a case against the EC with the European Court and a hearing is scheduled to take place on July 4, Jabarin added.

Al-Haq said in its statement that it has no illusions about Israel’s escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations and its attempt to silence human rights defenders in Palestine, the culmination of which was Israel’s decision in October 2021 to designate Al-Haq and five other leading Palestinian NGOs — Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — as “outlaws.” The five other organizations do not received funding from the EU.

“We have challenged the commission’s lousy faith performance from the start of the suspension, contesting its necessity and proportionality and demanding clarifications of the grounds and information on which the suspension was based. Until today, the Commission has failed to provide these clarifications,” Al-Haq’s statement read.

“Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored our questions and requests. In early 2022, we appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend our rights vis-à-vis the Commission. On April 1, 2022, he launched an ‘amicable settlement’ procedure on our behalf, including our proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved,” it continued.

“The decision to freeze funding was a crime against us,” Jabarin said. “The issue is not financial but political, in which the EU participated. Now the mistake has been corrected, as it has been proven that there is no misuse of money or financing for terrorism. This is a message to the Israelis and the European Union, who built their positions on false Israeli reports against us.”