Hezbollah drones expose Lebanon to unnecessary risks, say prime minister and foreign minister

A picture taken on July 3, 2022, shows the border between Israel and Lebanon near the Israeli Kibbutz of Shtula. (AFP)
A picture taken on July 3, 2022, shows the border between Israel and Lebanon near the Israeli Kibbutz of Shtula. (AFP)
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Updated 05 July 2022

Hezbollah drones expose Lebanon to unnecessary risks, say prime minister and foreign minister

A picture taken on July 3, 2022, shows the border between Israel and Lebanon near the Israeli Kibbutz of Shtula. (AFP)
  • Plans drafted to ensure repatriation of 15,000 Syrian refugees a month

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister and foreign minister have criticized Hezbollah for sending three drones over an Israeli gas installation last week, saying any interference in US-mediated talks to demarcate the country’s maritime border with Israel was “unacceptable.”

The comments followed the movement’s launch of unarmed reconnaissance drones on Saturday toward the offshore Karish gas field.

Lebanon announced its official “rejection of the incident, which took place outside the framework of the state's responsibility and the diplomatic context, especially since the indirect negotiations to demarcate the maritime borders are underway and the efforts from US mediator Amos Hochstein have reached advanced stages.”

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The official position included the demand to stop the ‘continuous Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty by sea, land, and air.’

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Abdullah Bouhabib on Monday affirmed Lebanon’s support for Hochstein’s efforts to reach a solution that preserved “Lebanese rights in full and with complete clarity, and the demand to speed up the pace of negotiations.”

“Lebanon is counting on continued American efforts to support it, preserve its rights to its water wealth, and restore its economic and social strength,” they said. “Lebanon considers that any action outside the framework of the state's responsibility and the diplomatic context in which negotiations are taking place is unacceptable and exposes it to unnecessary dangers.

“Therefore, we call upon all parties to show a spirit of high national responsibility and abide by the previous declaration, which states that everyone without exception is behind the state in the negotiation process.”

The official position included the demand to stop the “continuous Israeli violations of Lebanon's sovereignty by sea, land, and air.”

Lebanon’s position on the drone incident is advanced, especially since Hezbollah and its allies still constitute a majority in authority.

The anti-Hezbollah grouping Our Lady of the Mountain Gathering, which includes political and intellectual figures, said the movement’s drone launch came hours after it leaked information about the Israeli response to Lebanon’s proposals on the maritime border demarcation that had been handed to Hochstein.

“This confirms that Hezbollah, which previously announced that it is behind the decision of the Lebanese state in the matter of demarcating the maritime borders in the south, is actually behind Iran's decision to demarcate the borders of its influence in the region, and the Lebanese demarcation file is nothing but a card in its (Hezbollah's) hands, on behalf of Iran and above the interests of the afflicted Lebanese people,” it added.

Reports said that Hochstein had made progress on the possibility of moving the indirect negotiations again after Lebanese authorities, represented by President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Mikati, abandoned the demand for Line 29 and the adoption of Line 23.

Lebanon has been unable to confirm that Line 29 — which includes the Karish gas field — is the maritime border of Lebanon due to the failure of Aoun to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was issued in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point for negotiations with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun considers Line 29 to be the point for negotiations.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 square km while, according to the decree deposited with the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 square km of the disputed area.

Lebanon is also dealing with the issue of Syrian refugees, with Aoun seeking to achieve a breakthrough before the end of his term in October.

The minister of the displaced in the caretaker government, Issam Sharaf El-Din, affirmed Lebanon's “total rejection of Syrian refugees not returning to their country after the war ended and it became safe.”

After meeting Aoun, Sharaf El-Din said that Lebanon planned to repatriate 15,000 displaced people per month.

He referred to proposals submitted by Lebanon to UNHCR regional director Ayaki Ito, who promised to refer the issue to his superiors and get a written answer.

The minister also referred to a plan to form a tripartite committee with the Syrian state and the UNHCR, and a four-party committee with Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan to achieve repatriation targets.

He claimed to be in touch with the Syrian side and said it was extending its hand to cooperate and facilitate the repatriation in a dignified and safe manner.

“There was an understanding with the regional director of the UNHCR regarding the request for the Syrian state to establish a tripartite committee that includes the Syrian state, the Lebanese state, and the UNHCR. If this committee is established, we will have made an important step. We proposed that the refugees receive material and in-kind assistance in Syria. Unfortunately, this was not accepted.

“We asked the UNHCR to stop aid for the 15,000 refugees whose turn comes to return to their country every month because paying aid to them in Lebanon is an incentive for them to stay in Lebanon.”

Sharaf El-Din said there was a meeting with the Turkish ambassador to Lebanon, who was understanding and cooperative.

“We agreed on the gradual repatriation based on village-by-village or district-by-district.”

He said the Turkish side had an idea to establish a safe zone where refugees would return, but it was a political issue that Lebanon had nothing to do with.

“However, we agreed to form a quadripartite committee that includes the Turkish state, which hosts 3,700,000 Syrian refugees, Lebanon, which hosts 1,500,000 refugees, Iraq, which hosts 170,000 refugees, and Jordan, which hosts 670,000 refugees, so that there will be a unified demand with UN agencies to facilitate the repatriation of refugees humanely.”

 


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital
Updated 9 sec ago

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 56 min 54 sec ago

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.


Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
Updated 10 August 2022

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
  • The decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two MPs
  • Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.


Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
Updated 10 August 2022

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
Updated 10 August 2022

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
  • UN spokesman calls on Nasrallah to halt ‘incitement,’ threats

BEIRUT: Lebanon could plunge into total darkness by the end of August if an agreement with Iraq to supply Electricite du Liban with fuel is allowed to expire.

With fuel stocks falling to critically low levels, the Lebanese government is looking for ways to avert a major power crisis.

Fears of an energy shortfall grew on Tuesday amid threats by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

“Hezbollah is ready for war if the Israeli side decides to start drilling for gas in the Karish field on Sept. 1, in the event that no agreement is reached between Lebanon and Tel Aviv during the remaining few weeks,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on Nasrallah to avoid incitement and adding fuel to the fire in the region.

Lebanon’s last shipment of oil from Iraq in July was insufficient, EDL said, adding that it was “barely 28,000 metric tons.”

It said: “We are prioritizing vital facilities in Lebanon, namely the airport, the port, water pumps, sewage systems and basic state headquarters.”

EDL also warned of low production capacity, which will reach a maximum of 250 megawatts within days. “This will negatively affect the stability of the network, which sometimes exposes it to blackouts that may be repeated several times per day, despite the exceptional efforts to stabilize the electrical network as much as possible.”

The Ministry of Energy, under the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, has been actively searching for an alternative to Iraqi oil, focusing on Algeria and Iran as potential sources.

Nasrallah suggested in July accepting an Iranian donation of fuel to address the crisis, provided that it reaches Lebanese and not Syrian ports, adding: “This, however, requires an official Lebanese decision.”

Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said: “The Iraqi side is positive regarding the fuel file, and we are counting on extending the agreement between Lebanon and Iraq. The Iraqis did not refuse to extend the agreement, but rather wished to reexamine it before reaching a solution in the next few days.”

Fayyad said that an Iraqi delegation will visit Lebanon to discuss several issues. “We are seeking a great understanding with the Iraqi government,” he said.

Iraq was reportedly hesitant to extend the contract over concerns that Lebanon could fail to pay for the imported fuel in the future.

Speaking on the potential Iranian donation, and if sanctions would prevent Beirut accepting it, Fayyad said that Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mojtaba Amani stressed Tehran’s readiness to offer free fuel to Lebanon.

“The Iranian donation would help Lebanon to cross this difficult stage, and the ministry has sent the Iranian side the specifications of the required fuel. The Iranian side requested that a team be formed to discuss this donation, and we are waiting for Mikati’s word to proceed,” Fayyad said.

Mikati’s media office said: “Amani has voiced his country’s readiness to provide the donation of fuel. Mikati thanked Iran for the offer and requested follow-up on this issue with the Ministry of Energy to ensure the technical specifications of the fuel. No official steps have been taken in this regard.”

Some analysts have warned that Iranian fuel is incompatible with Lebanon’s power plants, and that the donated fuel would need to be swapped with a third country for domestic use.  

According to an informed source, the Ministry of Energy is seeking to meet with Algerian energy companies to reach an agreement to supply fuel on concessional terms, but progress has stalled.

The process of importing Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity is still stumbling as a result of the World Bank’s delay in approving a loan to finance the project, owing to Lebanon’s failure in implementing conditions of the deal.