Lebanon’s water supply networks ‘remain on the brink,’ UNICEF warns 

Lebanon’s water supply networks ‘remain on the brink,’ UNICEF warns 
Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a protest against the government and decrying the deteriorating economic situation outside the Government House in Beirut on July 21, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 21 July 2022

Lebanon’s water supply networks ‘remain on the brink,’ UNICEF warns 

Lebanon’s water supply networks ‘remain on the brink,’ UNICEF warns 
  • Banque du Liban employees enter second day of strike following raid to arrest Gov. Riad Salameh
  • Justice minister tries to calm situation after arrest of Bishop Musa Al-Hajj on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanese children are at risk as water supply systems across the country teeter on the brink of failure, UNICEF has warned.

“While a total collapse of public water supply networks has so far been averted, the (water supply) systems remain on the brink, which poses a threat for the health of millions of people, especially children,” UNICEF said in a statement.

The UN body said Lebanon’s limited power supplies make it impossible to pump enough water, and in some cases, “cause pumping operations to shut down entirely.”

It added that it had previously warned “a year ago that the water system has reached a breaking point.”

Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, said that “millions of people in Lebanon are affected by the limited availability of clean and safe water, and addressing the issue is of (the) utmost importance for the health of children and families in Lebanon.

“Since the beginning of the crisis, per-capita water supplies from the water establishments have decreased dramatically amid frequent blackouts, falling short of the 35 liters a day considered to be the minimum acceptable quantity,” he said.

“The average cost of 1,000 liters of trucked water increased to 145,000 Lebanese pounds ($6 at the Sayrafa exchange rate) in April 2022, an increase of almost 50 percent compared with the same month in 2021.

“A family of five, drinking a total of 10 liters a day, would need to spend about 6.5 million pounds a year, in addition to the cost of water they use to meet their cooking and hygiene needs.”

Based on its report, UNICEF — which contributes financially to the operation of water pumps in Lebanon — “needs $75 million a year to keep critical systems operational and the water flowing to over four million people across the country and safeguard access and operation of the public water systems.”

The UNICEF warning came amid political chaos in Lebanon that is causing further crises, leading to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati calling the country “Al-Asfouriyeh” (the lunatic asylum) in a speech on Wednesday.

Employees of the Banque du Liban continued with their three-day strike on Thursday, in protest against Mount Lebanon’s state prosecutor, Judge Ghada Aoun, raiding the bank’s headquarters on Tuesday, in search of its governor in order to arrest him.

The raid took place after Riad Salameh failed to show up for questioning on charges of illicit enrichment and money laundering Aoun charged him with in March.

For the second consecutive day, exchange operations at the bank’s Sayrafa rate platform were put on hold, prompting traders and citizens alike to turn to the black market for dollars.

Other operations affected include check clearing, transfers abroad, opening credits and other procedures. More importantly, payment orders and transfers issued by the Ministry of Finance will not be disbursed.

Repercussions triggered by the arrest of Bishop Musa Al-Hajj, archbishop of Haifa and the holy land, also continued after he was detained on Monday at the Lebanese border post in Ras Al-Naqoura after returning from Israel. He faced an 11-hour interrogation, with money and medicines he brought from Lebanese who fled to Israel 22 years ago being seized.

The Council of Maronite Bishops, which held an exceptional meeting on Wednesday, expressed its dismay at Al-Hajj’s arrest, the seizure of his passport and phone, and his being summoned to appear before the military judge Fadi Akiki.

In a meeting, the council demanded the removal of Akiki and called what happened  “premeditated and determined, at a remarkable and suspicious time, and for known malicious ends.”

The council also called on the minister of justice to take the necessary disciplinary measures against those responsible, and demanded the public prosecutor of cassation to refer Akiki to the judicial inspection and remove him.

The press office of Justice Minister Henry Khoury announced on Thursday that the minister was asking all judicial authorities for an immediate update on the development of the investigation with Al-Hajj and the raid on the central bank.

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party, called for the situation to be addressed calmly and stressed the need to respect institutions “in these difficult circumstances above all consideration.”

Suleiman Franjieh, head of the Marada Movement and a candidate for the presidency, met on Thursday with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, and claimed the judiciary in Lebanon was politicized and that judges were being subjected to “political and media intimidation.”

In a press conference on Thursday, the Sovereign Front for Lebanon called the arrest of Al-Hajj “a coup to take advantage of the last parliamentary elections.”

It said some prosecutors, security figures and judges were offering their services to people running the state, a veiled reference to the Iran-backed militia.


Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
Updated 16 sec ago

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
  • Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions”
  • Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek: “Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization”

CAIRO: The Egyptian Senate has branded a European Parliament resolution criticizing Egypt’s progress on improving its human rights record as being based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions.”

Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek told a House of Representatives plenary session that the decision was unacceptable and went against “international rules and norms.”

The European Parliament resolution highlighted what it described as a lack of improvement in Egypt’s human rights situation including on the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and media freedoms.

Calling for a review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of “very limited progress on its human rights record,” the European Parliament also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of a number of political activists, journalists, lawyers, and social media influencers.”

In a speech, Abdel Razek said: “We all received with displeasure the decision issued by the European Parliament on Nov. 24 regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.”

He accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on, “fragile assumptions and misconceptions and an attempt to claim that it has the authority to evaluate and hold others accountable outside the borders of its members, in violation of international rules and norms.

“Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization. These are issues that no free country, particularly Egypt, will accept,” he added.

In a statement on Friday, the Egyptian Parliament said the resolution, “shows again that the European Parliament insists on adopting an arrogant approach toward Egypt, giving itself the right to use a host of sheer lies to deliver a judgement regarding some recent developments inside Egypt.”

Abdel Razek noted that Egypt had sought to strengthen efforts to improve the lives of its citizens.

He highlighted the Decent Life Initiative as one of the country’s most important projects bringing together the public and private sectors, and civil society, to help boost living standards for Egypt’s neediest groups.

He added that Egypt had launched a national dialogue to identify issues of concern to citizens and had also reactivated the Presidential Pardon Committee which had previously worked to grant amnesty to convicts and reintegrate them into society.

In addition, millions of refugees and asylum seekers had been welcomed to Egypt, Abdel Razek said, adding that efforts to promote and preserve all human rights within the framework of a national vision were ongoing.


Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
Updated 37 min 55 sec ago

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
  • 709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country
  • prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had also been released on bail

TEHRAN: Iran has released more than 700 prisoners after the national team’s World Cup football victory over Wales, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Monday.
It announced that “709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country” following the 2-0 victory on Friday.
Among those are “some arrested during the recent events,” Mizan Online said, making indirect reference to demonstrations which have shaken Iran for more than two months.
It gave no further detail.
The ongoing protests were triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Other Iranian media separately reported that prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had been released on bail after her arrest for having supported the protests.
Two of the most prominent figures detained over the demonstrations — former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and dissident Hossein Ronaghi — were also let out on bail, reports said.
State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that former state television host Mahmoud Shahriari, 63, had been released after two months in prison for “encouraging riots.”
Iran on Friday scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales and breathe new life into its World Cup campaign ahead of a politically charged showdown Tuesday against the United States.
Iran lost its first World Cup match to England, 6-2.
Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk last week said around 14,000 people have been arrested.

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Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”
Updated 28 November 2022

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

ANKARA: Turkiye and Egypt may restore full diplomatic ties and re-appoint ambassadors mutually “in coming months,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.
Ankara and Cairo may re-start diplomatic consultations led by deputy foreign ministers as part of a normalization process “soon,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.
After years of tension, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Qatar this month in what was described by the Egyptian presidency as a new start in bilateral relations.


Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
Updated 28 November 2022

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
  • Eescalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia

ONCUPINAR, Turkiye: Turkiye’s army needs just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria and such a decision may come at a cabinet meeting on Monday, Turkish officials said, as Turkish forces bombarded a Kurdish militia across the border.
Howitzers fired daily from Turkiye have struck Kurdish YPG targets for a week, while warplanes have carried out airstrikes.
The escalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia. The YPG has denied involvement in the bombing and has responded at times to the cross-border attacks with mortar shelling.
“The Turkish Armed Forces needs just a few days to become almost fully ready,” one senior official said, adding that Turkiye-allied Syrian rebel fighters were ready for such an operation just a few days after the Nov. 13 Istanbul bomb.
“It won’t take long for the operation to begin,” he said. “It depends only on the president giving the word.”
Turkiye has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the YPG, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkiye, the United States and European Union designate a terrorist group.
The PKK has also denied carrying out the Istanbul attack, in which six people were killed on a busy pedestrian avenue.
President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkiye would launch a land operation when convenient to secure its southern border. He will chair a cabinet meeting at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT).
“All the preparations are complete. It’s now a political decision,” another Turkish official told Reuters, also requesting anonymity ahead of the meeting.
Erdogan said back in May that Turkiye would soon launch a military operation against the YPG in Syria, but such an operation did not materialize at that time.
The first Turkish official said a ground operation, targeting the areas of Manbij, Kobani and Tel Rifat, was inevitable to link up the areas brought under the control of Turkiye and its Syrian allies with incursions since 2016.
Ankara had been in contact with Moscow and Washington about its military activities, the person added.
The United States has told NATO member Turkiye it has serious concerns that an escalation would affect the goal of fighting Daesh militants in Syria.
Russia asked Turkiye to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive. It has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s 11-year war, while Ankara has backed rebels fighting to topple him.
On Monday, the defense ministry said Turkiye’s army had “neutralized” 14 YPG militants preparing to carry out attacks in Syrian areas under Turkiye’s control. It typically uses the term to describe casualties.
The defense ministry said on Saturday three Turkish soldiers had been killed in northern Iraq, where the military has been conducting an operation against the PKK since April.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, having traveled to the Iraqi border area, was quoted as telling military commanders on Sunday that Turkiye will “complete the tasks” of the mission.


Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
  • 6,000 creatives sign statement urging support for art students persecuted for protests
  • Signatories slam ‘increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown’

LONDON: A group of Iranian creatives has issued a statement to the international community asking it to stop working with cultural groups and institutions with links to the regime in Tehran.

The statement — signed by over 6,000 artists, academics, writers and film directors, based in Iran and abroad — was issued following the mass arrest and incarceration of students across the country for their roles in anti-regime protests following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September at the hands of the morality police.

The statement calls for the international community to “boycott governmental institutions of the Islamic state of Iran and their covert affiliates, and prevent them from having any presence in international arenas of arts, culture and education” over the regime’s “increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown” that has left at least 300 people dead and around 14,000 in detention.

One of the signatories, London-based curator Vali Mahlouji has also called for direct action by protesters against arts organizations that receive money from Iran.

Mahlouji told The Guardian: “We know that some private Iranian galleries are connected to the money systems of the Iranian state, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council. They need to be boycotted.”

Since the beginning of the protests, art has been used by demonstrators to signal anger at the regime, including red dye being poured into fountains and red nooses hung from trees.

“This is a society saying: We are terrorized,” Mahlouji said. “There is a big performative response: People tying themselves up; red ink being poured on pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic; red paint being thrown at buildings; even urinating outside art galleries which have kept themselves open when artists demanded that they close down.”

Canada-based artist Jinoos Taghizadeh told The Guardian that some art galleries “have been the money-laundering arm of the government” and have “tried to depoliticize (Iranian) artists.”

She added that art students in Iran who defy the regime “were constantly threatened by the police and university security,” but “have been very brave and creative despite all the repressions, arrests, kidnappings,” and that “the performance of their music and protest songs and their publication on social media both encouraged the protesters and brought the voice of protest to other cities and outside Iran.”

Art has also been used as a form of protest against the regime overseas: In October, a group called the Anonymous Artist Collective for Iran set up a display of 12 red banners with images of Amini and the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In London’s Piccadilly Circus, exiled Iranian artist Shirin Neshat displayed a digital protest piece of the same slogan, also showing it at Pendry West Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Neshat said: “We are not just a bunch of oppressed artists trying to get the Western culture to feel sorry for us. We’re teaching them that it is time to wake up and understand that culture plays a big part in the political fabric of our world.

“We see these young people who are completely fearless facing tyranny. You really question your own state of mind as an Iranian who has never been able to live without fear for so many years. It’s extremely hopeful to have these young people who are saying no more fear.”