US envoy hopeful over Lebanon-Israel sea border talks

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. (REUTERS)
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 01 August 2022

US envoy hopeful over Lebanon-Israel sea border talks

US envoy hopeful over Lebanon-Israel sea border talks
  • Atmosphere positive, all attendees satisfied with meeting, deputy speaker says
  • President Aoun promises to provide right conditions to elect successor at Army Day celebrations

BEIRUT: Amos Hochstein, US special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, on Monday expressed optimism that Lebanon and Israel could move toward a maritime border deal to settle competing claims over offshore gas fields.

“I remain optimistic that we can make continuous progress, as we have over the last several weeks, and I look forward to coming back to the region and being able to make the final arrangements,” Hochstein said.

This came after his second visit to Beirut in less than two months, carrying an Israeli proposal in response to a demarcation offer made by Lebanon.

On Monday, he met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri at the presidential palace.

I remain optimistic that we can make continuous progress, as we have over the last several weeks, and I look forward to coming back to the region and being able to make the final arrangements.

Amos Hochstein, US special envoy

He also met separately with caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, who called the progress made in talks “potentially exceptional.”

Leaked information suggested Hochstein informed the political leaders of the Israeli response to the Lebanese position that adheres to the demarcation of the border on the basis of Line 23, with Lebanon obtaining the entire Qana field, resulting in a zigzagged demarcation line, without including the Karish gas field.

Hochstein reportedly conveyed an Israeli proposal to include parts of an area north of Block No. 8, based on calculating the median line between Lebanon and Cyprus, which was rejected.

Lebanese optimism over progress was evident in President Aoun’s speech to a Lebanese military delegation he met later that day for the Army Day celebrations.

“There is no room for despair in light of the harsh conditions we live in, and God willing, something positive will come out of the maritime border demarcation issue,” he said.

Bou Habib said that Hochstein had pointed out that the Lebanese position was largely unified.

“There is tremendous and remarkable progress, and the negotiations have not ended yet, but they are progressing,” he said, stressing that without an agreement, no one could extract gas in the area.

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Elias Bou Saab was also present at the meeting with Hochstein, as was the Director General of the Lebanese General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, considered close to Hezbollah.

However, Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun did not attend the meeting.

A technical team from the army adheres to the demarcation of the border according to Line 29, based on British documents, which, if approved, gives Lebanon part of the Karish field.

But Lebanon has not amended its border demarcation decree, submitted to the UN years ago, which relies on Line 23, as President Aoun believes that Line 29 “remains subject to negotiations.”

Bou Saab said after the meeting: “The atmosphere is positive and everyone is satisfied with the meeting. Hochstein did not suggest that we share the wealth, and Lebanon renewed its demand for its entire blocks.”

It was also leaked that the Lebanese side proposed that it could start the process of exploration of the Qana field provided Israel acknowledged Lebanon’s right to it, but Hochstein replied that he would discuss it with the Israelis and come back with an answer.

The Amal Movement, headed by Berri, said in a statement after the Hochstein meeting: “It is necessary for the government to ask exploration companies not to delay and carry out their operations.”

Prior to their meeting with Hochstein, President Aoun, Berri and Mikati took part in Monday’s 77th Lebanese Army Day celebration and the graduation ceremony of officers from the defense and security services.

A total of 95 officer cadets graduated from the Military College with the rank of lieutenant in the naval, air, and land forces, including a very remarkable number of female officers, eight officers from the Internal Security Forces with the rank of lieutenant, and six officers from State Security and others from General Security.

During his speech at the ceremony, his last before his term ends in October, Aoun said: “Despite the betting that the parliamentary elections will not happen, Lebanon has a new parliament.”

Aoun added: “Unfortunately, some are betting again on a presidential vacuum. Out of respect for my constitutional responsibilities, I reiterate that, as I was committed to holding the parliamentary elections, I will work with all my strength to provide the appropriate conditions to elect a new president who will continue the arduous reform process that we have begun.

“This can only be achieved if Parliament — speaker and MPs — assume their responsibilities in choosing the right man for the job.”

Aoun added: “The failure to form a government is caused by the lack of the necessary factors and criteria that make it an effective government, able to carry out its responsibilities, present, and future.

“Failure to form a government exposes the country to further turmoil and deepens economic and financial difficulties. The responsibility of those concerned is essential in preventing the country from being exposed to further deterioration.”


One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
Updated 36 min 45 sec ago

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
  • The attack led to the death of the head of the security team and injured others

DUBAI: A man armed with a Kalashnikov-style rifle attacked the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital Friday, killing the head of security at the diplomatic post and wounding two guards, authorities said.
No one immediately offered a motive for the attack in Tehran. Video purportedly taken at the scene showed a lifeless body just inside of the embassy past a metal detector.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack.
A statement from Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that “an investigation is currently underway into this treacherous attack.” It also described the attacker as destroying a guard post with assault rifle fire.
Azerbaijan borders Iran to its northwest. There have been tensions between the two countries as Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Iran in October launched a military exercise near the Azerbaijan border, flexing its martial might amid the nationwide protests rocking the Islamic Republic. Azerbaijan also maintains close ties to Israel, which Tehran views as one of its top regional enemies.


Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid
Updated 27 January 2023

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

JERUSALEM: Gaza militants fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes early Friday as tensions soared following an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
It was the deadliest single raid in the territory in over two decades. The flare-up in violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Palestinian militants fired five rockets at Israel, the military said. Three were intercepted, one fell in an open area and another fell short inside Gaza. Israel carried out a series of airstrikes at what it said were militant targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Thursday’s deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp was likely to reverberate on Friday as Palestinians gather for weekly Muslim prayers that are often followed by protests. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, had earlier threatened revenge for the raid.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The Palestinian Authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
The Israeli strikes early Friday targeted training sites for Palestinian militant groups, the military said. Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at a Hamas militant base before fighter jets struck it, causing four large explosions.
Air raid sirens went off in southern Israel as the initial two rockets were fired and then again after the airstrikes, when the militants fired the other three rockets.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin. President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people.” He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable.” But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties and to pursue the matter at international organizations was a mistake.
Thursday’s gunbattle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad claimed three others. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas’ secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz Al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
The Israeli military circulated aerial video it said was taken during the battle, showing what appeared to be Palestinians on rooftops hurling stones and firebombs on Israeli forces below. At least one Palestinian can be seen opening fire from a rooftop.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday’s raid. Israel’s paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Israel’s new national security minister, far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who seeks to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, posted a video of himself beaming triumphantly and congratulating security forces.
The raid left a trail of destruction in Jenin. A two-story building, apparently the operation’s target, was a charred wreck. The military said it entered the building to detonate explosives.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics struggled to reach the wounded during the fighting, while Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the military prevented emergency workers from evacuating them.
Both accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video at the hospital showed women carrying children into a corridor.
The military said forces closed roads to aid the operation, which may have complicated rescue efforts, and that tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from nearby clashes.
The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said Thursday marked the single bloodiest West Bank incursion since 2002, at the height of an intense wave of violence known as the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which left scars still visible in Jenin.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed and saddened” by the violence. Condemnations came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Turkiye, which recently reestablished full diplomatic ties with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries also condemned the Israeli raid.
The Islamic Jihad branch in Gaza has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Hamas, which seized power from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 2007, has fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes with Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B’Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. So far this year, not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim those territories for their hoped-for state.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that now house 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for over a decade.


France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee
Updated 27 January 2023

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Thursday, the French presidency said, signing a set of strategic agreements meant to boost Iraq’s economic cooperation with the European country.
In the meeting, France and Iraq signed a treaty that seeks to strengthen bilateral relations in anti-corruption, security, renewable energy and culture, the Elysee Palace said on Friday.


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.


Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
Updated 26 January 2023

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.

“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.

The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.

The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.

But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.

Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.

The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.

Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.

But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.

Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.

“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.

But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.