UN experts, NGOs urge international probe into Beirut blast

UN experts, NGOs urge international probe into Beirut blast
A view shows the partially-collapsed Beirut grain silos, damaged in the August 2020 port blast, in Beirut on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 August 2022

UN experts, NGOs urge international probe into Beirut blast

UN experts, NGOs urge international probe into Beirut blast
  • The local probe has been paused since December due to political pressure
  • The victims' families have appealed to the international community to set up an independent investigation under the Human Rights Council in Geneva

GENEVA: United Nations experts and top NGOs urged the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday to launch an international investigation into the deadly Beirut port blast, on the eve of its two-year anniversary.
The August 4, 2020 mega-blast killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the Lebanese capital, after a stockpile of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate fertilizer caught fire at the port.
Relatives of blast victims have pressed for justice and accountability for two years but the local probe has been paused since December due to political pressure.
“This tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened,” the six UN experts said.
“On the second anniversary of the blast, we are disheartened that people in Lebanon still await justice, and we call for an international investigation to be initiated without delay.”
The blast shocked a population already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis, and is widely blamed on the negligence and mismanagement of Lebanese authorities.
The lead investigator, Tarek Bitar, who was chasing after some of Lebanon’s top brass, has been barred from proceeding after politicians he summoned for questioning filed a series of lawsuits against him.
The victims’ families have appealed to the international community to set up an independent investigation under the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
They hope such an inquiry would give them the answers that Lebanese authorities have failed to provide, said the experts, who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it.
The explosion and its aftermath have brought into focus systemic problems of negligent governance and widespread corruption, the experts said.
The next Human Rights Council session starts on September 13.
The Council “should pass a resolution... to create an impartial fact-finding mission into the Beirut port explosion,” said 11 local and international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
“It is now, more than ever, clear that the domestic investigation cannot deliver justice,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.
Lawmakers of the Lebanese Forces, the biggest Christian bloc in parliament, also pressed the UN on Wednesday to launch an international probe.
In Rome, Pope Francis extended his sympathy to Lebanese ahead of the blast anniversary.
“I hope that Lebanon, with the help of the international community, will continue on the path of rebirth,” he said.

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns
Updated 13 sec ago

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns
  • UK government inaction in Layla case amounts to ‘barbarism,’ says Dr. David Nicholl

LONDON: A former British Daesh bride detained in a prison camp in northeast Syria will die without medical intervention, with the UK government’s inaction amounting to “barbarism,” a neurologist told The Times.

The woman in her 40s, who is known by the pseudonym Layla, first traveled to Syria to join Daesh during the country’s conflict.

Following the collapse of the terror group and detainment of thousands of former fighters and their families, Layla — who is epileptic and partially paralyzed as a result of a shrapnel wound — has repeatedly appealed for medical aid through National Health Service consultant neurologist Dr. David Nicholl.

But despite his repeated warnings to the government that Layla will die without urgent medical aid, the government has yet to respond.

He first examined her via an online meeting late last year. Following another Zoom video call in November, Nicholl found that Layla’s condition had significantly worsened, with shrapnel in her neck having moved dangerously close to the aorta.

He said: “She’s ill and at risk of dying and needs to be got out of there and brought back immediately. It’s utterly inhumane.”

Layla, who has a university degree and held a high-level public sector job in the UK before traveling to Syria with her husband, suffered a stroke in 2019. “She has had life-changing neurological injuries as a consequence of her stroke,” Nicholl added.

“She does not speak Arabic so it is hard for her to understand the medical advice she is being given.

“It troubles me that my previous assessment has still not been acted on, the case for her urgent transfer still remains.

“Everything about this is a mess. Her son is also vulnerable and watching all this and is in a place where no child should be.”

Layla spoke to the Sunday Times in June, claiming: “I was never a threat.” She added: “Whatever people think I have done I am prepared to face trial. I made a mistake, why should my son pay?

“Life in the camp is really, really hard. It’s hard to walk on the stones with my crutches. I am embarrassed to have to ask for help for everything, and the tent is so hot and when it’s windy the whole tent moves.”

Human rights group Reprieve has also appealed to the UK government to act urgently and rescue Layla.

The organization sent a letter to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly that said: “Her condition has become critical and a local doctor told her that without urgent surgery, she will die. She requires immediate medical assistance that cannot be provided in northeast Syria.”

In response to the appeals, Cleverly told The Times: “I am not comfortable going into specific cases. They are difficult, they are sensitive, we do always look at the cases.”

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests
Updated 23 min 9 sec ago

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel
Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel
  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.

Israel strikes Gaza after rocket fired from enclave

Israel strikes Gaza after rocket fired from enclave
Updated 04 December 2022

Israel strikes Gaza after rocket fired from enclave

Israel strikes Gaza after rocket fired from enclave
  • United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “horrified” by the killing “during a scuffle with an Israeli soldier”

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli air force said it had carried out overnight air strikes against sites of the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip after a rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave toward Israeli territory.
The Israeli army reported on Saturday evening a rocket had been fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, the first in a month.
The attack came as one of Gaza’s larger armed factions, Islamic Jihad, threatened to retaliate after Israeli troops killed two of its leaders in the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday.
“In response to the rocket fired toward Israeli territory, IDF fighter jets targeted overnight (Sunday) a weapons manufacturing site belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization,” the Israeli army said in a statement.
The target was a site “where the majority of the organization’s rockets in the Gaza Strip are being manufactured,” it said.
Israel Defense Forces also hit “a Hamas terrorist tunnel in the Southern Gaza Strip,” it said.
The army said a few hours later it had targeted a Hamas military post in response to fire from the Gaza Strip against Israeli warplanes.
The armed wing of Hamas said it used anti-aircraft missiles during Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Security sources in Gaza reported two strikes in the south of the enclave, one against a military training site in Khan Younis and the other in an uninhabited area close to Rafah.
The strikes caused no injuries, according to Palestinian medical sources.
“The Zionist enemy is extending its aggression against our people by brutally bombarding the Gaza Strip, following its crime yesterday of executing the martyr Ammar Mufleh in Huwara,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
A surge in bloodshed in the occupied West Bank has sparked international criticism of the Israeli army for its use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians.
Criticism has focused on the killing of Ammar Hadi Mufleh, 22, in disputed circumstances in the West Bank town of Huwara, just south of Nablus, on Friday.
At least 145 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed in violence in Israel and the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, this year, the heaviest toll since 2015.
In August, at least 49 Palestinians, including combatants but also civilians, were killed in three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.


Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties

Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties

Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties
  • Descendants of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants look with pride at the national squads of the Arab world
  • Although many support their home side, fans have keenly followed matches of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Qatar

SAO PAULO: The World Cup is a big deal in Latin America, with cities across Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and elsewhere brought to a standstill whenever their respective national teams are on the pitch. But for one segment of society in particular, the 2022 tournament hosted by Qatar is particularly significant.

Arab Latin Americans are thought to number about 23 million people. There are large communities in Brazil and Argentina, and significant populations in Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia, made up of descendants of Arab emigrants who came over from the Middle East and North Africa, voluntarily or as refugees. And, like everybody else in these countries, Arabs love football.

The fact the 2022 World Cup is taking place in an Arab country for the first time provides an even greater incentive for the Arab diaspora in Latin America to tune in from distant time zones. The only question is whether to support the Arab side that reflects their ethnic origins, or the teams of their adopted countries.

Qatar’s hosting of the competition “certainly generates sympathy among Arab communities; people have been waiting for that World Cup for a long time,” Agustin Dib, director of the Arab Culture Club in Buenos Aires, told Arab News.

According to him, however, most Arab Latin Americans tend to root for the team that represents their adopted home.

“In Argentina, the first Lebanese and Syrian immigrants began to arrive at the end of the 19th century,” said Dib. “The same happened in Brazil. So, we are fully Argentinian, Brazilian, and so on — and love our national teams.”

At the same time, though, Arab Latin Americans watch with pride national squads from the Arab world and eagerly follow the fortunes of the likes of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Qatar. The Saudi team’s historic 2-1 victory against Argentina in their opening match in Qatar no doubt captured the imagination of many.

There are large Arab communities in the border zones between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In these areas, a World Cup campaign can temporarily divide Arab groups.

Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates with Saudi Arabia's forward #09 Firas Al-Buraikan after scoring his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium. (AFP)

This is certainly the case in the bisected Brazilian city of Chui and its Uruguayan counterpart, Chuy, where several thousand Palestinians have settled. Most of the time, this community pays little heed to the geographical boundary separating them. But a World Cup can change this.

“In general, we cheer for both Uruguay and Brazil,” Jaber Nassar, a 43-year-old shop owner who lives on the Brazilian side of the city, told Arab News. “But if there is a match between both teams, each side will root for its national squad.”

The rest of the time, though, there has traditionally been a historic bond between both communities when it comes to football. In 1987, they founded the Central Palestino Futbol Club. Active for a little more than a decade before folding as a result of lack of funds, Central Palestino was part of the Uruguayan league and made waves in the 1990s when it reached the finals of a national championship.

“I used to see many matches with my mother when I was a boy. Central Palestino was a local champion and we would travel throughout Uruguay to see them play,” said Nassar, whose brother-in-law was part of the squad for several years.

The Palestinian community routinely turns out in force to watch as many matches as possible during a World Cup, said Nassar. A few of his friends even traveled to Qatar for the tournament.

“Of course, we will focus on the Arab teams,” he added.

Nassar said the Palestinians love of South American football is not only a byproduct of immigration. Even in Palestine, he said, many people cheer for Brazil during international tournaments.


* The Arab diaspora in Central and South America is thought to number about 23 million people.

* The biggest Arab communities are in Brazil and Argentina, followed by Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia.

According to Dib, this is common in many Arab nations and reflects a recognition of, and appreciation for, the prowess of top South American players.

“In countries like Syria and Lebanon, people love Argentinian and Brazilian football,” he said. “I lived for a few months in Tunisia and people would always ask me about Maradona and Messi.”

Zuka Khouri, who left Syria as a refugee and settled in the Brazilian city of Curitiba nine years ago, said her family cheers for the Brazilian national team during every World Cup.

“We also liked to see Italy play,” she told Arab News. “This year Italy is not in the competition so we are rooting for Brazil.”

Anas Obaid, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee, was captured and held hostage by an armed group in Syria until his family paid a ransom. After his release, he fled to Lebanon where he worked in a refugee camp in Zahle. He has lived in Brazil since 2015 and is now a journalist and human rights activist. He loves football and said he used to cheer for Argentina when he was a child.

“I was there during the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil,” Obaid told Arab News. “I rooted for Germany, because the country was welcoming many Syrian refugees. But some in the camp rooted for Brazil.”

Since arriving in Sao Paulo, he said has become an ardent supporter of the Brazilian national team. “Brazilians have a passion for football and it is an honor to root for their squad,” he said.

Although football is unequivocally a national obsession in Brazil, and the World Cup a major event for the people there, the number of Brazilian fans who bought tickets for matches in Qatar, 39,546, is significantly lower than the numbers of Argentines (61,083) and Mexicans (91,173).

Mexico regularly sends a large contingent of fans to World Cups. Most Arab Mexicans are of Lebanese origin, according to Hector Chamlati, a member of the consulting board of Centro Libanes, a community association in Mexico City. The number of Lebanese Mexicans is estimated at about 500,000, most of whom are Christians.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino gives thumbs-up during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Brazil and Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha. (AFP)

“We have a very strong connection with the Mexican national team,” Chamlati told Arab News. “But it pleases many of us to see Arab teams play. I was glad to see that Tunisia managed to draw with Denmark (on Nov. 22).”

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, he said the Mexican community feels an intense connection to Lebanon and if the country’s national team was competing in Qatar, many of them would certainly root for them.

“But I think it is special to see the potential success of any Arab squad,” he added.

Jose Alejandro Serio Haddad, a 25-year old Lebanese Mexican, traveled to Qatar with his friends to watch Mexico play. It was his first visit to an Arab country and proved to be something of a culture shock.

“I think Qatari and Lebanese culture are very different,” he told Arab News. “Besides, the number of Arabs here is not very high. Most of the time we meet with South Asians. We feel like foreigners all the time.”

Serio Haddad was not confident about the chances of any Arab teams progressing from the group phase to the final stages of the tournament “but we certainly feel more empathy with them than with Latin American teams, like Argentina, for instance.”

As for the fact that the World Cup is being hosted by a Muslim country for the first time, Obaid said that this was certainly noteworthy but he was unhappy with the amount of criticism that has been leveled against Qatar.

“I am concerned by the international community’s reaction,” he said. “It can be a way of fighting prejudices over Muslims and Arabs. But at the same time people are paying much more attention to Qatar’s social contradictions than they did when the (competition) happened in non-Muslim countries.”

Dib said he has been organizing talks to discuss the common distortions in the way Western countries perceive the World Cup in Qatar.

“Since the first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930, there have been corruption scandals, for instance,” he said. “But the media now focuses almost exclusively on Qatar’s problems. It is a matter of prejudice.”

In any other context, Dib said, the global press would have talked about the construction marvels achieved by the hosting country “but given that it is an Arab nation, it only talks about the deaths that occurred during construction.”

He added: “I am not saying those problems are not important but the exclusive focus on them is a problem. It has to do with Orientalism as defined by Edward Said.”

In his 1978 book, “Orientalism,” Said established the term as a critical concept to describe the often contemptuous Western depiction of the East.

Dib said that many Arab Latin Americans are not comfortable with what many perceive as biased coverage of Qatar — which has been echoed in the Latin American media as well — because they feel that “there is an ongoing attack on Arab culture as a whole.”