Nasrallah speech sparks fears of power vacuum in Lebanon

Nasrallah speech sparks fears of power vacuum in Lebanon
On Monday, a meeting was held between 16 MPs from the Force of change bloc, along with a number of other independent and opposition MPs to ‘agree on a legislative agenda.’ (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 August 2022

Nasrallah speech sparks fears of power vacuum in Lebanon

Nasrallah speech sparks fears of power vacuum in Lebanon
  • Hezbollah secretary-general raised prospect of a government forming without a new president being elected in September
  • Force of Change Bloc holds meeting in Parliament with eye on opposing Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Doubts were cast over the upcoming presidential election in Lebanon later this year, after Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called on Lebanese officials “to form a government that enjoys its full powers to assume its responsibilities, whether or not a new president is elected,” on Tuesday.

It was the first time Nasrallah mentioned publicly the possibility of not holding the presidential elections, raising fears of a political vacuum in the crisis-stricken country, similar to that which preceded President Michel Aoun’s election in 2016, and which lasted over two years.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati was tasked on June 23 with forming a new Cabinet, which he presented to Aoun after parliamentary elections last May.

However, Mikati’s lineup did not satisfy Aoun, who said the prime minister’s choices undermined him. Communication between the two has been fraught since then, and all attempts to revive forming a government have stalled.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said in a statement he thought a resolution to the impasse at this stage would require “a miracle.”

As things stand, on Sept. 1, Parliament will turn into the elective body of the office of the president, with several rounds of voting set to take place to appoint a new head of state.

Ali Darwish, a member of Lebanon’s Parliament, told Arab News: “Each party has the right to express its opinion on the next political phase the way it deems convenient. Certainly, a government enjoying its full powers is better than a caretaker government. It is a sound demand because a government enjoying its full powers can take decisions.

“We want these elections to take place, just like other events — electing a new Parliament, and tasking the prime minister with the formation of a new government — to be carried out on time. Electing a new president for the country provides stability.”

On Monday, a meeting was held between 16 MPs from the Force of Change bloc, along with a number of other independent and opposition MPs.

The stated objective of the meeting was to “hold discussions in order to agree on a legislative agenda and coordinate on future duties, such as approving the general budget, the financial reform plan and the legislations necessary for the country.”

However, political observers believe the meeting was an early move to identify a candidate to replace Aoun.

If these MPs were able to attract other moderate colleagues, they could form a significant force in Parliament opposing Hezbollah and its allies, potentially preventing a candidate aligned with Hezbollah from being elected president.

Darwish said: “What happened in Parliament last Monday serves the democratic game and the country’s interest, and we approve of it. We do not favor confrontational diversity, as we are in a crucial phase of the economic crisis we are facing and we need everyone’s solidarity.

“Every political party in Lebanon has its own agenda. I hope the presidential elections will be held on time and the democratic game will be fully reflected.”

He added: “Complex files are awaiting the next president, such as the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the approval of an economic recovery plan, the restructuring of the public sector, and the maritime border demarcation, which requires a complete ruling system.”

Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam told Arab News: “Through his speech, Nasrallah insists on keeping the state incapacitated and paralyzed, so Hezbollah can impose its conditions on everyone.”

Karam said the meeting was “a positive event, and an attempt to unify the opposition in the face of Hezbollah, so we can have a majority that represents the people and faces (down) Hezbollah’s plan.”

Hadi Abou El-Hassan of the Progressive Socialist Party said: “The parliamentary elections didn’t limit decision-making to one party. This allows settlement and agreement on broad topics.”

He added: “As a patriotic Lebanese, I can’t link the fate of a country to the fate of Iran, but everyone knows that Lebanon isn’t independent in its decision-making.”


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 17 sec ago

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”


Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
Updated 24 min ago

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
  • A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday's twin blasts
  • Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016

JERUSALEM: An Israeli wounded in rare bombings to hit Jerusalem earlier this week died Saturday, the hospital treating him announced, the latest casualty as violence surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital announced the death of Tadesa Teshuma “who was fatally wounded in an attack at the entrance to Jerusalem.”
A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday’s twin blasts, which hit bus stops frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews at the city’s western exit.
Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016 according to Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency.
A security source told AFP the explosives were detonated remotely and no group has claimed the attacks, which were celebrated by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The bombings come amid a spike in violence, which has claimed the lives of six Israelis and 14 Palestinians this month across Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli security forces remain on high alert and on Saturday police briefly closed a main road in Jerusalem, not far from the site of the bombings, due to a suspicious package. The incident turned out to be a false alarm, police said.
During the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s, Palestinian militants repeatedly planted bombs at urban bus stops, including in Jerusalem.
Much of the recent violence has centered on the West Bank, where more than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year according to an AFP tally.
At least 26 Israelis have also been killed in attacks across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The dead have included Israeli troops, Palestinian militants and civilians on both sides including multiple children.
Earlier this year, 49 Gazans were killed in a three-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.


Iran rapper arrested over protests risks death penalty: family

Iran rapper arrested over protests risks death penalty: family
Updated 26 November 2022

Iran rapper arrested over protests risks death penalty: family

Iran rapper arrested over protests risks death penalty: family
  • Toomaj Salehi, well known on Iran's rap scene, was arrested late last month after denouncing the regime and showing support for the protests
  • Dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi had the first day of his so-called 'trial' today in Tehran without a lawyer of his choice," the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said

PARIS: The family of an Iranian rapper detained for supporting protests over Mahsa Amini’s death said his life was at risk after he went on trial behind closed doors on Saturday.
Iran has intensified a crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death of Amini after her arrest in Tehran for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code for women.
Toomaj Salehi, well known on Iran’s rap scene, was arrested late last month after denouncing the regime and showing support for the protests, human rights groups said.
“Dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi had the first day of his so-called ‘trial’ today in Tehran without a lawyer of his choice,” the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said on Twitter.
His family tweeted that his “life is at serious risk right now” as he faced charges of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth” — sharia-related charges that are capital crimes in the Islamic republic.
Salehi had disappeared at the end of October before appearing in a video published on November 2 by Iran’s state-run media.
The video claimed to show the first images of Salehi after his arrest.
It depicted a tattooed man in a sleeveless black T-shirt sitting on the ground, wearing a blindfold and looking bloodied and bruised.
The man says: “I am Toomaj Salehi. I said I made a mistake. I said... that you should run. I didn’t mean you.”
Activists condemned the recording as a forced confession extracted under duress.
Salehi is one of a number of prominent figures to be arrested in a mass crackdown that has seen dozens of journalists, lawyers, civil society and cultural figures arrested.
His detention came shortly after he gave an interview highly critical of the regime to the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation.
“You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation... in order to keep its power, money and weapons,” Salehi said in the interview.
Iranian state media claim Salehi was arrested while trying to cross one of the country’s western borders, but his family have denied this saying he was in the southwestern province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari at the time.


UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran
Updated 26 November 2022

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran

UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran
  • Decision comes after the German and Icelandic ambassadors to the UN in Geneva submitted a request for such a meeting late on Friday
  • So far, 44 countries, including 17 Council members, have backed the call
GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council announced on Monday it would hold an urgent session this month on Iran, where a brutal crackdown on mass protests has left hundreds dead.
The United Nations’ highest rights body said a special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation” in Iran would be held on November 24.
The decision comes after the German and Icelandic ambassadors to the UN in Geneva submitted a request for such a meeting late on Friday.
The support of 16 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members — more than a third — is required to convene a special session outside the three regular ones held each year.
So far, 44 countries, including 17 Council members, have backed the call, the body said.
The request follows eight weeks of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress rules for women based on Islamic sharia law.
At least 326 people have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), as the demonstrations have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 fall of the shah.
Thousands of peaceful protesters have also been arrested, according to UN rights experts, including many women, children, lawyers, activists and journalists.

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh
Updated 26 November 2022

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh
  • Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
BEIRUT: The commander of the main US-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria said Saturday they have halted operations against the Daesh group due to Turkish attacks on northern Syria over the past week.
Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters that after nearly a week of Turkish airstrikes on northern Syria, Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive. He said Turkey-backed opposition fighters are getting ready to take part in the operations.
Abdi added that Turkish strikes over the past week have caused severe damage to the region’s infrastructure.
Abdi said Turkey is taking advantage of the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. Kurdish organizations have denied any involvement in the Istanbul attack that killed six and wounded dozens.
Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the Istanbul attack.
“The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against IS are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped,” Abdi said, using an Arabic acronym of the Daesh group. “Anti-Daesh operations have stopped.”
His comments came hours after the US military said two rockets targeted US-led coalition forces at bases in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh resulting in no “injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”
The US military statement said SDF fighters visited the site of the rocket's origin and found a third unfired rocket.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, blamed Daesh sleeper cells for the Friday night attack on the US base.
“Attacks of this kind place coalition forces and the civilian populace at risk and undermine the hard-earned stability and security of Syria and the region,” said Col. Joe Buccino, CENTCOM spokesman.
The SDF said in a statement before midnight Friday that as Turkish drones flew over the al-Hol camp that is home to tens of thousands of mostly wives, widows and children of IS fighters, some IS family members attacked security forces and managed to escape from the sprawling facility. The SDF did not say how many escaped but that they were later detained.
Kurdish authorities operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria holding about 10,000 Daesh fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.