Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

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Updated 13 August 2022

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head

Lebanon on precipice of positive change: US task force head
  • Corrupt leaders, Israeli and Palestinian peace are key issues, says Edward M. Gabriel
  • ‘Beirut and Tel Aviv pact can access oil and gas in Mediterranean’

CHICAGO: Lebanon will be on the precipice of change if its people end government corruption, and Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, the head of the American Task Force on Lebanon said Wednesday.

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel, president and CEO of the ATFL, who was recently appointed to the board of the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News there are many issues that need resolution to change regional dynamics and significantly reduce tensions. But that change is possible.

Gabriel, who just returned from an ATFL mission to Lebanon, said that if the Israelis and Palestinians find peace, Hezbollah would lay down its arms and become more of a political party rather than remain as one of the toughest militias to successfully stand up to Israel’s regional military presence.

“Hezbollah is a political party and they are part of the fabric of the country whether some people like it or not. The question is, they need to put down their arms and make sure they operate as a political entity in Lebanon and not continue their terrorism across the region,” Gabriel explained.

“Hezbollah has said that when there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is no need for them to have arms. I met with the Shia mufti recently and he actually reiterated that belief. And I asked him, at what point do you see them putting down their arms, and he said exactly those words you seem to indicate.”

During an appearance on The Ray Hanania Show, Gabriel said there are other factors at play besides Hezbollah’s military strength and engagement in terrorism. They include Lebanon resolving its maritime disputes with Israel and ending the corruption of the Lebanese government in order to qualify for financial support from the International Monetary Fund.

“One thing has come up is a negotiation between Lebanon and Israel, two enemies that are trying to settle their maritime border dispute. We were encouraged that they were moving in the right direction there, and if they do it will send a great new signal that Lebanon can work with some of the tough characters in the region and find simple solutions,” Gabriel said.

Resolving the maritime issues between Israel and Lebanon can open access to huge pockets of oil and gas that lie underneath the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

“Lebanon has two problems. One is corruption and the other is Hezbollah having arms. You can’t have a country where you have a militia that can push itself around in the region over the heads of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Thank God the Lebanese Armed Forces are becoming much stronger. What they were 10 years ago and what they are today makes a big difference. No, I don’t see this as mainly a regional problem anymore. The Lebanese Armed Forces are protecting the borders and the sovereignty of the country pretty well. They have got more work to do,” Gabriel said.

“What this comes down to is a parliament that will tell the corrupt leaders enough is enough, you are out. We are going to vote for reforms and change and we are going to implement those through a good governance structure to make change. Those are two issues causing the problem today. The IMF program, the International Monetary Fund program, is a possible solution out if they react to it and pass the needed legislation in the next two months just before a presidential election. The parliament will have something to say about that. Will they elect a president that is reform oriented or will the same old guys elect the same old guys.”

Gabriel said the election results from May 2022 which weakened Hezbollah’s hold on parliament, offers a path to achieving greater reforms and rebuilding the nation’s shattered economy.

“Recent statistics put Lebanon in the bottom four of the worst (performing on the) economic (front of) countries in the world. Just a couple of decades ago — a decade ago — it was in the upper third of countries on the income scale. The World Bank says it is one of the worst economic disasters since 1850, possibly one of the worst three disasters. We have a lot to be concerned about,” Gabriel said.

“We met with the top leadership of the country, with a tough message. And that was you are in charge of a country that right now is going off the cliff. It is going to be a beggar state by next year and you will be responsible for this unless you can do something in the coming months to stave off the impending disaster.”

But he said that the reformers must find a way to come together in strength to bring change in the November presidential elections.

“Reform candidates, the opposition candidates, the change candidates took away the majority, away from Hezbollah and its allies. So there seems to be a movement there by a progressive group of parliamentarians that want to make change. Now, that is a long way to go but these phenomenal people who care about their country are doing their best under the circumstances. There is regional pressure on Lebanon,” Gabriel said, noting increased tensions and rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah recently.

“But that’s making an excuse. Quite frankly, the reason why Lebanon is what it is, is because of corruption. There is massive amount of corruption in the country and it really has to come to a halt if there is ever to be any progress. The International Monetary Fund is come in with a proposal accepted by the government so far. But the government has to implement a number of reforms that will reduce corruption and address the needs of the people, so we will see how that happens.”

But Israel has to realize that it has major decisions to make regarding regional peace and find another alternative to violence against Palestinians, he said.

“Israel has to come to realize on Gaza and the Palestinian issue, they can have a one-state solution or a two-state solution. But to have a two-state solution they have got to enter into good faith conversations with Palestine to find a win-win solution. Otherwise they are going to get a one-state solution which more and more people are moving towards,” Gabriel said.

“And right now the one-state solution would have the Palestinian people over 50 percent of the population. So, it really is in Israel’s best interests to think how they are operating in the Palestinian arena. Having said that, terrorism by Hamas doesn’t help the situation. Right now, they need quiet in the region and now that Israel has a partner to talk to. Both of them have to come to grips with this for a win-win solution.”

Gabriel said he believes that despite some challenges, President Joe Biden offers the best route toward building up the Middle East, noting the US leader has spent much time addressing the region.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C. including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

* An earlier version of this story mischaracterized comments and opinions of Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel saying Hezbollah could become a “postive force” in the country. Those characterizations of his comments have been deleted.

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
Updated 01 October 2022

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
  • The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police
  • The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood

KABUL, Afghanistan: A group of Afghan women Saturday protested a suicide bombing that killed or wounded dozens of students in a Shiite education center in the capital Kabul a day earlier, demanding better security from the Taliban-run government.
The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police.
The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 19 people and wounding 27. Among the casualties were teenagers taking practice university entrance exams, a Taliban spokesman said.
The morning explosion at the center took place in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community. The Daesh group has carried out repeated, horrific attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dashti Barchi and other Shiite areas in recent years.
About 20 protesters Saturday gathered in the Dashti Barchi area for about 45 minutes before their rally was broken up by Taliban security. They carried banners in English and Dari reading “Stop Hazar Genocide.”
“We are asking the Taliban government, when they claim that they have brought security, how they cannot stop an attacker from entering an educational center to target female students. In this incident, one family has lost four members, why is it still happening,” said demonstrator Fatima Mohammadi.
Staff at the Kaaj education center spent Saturday cleaning up the wreckage caused by the attack, while victims’ family members searched through items covered with blood belonging to their loved ones.
Hussain, who goes by one name, witnessed the attack. He said he believed the death toll was significantly higher, based on the large number of bodies he saw.
“First the attacker just over there, where a huge crowd of students was standing, opened fire. At least 40 people were killed there,” he said.
Zahra, a student who survived the attack, was unharmed because she went out just minutes before to buy a pen. She said she lost her friends in the attack and also her hope for a better future.
“I am not even sure if there is a future for us anymore or not,” she said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Daesh group — the chief rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 — has in the past targeted the Hazara community, including in Dashti Barchi, in a brutal campaign of violence.
Militants have carried out several deadly attacks in Dashti Barchi, including a horrific 2020 attack on a maternity hospital claimed by IS that killed 24 people, including newborn babies and mothers.

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
Updated 01 October 2022

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
  • Protestors also shouted slogans such as “Bye Bye Islamic Republic”

TOKYO: Iranians in Japan protested in support after a woman from the Saquez region near Iranian Kurdistan died, allegedly as a result of being detained by the morality police for not wearing compulsory Islamic clothing.

In the crowded and popular Shibuya Scramble Square Central Tokyo, close to a 100 Iranians and activists from different organizations gathered to show their support and demanded freedom for all women in Iran.

Most of the women came bareheaded, others wore colorful veils and some wore their regional traditional dress. A group of several people present at the rally displayed portraits of the son of Iran’s former Shah.

Protests in Iran have spread after the 22-yer-old woman, Mahsa Amini, from the Kurdistan region died after being taken into custody by vice police for not complying with the religious dress code.  The Iranian government has denied accusations that she was beaten to death by police and claim that she had underlying health problems which caused her to collapse.

“She died at a hospital days later despite intensive medical care and resuscitation efforts,” said government sources.

Demonstrations spread in some parts of the world denouncing the Iranian government and “its oppression against women”, but Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the United States and the United Kingdom were “directly” involved in the recent riots across the country.

“Dozens of terrorists affiliated with the Zionist regime and anti-revolution groups have been detained during the recent days of unrest,” the ministry said in a Friday statement.

But Tokyo demonstrators said “the totalitarian regime in the Iran Islamic Republic is killing Iranians seeking freedom, so it can continue its dictatorship.”

From a loudspeaker, a protestor shouted, “Today, the Iranian government is trying to suppress protests for the rights of Iranians by force to prove its legitimacy.”

At present, the Iran Islamic Republic is not representative of the Iranian people, so we strongly condemn any talks or initiatives. “We want freedom for all Iranians,” she said.

Protestors also shouted slogans like “Bye Bye Islamic Republic.”

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says
Updated 01 October 2022

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says
  • Seven vehicles were hit in shelling between occupied Svatove in Luhansk region and Ukrainian-held Kupiansk
  • The SBU published graphic images of destroyed civilian vehicles

KYIV: Ukraine’s SBU security service said on Saturday at least 20 civilians were killed in the Russian shelling of a civilian convoy in late September in an eastern “grey zone” between Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Seven vehicles were hit in shelling between occupied Svatove in Luhansk region and Ukrainian-held Kupiansk which Kyiv recaptured in the Kharkiv region last month, the SBU said in a statement.
The SBU published graphic images of destroyed civilian vehicles on a track next to a railway line and what appeared to be the charred remains of people. Two bodies were seated in the driving seats of their cars; one was holding the steering wheel.
Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s east accused Kyiv on Thursday of shelling a convoy of refugees being evacuated from the Kharkiv region and killing around 30 civilians, Russian state media reported.
It was not immediately clear if those officials were referring to the same convoy.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations.

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
Updated 01 October 2022

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
  • Only about 11% of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday
  • Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday

LONDON: Trains in Britain all but ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets.
Only about 11 percent of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they called the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand that wage increases keep pace with inflation that is expected to peak at around 11 percent this month.
Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by about 20 percent, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.
Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved swiftly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.
Concern that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar this week and forced the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.
“We need to get things done in this country more quickly,” Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published Saturday. “So I am going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term.”
Many workers aren’t convinced.
Four labor unions have called three, 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruptions for much of the week.
The timing is of particular concern for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, with is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins Sunday in Birmingham, England.
“We don’t want to inconvenience the public, and we’re really sorry that that’s happening,’’ Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”
Lynch urged Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from government tax cuts.
As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle on Saturday. Lingering disruptions are likely to effect service on Sunday morning as well.
Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which begins at 9:30 a.m., have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.
“It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,’’ said Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group. “That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes
Updated 01 October 2022

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes
  • At least 36 people dead after security forces shoot at protesters in Zahedan
  • Protests broke out in the capital of Sistan and Balochistan after outcry over rape of a 15-year-old girl

QUETTA: Communication services were down in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Saturday, after a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander was killed in clashes.

Protests broke out in the capital of the Sistan and Balochistan province bordering Pakistan on Friday after the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl, allegedly by a local military commander, caused public outrage.

Ali Mousavi, IRGC intelligence chief of Sistan and Balochistan, was shot during the confrontation with protesters. The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Mousavi was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Mousavi’s killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Balochistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.

Footage emerging from Zahedan showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire. The provincial administration said 19 people had died in the clashes. Local news agency Haal-e Vash reported the number of deaths to be at least 36, with dozens more wounded.

The internet has been blocked and mobile networks largely shut down in the city and surrounding areas since Friday — data from watchdog Netblocks shows — with residents of neighboring towns saying they have been unable to reach their relatives.

Mohammad Zia, a shopkeeper in Taftan, a city on Iran’s border with Pakistan around 90 kilometers from Zahedan, told Arab News that it was possible to find a “weak” mobile signal in some parts of Taftan.

“But internet services are still suspended in the entire Sistan and Balochistan region,” he said.

Muhammad Asif, who lives in Nokundi, a nearby town on the Pakistani side of the border, said he had received disturbing footage from the deadly clashes in Zahedan on Friday and has since been unable to contact his family there.

“I have been constantly trying to contact my cousin who traveled there for business,” he said. “Due to the internet and mobile network blackout I am unable to contact him, which increases my worries.”

The death of the provincial IRGC intelligence chief is a major escalation in the anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was being held in custody by the Iranian morality police.

The nationwide rallies have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in more than a decade. Thousands of demonstrators and civil activists have been arrested.

As of Friday, at least 83 protesters had been killed by security forces, mainly in the provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Alborz, and the capital Tehran, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization. That number did not include those who died in the protests in Zahedan.