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.


Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs
Updated 06 December 2022

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

BEJING: Students protested against a lockdown at a university in eastern China, highlighting continued anger as huge numbers of people across the country still face restrictions despite the government easing its zero-Covid policy.
Some Chinese cities have begun tentatively rolling back mass testing and curbs on movement following nationwide anti-lockdown demonstrations last week.
But analysts at Japanese firm Nomura on Monday calculated that 53 cities — home to nearly a third of China’s population — still had some restrictions in place.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance.
Videos published on social media Tuesday and geolocated by AFP show a crowd of students at Nanjing Tech University on Monday night shouting demands to leave the campus.
“Your power is given to you by students, not by yourselves,” one person can be heard shouting in the footage. “Serve the students!“
A third-year student who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the protest took place, a day after the school announced it would seal off the campus for five days because of just one Covid case.
Chinese universities have restricted movement for months, with many requiring students to apply for permission to leave the campus and banning visitors.
The Nanjing Tech student told AFP her peers were unhappy about poor communication from the university and worried they would be blocked from traveling home for the winter holidays.
In the footage, the crowd can be seen arguing with university representatives and shouting for school leaders to step down.
“If you touch us you will become the second Foxconn!” one protester yells in reference to violent demonstrations last month in central China at a factory run by the Taiwanese tech giant that supplies Apple.
Other clips showed a police car arriving on the scene and university officials promising students they would compile their complaints in a file.
The Nanjing protest comes days after people took to the streets in multiple Chinese cities urging an end to the zero-Covid policy, with some even calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
Hundreds gathered at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua and Peking universities at the end of last month as well as on campuses in the cities of Xi’an, Guangzhou and Wuhan.


Authorities have cracked down on subsequent efforts to protest while appearing to answer some demands by easing a number of restrictions.
On Tuesday Beijing said offices and commercial buildings including supermarkets would no longer require visitors to show proof of a negative test.
Major businesses and organizers of large-scale events will be allowed to devise their own testing requirements, authorities said.
Xie Shangguang, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, welcomed the changes as “good news” and told AFP he felt the capital was “coming back to life.”
“I have the impression that it will gradually ease up,” he said. “You can’t let everything go at once, or block everything at once, you have to proceed step by step.”
Another Beijing resident, 28-year-old Wu Siqi, also said the loosening should be incremental.
“You can’t just suddenly tell people they don’t need to do anything,” she said.
A host of other cities including Shanghai have dialled down mass testing mandates in recent days.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, officials began telling people to stay home if they have symptoms — a sharp about-turn from the previous approach of dragging all positive cases to central quarantine facilities.


Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis
Updated 06 December 2022

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis
  • Congolese Tutsi group resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, setting off a crisis in eastern DRC

KIGALI: Rwanda’s foreign minister has accused the international community of exacerbating the crisis the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, after Washington pressed Kigali to end its alleged support for rebels in the restive region.
In a call to Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said foreign support for armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) must end, “including Rwanda’s assistance to M23.”
Rwanda has denied repeated US-backed accounts of support for the M23 rebel group, an allegation also made by independent experts for the UN who found that Kigali was aiding and abetting the group.
The mostly Congolese Tutsi group resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, setting off a crisis in eastern DRC.
Rwanda’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, said Kagame and Blinken “had good discussions... but differences in understanding of the issue remain.”
“The wrong and misguided approach of the international community continues to exacerbate the problem,” Biruta said in a statement late Monday.
“External interference and dictates” were undermining regional diplomatic efforts to solve the problem, he added.
Rwanda has repeatedly put the blame for DRC’s crisis with its government in Kinshasa, and accuses the international community of turning a blind eye to its support for FDLR, a Congo-based rebel group pitted against Kigali.
Biruta said “the security concerns of Rwanda need to be addressed, and where others may not feel obliged to, Rwanda is and will continue to do so.”
“M23 should not be equated to Rwanda. It is not Rwanda’s problem to solve,” he added.
Talks between DRC and Rwanda in the Angolan capital Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23 but Kinshasa has subsequently accused M23 of massacring civilians despite the cease-fire.
The agreement should have also have been followed by a pullout by the M23 from territory it had seized, but this has not happened.
A separate peace initiative in Nairobi between East African officials and various rebel factions active in eastern Congo — but not the M23 — has been under way for over a week.


Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif
Updated 06 December 2022

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif
  • Tuesday’s blast happened near Sayed Abad Square

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan: A roadside bomb killed seven petroleum company employees aboard a bus in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a provincial police spokesman said.
“The bomb was placed in a cart by the roadside. It was detonated as the bus arrived,” said Asif Waziri, of the Balkh police department in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Although the Taliban claim to have improved security across the nation since storming back to power in August last year, there have been scores of bomb blasts and attacks — many claimed by the local chapter of the Daesh group.
At least 19 people were killed and 24 others wounded earlier this month by a blast at a madrassa in Aybak, southeast of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Waziri told AFP Tuesday’s blast happened around 7:00 am (0230 GMT) near Sayed Abad Square in the city.
He said six people were injured in the blast.
Further details were not immediately available, and there has been no claim of responsibility.


Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings
Updated 06 December 2022

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing no longer requires people that enter supermarkets and commercial buildings to show negative COVID-19 tests on their mobile phones, the city government said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, the city still requires negative test results to enter Internet cafes, schools, bars, KTV lounges, indoor gyms and elderly care institutions.

 


North Korea orders new artillery firings over South’s drills

People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
Updated 06 December 2022

North Korea orders new artillery firings over South’s drills

People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
  • Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border
  • South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea’s military says it has ordered frontline units to conduct artillery firings into the sea for the second consecutive day in a tit-for-tat response to South Korean live-fire drills in an inland border region.
The statement by the North Korean People’s Army’s General Staff came a day after the North fired about 130 artillery rounds into waters near its western and eastern sea boundaries with South Korea in the latest military action raising tensions between the rivals. An unidentified North Korean military spokesperson said the planned artillery firings Tuesday were meant as a warning to the South after the North detected signs of South Korean artillery exercises in the border region.
The South Korean army is conducting live-fire exercises involving multiple rocket launching systems and howitzers in two separate testing grounds in the Cheorwon region, which began on Monday and continues through Wednesday.
North Korea’s military said Monday that it instructed its western and eastern coastal units to fire artillery as a warning after it detected dozens of South Korean projectiles flying southeast from the Cheorwon region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said those North Korean shells fired fell within the northern side of buffer zones created under a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce military tensions and urged the North to abide by the agreement.
It was the first time North Korea has fired weapons into the maritime buffer zones since Nov. 3, when around 80 artillery shells landed within North Korea’s side of the zone off its eastern coast.
North Korea has fired dozens of missiles as it increased its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, including multiple tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile system potentially capable of reaching deep into the US mainland, and an intermediate-range missile launched over Japan.
North Korea has also conducted a series of short-range launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets in an angry reaction to an expansion of joint US-South Korea military exercises that North Korea views as rehearsals for a potential invasion.
Experts say North Korea hopes to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength and force the United States to accept it as a nuclear power. South Korean officials have said North Korea might up the ante soon by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017.