Lebanon PM vows to press ahead with key reforms

Lebanon PM vows to press ahead with key reforms
Najib Mikati, Caretaker PM of Lebanon, addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 September 2022

Lebanon PM vows to press ahead with key reforms

Lebanon PM vows to press ahead with key reforms
  • MPs welcome Saudi-France-US agreement on ‘next phase of rescue roadmap’
  • Saudi Arabia, US and France expressed their continuing support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and stability

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has promised to move ahead with urgently needed reforms after Saudi Arabia, France and the US agreed on a rescue roadmap for the crisis-hit country.
Representatives of the three countries issued a joint statement early on Thursday following a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The statement highlighted their willingness to work with Lebanon, but warned that support for the next phase of the rescue is subject to compliance with key provisions.
These include “the formation of a government capable of implementing the structural and economic reforms urgently needed to address Lebanon’s political and economic crises, specifically those reforms needed to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund,” the joint statement said.
Saudi Arabia, US and France expressed their continuing support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and stability.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari said on Twitter that the joint statement carried a message that the Taif Agreement is “the guardian of national unity and civil peace in Lebanon.”
MP Marwan Hamadeh called on Lebanese political parties to read the joint statement and the Saudi ambassador’s tweet thoroughly.
The MP called for a conference aimed at forming a tripartite state that would allow Hezbollah to become “a partner in governance.”
Mikati, who represented Lebanon at the UN General Assembly, addressed the country’s social and economic crisis in a speech on Wednesday night.
He said the crisis was threatening all institutions, driving most of the population below the poverty line, and causing a brain drain among the country’s young.
The caretaker PM pledged to move forward with legislative and administrative reforms, and said that Lebanon relies on its international friends, especially among Arab countries.
He reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to the Taif Agreement, and vowed to deal strongly with any threat to its provisions.
Mikati told delegates that “a sovereign, independent, strong and capable Lebanese state is critical to peace, security, stability and prosperity in the region.”
MP Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri told Arab News that the Saudi-US-French joint statement reflects the hopes of all Lebanese in terms of holding presidential elections, forming an effective government and implementing political reforms.
MP George Okais said the statement highlighted key issues that need to be addressed if Lebanon is to regain stability.
A political observer told Arab News that the terms outlined in the joint statement follow on from the Taif Agreement.
The statement insisted on the implementation of all international resolutions, including those restricting the supply of weapons to Lebanon’s armed forces and Internal Security Forces.
The three countries also highlighted the importance of “timely elections” as Lebanon’s parliament prepares to elect a new president.
“It is critical to elect a president who can unite the Lebanese people, and work with regional and international actors to overcome the current crisis,” the joint statement said.
“We affirm the need for the Lebanese government to implement the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions 1559, 1680, 1701, 2650, and other relevant international resolutions, including those issued by the Arab League, and commit to the Taif Agreement which enables the preservation of national unity and civil peace in Lebanon,” the joint statement said.

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries
Updated 09 June 2023

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries

ABU DHABI: On a boat off the coast of an island near Abu Dhabi, marine scientist Hamad Al-Jailani feels the corals, picked from the reef nursery and packed in a box of seawater, and studies them carefully, making sure they haven’t lost their color.
The corals were once bleached. Now they’re big, healthy and ready to be moved back to their original reefs in the hope they’ll thrive once more.
“We try to grow them from very small fragments up to — now some of them have reached — the size of my fist,” Al-Jailani said, who’s part of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi’s coral restoration program.
The nursery gives corals the ideal conditions to recover: clear waters with strong currents and the right amount of sunlight. Al-Jailani periodically checks the corals’ growth, removes any potentially harmful seaweed and seagrass, and even lets the fish feed off the corals to clean them, until they’re healthy enough to be relocated.

In this frame from video, Hamad al-Jailani, marine scientist at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, shows a piece of restored coral underwater off the coast of Abu Dhabi on May 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or EAD, has been rehabilitating and restoring corals since 2021, when reefs off the United Arab Emirates’ coast faced their second bleaching event in just five years. EAD’s project is one of many initiatives — both public and private — across the country to protect the reefs and the marine life that depend on them in a nation that has come under fire for its large-scale developments and polluting industries that cause harm to underwater ecosystems. There’s been some progress, but experts remain concerned for the future of the reefs in a warming world.
Coral bleaching occurs when sea temperatures rise and sun glares flush out algae that give the corals their color, turning them white. Corals can survive bleaching events, but can’t effectively support marine life, threatening the populations that depend on them.
The UAE lost up to 70 percent of their corals, especially around Abu Dhabi, in 2017 when water temperatures reached 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), according to EAD. But Al-Jailani said 40-50 percent of corals survived the second bleaching event in 2021.
Although the bleaching events “did wipe out a good portion of our corals,” he said, “it did also prove that the corals that we have are actually resilient ... these corals can actually withstand these kind of conditions.”
Bleaching events are happening more frequently around the world as waters warm due to human-made climate change, caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas that emits heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Other coral reef systems around the world have suffered mass bleaching events, most notably Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
How to limit global warming and its effects will be discussed at length at the United Nations climate conference, which will be held in the UAE capital later this year.
The UAE is one of the world’s largest oil producers and has some of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions globally. The country has pledged to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which means all carbon dioxide emissions are either slashed or canceled out somehow, but the goal has been met with skepticism from analysts.

Zack Heikal, field technician of the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, dives into the water to visit a coral reef nursery off the coast of Abu Dhabi on May 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

But bleaching due to warming weather is not the only threat to coral reefs around the gulf. High oil tanker traffic, fossil-fuel related activities, offshore installations, and the exploitation of marine resources are all putting marine life under intense stress, according to the UN Environment Programme, causing them to degrade.
Environmentalists have also long criticized the UAE, and Dubai in particular, for its large-scale buildings and huge coastal developments.
The building of the Palm Jebel Ali, which began more than a decade ago and has been on hold since 2008, caused an outcry among conservationists after it reportedly destroyed about 8 square kilometers (5 square miles) of reef.
“More than 90 million cubic meters (23.8 billion gallons) of sediments were dredged and dropped, more or less on top of one of the remaining reefs near Dubai,” said John Henrik Stahl, the dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Khorfakkan University in Sharjah, UAE.
The project was meant to be similar to the Palm Jumeirah — a collection of small, artificial islands off the coast of Dubai in the shape of a palm tree.
Still, environmental projects persist across the coastline and throughout the emirates.
Development company URB has announced it wants to grow 1 billion artificial corals over a 200-square-kilometer area (124 square miles) and 100 million mangrove trees on an 80-kilometer (50-mile) strip of beaches in Dubai by 2040.
Still in the research and development phase, the project hopes to create 3D technology to print materials that can host algae, much like corals.
Members of Dubai’s diving community are also encouraging coral protection efforts.
Diving program director Amr Anwar is in the process of creating a certified coral restoration course that teaches divers how to collect and re-plant corals that have fallen after being knocked off by divers’ fins or a boat’s anchor.

PADI Course Director Amr Anwar fist bumps divers after replanting coral in Dubai on June 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

“I don’t want people to see broken corals and just leave them like that,” said Anwar. “Through the training we give people, they would be able to take these broken corals that they find and plant them elsewhere, and then see them grow and watch their progress.”
But experts say that unless the threat of overheating seas caused by climate change is addressed, coral bleaching events will continue to occur, damaging reefs worldwide.
Countries have pledged to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, after which scientists say the effects of warming on the planet could be much worse, and some even potentially irreversible. But analysts say most nations — including the UAE — are still way off that target.
“You have to make sure that the cause for the degradation of the coral reefs in the first place is no longer a threat,” said Stahl, the Khorfakkan University scientist. “Otherwise the restoration effort may be for nothing.”

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’
Updated 09 June 2023

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’

KHARTOUM: The Sudanese government has declared United Nations envoy Volker Perthes “persona non grata,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.
“The Government of the Republic of Sudan has notified the Secretary-General of the United Nations that it has declared Mr. Volker Perthes ... persona non grata as of today,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday, just weeks after army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan accused Perthes of stoking the country’s conflict and requested his removal.
Perthes was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday for a series of diplomatic talks, according to the UN mission’s Twitter feed.
Since late last year, Perthes and the UN mission he heads in war-torn Sudan have been targeted by military and Islamist-backed protests denouncing perceived foreign interference.
In a letter to the UN last month, Sudan’s de facto leader Burhan blamed the envoy for exacerbating fighting between the army and the paramilitaries, accused him of not respecting “national sovereignty” and demanded he be replaced.
UN chief Antonio Guterres and members of the UN Security Council have stood by Perthes.
But last week, the Security Council voted to extend the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)’s mandate for just six months.
Created in June 2020 to support Sudan’s democratic transition after the fall of Omar Al-Bashir a year earlier, UNITAMS had previously been renewed annually for a year.

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM
Updated 09 June 2023

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM

After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM
  • Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region”
  • Saudi FM earlier said any normalization with Israel will have limited benefits " without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people"

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to undermine prospects for a Palestinian state, after talks in Saudi Arabia which linked normalization to peace efforts.

Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu to discuss “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken “discussed the need to uphold the commitments made at regional meetings in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to avoid measures that undermine the prospects for a two-state solution,” Miller said, referring to talks earlier this year in Jordan and Egypt that brought Israeli, Palestinian and US officials together.
Blinken in a speech this week before the leading US pro-Israel group said that he would work to win recognition of the Jewish state by Saudi Arabia — a major goal for Israel due to the kingdom’s size and role as guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.
Speaking alongside Blinken on Thursday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that normalization with Israel “is in the interest of the region” and would “bring significant benefits to all.”
“But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits,” he said.
“Therefore, I think we should continue to focus on finding a pathway toward a two-state solution, on finding a pathway toward giving the Palestinians dignity and justice.”
Netanyahu during his last stint in power won normalization from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain in what both he and the then US administration of Donald Trump saw as crowning achievements.
The longest-serving Israeli premier has returned to power leading the country’s most right-wing government ever with supporters adamantly opposed to a Palestinian state.


Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report
Updated 09 June 2023

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

Israeli reforms ‘threat to Palestine’: report

RAMALLAH: Controversial judicial reforms proposed by Israeli’s far-right coalition government pose a threat to Palestinians, an independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN said on Thursday.

The proposals, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government control of judicial appointments, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel.

In a 56-page report, the commission said proposed legislation could increase taxation of pro-Palestinian NGOs and limit their ability to document Israeli soldiers’ activities in the occupied West Bank.

Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme religious-nationalist coalition would strip Israel’s Arab minority of citizenship and enable their deportation if they commit pro-Palestinian violence, the report said.

“The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems,” it said.

“Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavored communities, including Palestinian citizens.”

The commission, set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2021, found Israel had increasingly stifled rights advocates “through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The commission, which conducted about 130 interviews, also found that Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza had targeted Palestinian rights activists.

“The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists,” the report said.

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves
Updated 08 June 2023

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves

Yemen’s central bank denies depletion of foreign currency reserves
  • Media report suggests value is less than $200m
  • IMF praises government’s efforts to bolster economy, increase revenue

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s central bank has sufficient foreign reserves outside the country to fulfill its needs for hard currency and payments for imports, the Aden-based lender said.

The bank rejected media reports that its reserves had fallen below $200 million and said that despite the suspension of crude exports it had sufficient funds to meet demand and stabilize the national currency.

The reserves were held in a number of international banks and were sufficient for it to carry out its duties, it said.

It added it “will continue to hold weekly (foreign exchange) auctions to cover a portion of the market’s foreign currency requirements for imports of basic and essential materials through a transparent and competitive mechanism.”

The statement came after a Reuters report citing three Yemeni government sources said the central bank’s foreign currency reserves were almost depleted, having fallen below $200 million.

One of the sources declined to give a figure for the value of the reserves — to prevent a collapse of the Yemeni riyal — but the lender dismissed the claims and said its reserves were healthy.

Concerns were raised after representatives from the International Monetary Fund said that Houthi attacks on oil facilities in government-controlled Hadramout and Shabwa had reduced the country’s primary source of foreign currency revenue by more than 50 percent, which along with the rise in global oil prices, would increase its fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of GDP in 2022.

“Without a resumption of oil exports, the deficit is expected to widen further in 2023 despite cuts in much-needed expenditures,” the IMF team’s leader Joyce Wong said.

But she lauded the Yemeni government’s efforts to bolster the economy and increase revenue, which include strengthening state bodies, controlling expenditure, budget planning, tax management, taking additional measures to implement market exchange rates for customs revenues and controlling inflation.

“The mission encouraged the authorities to maintain this welcome reform momentum, including to push forward reforms in the electricity sector to reduce costs and increase revenue collection.”

Despite the central bank’s upbeat statement and the IMF’s backing for the government, the Yemeni riyal on Thursday fell to a new low of 1,350 to the US dollar, from 1,200 a month ago.

The currency began falling late last month, probably due to a stalemate in international diplomatic efforts to achieve a deal between Yemen’s warring factions.