Attempt to elect Lebanese president ends in farce with half of MPs casting blank ballots

Update Attempt to elect Lebanese president ends in farce with half of MPs casting blank ballots
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In the 45-minute session, 122 MPs out of 128 attended it. Six were not present during the vote. (AFP)
Update Attempt to elect Lebanese president ends in farce with half of MPs casting blank ballots
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(AFP)
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Updated 30 September 2022

Attempt to elect Lebanese president ends in farce with half of MPs casting blank ballots

Attempt to elect Lebanese president ends in farce with half of MPs casting blank ballots
  • Hezbollah and allies cast blank ballot papers then halt proceedings by walking ou
  • President Michel Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 31, so the post is likely to be left vacant

BEIRUT: An attempt to elect a new president of Lebanon ended in farce on Thursday when Hezbollah MPs and their allies cast blank ballots, then walked out of the parliamentary session.

In a 45-minute session, the powerful Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah cast blank ballots, as did its allies the Shiite Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement of outgoing President Michel Aoun, totalling 63 of the 122 lawmakers who attended.

Thirty-six voted for MP Michel Moawad, the son of a former president and staunch opponent of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

Eleven MPs voted for Salim Edde, a businessman and son of the late Michel Edde who held ministerial positions from 1966 to 1998.

Ten MPs voted for the state of Lebanon and one voted for Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian woman who died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for not wearing hijab “appropriately,” to express solidarity with protesters against the regime in Iran.

One MP voted for “the approach of Rashid Karami,” the former premier who was assassinated in a helicopter explosion during the civil war in 1987.

When Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for a recount, dozens of Hezbolla lawmakers and allies left, breaking the session’s required quorum.

Hezbollah’s sway over parliament has diminished since the group and its allies lost their majority in a May election which left an even more splintered legislature.

Berri did not announce the date of a new session. He said he would call a new session only once he saw consensus on a candidate.

“If there is no consensus, and if the next president does not receive 128 votes, we will not be able to save either parliament or Lebanon. When I sense consensus, I will call for a session,” he said. He said the quorum must be 86 MPs in order to hold any future election session.

“The country is in a deep and hard crisis...which requires agreement on a consensus president, not a president of confrontation,” said Hezbollah MP Ibrahim Moussawi.

But independent MP Firas Hamdan said the consensus sought by Berri was to blame for Lebanon’s troubles. “We are spinning in the same circle. This poses a danger to us, to the country and to the economy,” he said.

Fragile system

Incumbent President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ends on Oct. 31, so the post is likely to be left vacant as Lebanon plunges further into economic chaos.

Under Lebanon’s fragile sectarian power-sharing system, the office of president is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

The failure pointed out deep political divisions that threaten prolonged political paralysis and a leadership void at time where Lebanon is suffering an economic meltdown and has struggled to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Parliament’s deep divisions between Iran-backed Hezbollah and allies, traditional political adversaries, and a dozen reformist legislators continues to intensify. In recent months, no majority or consensus candidate in Parliament has emerged.

Lebanon has also been without a full-fledged government since May, and currently functions in a limited caretaker capacity under Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

How the MPs voted

The Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, headed by Taymour Jumblatt, voted for Michel Moawad as he “believes in the Taif Agreement” according to the bloc’s member Hadi Abu Al-Hosn.

Independent MPs voted for “Lebanon” and independent MP Karim Kabbara said that he voted for “the approach of Rashid Karami who was a statesman who believed in the law, institutions and coexistence.”

Anti-Hezbollah MP Moawad said that he did not expect a new president to be elected in the first session. He stressed that consensus “cannot be built with arms outside the (control of) state nor by imposing ideologies.”

Lebanese Forces Deputy Chief George Adwan said that “casting a blank vote shows the ruling political class is in disarray and the opposition did not have a sovereign candidate; Some opposition MPs also cast a blank vote.”

Senior Hezbollah legislator Mohammad Raad said the crisis-hit country’s parliamentary blocs are in the “early stages” of finding a president who would “bring stability to the country.”

“The blocs need to discuss and develop an understanding over a possible consensus candidate,” Raad told the press.

Independent lawmaker Halime Kaakour, meanwhile, blasted lawmakers for what she called a “negative calm with no consensus,” fearing a prolonged delay in electing a new president.

“The Constitution says it’s the majority of votes,” she told reporters. “I think it’s no longer a logical approach to try to reach a consensus in a country that continues to collapse.”

Most candidates who were tipped to be among the frontrunners did not receive any votes, most notably Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada Party, an ally of Hezbollah who calls Syrian President Bashar Assad a “friend and brother.”

Over the past three years, three-quarters of the tiny Mediterranean nation’s population slipped into poverty, as the country’s infrastructure and public institutions continue to crumble. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar, decimating the purchasing power of millions struggling to cope with rampant inflation rates.

Lebanon has been scrambling for over two years to reform its inefficient and wasteful economy, combat corruption, and restructure its demolished banking sector to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program. The IMF has recently criticized Lebanon for its slow progress.

Last week’s joint statement of Saudi Arabia, the US and France on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York stressed that it was “critical to elect a president who can unite the Lebanese people.”

(With Reuters,  AP and AFP)

 

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197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine
Updated 29 November 2022

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine
  • The letters cite examples of previous deterrent, preventive ICC statements that proved effective in preventing Israeli crimes against Palestinians
  • They also said recent raids on Palestinian civil society organizations could amount to “offenses against the administration of justice” under the ICC’s Rome Statute

RAMALLAH: Almost 200 organizations have sent letters to the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor and the president of the court’s Assembly of States Parties calling on them to take action over the situation in Palestine, the Palestine News and Information Agency reported on Monday.

It comes ahead of the 21st annual session of the ASP, the ICC’s governing body, which will meet from Dec. 5 to 10 at The Hague in the Netherlands to discuss hey issues relating to the court’s future operations.

The letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan urges him to act to halt crimes committed by Israel’s apartheid regime in Palestine, reminding him that his mandate grants him the authority not only to investigate international crimes but also to monitor situations under investigation by his office and to provide an “early warning” function.

The letter — sent by 197 Palestinian, regional and international civil society organizations — refers to a policy paper from the Office of the Prosecutor that provides a framework for deterrent, preventive statements that allow the office to respond to outbreaks of violence and other crimes by quickly engaging with states and non-governmental organizations to “verify information on alleged crimes, to encourage genuine national proceedings and to prevent reoccurrence of crimes.”

It also gives examples of preventive statements that previously proved effective in Palestine. In 2018, for example, the Office of the Prosecutor issued a preventive statement regarding the planned forced eviction of Bedouin residents from the village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank. The Israeli foreign minister subsequently confirmed that Israeli authorities did not carry out the evictions “out of concerns of an ICC investigation.”

The letter stated that there have been “important missed opportunities for preventive statements in the past year.”

The letter sent to the ASP President Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi highlighted the assembly’s proposal for the implementation of a recommendation by the Independent Expert Review, in which the organization reaffirmed its commitment to “uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any threats or measures against the court, its officials and those cooperating with it, and renews its resolve to stand united against impunity.”

The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC. It was adopted in July 1998 and came into force on July 1, 2002.

The ASP proposal reiterates that its president bears the primary responsibility for coordinating an appropriate response to any threat that could undermine the integrity, effectiveness or impartiality of the ICC.

Both letters note that on Oct. 22, 2021, Israel outlawed six prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, and that their offices, along with those of a seventh group, were raided on Aug. 18 this year by Israeli forces who confiscated computers and other equipment and sealed the entrances under military orders.

The letters stressed that such Israeli actions of effectively “tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence” during an investigation or trial stage might amount to “offenses against the administration of justice” under Article 70 of the Rome Statute.

They also refer to a 2016 report by the Office of the Prosecutor on preliminary examination activities, which acknowledged that employees of Palestinian organizations, including human rights organization Al-Haq (one of the outlawed organizations) and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, who had helped to gather information relevant to the office’s preliminary examination, had been subjected to threats and other forms of intimidation and interference.

The letters called on the ICC prosecutor and the ASP president “to respond to Israel’s latest attacks on Palestinian (civil society organizations) and defend human rights defenders who cooperate with the court.”

They added that such Palestinian organizations will continue to be active participants in the Rome Statute framework and cooperate with the court in its investigations into the situation in Palestine.

 


Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’
Updated 28 November 2022

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

TUNIS: The speaker of Tunisia’s dissolved parliament appeared on Monday before a judge investigating accusations his party helped Tunisian extremists travel to fight in Iraq and Syria.

Rached Ghannouchi, an arch-rival of President Kais Saied and also head of the Ennahdha party, arrived in the morning at the anti-terror court in a suburb of the capital Tunis, said one of his lawyers, Mokhtar Jemai.

At the end of the hearing, the judge is expected to decide whether or not to charge the 81-year-old.

Several other Ennahdha officials have been questioned on the “shipment of extremists” case since Saied sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and seized full executive authority in July 2021.

After Tunisia’s 2011 revolt, thousands of Tunisians joined terror groups in Libya as well as Daesh in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Rivals of Ennahdha, which dominated Tunisian politics from 2011 until Saied’s actions, accuse the party of helping them leave.

The party has repeatedly rejected those accusations as “fabricated” and says authorities are trying to distract public attention from “economic and social concerns and the deterioration of people’s living conditions.”

Ghannouchi also appeared before a judge on November 10 as part of a case involving money-laundering and “incitement to violence.”


Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
Updated 28 November 2022

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
  • Judges’ suspension of work has damaged public trust in system, lawyers and security official say

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s courthouses are paralysed after the country’s judges’ strike entered its fifth month. 

This prolonged inactivity has had a severe impact on the daily lives of Lebanese people, with hundreds of pending files and detainees awaiting prosecution.

More than 450 of the 560 judges in Lebanon have stopped working, with the rest continuing in military courts or for humanitarian reasons.

The strike centers around demands for salary revisions after the collapse of the Lebanese pound, as well as improvements in working conditions.

In addition to the collapse of the pound, political interference has caused significant displeasure among many in the judiciary, contributing to the desire to strike.

“People are greatly affected,” said Imad Al-Masri, a lawyer specializing in criminal proceedings. “As lawyers, we must defend people’s interests, along with our personal interests, as we are on the verge of bankruptcy and our salary is zero.”

He stated that lawyers in Lebanon are unable file complaints to release detainees, noting that preventive detention is limited to two months.

“There are humanitarian cases where people have to be released. Some (of those who) were arrested due to misdemeanors … can be released in days at the stroke of a pen. However, they have been held for months in inappropriate conditions and no one is taking action.”

Al-Masri added: “Had it not been for the security agencies that are taking action in prosecuting criminals, we would be governed by the law of the jungle.”

Another lawyer, who did not reveal his name, said: “Court hearings in a criminal court (are taking place) without a representative of the Public Prosecution office. This court is considered illegal.

“Some judges suddenly choose not to suspend their activity and decide to open files that are classified as having political coverage, such as in the bribery file of the directory of road traffic.”

The lawyer added that he tried to file an urgent complaint last week before the Cassation Public Prosecution about an attempt to kill one of his clients. However, the complaint was rejected, and when he added that the suspect might kill his client, the prosecution responded that their hands were tied.

The judges’ strike has led many citizens to lose trust in the judiciary, with some taking matters into their own hands.

A security source noted that cases of fraud and physical abuse had increased in the last months, and that offenders are no longer afraid since courthouses are not taking any action. Stories of public prosecutors not receiving people’s complaints or legal proceedings, and police stations not receiving directives to arrest suspects, meanwhile, are common.

Judges who have suspended their activities have been receiving $1,500 for three months, in addition to their salary, while continuing their strike.

However, this is covered by the Support Fund for Judges, a judicial source told Arab News, as a temporary aid while demands for a salary review continue.

The Lebanese Judges Association declared last month that “responsibility, anger and blame should be directed at the political authorities.

“The case of judges suspending their work was not given any importance, thus leaving the people and judges to suffer humiliation, as if justice is not, and never was a priority,” said the association.

Arab News learnt that the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban, had agreed to give judges their salary at the rate of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, subject to the approval of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

At current rates, though, judges’ monthly salaries are worth between 1.6 million pounds ($40) and 8.2 million dependent on rank and experience.

These salaries ranged between $400 and $5,000 per month before the collapse of the pound.

The increase of the public sector’s wages within the 2022 budget, meanwhile, did not include judges.

A judicial source told Arab News: “There is no electricity, no paper and no pens (at the courts). We sometimes use both sides of a sheet of paper and a phone’s flashlight to search files due to the diesel shortage and the generators’ intermittent power.

“Consequently, there is neither heating, nor cooling or maintenance, and garbage is piling up in some justice palaces.

“There are attempts to interfere politically in judicial files. How can one work in such conditions, in addition to the extremely low salaries?”


Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
Updated 28 November 2022

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
  • Key security role reportedly handed to extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir in cabinet being assembled by Benjamin Netanyahu fuels concern

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are ready to confront the policies and actions of the Israeli occupation forces with widespread displays of resistance and steadfastness, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday.

His comments, at the start of a cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah, came amid growing Palestinian alarm over a key role promised to far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir in the next Israeli government. Ben-Gvir, a settler living in the West Bank who has long been a fierce opponent of Palestinian statehood, will reportedly have an expanded national security portfolio in the new administration, including responsibility for border police in the West Bank.

More generally, concerns are growing by the day among Palestinians about the likely threats posed by the extreme right-wing Israeli coalition government being formed under the leadership of Likud leader Netanyahu, which will include members of radical religious parties.

Prominent extremist leaders such as Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have openly stated the policies they intend to impose on Palestinians upon the formation of a government in which they are involved.

As a sign of the growing threat, their supporters among the settler population in the West Bank, and some Israeli army soldiers, reportedly have already begun to display more aggressive behavior toward Palestinian civilians.

Israeli sources said one of the plans of the Netanyahu government will be to legalize 60 settler outposts in the West Bank, built by Hilltop Youth extremists on large areas of confiscated Palestinian land. There are said to be plans to allocate money for the modernization and development of the outposts, and to expand the powers of the Israeli Civil Administration to approve the allocation of land for settlement expansion, according to the sources. The new Israeli government will allocate about $52 million annually for development of infrastructure for the “new small settlements” and outposts, they said.

On Monday, Shtayyeh said that the intentions of the next Israeli government had started to become clear, along with its “aggressive and colonial programs and its plans to erase the 1967 borders and to strengthen colonial outposts and turn them into new colonies, and provide them with what they need, covering it legally, materially and politically.”

He said the aggression continues despite “our realization that all settlements are illegal and illegitimate according to international law.”

Shtayyeh added that the next Israeli government will form settler militias, under the protection of the Israeli army, and had vowed to further escalate an already tense situation. However, the threats and intimidation will not frighten the Palestinians, he said.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has stated its opposition to settlement expansion in the West Bank on the grounds that it threatens the two-state solution that Washington supports.

The Palestinians fear continuing settlement expansions will destroy their dream, for which they have fought for 55 years, of a contiguous Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Khalil Al-Tafakji, director of the maps department and an expert on settlement affairs at the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Ben-Gvir is a settler from the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron who ideologically considers the West Bank to be part of Israel. He will not accept that there is any state other than Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and does not believe in the existence of a Palestinian state.

Israeli political and religious parties on the left and right and in the center have differing opinions on many matters, Al-Tafakji said, but they all agree on the issue of settlements and opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“The legalization of settlement outposts in the West Bank will make these outposts a national priority in terms of allocating funds to them, paving roads linking them to neighboring settlements and main streets, exempting them from taxes, and transforming them in the future to be part of a large settlement close to them,” he said.

Al-Tafakji said that what concerns him most is that because a significant part of the new government is likely to include extreme right-wing politicians such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who hail from settlement backgrounds, Netanyahu might appear more moderate.

There are 145 settlements in the West Bank, in which about 550,000 settlers live, 15 settlements in East Jerusalem that are home 230,000 settlers, and 170 illegal outposts. All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Most of the settlement outposts are in the Jordan Valley or the Hebron area in the southern West Bank, Al-Tafakji said, and they represent a clear existential threat to the Palestinian dream of a state of their own

Younes Arar, director of international relations at the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, told Arab News that the growing threat of legalization of settlement outposts comes amid an increase in the pace of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in recent days. This is in addition to moves to return settlers to outposts previously vacated by an Israeli political decision, including Avitar, south of Nablus, and Tarslah, near Jenin, he said.

Benny Gantz, who was defense minister in the previous coalition government, strongly criticized the plans to place Ben-Gvir in control of the Border Guard as part of the coalition agreement with Netanyahu.

Gantz, who has accused Ben-Gvir of establishing a private militia, warned against the politicization of the army. There is a consensus among the public on this issue, he told Channel 12 news on Monday.

“I am confident that the leaders and the Israeli army will not acquiesce in the illegal demands in the army,” he said.

Gantz also criticized a reported agreement to transfer the oversight unit in the Israeli Civil Administration that handles civilian and humanitarian affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party.

Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it will now be an offense punishable by three years in prison for Arab-Israelis or Israelis to take their vehicles to Palestinian garages in the West Bank for repair. Dozens of garages in the West Bank, especially in towns and villages close to the border with Israel, are popular with Jews and Israeli Arabs because they are relatively cheap.

The crackdown follows a recent incident in which an Israeli Druze teenager, Tiran Fero, died as a result of a car accident when he took his car to a garage in Jenin for repair.

After his death, Palestinian gunmen took the body, which threatened to cause a major security crisis in the Jenin camp as tensions rose between the Druze community and Palestinians. The body was subsequently handed over following intervention from officials on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting
Updated 28 November 2022

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting
  • Meanwhile, the country’s foreign minister urges the international community to support government efforts to punish the Iran-backed militia

AL-MUKALLA: Rashad Al-Alimi, the chairperson of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, arrived in the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday in his continuing efforts to build international support for punishing the Iran-backed Houthis for their escalating attacks on government-controlled areas and the country’s oil infrastructure.

Yemen’s official Saba News Agency reported that Al-Alimi, who was accompanied by two council members, will meet King Abdullah II and other Jordanian officials to discuss the war in Yemen and lobby for international support to counter Houthi threats to international maritime traffic off the coast of the country.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has stepped up its diplomatic pressure to gain international support for labeling the Houthi militia as a terrorist group and persuade the world to publicly denounce them for targeting oil terminals in southern Yemen over the past two months.

Al-Alimi’s visit to Jordan came a day after the Presidential Council approved, following three days of deliberation, a number of measures in response to the Houthi drone attacks on the oil facilities. The steps include the blacklisting of Houthi leaders and organizations, and the sanctioning of traders who deal with or support them, in an effort to target the militia’s financial resources.

The council also ordered the revival of government agencies involved in counterterrorism efforts and defending state infrastructure against Houthi threats.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak urged the international community to support Yemen’s efforts to punish the Houthis. He told the US ambassador to the country, Steven H. Fagin, that the designation of the Houthis as terrorists would help to curb their deadly attacks and encourage them to stop blocking peace efforts designed to end the war.

Despite the government pressure, the Houthis continue to launch assaults on state-controlled sites around the nation, resulting in casualties and property damage.

According to local media reports on Monday, heavy fighting broke out between government soldiers and Houthis in the southern province of Lahj during the previous 24 hours as the Houthis began a fresh offensive in Al-Qabbabeh district. Several government soldiers and an African migrant reportedly were killed or injured in the fighting.

The Houthis also launched a barrage of Katyusha rockets at a village west of the Hays district in the western province of Hodeidah, local media reported. There were no casualties. The government’s Joint Forces in the area responded by targeting the Houthis responsible for the launches.

In Sanaa on Sunday, the Houthis held funeral processions for nine military personnel of various ranks who had been killed in battles with government troops.

Meanwhile, at least 10 soldiers were injured on Monday in the southern province of Abyan during a patrol when their vehicle triggered a roadside bomb in the Omaran valley, a local military official told Arab News. Similar devices have killed three soldiers and wounded 15 in the valley and neighboring areas since early last week, the source said.

In September, pro-independence Yemeni forces declared that they had taken complete control of the Omaran valley, which had long been used by Al-Qaeda militants as a base for hiding, training and planning attacks.