Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute

Special Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute
Lebanon’s Deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Oct. 3, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 October 2022

Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute

Syria tells Lebanon it is too busy to resolve maritime dispute
  • Michel Aoun discussed the dispute with Bashar Assad in a telephone call at the weekend, before instructing Elias Bou Saab to head a Lebanese delegation to Damascus
  • Syria on Tuesday rejected the delegation, saying that Lebanon had failed to send an “official letter” and that its own negotiators were too busy

BEIRUT: Efforts to resolve a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Syria appear to have foundered after Damascus rebuffed attempts by President Michel Aoun to set up official talks.

Aoun discussed the dispute with President Bashar Assad in a telephone call at the weekend, before instructing Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of parliament, to head a Lebanese delegation to Damascus.

Syria on Tuesday rejected the delegation, however, saying that Lebanon had failed to send an “official letter” and that its own negotiators were too busy. The rebuff leaves the president without a resolution six days before the end of his term.

Ali Abdul Karim Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said after meeting Aoun on Tuesday: “Lebanon did not send an official letter to set the dates for ministers and officials in Syria to meet the Lebanese delegation in a timely manner.

“The Syrian authorities thus apologized for not being able to receive the Lebanese delegation because Syrian officials already have prior engagements.”

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry was separately told by Syria that “the timing is not appropriate for such a visit.”

The sea boundary dispute emerged last year after Syria granted a license to a Russian company to explore an area claimed by Lebanon.

Syria reportedly wants to tie any agreement to the identity of the Shebaa Farms area, which is claimed by both Damascus and Beirut, as well as Israel.

Ali, whom Aoun awarded on Tuesday the National Order of the Cedar, said his country had “always facilitated the outstanding issues between Lebanon and Syria and there is a treaty of brotherhood and cooperation between the two countries.”

He requested that “the concerned leaders and ministers meet.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese General Security service announced hundreds of Syrian refugees would voluntarily go back to their country on Wednesday, in the latest round of a returns initiative that began in 2017.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the service’s chief, said that returning Syrians to their homeland was a “national duty that we must fulfill.”

“There are around 2.8 million Syrians in Lebanon, including refugees; 42 percent of prisoners in Lebanon are Syrians, which puts additional pressure on us,” he said, adding that over half a million had already voluntarily returned since 2017.

“Lebanon rejects the way some humanitarian organizations try to dictate their will to us,” he said. 

“We will not submit to pressure because the interest of the Lebanese people is first and foremost, and we will not force any refugee to return. This is our principle and we seek to ease the burden on Lebanon.”

However, an official at a refugee camp in Arsal told Arab News that some who had registered to return had “changed their mind for fear of what might await them.”

Lisa Abu Khaled, the media official at the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, told Arab News: “Lebanon says that it has 1.5 million Syrian refugees, while the number of those registered with us is 825,000, and we know that there are many more.”

Lebanon’s Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said that the return scheme was “safe and there is no pressure; be it a small or a large number of refugees returning. We do not care about the numbers; we rather focus on ensuring a safe return."

About 700 refugees are expected to return to Syria on Wednesday. The Lebanese hope to process around 15,000 every month.

“We want to reiterate to the international community that we are a sovereign state," said Hajjar. "Lebanon has provided enough support on the financial and health levels. Today, we no longer have the means to bear such expenses. We have become a poor country, and the only solution is for refugees to return home.”

During a visit to a camp in Arsal, Hajjar told Syrian residents that they were “going back according to a mechanism agreed upon between the two countries, and we assume the responsibility of ensuring that everyone who returns to Syria will be safe.”

Syria meanwhile said that it had “spared no effort to facilitate the return” of refugees, including enacting a law that pardons “terrorists” not wanted for murder, issuing amnesty decrees and starting a reconciliation process for regime opponents.

Lebanon abides by the 2011 decision of the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership due to the regime’s brutal suppression of popular protests.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan

Updated 6 sec ago

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan
  • The Palestinian health ministry said 25-year-old Amir Abu Khadijeh was shot in the head in the city of Tulkarem
RAMALLAH: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian officials said, amid attempts to curb surging violence from spiralling further.
A statement from Israeli border police said its undercover unit was involved in a raid early on Thursday to arrest a Palestinian man suspected of involvement in several shooting attacks. The forces surrounded the house he was in and fired at the man after he aimed a weapon at them, the border police said.
The Palestinian health ministry said 25-year-old Amir Abu Khadijeh was shot in the head in the city of Tulkarem.
A new group formed to confront Israel’s occupation under the name of the “Tulkarem Brigade” said Abu Khadijeh was one of its founders and described the killing as an “assassination.”
Thursday marked the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Palestinian territories.
In previous years, Ramadan has occasionally seen clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians, particularly around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, revered as the Temple Mount by Jews. Ramadan coincides this year with Judaism’s Passover and Christian Easter.
On Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials made commitments to de-escalate violence at a meeting attended by US, Egyptian and Jordanian delegations in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Israeli-occupied West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations in recent months, with near-daily Israeli military raids and escalating violence by Jewish settlers, amid a spate of attacks by Palestinians.
Over the past year, Israeli forces have killed more than 250 Palestinians in the West Bank, including fighters and civilians. More than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks in the same period.
The Palestinians aim to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster
Updated 23 March 2023

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster
  • May be meant to shield the incumbent leader from any fallout from his corruption trials
  • ‘What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed’

JERUSALEM: Israel ratified a law on Thursday limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed, despite worries voiced by a government jurist that it may be meant to shield the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
The amended definition for the “incapacity” of national leaders is among legislative measures by the religious-nationalist coalition that have tipped Israel into crisis, with the opposition arguing that judicial independence is in peril.
The coalition says the overhaul is aimed at pushing back against Supreme Court over-reach and restoring balance among branches of government.
By a 61-to-47 final vote, the Knesset approved the bill under which prime ministers can be deemed unfit — and compelled to step aside — either if they or three-quarters of cabinet ministers declare them so on physical or psychological grounds.
The stipulations fleshed out a quasi-constitutional “basic law” that provides the government with guidance in the event of a non-functioning prime minister — but which previously lacked details on circumstances that may give rise to such situations.
According to the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute, the rule had earlier left Netanyahu vulnerable to a possible assertion of his incapacity by Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, should she perceive an attempt by him to halt his three court cases.
The new law precludes this, IDI senior researcher Amir Fuchs said — while adding that he had considered such a finding by Bararav-Miara to be an unlikely “extreme case.”
Netanyahu denies all charges against him, and has cast the trials as a politicized bid to force him from office.
Baharav-Miara — who was appointed by the former, centrist Israeli government — said last month that Netanyahu must stay out of his coalition’s push for a judicial overhaul because of what she deemed a conflict of interest arising from his trials.
Baharav-Miara’s deputy, Gil Limon, voiced misgivings over the incapacity bill during a Knesset review session on Tuesday.
“What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed,” Limon said, according to an official transcript.
“They have the potential to serve the personal interests of a man regarding the outcomes of legal proceedings he is facing.”


Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
Updated 23 March 2023

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
  • Ambassador Riyad Mansour takes issue with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denying the existence of Palestinians as a people
  • Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan hits back, accusing the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians and Israel clashed over the future intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right-wing government at a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, with the Palestinian UN ambassador pointing to an Israeli minister’s statement “denying our existence to justify what is to come.”
Israel’s UN ambassador countered that the minister had apologized, and accused the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history.
The council’s always contentious monthly meeting on the Mideast was even more acrimonious in the face of comments and actions by Israel’s new coalition government, which has faced relentless protests over its plan to overhaul the judiciary and strong criticism of Tuesday’s repeal by lawmakers of a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time that Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the Security Council the statement by firebrand Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claiming there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people wasn’t part of “a theoretical exercise” but was made as Israel’s unlawful annexation of territory the Palestinians insist must be part of their independent state “is more than underway.”
While not all Israeli officials go as far as denying the existence of Palestinians, some deny Palestinian rights, humanity and connection to the land, Mansour said.
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past three months “even worse,” he said. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, and Palestinian attackers have killed 15 Israelis, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Nonetheless, with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the approach of the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter observance, Mansour said the Palestinians decided to be “unreasonably reasonable” and leave no stone unturned to prevent bloodshed.
The Palestinian envoy urged the Security Council and the international community to mobilize every effort “to stop annexation, violence against our people, and provocations.” Everyone has a duty to act now “with every means at our disposal, to prevent a fire that will devour everything it encounters,” he said.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called his country “unquestionably the most vibrant liberal democracy in the Middle East” and accused the Palestinians of repeating lies, glorifying terrorists who spilled innocent Israeli blood and “regurgitating fabrications” that are not going to solve the decades-old conflict.
“To the Palestinian representative, I say: ‘Shame on you. Shame on you.’ It is so audacious that you dare condemn the words of Israeli minister who apologized and clarified what he meant, while your president and the rest of (the) Palestinian leadership regularly, regularly incite terrorism, never condemn the murders of Israeli civilians, praise Palestinian terrorists, and actively attempt to rewrite facts and the truth by erasing Jewish history,” he said.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of being “dead set on encouraging more violence” while Israel has taken significant steps to de-escalate the current tensions by sitting down with Palestinian officials in Jordan in February and on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a joint communique afterward, the two sides had pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season — including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — which most of the world considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
But Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement housing units and retroactively authorized nine wildcat outposts in the West Bank.
The repeal of the 2005 act on the four West Bank settlements came after Sunday’s agreement, and a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the West Bank underscored the difficulties in implementing the joint communique. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, criticized the repeal, summoning Israel’s US ambassador, and other countries were also critical.
Netanyahu appeared to back down Wednesday, saying his government has no intention of returning to the four abandoned settlements.
Ambassador Erdan echoed him, saying “the state of Israel has no intention of building any new communities there,” but he said the new law “rights a historic wrong” and will allow Israelis to enter areas that are “the birthplace of our heritage.”


Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
  • It is the largest pledge from any country since the disaster in February: Kuwait News Agency
  • Financial aid will support UN in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare to around 18m people

NEW YORK: Kuwait has pledged $90 million to support survivors of the earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria in February.

The pledge is the largest made by any country since the disaster, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday. 

It will assist UN organizations in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare and other necessities to approximately 18 million affected people. 

The UN has appealed for $398 million for an urgent response in Syria and $1 billion for Turkiye. 

So far, 79 percent of the target number for Syria has been met, while 19 percent of the target number for Turkiye has been met. 

Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, expressed concern that the amount of funding is nowhere near the target, but praised Kuwait’s pledge.

 


10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen
Updated 23 March 2023

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: At least 10 Yemeni government soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a renewed Houthi militia offensive in the contested central province of Marib.

The new attack shattered a truce that had largely held since last April, and came amid renewed diplomatic efforts to end the eight-year war.

“The Houthis launched an attack on hills overlooking Harib district, south of Marib, and made progress on that front, causing the displacement of dozens of families,” a Yemeni military source said. “At least 10 soldiers were killed, in addition to an unknown number of attackers.”

The fighting comes a month after at least four soldiers were killed in the same district, and dents new optimism after Saudi Arabia and Iran, who back opposing sides in the war, agreed to restore diplomatic ties.
“The Houthis are interested in sending a clear political message that ... the Riyadh-Tehran deal does not mean they will just surrender,” said Maged Al-Madhaji, an analyst at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies think tank. “The Houthis lean more toward the option of a military confrontation than current negotiations.”

An exchange of hundreds of prisoners was agreed this week and Hans Grundberg, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Yemen, has said “intense diplomatic efforts” were underway to reach a peace deal.
An open letter on Wednesday from NGOs in Yemen including included Oxfam and Save the Children urgedthe warring sides to reach a truce and move toward an “inclusive Yemeni peace process.”