Israel, Lebanon finalize ‘historic’ maritime border demarcation deal

Update Israel, Lebanon finalize ‘historic’ maritime border demarcation deal
Lebanese President Michel Aoun receives from US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, the deal setting a maritime border between Lebanon and Israel in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 27 October 2022

Israel, Lebanon finalize ‘historic’ maritime border demarcation deal

Israel, Lebanon finalize ‘historic’ maritime border demarcation deal
  • Biden said the “historic agreement” benefitted both countries
  • Hezbollah will end an “exceptional” mobilization against Israel after threatening to attack for months

BEIRUT: The maritime border demarcation agreement between Lebanon and Israel, mediated by the US under the auspices of the UN, reached its final official stage on Thursday, with both sides unilaterally signing the proposal without any contact between them at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in Naqoura.

Lebanon handed over a copy of the agreement to US mediator Amos Hochstein, signed and approved by President Michel Aoun.

Another copy was handed over to the UN, represented by its Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka.

French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo was also present in Naqoura.

The agreement will allow Lebanon to start exploration operations through the French company TotalEnergies for potential quantities of gas and oil in the Qana field, part of which it shares with Israel. 

The agreement allows Israel to start extracting gas and oil from the Karish field, which became officially under Israeli control after Lebanon ceded Line 29.

As US President Joe Biden received on Wednesday Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House, he noted that this agreement was a historical breakthrough. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called it a tremendous achievement. “Not every day an enemy country recognizes the State of Israel, in a written agreement before the international community,” he said.

Germany said it was a big step toward more stability in the region.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab, who handled the negotiations with Hochstein, said: “It’s the beginning of a new era between two countries that are technically at war.

“We have heard of the Abraham Accords. Today, we have the Hochstein Accords; it is a new era.”

Earlier, Hochstein arrived at the presidential palace where he met Aoun, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea. 

Bou Saab, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, Director-General of the Lebanese General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and members of the negotiating delegation attended the meeting.

After the meeting, Hochstein said: “What matters today is what will happen after the agreement, and I believe that it will be an economic turning point for Lebanon.

“Signing such an agreement will bring stability to the region and will allow TotalEnergies to begin its work, which nothing will hinder, and no one will take the oil and gas revenues from the Lebanese.

“The most important thing in the agreement is that it serves both sides and it is not in their interests to violate it.”

He also visited caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Mikati said: “I hope this achievement (will) be an essential step on the path to benefiting from Lebanon’s wealth of gas and oil, which would contribute to solving the financial and economic crises that Lebanon is experiencing, and help the state stand back on its feet.”

He added: “The attention shown by President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron gave impetus to a new path in the region and to support Lebanon in its economic recovery.”

Hochstein said that he expects the agreement to withstand leadership changes in both countries, in reference to the upcoming Israeli elections and the end of Aoun’s term.

“The agreement must continue regardless of who will be elected very soon as Lebanon's president,” he said.

The Israeli government, headed by Lapid, ratified the agreement, which the prime minister said was a diplomatic and economic achievement in which Lebanon recognized the state of Israel.

The media were prevented from accessing the signing venue, and the details were shrouded in secrecy.

The Lebanese delegation had initially refused to enter the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura after seeing that Israeli boats had violated Lebanese territorial waters. UNIFIL made calls, however, and the boats withdrew.

The Lebanese and Israeli delegations were reportedly in the same room without any contact between them. 

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said, “The agreement will enhance stability in southern Lebanon and pave the way for resolving the outstanding points regarding defining the Blue Line,” referencing the land borders.

Bou Habib said: “TotalEnergies will start work in the Qana field to explore for gas after the signing of the agreement. The text of the agreement to demarcate the maritime borders will be officially published once it is signed.”

Oil expert Dr. Rabih Yaghi said the agreement creates reassurance for foreign companies to head toward the Lebanese exclusive economic zone, specifically to Blocks 8, 9 and 10, which are promising fields.

“In the event of any commercial discoveries, evaluations will be required to know quantities, determine depths and develop plans, after which the process of building the infrastructure for transporting gas from the sea begins. We have at least nine to 10 years before we reach the stage of commercial production for gas and oil to be available for local consumption and then export,” Yaghi explained.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech: “We consider what happened a great victory for Lebanon. The resistance’s exceptional mobilization against Israel is now over.

“Mission accomplished,” he added.

Five dead, dozens missing after 3 shipwrecks off Tunisian coast

Migrants near their overturned boat during a rescue operation. (AP/File)
Migrants near their overturned boat during a rescue operation. (AP/File)
Updated 10 June 2023

Five dead, dozens missing after 3 shipwrecks off Tunisian coast

Migrants near their overturned boat during a rescue operation. (AP/File)
  • Iron boats took on water as soon as they reached the open sea

JERUSALEM: At least five Africans are dead and dozens believed missing after three boats attempting to carry migrants across the Mediterranean Sea sank in recent days off the coast of the Tunisian city of Sfax, the Tunisian coast guard said on Thursday.
Bodies of five people, including one child, were recovered in the area in recent days, Sfax Prosecutor Faouzi Masmoudi said.
Masmoudi said that navy units had rescued 73 migrants after the three shipwrecks, but survivors’ accounted indicated as many as 47 others were missing.
Six of the missing were reported to be children.
Masmoudi said the boats were made of iron and took on water as soon as they reached the open sea.


The number of victims buried in Sfax’s cemeteries since January has reached almost 500, a significant increase from the previous two years.

Most of the growing number of attempts to migrate to Italy by boat from Tunisia leave from the area around Sfax, a port on Tunisia’s central coast.
Masmoudi said the number of victims buried in Sfax’s cemeteries since January has reached almost 500, a significant increase from the previous two years. In 2022, 355 burials were recorded and 226 in 2021, he said.
Migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are undertaking the perilous journey from Tunisia in unprecedented numbers.
Tunisian authorities say they stopped 13,000 migrants from making the crossing from Sfax in the first three months of this year alone. Tunisia has seen growing numbers of migrants arriving via neighboring Libya and is facing a financial and political crisis of its own that is driving growing numbers of young Tunisians to seek a better life in Europe.
The leaders of Italy and the Netherlands along with the EU Commission president are traveling to Tunisia on Sunday with a packet of security initiatives to ease the way for a possible international bailout, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday.


Palestinian couple brace for East Jerusalem eviction

Palestinian couple brace for East Jerusalem eviction
Updated 10 June 2023

Palestinian couple brace for East Jerusalem eviction

Palestinian couple brace for East Jerusalem eviction
  • Israeli forces kill Palestinian in occupied West Bank

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: In the walled Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Nora and Mustafa Sub Laban are counting down the last days before a court decision that has hovered over them since 1978 is carried out.
After decades of legal wrangling, they are set to be evicted from their home in the Muslim Quarter to make way for Jewish settlers.
“These days, I’m like a prisoner waiting to be put to death. I don’t sleep like other people,” Nora Sub Laban said.
The East Jerusalem residents have been embroiled in a 45-year legal battle with authorities and Israeli settlers.
The settlers are part of an organization called Atara Leyoshna and are represented by Eli Attal, according to both the Sub Laban family and Ir Amim, an anti-settlement watchdog. Attal refused to comment about the case.
The Israeli plaintiffs claim that Jews lived in the building before the division of the holy city into Israeli and Jordanian sectors following the proclamation of the Jewish state in 1948.
They invoke an Israeli law from the 1970s that allows Jews to reclaim property owned by Jews before 1948, even if they are not related.
The Sub Labans say they were designated “protected tenants” by Jordan in the 1950s, before Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and proceeded to annex it in a move regarded as illegal by the UN.
The family showed a Jordanian rental contract dating back to 1953, as well as Israeli court rulings recognizing their status as “protected tenants.”
Yet the courts said that the couple do not currently live permanently in the building, so their “protected tenants” status no longer applies and the eviction can go ahead.
Nora said the judgment refers to a period when she was not living in the apartment daily because of a hospitalization. “Legally speaking, within the Israeli system, nothing more can be done,” said Rafat Sub Laban, the couple’s son and an employee of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
  Meanwhile, Israeli forces on Friday killed a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry and the army said, with the latter adding that a soldier was lightly wounded.
Mehdi Bayadsa, 29, was killed by “bullets from the occupation (Israel) near the Rantis military checkpoint, west of Ramallah,” the ministry said in a statement.
The military in a statement said it had “neutralized” a Palestinian who had arrived near the crossing point between the West Bank and Israel in a stolen vehicle.
“While IDF (Israeli army) soldiers inspected his vehicle, the suspect attacked an IDF soldier and attempted to steal his weapon,” the army said, adding a “lightly injured” soldier was taken to hospital.
“Following the confrontation, another soldier in the area shot live fire toward the suspect and neutralized him,” the army said, adding that it was “investigating the incident.”
Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.


Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank
Updated 09 June 2023

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank

Erdogan appoints Hafize Gaye Erkan as governor of Turkiye’s central bank
  • Experts skeptical about whether appointment signals change of economic policy

ANKARA: As part of recently re-elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to overhaul his economic team, the country’s central bank will be governed by a female executive for the first time.

US-based Hafize Gaye Erkan, 41, is Turkiye’s fifth central bank chief in four years, replacing Sahap Kavcioglu, who followed a policy of slashing interest rates despite rising inflation of around 40 percent. Kavcioglu has now been appointed head of the Banking Regulatory and Supervision Agency (BDDK).

Erdogan has always been opposed to interest rate hikes and has focused on economic growth, investment and exports.

Erkan was the first woman under the age of 40 to hold the title of president or CEO at one of America’s 100 largest banks. She has a doctorate in financial engineering from Princeton, and previously worked as First Republic’s co-chief executive officer. She abruptly resigned from that position in December 2021 before the bank was sold. She also worked at Goldman Sachs for almost a decade as a managing director, and was a director at Marsh McLennan. Last year, she was appointed CEO of the real estate finance and investment firm Greystone, a post she resigned in December.

Following her new appointment, there are now 23 female central bank governors around the world.

On Monday, Erkan reportedly met Turkiye’s newly appointed Treasury and Finance Minister, Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch economist, in Ankara to discuss her new role.

Simsek told media on Wednesday that Turkiye would now return to economic “rationality” with a “credible program” to address the cost-of-living crisis. However, he also warned there would be “no shortcuts or quick fixes” and asked the public to be patient.

Brad W. Setser, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, recently calculated that, apart from Turkey’s swap and deposit deals with foreign countries including Saudi Arabia, the central bank has only $30 billion in actual foreign reserves.

Economists believe that Erkan’s appointment may indicate that Turkiye will now follow orthodox economic policies, including interest rate hikes.

The new governor’s policy preferences are unclear, however, as she has previously worked only in the private sector. It also remains to be seen how much independence she will be granted, especially with local elections approaching. In March 2021, former central bank governor Naci Agbal was fired after just five months in the job after he decided to raise interest rates.

Erik Meyersson, chief emerging markets strategist at the European financial services group SEB, said the appointment of Erkan “provides valuable synergies” to Simsek’s attempts to shift policy.

“But, at the same time, the experience of Agbal — and the manner in which his efforts to push policy in a similar direction ended prematurely — does hang like a shadow over the current initiative,” he told Arab News. “The continued presence of Kavcioglu — a figurehead of the devastating policy mistakes of recent years — as head of the BDDK does not provide similar synergies and instead could be a sign of a limited commitment on behalf of Erdogan to the new policy direction.”

The retention of Kavcioglu, he added, “risks becoming an unwanted deadweight to what could otherwise have signaled fresh and significant policy momentum.”
According to Meyersson, one interpretation is that the old economic model that caused so much damage is “more dormant than dead” and is a reminder that “arbitrary rule implies arbitrary and often sudden changes.”

Meyersson believes that markets will likely look to test the extent of the new mandate from the presidential palace, and said that front-loaded rate hikes would be a good start.

“The gap between the policy rate and current inflation is minus 30 percent, and given the low credibility ascribed to the central bank, the real policy rate should increase toward positive territory soon. But that amount of policy tightening is unlikely to have been approved by President Erdogan, setting up Turkish financial markets for further volatility during the year,” he said.

The central bank’s monetary policy committee will have its first meeting under the new governor on June 22, and an increase in interest rates is expected.

Ehsan Khoman, head of emerging markets, ESG and commodities research at MUFG Bank in Dubai, said Erkan’s appointment, coupled with Simsek’s pledges to restore credibility, was a clear signal of a return toward rules-based monetary policymaking to re-anchor inflation expectations.

“Our base case is for a supersized rates hike from 8.5 percent to 20 percent on 22 June — with a likely pre-meeting statement to prepare markets for the start of the hiking cycle — to reach levels that imply positive real rates by year-end,” he told Arab News.

Critically, given Turkey’s past experience with relatively short-lived U-turns in policy regarding interest rates, Khoman said that (gaining) credibility will require patience, though these latest market-friendly appointments should rule out risks related to reliance on less-orthodox measures, including stricter regulations on foreign exchange transactions, to sustain acutely negative real rates.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo Intelligence, thinks that “an outright and fast pivot toward a conventional policy set, especially in terms of monetary policy, remains unlikely.”

He told Arab News: “Erkan’s appointment seems designed to regain credibility in the eyes of foreign investors. But how she will adapt to Ankara’s working culture, where obedience matters, remains to be seen. Also, Erkan has no formal monetary policy experience.

“The appointments are important, but the next crucial step should be the decisions,” he continued.

He also noted that a shift towards orthodox economic policy requires the support of the banking regulator, which is now headed by a loyalist, suggesting a likely return to previous economic policies.

“Turkey’s domestic banks — private and state-owned — are under close political scrutiny and command,” he said.

UN peacekeepers urge calm as Israeli and Lebanese troops face off at border

UN peacekeepers urge calm as Israeli and Lebanese troops face off at border
Updated 10 June 2023

UN peacekeepers urge calm as Israeli and Lebanese troops face off at border

UN peacekeepers urge calm as Israeli and Lebanese troops face off at border
  • Anger of villagers as Israel’s bulldozers work on extending 2 km border fence
  • Residents of Kfarchouba, Chebaa, Kfarhamam and villages around the mostly Sunni town of Aarqoub performed Friday prayers in Kfarchouba to protest against the Israeli operation

BEIRUT: UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon called for calm on Friday after Lebanese and Israeli troops came close to direct confrontation in the flashpoint “Blue Line” border area. 

The Lebanese army was deployed to protect residents of villages around the town of Aarqoub who were protesting against Israeli bulldozers and diggers excavating in the area. 

Villagers tried to cross the border line marked by UNIFIL to remove part of a separating fence, and were met by volleys of tear gas from Israeli troops. 

Mohammed Mortada, Lebanon’s caretaker culture minister, said: “Are the Israelis so stupid as to think that tear gas canisters will stop land- owners and right holders from responding to their violations?” 

The Israeli army said it was responding to “riots” and claimed that two Lebanese soldiers “pointed two RPG weapons toward an Israeli patrol” in the Chebaa Farms area. 

A Lebanese protester plants the national flag across the fence near the border village of Kfarchouba during an anti-Israeli demonstration on Friday. (AFP)

Ismail Nasser, a 58-year-old retired soldier from Kfarchouba, defied Israeli tear gas to stand in front of a bulldozer and prevent it from digging further. Nasser said the land being bulldozed by Israel belonged to him and his ancestors. 

A video showed Nasser’s actions, with the bulldozer driver trying to move forward and throw dirt at him, before he was pulled away by bystanders.

Nasser said that the land being bulldozed by Israel belonged to him and his ancestors.

A Lebanese security source told Arab News that Israel had been “unusually active” for more than a week in Aarqoub, especially in the hills of Kfarchouba.

“They are trying to change the features of the region by digging trenches and removing rocks in order to extend a new two-kilometer iron fence between Al-Sammaqah and Bawabat Hassan adjacent to the Baathael pond in Kfarchouba,” the source said.

The non-demarcated area belonging to the residents of Kfarchouba is about 8 km.
Residents of Kfarchouba, Chebaa, Kfarhamam and villages around the mostly Sunni town of Aarqoub performed Friday prayers in Kfarchouba to protest against the Israeli operation.

MP Kassem Hachem and Sheikh Hassan Dallah, the mufti of Hasbayya and Marjaayoun, criticized the bulldozing by the “enemy” and called on UNIFIL troops “to put an end to the Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.”

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said: “UNIFIL peacekeepers have been on the ground from the very beginning to ensure that cessation of hostilities is maintained, restore stability and help decrease tension.

“We urge the parties to use our co-ordination mechanisms effectively to prevent misunderstandings, and violations, and contribute to the preservation of stability in the area.

“UNIFIL is actively seeking solutions. We call upon both sides to avoid actions along the Blue Line that may escalate tensions.”

UNIFIL’s yearly mandate is set to be renewed next September. The last renewal included a mandate from the UN Security Council granting greater freedom to operate independently, and without coordinating with the Lebanese army.

Israeli forces occupied the Syrian portion of the Kfarchouba heights and the surrounding agricultural land in 1973 but withdrew after signing the Agreement on Disengagement with Syria in 1974.

Kfarchouba witnessed a fierce battle in 1976 when Palestinian commandos expelled occupying Israeli forces from the town.

Two years later, Israel invaded the Lebanese border area as part of Operation Litani and occupied several regions including Kfarchouba.

In 2000, the Israeli army withdrew from the majority of the Lebanese southern towns and a withdrawal line — known as the Blue Line — was created.

The Kfarchouba hills and the Chebaa farms were not among the freed regions, as the UN considered their status to be part of a future solution for the Israeli-Syrian conflict.

However, the Lebanese government and Hezbollah declared this region occupied Lebanese territory.


Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement
Updated 09 June 2023

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement

Warring parties in Sudan agree to 24-hour ceasefire – Saudi Arabia, US statement
  • Parties agreed to refrain from prohibited movements, attacks, use of aircraft or drones, among others
  • Statement warns Jeddah talks may be adjourned if truce is not observed

RIYADH: The warring parties in Sudan have agreed to a 24-hour nationwide ceasefire beginning June 10, a statement from Saudi Arabia and US said on Friday.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America announce that representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to a 24-hour countrywide ceasefire beginning on June 10 at 6:00 a.m. Khartoum time,” Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on their social media account.

“The parties agreed that during the ceasefire they will refrain from prohibited movements, attacks, use of aircraft or drones, aerial bombardment, artillery strikes, reinforcement of positions and resupply of forces, and will refrain from seeking military advantage during the ceasefire,” the joint statement said.

“They also agreed to allow unimpeded movement and delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the country,” it added.

However, the statement issued a warning against the warring parties: “Should the parties fail to observe the 24-hour ceasefire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning the Jeddah talks.”

An earlier truce drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the US fell through after both sides of the Sudanese clashes accused each other of serious violations of the ceasefire.

The White House has warned that sanctions will be imposed against key defense companies and people who “perpetuate violence” in Sudan as the warring sides fail to abide by a cease-fire agreement.

“Once it becomes clear that the parties are actually serious about complying with the ceasefire, the facilitators are prepared to resume the suspended discussions to find a negotiated solution to this conflict,” Saudi Arabia and the US said in an earlier statement.

Sudan descended into chaos after fighting erupted in mid-April between forces loyal to the country’s military Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and his erstwhile deputy Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Thousands of civilians in towns and villages across Sudan were forced to flee amid worsening conflict in the country, leading to fears of a new global refugee crisis.

Nearly 1.4 million people have been displaced, the UN reported on May 28, raising concerns among Sudan’s neighboring states they may not be able to cope with the influx of people seeking safety and refuge.