Mikati’s makeshift Lebanese government to assume presidential powers

Mikati’s makeshift Lebanese government to assume presidential powers
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP/File)
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Updated 31 October 2022

Mikati’s makeshift Lebanese government to assume presidential powers

Mikati’s makeshift Lebanese government to assume presidential powers
  • Caretaker PM says power vacuum will end soon after departure of Aoun
  • Only national interest will unite us, Najib Mikati says as he leaves for Arab Summit in Algeria

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister has said he hopes to end the presidential vacuum but that his cabinet has the right to assume the office’s powers following the departure of Michel Aoun without a replacement.

Najib Mikati said that the country’s constitution allows for his administration’s use of presidential powers, and that he does not seek conflict in the crisis gripping Lebanese politics.

The comments followed a last-gasp attempt to dissolve Mikati’s caretaker government by Aoun, 89, shortly before his term ended on Sunday. However, both Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri effectively ignored the decree.

Mikati said he was confident that ministers from across Lebanon’s political spectrum would attend cabinet sessions and that there would be no boycott in the wake of Aoun’s attempt. He added that working in the national interest “will unite us.”

Berri announced a parliamentary session next Thursday to read through Aoun’s decree, eliminating the possibility of dissolving the caretaker government and forming a replacement within Aoun’s constitutional term.

MP Melhem Khalaf told Arab News: “Electing a new president is the priority now. We, the deputies, are now an electing body and we do not have the right to do anything else.

“What is the purpose behind the letter sent by Aoun to the parliament? Is it to discuss an outgoing president? What is the aim of the letter? If it is to withdraw Mikati’s designation, then what is the mechanism for that? There’s no mechanism.”

MP Kassem Hachem, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said the speaker had met all of his obligations.

“However, if some people think that the institutions should be at Aoun’s disposal, then this does not sit right with Berri,” he added.

Aoun’s six-year term was marred by mass protests, an economic meltdown and the August 2020 port explosion that killed hundreds of people and destroyed large areas of Beirut.

He was cheered by supporters of his Free Patriotic Movement, but few others, as he left office. Families of the Beirut port explosion victims, including mothers carrying pictures of their dead children, expressed their anger in the Sassine Square in Ashrafieh by tearing up pictures of Aoun.

One mother said that Aoun “has the power to cripple the country, kill our children, form an alliance with the biggest militia and paralyze the government and the republic, while we receive the bodies of our dead children.”

She also said Aoun knew that ammonium nitrate, which caused the blast, was stored at the port but did nothing about it under the pretext of not having any powers.

Meanwhile the Iranian regime, the key backer of Hezbollah, said that it wanted to see “stability, security and tranquility” in Lebanon.

Nasser Kanaani, spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called for the formation of a strong government that ensures “the interests of the Lebanese people, consolidates stability and helps strengthen its regional and international role.”

Mikati left for Algeria on Monday to attend the Arab Summit. He is expected to meet the presidents of other countries and officials from the EU who are attending as guests. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and Energy Minister Walid Fayad.


Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal

Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal
Updated 16 sec ago

Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal

Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal
  • ‘The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s violated the law by saying he would get personally involved in a judicial overhaul plan, the attorney-general said on Friday.
In the face of intensifying protests against the proposed changes, Netanyahu said on Thursday that he was putting aside all other considerations and would do “anything it takes” to reach a solution.
Netanyahu added that his hands had been tied, but a new law limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed gave him more space for maneuver.
However, Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, in a letter addressed to Netanyahu, disagreed.
“The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary, including the makeup of the committee for the appointment of judges, as such activity is a conflict of interest.”
“Your statement last night and any action you take in violation of this matter is illegal and tainted by a conflict of interest,” Baharav-Miara added.


US strikes in Syria kill eight after contractor death

US strikes in Syria kill eight after contractor death
Updated 24 March 2023

US strikes in Syria kill eight after contractor death

US strikes in Syria kill eight after contractor death
  • US troops are in Syria as part of a coalition fighting against remnants of the Daesh group

BEIRUT: US airstrikes killed eight pro-Iran fighters in eastern Syria following a drone attack that killed one American contractor and wounded five US service personnel, a war monitor said Friday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that at the direction of President Joe Biden, he had authorized “precision airstrikes tonight in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

The IRGC is a wing of the Iranian military and is blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States.

“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” Austin added.

A Department of Defense statement said the US contractor had been killed and the others wounded “after a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle struck a maintenance facility on a Coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria.”

Another US contractor was also injured in the UAV attack, the Pentagon said, adding that the US intelligence community “assess the UAV to be of Iranian origin.”

On Friday, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with a wide network of sources on the ground in the war-torn country, said eight people had been killed by US strikes.

“US strikes targeted a weapons depots inside Deir Ezzor city, killing six pro-Iran fighters, and two other fighters were killed by strikes targeting the desert of Mayadine and near Albu Kamal,” he said.

Hundreds of US troops are in Syria as part of a coalition fighting against remnants of the Daesh group and have frequently been targeted in attacks by militia groups.

The US troops support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurds’ de facto army in the area, which led the battle that dislodged IS from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.

Two of the US service members wounded on Thursday were treated on site, while the three other troops and one US contractor were medically evacuated to Iraq, the Pentagon said.

“We will always take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” said General Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command.

When the strikes were announced, Biden had already traveled to Canada, where he is set to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Last August, Biden ordered similar retaliatory strikes in the oil-rich Syrian province of Deir Ezzor after several drones targeted a coalition outpost, without causing any casualties.

That attack came the same day that Iranian state media announced a Revolutionary Guard general had been killed days earlier while “on a mission in Syria as a military adviser.”

Iran says it has deployed its forces in Syria at the invitation of Damascus and only as advisers.


Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
Updated 24 March 2023

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
  • Conflict divided country between Houthis in north and UN-recognized government in south

DUBAI: Female aid workers in north Yemen cannot do their jobs tackling one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as tightening male guardianship rules by Houthi authorities restrict their movement, nine female humanitarians have revealed.

When women refuse to take a guardian, they cannot travel to oversee aid projects, collect data and deliver health and other services. When women do take one, gender-sensitive work is difficult and aid budgets must bear extra costs.

One health project manager normally conducts 15-20 visits a year to projects around the country but said she has not made any since the rules requiring Yemeni female aid workers be accompanied by a close male relative — a “mahram” in Arabic — came out a year ago.

“I don’t have a lot of men in my family,” she said, adding that some women struggle to find willing guardians because relatives are against her working. “Sometimes a woman works without informing someone in her family.” She improvises with video calls, but knows other women have lost jobs because they cannot work effectively.

Yemen’s conflict has divided the country between the Houthis in north Yemen and an internationally recognized government in the south.

The conflict has wrecked the economy and destroyed the health system, leaving two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million population in need of humanitarian assistance. Aid groups say female-headed households are more vulnerable to food insecurity and difficulties accessing aid.

Without female staff in the field, aid groups say they have trouble doing things as simple as identification checks on women, who may need to lift their face veils, to distribute food aid.

“Mahram requirements are making it even more challenging for humanitarian interventions to reach the most marginalized female program participants,” said one representative of an NGO that works on nutrition and sanitation.

For the past year female Yemeni aid workers have had to take a mahram when crossing provincial borders controlled by the Houthi group, a religious, political and military movement that controls north Yemen. In four provinces, they even need a guardian to move within the province.

“Female (Yemeni) staff have not been able to work outside our offices for almost two years which is catastrophic for their development, morale, motivation and also most obviously for us reaching women and girls in the field in a culturally sensitive way,” said an employee of another NGO, describing the situation in some areas.

Project quality in the NGO’s work on food and health provision has been “very damaged,” she said.

The women all requested anonymity due to safety fears.

A spokesman for the Houthis’ aid coordination body SCMCHA said they supported aid delivery, but organizations should respect traditions.

“Mahram is a religious Islamic obligation and a belief culture ... Why do organizations put up obstacles to Islamic teachings and Yemeni culture?” he said.

The Houthis have increasingly promoted conservative social values since ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Movement restrictions increased ad hoc before becoming more systematic and targeting aid workers with mahram requirements.

The UN and governments including the US say the restrictions impact women’s ability to participate in public and political life and must stop.

In protest, most international NGOs have refused to include guardians when applying for aid work travel permits — resulting in those permits being declined. NGOs have also suspended travel on UN flights from Sanaa in protest.

“This smothering rule gives men power over women’s lives and is an unacceptable form of gender-based discrimination,” Amnesty International said.

Yemeni law does not impose male guardianship rules, and authorities in the south do not impose them.

“We want to achieve more, to be stronger, more independent. But they restrict that,” said one city-based aid worker who cannot monitor distant projects due to a lack of male relatives.

While humanitarians are the main target of mahram rules, directives requesting car hire and transport companies ensure mahram compliance extended it to all women – although these are less strictly applied.

“If women have to travel without a mahram, they are detained at checkpoints and kept until a male guardian arrives,” another aid worker said.

The women described taking boy relatives out of school, driving sick relatives around to ensure a man in the car, and last minute meeting cancellations.

“You have the burden to pay for your relative. To pay for accommodation, transportation, food ... It is not cost effective for us or for donors,” said a health worker.


Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later
Updated 24 March 2023

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

WASHINGTON: In his US Capitol office, Rep. Jason Crow keeps several war mementos. Sitting on a shelf are his military identification tags, the tailfins of a spent mortar and a piece of shrapnel stopped by his body armor.

Two decades ago, Crow was a 24-year-old platoon leader in the American invasion of Iraq. Platoon members carried gas masks and gear to wear over their uniforms to protect them from the chemical weapons the US believed — wrongly — that Iraqi forces might use against them.

Today, Crow sits on committees that oversee the US military and intelligence agencies. The mistakes of Iraq are still fresh in his mind.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that it was a life-changing experience and a life frame through which I view a lot of my work,” the Colorado Democrat said.

The failures of the Iraq w ar deeply shaped American spy agencies and a generation of intelligence officers and lawmakers. They helped drive a major reorganization of the US intelligence community, with the CIA losing its oversight role over other spy agencies, and reforms intended to allow analysts to better evaluate sources and challenge conclusions for possible bias.

But the ultimately incorrect assertions about Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, repeatedly cited to build support for the war in America and abroad, did lasting damage to the credibility of US intelligence.

As many as 300,000 civilians died in two decades of conflict in Iraq, according to Brown University estimates. The US lost 4,500 troops and spent an estimated $2 trillion on the Iraq War and the ensuing campaign in both Iraq and Syria against the extremist Daesh group, which took hold in both countries after the US initially withdrew in 2011.

Those assertions also made “weapons of mass destruction” a catchphrase that’s still used by rivals and allies alike, including before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which US intelligence correctly forecast.

Avril Haines, the current US director of national intelligence, noted in a statement that the intelligence community had adopted new standards for analysis and oversight.

Only 18 percent of US adults say they have a great deal of confidence in the government’s intelligence agencies, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Forty-nine percent say they have “some” confidence and 31 percent have hardly any confidence.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and allowed the group to run training camps.

Bush’s administration soon began to warn about Iraq, which was long seen as threatening American interests in the Middle East.

Iraq was known to have sought a nuclear weapon in the 1980s and had chemical and biological weapons programs by the end of the Gulf war in 1991. It had been accused of concealing details about those programs from international inspectors, before they were kicked out in 1998.

The Bush administration argued Saddam Hussein’s government was still hiding programs from inspectors after they reentered the country in 2002 and found no signs of resumed production.

A US intelligence estimate published in October 2002 alleges that Iraq had considered buying uranium from Niger and aluminum tubes for centrifuges, that it was building mobile weapons labs, that it was considering using drones to spread deadly toxins, and that it had chemical weapons stockpiles of up to 500 tons.

Some US officials also suggested Iraqi officials had ties to Al-Qaeda leaders despite evidence of deep antipathy between the two sides.

Those claims would largely be debunked within months of the invasion. No stockpiles were found. Subsequent reviews have blamed those claims on outdated information, mistaken assumptions, and a mix of uninformed sources and outright fabricators.

Bush repeated wrong US intelligence findings before the war, as did Secretary of State Colin Powell in a landmark February 2002 speech before the UN.


Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
  • Charity delegation joins refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers

BEIRUT: Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity has celebrated the advent of Ramadan by distributing iftar meals among Syrian refugees in camps near the border in northeastern Lebanon, Kuwait News Agency reported.
The charity’s public relations officer, Tarek Al-Essa, said a delegation joined refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers.
A mobile kitchen prepared breakfast as part of the “One Million Fasting Meals” campaign, which includes Lebanon and other countries.
Food baskets were also distributed to camps in the region.
Al-Essa highlighted the charity’s keenness to support the refugees, especially during the holy month, which represents “mercy, goodness and giving.”