Two dead, 200 rescued in Lebanon migrant boat sinking: army

Two dead, 200 rescued in Lebanon migrant boat sinking: army
A handout photo provided by the Lebanese Army on December 31, 2022, shows a sinking migrant boat in Mediterranean waters. (LEBANESE ARMY WEBSITE / AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2022

Two dead, 200 rescued in Lebanon migrant boat sinking: army

Two dead, 200 rescued in Lebanon migrant boat sinking: army

TRIPOLI: Two migrants died and another 200 were rescued Saturday when their boat sank off Lebanon’s northern coast, from where increasing numbers make the risky journey to flee a collapsed economy.
An AFP correspondent in the impoverished port city of Tripoli said men, women and children — mostly refugees from Syria but also about 50 Lebanese — were on board the vessel when it got into difficulty.
“Three naval ships, accompanied by another from UNIFIL (the UN mission in Lebanon), arrived at the site... off Selaata and personnel saved some 200 people,” the army said on Twitter.
A separate tweet said two people had died.
Earlier, the army said a naval patrol had been dispatched to rescue the vessel packed with people attempting to “illegally leave Lebanese waters.”
On Twitter, UNIFIL confirmed it was assisting the Lebanese Navy “in search and rescue operation at sea between Beirut & Tripoli where a boat in distress with a large number of people on board was found.”
Dozens of relatives of those rescued streamed into Tripoli port to await their return to shore, AFP’s correspondent said.
Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in modern history. The country also hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war.
It was once just a launchpad for foreign migrants, but nearly three years of economic collapse have left Lebanon’s own citizens increasingly joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.
“We can no longer live in this country — or Syria,” said Younes Jomaa, a Syrian originating from Idlib and a brother of one of the surviving migrants.
They are among millions displaced over more than a decade by Syria’s war.
“I had planned to go with my brother, but was unable to get enough money together,” Jomaa said, adding that his brother had taken on debt to fund his voyage.
In late September around 100 migrants died when their boat sank off the Syrian coast after departing from Lebanon, in one of the deadliest such episodes.
Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.
The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR has said at least 1,570 individuals, including 186 Lebanese nationals, had embarked or tried to embark on illicit sea journeys from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power
Updated 10 sec ago

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power
  • President has to navigate US push for Russia sanctions, NATO enlargement, say analysts
  • Energy, arms deals, immigration likely to be govt’s key focus

ANKARA: It is perhaps no secret in which direction Turkiye’s foreign policy will be moving with the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan winning another five-year term this past Sunday – which means a continuation of strategies the long-serving leader has championed in the past.

According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, Erdogan’s main priority would be to ensure the continued flow of much-needed cash from Russia and Gulf countries, while avoiding friction with Europe and the US so that he can attract investments from the West.

“While Turkiye’s relations with neither Europe nor the US can be expected to be put back on track, they can at least be stabilized as both Erdogan and his Western counterparts would benefit from this,” he told Arab News recently.

“The congratulatory messages from Europe and the United States suggest that this is also the tendency in the West.”

President Joe Biden congratulated Erdogan on his reelection, and tweeted: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”

For Unluhisarcikli, Erdogan will also need to make tough decisions early on in his third term as president.

“The US, which has shown restraint so far due to the elections in Turkiye will press its points on Russia sanctions and NATO enlargement more strongly in the period ahead. Erdogan’s decisions on these issues and developments in the US about Turkiye’s request to purchase new F-16s could pivot the Turkiye-US relationship in any direction,” he said.

The administration of Donald Trump removed Turkiye from the F-35 fifth-generation jet program in 2019 over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system.

Experts also underline that with Erdogan winning, Turkiye will continue its recent efforts to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to zones under Turkish control in compliance with international law.

Although being met with suspicion by Washington, the normalization efforts with Syria’s President Bashar Assad are also expected to continue as Erdogan, and his new ultranationalist and anti-immigrant allies in the parliament, consider the restored ties with Syria as the only solution to send back Syrian refugees in Turkiye to their homeland.

Erdogan’s new ally, Sinan Ogan, who ran as the third presidential candidate in the first elections, then endorsed Erdogan’s candidacy in the runoff, said during his campaign that he would consider repatriating refugees by force if necessary.  

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst for 4CF The Futures Literacy Company and a founder of Krakow-based Institute for Turkiye Studies, expects continuity in Turkish diplomacy and decision-making in the short run, on the economy and foreign policy.

“Erdogan would, most likely, continue his ambiguous foreign policy in which Turkiye, on the one hand, gives its Western allies arguments that it still can be considered an ally — that’s why I won’t be surprised if Erdogan finally agrees on Sweden’s membership — while, on the other, decisively pushes for its interests, even when it harms NATO internal cohesion,” he told Arab News.

Following the support he received in Sunday’s elections, and having regained flexibility for his political and diplomatic maneuvers, Erdogan is also expected to make some U-turns without risking any major backlash from his constituency.

While Sweden’s accession bid has yet to be approved by Ankara, Stockholm’s membership — which has long been rejected by Erdogan, who accused the country of harboring terrorists — may also be used as a trump card for securing a commitment from the US for F-16 fighter jets ahead of NATO’s next summit this July when Erdogan and Biden are expected to meet.

The admission of Sweden by Turkiye would help the US administration in pushing for F-16 sales through Congress.

But Erdogan’s uneasiness with the US support for Syrian Kurdish militia — People’s Protection Units or YPG — is unlikely to change under his third term as his government considers the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkiye.

On Friday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that after the elections, “whoever pursues a pro-American policy in Turkiye will be labeled a traitor,” hinting at a possible transactional relationship with Washington in the post-elections period.

For Wasilewski, Erdogan’s win may serve as another chance for Euro-Asianist segments in Turkiye to strengthen themselves in the security apparatus.

“In (a) five-year perspective, this may be something that would cast (an) even bigger shadow over Turkiye’s relationship with the West,” he said.

Another dimension of the post-election process would be the Western allies’ position toward Turkiye now that the election dust has settled.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the US decided to increase pressure on Turkiye on areas that seems vital to their interests, such as sanctions on Russia,” he said.

“The way that Erdogan responds to this possible pressure will be one (other) factor determining Turkiye’s relations with the West,” he added.

In terms of Turkish-Russian relations, Ankara is expected to continue its current political and economic relations with the Kremlin as well as deepen its cooperation in the energy field, with the help of the personal rapport between the two leaders.

Close ties with Russia as well as the Gulf will also help Erdogan in achieving his goal of rendering the Turkish economy more independent from Western markets. Ankara has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, but continues to provide military support to Kyiv.

Turkiye’s $20 billion first nuclear power plant, that will be owned for the first 25 years by the manufacturer, Russian energy company Rosatom, was recently inaugurated in a virtual ceremony. And being the largest nuclear construction project in the world, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the plant deepened Turkish-Russian ties.

Russia also delayed a portion of Turkiye’s natural gas payments in early May ahead of the general elections.

Attracting high numbers of tourists from Russia are also required to help the Turkish economy keep afloat during summertime, while Erdogan will also remain in campaign mode before Turkiye’s next polls, the municipal elections scheduled for March next year.

“Putin is well aware that close ties between Russia and Turkiye are vital to his interests, especially after Russian aggression on Ukraine, and will continue to put a great effort to preserve them in a good shape,” said Wasilewski.

“Feeding Turkiye’s dreams of being the gas hub serves Erdogan’s narrative of Turkiye as a great power,” said Wasilewski.


Lebanon is not on FATF’s gray list but must address loopholes, top official says

Lebanon is not on FATF’s gray list but must address loopholes, top official says
Updated 1 min 10 sec ago

Lebanon is not on FATF’s gray list but must address loopholes, top official says

Lebanon is not on FATF’s gray list but must address loopholes, top official says
  • Country has been subjected to an assessment of its commitment to international standards for a period of 16 months
  • Assessment report — expected next month — will clarify the gaps that Lebanon needs to address, as well as some points of strength

BEIRUT: Lebanon has not been included in the gray list of the Financial Action Task Force for non-cooperative countries in combating money laundering and terrorism financing, a top official confirmed on Monday.

The country has, however, been subjected to an assessment of its commitment to international standards for a period of 16 months, said Abdul Hafiz Mansour, secretary-general of the special investigation commission concerned with implementing the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing law.

Mansour’s remarks followed his meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The assessment report — expected next month — will clarify the gaps that Lebanon needs to address, as well as some points of strength, said Mansour. A follow-up report will be presented to the group in 2024.

A highly professional team represented Lebanon during the discussions and deliberations at the 36th Middle East and North Africa FATF plenary meeting held in Bahrain, Mansour said, adding that the team “made great efforts to discuss this report, and God willing, we will see the results next month.”

Among the points that Lebanon must address are the judicial procedures that the group considered “slow” in dealing with suspects of money laundering whose names are listed by the special investigation commission.

In another development, Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Al-Shami called for Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh to resign from his position “due to the sensitivity of the situation and the serious accusations against him.”

He said in a television statement: “The governor’s resignation does not mean admitting guilt, but in the current tragic economic situation, it would bring greater credibility to the country and would be a courageous stance.”

The law stipulates that the deputy governor assumes the presidency of the central bank in the absence of the governor, Al-Shami said, adding that Deputy Gov. Wassim Mansouri is competent to fulfill the position.

The term of the governor is set to end at the end of July this year.

Salameh is scheduled to appear on Wednesday before the attorney general at the court of cassation.

He is to be interrogated regarding the arrest warrant issued against him by the German public prosecutor last week on charges of money laundering, forgery and embezzlement.

The warrant was turned into a red notice, which was transmitted to the Lebanese judiciary on Monday by Interpol.

The governor’s Lebanese diplomatic and French passports were earlier seized by the Lebanese judiciary to prevent him from traveling.

The Lebanese judiciary is still waiting for the French authorities, through Interpol, to hand over Salameh’s extradition case so that it may resume interrogating him and decide whether to try him in Lebanon for the crimes he is accused of in France or to close the case, given that Lebanon does not extradite its citizens for trial abroad.

Salameh’s summons on Wednesday coincides with a hearing to investigate his brother, Raja Salameh, before the French judiciary.

The hearing was previously scheduled for May 31, and it precedes a hearing to investigate Salameh’s assistant, Marianne Al-Houeik, scheduled for June 13.

The European investigations — which include France, Germany, and Luxembourg — focus on the relationship between the central bank and the company Forry Associates, registered in the Virgin Islands with an office in Beirut and owned by Raja Salameh.

Mikati has called for a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss the agreement reached with French lawyers to assist the head of the litigation division at the Ministry of Justice in the lawsuit filed by the French state before the French investigative judge in the case of the central bank governor.

After the deluge: Jordan wakes up to flood and hailstone chaos

Photo/Social Media
Photo/Social Media
Updated 30 min 37 sec ago

After the deluge: Jordan wakes up to flood and hailstone chaos

Photo/Social Media
  • The capital Amman, nearby cities of Salt and Madaba, and the northern governorate of Irbid were battered by hailstones and rainfall early on Monday, causing widespread damage to property and vehicles

AMMAN: The people of Jordan woke up on Monday to witness floods sweeping away crops and affecting roads, while large hailstones smashed into cars and windows in a chaotic scene.

Heavy overnight rain on Sunday in the southern and eastern parts of the country triggered flash floods which inundated large areas of farmland, forcing many people to leave their homes and find refuge in shelters.

One death was reported in the southern port city of Aqaba, while a 13-year-old boy has been reported missing in the eastern city of Zarqa.

The Public Security Directorate said that the search for the boy was continuing.

The capital Amman, nearby cities of Salt and Madaba, and the northern governorate of Irbid were battered by hailstones and rainfall early on Monday, causing widespread damage to property and vehicles.

The Jordan Meteorological Department said the thunderstorm was the result of atmospheric instability prevailing in the country.

Abdulmunem Al-Qaralleh, from JMD, said that the conditions had resulted from temperature variation in the atmosphere and the high level of humidity.

It was reported that melon farms in the Wadi Rum region in the south had been swept away by the floods.

The Jordan Valley Authority said that the Mujib Dam in the southern governorate of Karak had reached its full capacity, along with the Al-Wahidi and Al-Ahmar dams in the governorates of Maan and Tafilah.

Local media quoted Majid Smeirat, from the union of insurance companies, as saying that vehicle insurance does not cover damage caused by natural disasters.

Smeirat said: “In general, compulsory insurance for motor vehicles does not cover third-party losses arising from natural disasters unless there is a provision in the contract stipulating that, which is normally not the case in Jordan.”


Can Sudan ceasefire renewal bring end to conflict?

Can Sudan ceasefire renewal bring end to conflict?
Updated 29 May 2023

Can Sudan ceasefire renewal bring end to conflict?

Can Sudan ceasefire renewal bring end to conflict?
  • On May 22, feuding factions agreed weeklong ceasefire following US-, Saudi-brokered talks
  • Extension of truce expected to enable delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN: The situation in Sudan was under international scrutiny all last week after Saudi Arabia and the US mediated a ceasefire on May 22 following five weeks of fighting.

The deal, and the talks leading up to it, aimed to address issues such as ceasefire violations, humanitarian access, and military reform.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia and the US jointly called for an extension of the ceasefire, which has provided a respite from relentless violence for civilians caught in the crossfire since a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces broke out into open warfare on April 15.

Both Saudi Arabia and America are monitoring the ceasefire — which is set to expire on Monday evening — remotely and, despite repeated violations, have urged the SAF and the RSF to continue discussions on a possible extension.

In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia and the US have noted that though the ceasefire is not perfect, an extension would facilitate the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people.

While the RSF has expressed its willingness to discuss a truce renewal, there has been no clear statement from its adversary.

Cameron Hudson, an analyst and consultant on African peace, security, and governance issues, has questioned the efficacy of a ceasefire-renewal process involving only the SAF and RSF, without broader representation from the international community.

He told Arab News: “The inclusion of Sudanese civilians in monitoring the ceasefire and providing on-the-ground input to complement electronic surveillance methods is critical.”


While the ceasefire has somewhat eased the fighting, sporadic clashes and airstrikes continue to be reported in the key battlegrounds.

Aid organizations and the UN are still encountering difficulties in obtaining bureaucratic approvals and security guarantees to transport aid and personnel to the capital Khartoum and other affected areas. Warehouses have been looted, further impeding the distribution of essential supplies.

Khartoum and its surrounding areas are experiencing lawlessness, shortages, and a collapse in services following six weeks of gun battles and airstrikes.

A crime surge has led to looting and destruction of factories, offices, homes, and banks; essential services such as power, water, and telecommunications are frequently disrupted; and shortage of medicines, medical equipment, and food supplies has become acute.

Violence has also affected parts of Darfur, an area already scarred by conflict and displacement.

El-Geneina, near the border with Chad, has experienced intense fighting, resulting in hundreds of deaths. El-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur state, has witnessed a spate of clashes, with one hospital reporting three deaths and 26 injuries, including children.

At the Jeddah ceasefire meetings, the demands presented by the key actors are believed to have played a crucial role in shaping the negotiations. The RSF proposed arresting members of the former regime, blaming them for the current conflict.

Against this backdrop, experts have cautioned against a fragmented approach, arguing that the need of the hour was a “comprehensive” and future-focused strategy.

Amgad Fareid Eltayeb, the former assistant chief of staff to ex-Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, told Arab News that the need for genuine reforms in Sudan’s military and security sectors had never been more urgent.

He said: “Corruption and politicization have marred the SAF, hampering stability and impeding progress. Comprehensive reforms that rebuild trust within the military apparatus and restore their competence are essential.

“The goal is to establish a professional army that focuses on its primary responsibilities while refraining from interfering in politics and the economy,” he added.

Akol Miyen Kuol, a South Sudanese regional expert based in Nairobi, told Arab News that achieving a permanent ceasefire should be the top priority of negotiators.

He said: “A durable ceasefire would create an environment conducive to subsequent political processes, leading to a peaceful settlement.”


Highlighting the need for inclusivity, he pointed out that the involvement of Sudanese political parties, civil society organizations, and professional syndicates was of paramount importance.

As a reality check, though, he noted with concern a recent Sudanese defense ministry assertion that “urban warfare has no limits” and predicted that arming SAF retirees was “an indication that fighting is likely to continue.”

Since clashes between the SAF and RSF erupted last month, more than 300,000 people have crossed Sudan’s borders, with significant numbers seeking refuge in Egypt and Chad. With more than 1.3 million people displaced by the fighting so far, there is growing concern about the future stability of the wider region.

Eltayeb said: “Sudan is too big to fail. The connection between the Red Sea and Sahel, the center, and the Horn of Africa, in addition to the large population and to its large ethnic and tribal diversity, makes the continuation of this war catastrophic.”

He noted that much more than just the fate of Sudan was in the balance.

“The world and the region will pay dearly, and not only in terms of humanitarian crisis and migration and human suffering, but also in terms of the security of neighboring countries,” Eltayeb added.

Iran’s Khamenei welcomes better ties with Egypt

Iran’s Khamenei welcomes better ties with Egypt
Updated 29 May 2023

Iran’s Khamenei welcomes better ties with Egypt

Iran’s Khamenei welcomes better ties with Egypt
  • Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades
  • Group of hackers claimed responsibility for defacing websites associated with Iran’s presidency

DUBAI: Iran’s supreme leader said Monday he’d “welcome” the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Egypt and the Islamic Republic, raising the prospect of Cairo and Tehran normalizing relations after decades of strain.
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came as a series of websites linked to Iran’s presidency bore the images of two leaders of an exiled opposition group Monday, with others showing the pictures of Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi crossed out.
Iranian state television quoted Khamenei’s comments as coming from a meeting he held with the visiting sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq. Sultan Haitham’s trip to Tehran, his first since assuming power in 2020, comes as Muscat long has served as an interlocutor between Tehran and the West.
There have been growing signs of Egypt and Iran potentially restoring ties, particularly as Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a détente in March with Chinese mediation after years of tensions. Cairo relies on Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf Arab states for economic support.
“We welcome this issue and have no problem in this regard,” Khamenei reportedly said.
There was no immediate reaction from Egypt to Khamenei’s comments. Officials in Cairo did not respond to a request for comment.
Egypt under Anwar Sadat cut ties to Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Sadat had been a close friend to the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, welcomed him to Egypt just before his death and hosted his state funeral in 1980. The shah’s remains are entombed at Cairo’s Al-Rifai Mosque. Egypt’s peace deal with Israel also angered Iran’s theocratic government, which views Israel as its top regional enemy.
Meanwhile Monday, an Internet account describing itself as a group of hackers claimed responsibility for defacing websites associated with Iran’s presidency. The account GhyamSarnegouni, whose name in Farsi means “Rise to Overthrow,” previously claimed hacking websites associated with Iran’s Foreign Ministry earlier this month.
Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the apparent hack. However, Associated Press journalists accessing the sites found them defaced with images of Massoud Rajavi, the long-missing leader of the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, and his wife Maryam, who is now the public face of the group.
One site bore the slogan: “Death to Khamenei Raisi- Hail to Rajavi.” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi both were targeted similarly in the previously claimed hacked in May.
Iran has been targeted by a series of embarrassing hacks amid the rising tensions over its rapidly advancing nuclear program. That’s included the signal of Iranian state television being targeted, gasoline pumps that provide subsidized fuel being targeted in a cyberattack and government surveillance camera imagery being released, including from a notorious prison.
The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, known by the acronym MEK, called the hack “very extensive” when reached, but did not claim credit for it. The MEK had angrily condemned a prisoner swap Belgium conducted with Iran on Friday to free an aid worker that saw an Iranian diplomat convicted of being behind a bomb plot targeting the group released.
The MEK began as a Marxist group opposing the shah’s rule. It claimed and was suspected in a series of attacks against US officials in Iran in the 1970s, something the group now denies.
It supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but soon had a falling out with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and turned against the cleric. It carried out a series of assassinations and bombings targeting the young Islamic Republic.
The MEK later fled into Iraq and backed dictator Saddam Hussein during his bloody eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s. That saw many oppose the group in Iran. Although largely based in Albania, the group claims to operate a network inside Iran.