US sanctions Lebanon money exchanger for alleged ties to Hezbollah

Supporters of Hezbollah attend a televised speech by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut’s southern suburbs. (File/AFP)
Supporters of Hezbollah attend a televised speech by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut’s southern suburbs. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 January 2023

US sanctions Lebanon money exchanger for alleged ties to Hezbollah

Supporters of Hezbollah attend a speech by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut’s southern suburbs. (File/AFP)
  • Announcement said Hassan Moukalled was a financial adviser to Iranian-backed Hezbollah
  • It also sanctioned Moukalled’s two sons, saying they were involved in the same financial dealings

BEIRUT: The US Treasury said on Tuesday it was placing sanctions on Lebanese money exchanger Hassan Moukalled and his business for alleged financial ties to blacklisted group Hezbollah.
Its announcement said Moukalled was a financial adviser to Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is also designated by the United States, and carried out financial transactions on its behalf that earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Today, the Treasury Department is taking action against a corrupt money exchanger, whose financial engineering actively supports and enables Hezbollah and its interests at the expense of the Lebanese people and economy,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism Brian E. Nelson said.
A Treasury statement said Moukalled’s business CTEX was licensed by Lebanon’s central bank. Neither Moukalled, Hezbollah’s media office nor the central bank immediately responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.
It also sanctioned Moukalled’s two sons, saying they were involved in the same financial dealings.
Moukalled regularly appears on Lebanese television channels as a financial expert and has more than 50,000 followers on Twitter, making him one of the rare public-facing figures sanctioned by Washington for financial links to Hezbollah.
Founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and classified by the United States and other Western countries as a “terrorist organization,” Hezbollah is a heavily-armed and politically powerful faction.
The Treasury regularly issues sanctions against alleged members of Hezbollah’s financial networks, most recently in December.


Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,300 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,300 in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 55 min 2 sec ago

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,300 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,300 in Turkiye, Syria
  • Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD said 2,921 dead in the country, bringing the confirmed tally to 4,365
  • More than 5,600 buildings flattened across several cities

HATAY, Turkieye: Rescuers in Turkiye and Syria dug with their bare hands through the freezing night Tuesday hunting for survivors among the rubble of thousands of buildings felled in a series of violent earthquakes.
The confirmed death toll across the two countries has soared above 4,300 after a swarm of strong tremors near the Turkiye-Syria border — the largest of which measured at a massive 7.8-magnitude.
Turkish and Syrian disaster response teams report more than 5,600 buildings have been flattened across several cities, including many multi-story apartment blocks that were filled with sleeping residents when the first quake struck.
In the city of Kahramanmaras in southeastern Turkiye, eyewitnesses struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter. “That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that.”
Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD on Tuesday said there were now 2,921 deaths in that country alone, bringing the confirmed tally to 4,365.
There are fears that toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.
In Gaziantep, a Turkish city home to countless refugees from Syria’s decade-old civil war, rescuers picking through the rubble screamed, cried and clamoured for safety as another building collapsed nearby without warning.
The initial earthquake was so large it was felt as far away as Greenland, and the impact is big enough to have sparked a global response.
Dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand have vowed to send help, although freezing rain and sub-zero temperatures have slowed the response.
In the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa, rescuers were working into the night to try and pull survivors from the wreckage of a seven-story building that had collapsed.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old Syrian student Omer El Cuneyd.
“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Despite freezing temperatures outside, terrified residents spent the night on the streets, huddling around fires for warmth.
Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their car, too scared to move.
“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins under gathering snow.
Monday’s first earthquake struck at 4:17am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is home to around two million people, the US Geological Survey said.
More than 14,000 people have so far been reported injured in Turkiye, the disaster management agency said, while Syria said at least 3,411 people were injured.
Officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.
A winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.
The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria’s envoy to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure, which has suffered from a lack of wartime oversight.
Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, also closing schools for two weeks.
The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list — Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkiye.
At a jail holding mostly Daesh group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.
President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkiye, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.
Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.


Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north
Updated 55 min 21 sec ago

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north
  • Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, with 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced
  • Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors

JANDARIS: Wailing children, flattened buildings and hospitals full of bodies — a devastating earthquake on Monday looked painfully familiar for Syrian families and rescuers worn down by nearly 12 years of bombardment and displacement.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent people rushing into the streets in the country’s north, where air strikes and shelling have already traumatized the population and weakened the foundations of many buildings.
In the rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-story building once stood.
“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
“We were pulling people out ourselves at three in the morning,” he said, his breath visible in the cold winter air as he spoke.
Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors. Dented water tanks and solar panels had flown off roofs and landed on the damp ground.


The White Helmets, a rescue service founded in rebel-held territory to treat people hurt in bombardment, said at least 147 people were killed in opposition-held northwest Syria. In government-held territory, officials put the death toll at more than 300 with more than 1,000 injured.
In Turkiye, President Tayyip Erdogan said more than 900 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured.
“We are in a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble. Even if our teams are exhausted, we don’t have time to rest,” White Helmets head Raed Fares told Reuters by phone.
He said air strikes over the years had left buildings structurally fragile so they “immediately collapsed,” ultimately leading to more deaths.
FREEZING TEMPERATURES
Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, according to the United Nations, which says 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced and 1.8 million are living in camps.
The rescue teams have worked for years rescuing people from shelling and aerial raids by Syrian government or Russian forces which often hit the same location multiple times, risking paramedics’ lives.
“At least now, no one is going to bomb us as we work,” Fares said.
But the cold winter weather added another challenge for the rescue workers, who said families have been left exposed in near-freezing temperatures and heavy rains.

In the countryside of Idlib province, the earthquake damaged the modest structures set up in displacement camps hosting Syrians who had fled the war over the years, said Ahmad Al-Sheikh, a resident of a nearby border town.
Further west, the main hospital in the rebel-held town of Afrin was teeming with wounded residents writhing on the ground and women struggling to reach loved ones by phone as the lines were down.
Medics zipped up black body bags on a bloodstained floor as toddlers screamed in the background.
“Ambulance sirens are heard everywhere. People are shocked,” said Afrin resident Ibrahim Obaid. “The situation is so tragic. There’s so much fear and we still feel the tremors.”


At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
Updated 07 February 2023

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
  • The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny

AZAZ: Prisoners mutinied in a northwestern Syria prison Monday following a deadly earthquake, with at least 20 escaping the jail holding mostly Daesh group members, a source at the facility told AFP.
The military police prison in the town of Rajo near the Turkish border holds about 2,000 inmates, with about 1,300 of them suspected to be Daesh fighters, said the source.
The prison also holds fighters from Kurdish-led forces.
“After the earthquake struck, Rajo was affected and inmates started to mutiny and took control of parts of the prison,” said the official at Rajo jail, which is controlled by pro-Turkish factions.
“About 20 prisoners fled... who are believed to be Daesh militants.”
The 7.8-magnitude quake — which was followed by dozens of aftershocks in the region — caused damage to the prison, with walls and doors cracking, the source added.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny.
At least 1,444 people died Monday across Syria after the devastating earthquake that had its epicenter in southwestern Turkiye, the government and rescuers said.
In rebel-held parts of the country’s northwest, at least 733 people were killed and more than 2,100 injured, according to the White Helmets rescue group.
The incident in Rajo comes on the heels of an Daesh attack in December on a security complex in their former de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, which aimed to free fellow terrorists from a prison there.
Six members of the Kurdish-led security forces that control the area were killed in the foiled assault.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkiye.

 


Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
Updated 07 February 2023

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
  • Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime

PARIS: Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said Monday.
Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West.
Held in the prison of Vakilabad in the eastern city of Mashhad, he had already gone on hunger strike once before, at the end of December 2021.
“It’s the only weapon he has,” his sister Blandine Briere said in a statement.
He stopped eating on January 28, she said.
Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime.
Briere, the lawyer said, is “mentally and physically exhausted” in the “gloomy” prison which he said was known for frequent “extra-judicial executions” of inmates.
Majidreza Rahnavard, 23, the second of four people executed over the protests, was held in Mashhad and hanged in public in the city on December 12.
The conditions of Briere’s incarceration were “exceptionally harsh,” and he was being denied his rights, Valent said.
Iran needed to be held accountable for the danger to Briere’s “physical and mental wellbeing,” the lawyer said.
Another detainee in Iran, 64-year-old Franco-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan held since October 1, last month suspended a hunger strike that included refusing water, at the request of his family who feared for his life.
Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant was arrested while traveling and is being held in Mashhad in northeastern Iran.
Iran accuses him of anti-government propaganda, a charge he has denied.
 

 


Jordan Gaming Lab hosts video game development events across the country

Jordan Gaming Lab hosts video game development events across the country
Updated 07 February 2023

Jordan Gaming Lab hosts video game development events across the country

Jordan Gaming Lab hosts video game development events across the country
  • Participants in the two-day Global Game Jam were tasked with designing a video game based on a theme revealed during the opening ceremony

AMMAN: The Jordan Gaming Lab, a project developed by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development, hosted a free, video game development event at several locations across the country. The two-day Global Game Jam took place over the weekend at the lab’s branches in Amman, Zarqa and Aqaba.

The participants were tasked with creating a video game based on a theme that was revealed during the opening ceremony for the event. Sixteen games were produced and uploaded to the GGJ website.

The aim of the challenge was to provide participants with hands-on experience of working with advanced technologies, while taking advantage of help and advice from professional game designers from around the world.

The Jordan Gaming Lab was launched in 2011 to help boost the country’s video game industry and provide networking opportunities for those interested in being a part of it.