Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case
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Updated 28 January 2023

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case
  • The first rally was announced by families of the victims of the Beirut port blast to support investigating judge Tarek Bitar and denounce his dismissal
  • A second protest was called by a group of victims’ relatives who broke away from the families’ movement after being pressured by Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commandos were deployed on Saturday to block roads in sensitive areas after calls for rival rallies in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut circulated on social media.
The first rally was announced by families of the victims of the Beirut port blast to support investigating judge Tarek Bitar and denounce his dismissal.
A second protest was called by a group of victims’ relatives who broke away from the families’ movement after being pressured by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. Their march was to support prosecutor general judge Ghassan Oueidat, who has brought charges against Bitar over his handling of the inquiry.
A security source told Arab News that “these proactive measures aim to reassure people in anticipation of any attempt to destabilize security.”
On Oct. 14, 2021, the area witnessed bloody events reminiscent of Lebanon’s civil war. Demonstrators supported by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement headed to the Justice Palace to protest against Bitar, where clashes with a rival group resulted in six deaths.
On Saturday, activists gathered in front of the Justice Palace, holding banners demanding politicians stop interfering with the judiciary and calling for the removal of Oueidat.
They also demanded that the judicial formations decree be signed and the legal provisions obstructing the investigation into the port explosion be amended.
Until now, no indictment has been issued, as Bitar was removed from the case following complaints filed against him by politicians charged in the case with “possible intentional killing” and “functional negligence.”
Bitar on Monday resumed the investigation based on his legal interpretation, following a 13-month halt over legal challenges raised by politicians accused in the probe. He also charged more than a dozen senior political, judicial and security officials, including Oueidat.
The recent developments have led to a standoff between the two judges, crippling Lebanon’s judiciary, while the country’s cash-strapped institutions continue to decay.
Families of the blast victims immediately issued a statement warning against “calls aiming to cause violence and bloodshed in the streets.”
A legal source following up on the case of the victims’ families told Arab News that these calls for protest aimed to create confrontation between the families, “so we avoided falling into the trap.”
Nizar Saghieh, Lebanese lawyer and executive director of Legal Agenda, said: “Since the moment Bitar decided to resume his work based on a legal study he conducted, he knew that he will be confronting everyone. He decided to break his silence so he could issue his indictment in the crime.”
Saghieh said that it was weird how security authorities threatened them with civil war whenever they wanted to hold any powerful figure accountable. “We, the people, will remain victims if no one is held accountable.”
Saghieh added: “What is clear now is that judge Bitar is fighting back. They accused Bitar of receiving directions from foreign embassies; however, judge Oueidat was the one to release a US detainee. They accused Bitar of not prosecuting any judge; however, he prosecuted four judges, including judge Oueidat. All the accusations against Bitar have fallen. So what excuses are they going to use to remove him from the case?”
On Wednesday, Oueidat ordered the release of all suspects detained in the investigation into the blast and filed charges against Bitar.
Among those released by Oueidat was Beirut port head of security Mohammed Ziad Al-Ouf, a dual-American Lebanese citizen who eventually left for the US.
Meanwhile, 41 opposition MPs released a statement on Friday denouncing Bitar’s dismissal as lead investigator in the case. The statement is seen as a challenge to Hezbollah and Amal, which support Bitar’s dismissal.
The MPs rejected any “prejudice to the prerogatives of the judicial investigator, by appointing any substitute judge.” They also called for “the resumption of the investigation from the point it reached, as well as a quick issuance of the indictment and its referral to the Judicial Council.”
MP Halima Kaakour said: “The problem is that the political power is interfering with the judiciary, which leads to the degradation of the judicial system, followed by a complete collapse of the state.”
Kaakour added: “Oueidat should be held accountable for his illegal actions aiming to obliterate the investigation.”
MP Bilal Abdallah defended Oueidat, denouncing “any attack against him.”
He said: “Iqlim El-Kharoub, Oueidat’s hometown, will not remain silent against the attacks, accusations and distrust to which he has been subjected.”


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.”


Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
Updated 23 March 2023

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
  • Jordan’s deputy PM points to ‘reckless and disgusting’ comments by Israel’s Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich
  • EU envoy Josep Borrell denounces Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as ‘dangerous and unacceptable’

AMMAN: Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister has called on the international community to take a clear stand against hate speech fueling violence and conflict in occupied Palestine.
Ayman Safadi, who is also Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs and expatriates, pointed to the danger of extremist racist ideology, manifested in a “reckless and disgusting manner” in the statement of Israel’s Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich.
Jordan’s News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Israeli minister had denied the existence of the Palestinian people and their historical rights, and presented a map of Israel that included the occupied state of Palestine and Jordan.
In a phone call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Safadi stressed that Israel’s government should bear the responsibility for “hate speech, racist incitement, and the disgusting behavior of the Israeli minister.”
The government must declare its rejection openly and clearly, he said.
“Staying silent in the face of such statements and racist positions under the pretext of protecting government coalition is unacceptable and dangerous, and will only fan the flames of tension and further spread this extremist ideology.”
Borrell also denounced the Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as “dangerous and unacceptable,” and urged the Israeli government to take a stand.
The EU rejects all unilateral Israeli measures, underscoring its firm position that supports the two-state solution as a way to achieve peace, he added.
The two parties discussed the dangerous deterioration in the occupied Palestinian territories, underlining the need to halt all measures that fuel violence and undermine the chances of a comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.
Safadi and Borrell also discussed the outcomes of the recent Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh meetings on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Jordan’s efforts to help relaunch negotiations to end the violence.
Safadi lauded the EU’s support for the two-state solution and its condemnation of racist hate speech in all its forms.


Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy
Updated 23 March 2023

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy
  • American crews have been training their Egyptian counterparts to use the vessels since they arrived in Alexandria on Feb. 12
  • Adm. Brad Cooper: The Egypt-US maritime partnership has been a fundamental pillar of our bilateral defense cooperation for decades

CAIRO: The Egyptian Navy officially accepted delivery of three US Cyclone-class patrol boats during a special ceremony in Alexandria this week.

Adm. Ashraf Atwa, commander of the Egyptian Naval Force, and Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of the US Fifth Fleet, US Naval Forces Central Command, and the Combined Maritime Forces, signed the official handover document, according to Egyptian armed forces spokesperson Gharib Abdel-Hafez.

The transfer ceremony, during which the Egyptian flag was raised on the boats to mark their entry into service, followed a program of training and professional exchanges designed to improve cooperation and joint initiatives between the two countries’ naval forces.

Abdel-Hafez said that the Egyptian Navy has recently implemented great technological improvements to its armament systems and combat efficiency, in line with international standards.

Atwa highlighted the efforts of Egyptian armed forces to enhance the capabilities of its naval fleet to enhance security and stability. He added that the delivery of the vessels reflected the strong strategic partnership between Egypt and the US.

“The Cyclone-class patrol boats are among the most advanced units in the US Navy and represent a new addition to Egypt’s naval forces,” he said.

In a message posted on its website, the US Navy said: “The transfer ceremony represents the culmination of weeks of preparation, training and professional exchanges between Egyptian and US Navy sailors.”

US crews have been training their Egyptian counterparts to use the vessels since they arrived in Alexandria on Feb. 12, the US Navy said, with courses devoted to a range of disciplines including engineering, search-and-rescue operations, damage control, and weapons handling.

The vessels sailed to Egypt from Bahrain, with US and Egyptian sailors navigating around the Arabian Peninsula during a 4,000-mile, month-long journey. It included stops at Jebel Ali in the UAE, Duqm in Oman, Djibouti, and Berenice in Egypt.

“The Egypt-US maritime partnership has been a fundamental pillar of our bilateral defense cooperation for decades,” Cooper said.

“This transfer is yet another major milestone in our strong relationship that will enhance regional maritime security for years to come.”

Capt. Anthony Webber, commander of the US Navy 5th Fleet Task Force 55, said: “This transfer process was an incredible opportunity for our crews. It enabled us to strengthen our bilateral ties while enhancing our interoperability with a highly capable regional maritime partner.”

In November, the Egyptian Navy accepted delivery of its first German Meko A-200 frigate, which is equipped to secure cargo ships and provide humanitarian support. Named Al-Aziz, it is the first of four to be delivered and was built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems at the SBN shipyard,.

In August last year, the Egyptian Navy carried out a joint training exercise with US and Spanish naval forces in the Mediterranean. The Egyptian frigate El-Fateh joined the US destroyer USS Forrest Sherman and Spanish frigate ESPS Almirante Juan De Borbon for the drills, which included responses to threats to international navigation and the flow of global trade.