Christian blocs indicate support for Jihad Azour as a Lebanon presidential candidate 

Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour, 57. (Reuters/File Photo)
Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour, 57. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 29 May 2023
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Christian blocs indicate support for Jihad Azour as a Lebanon presidential candidate 

Among the likely names from the Christian bloc suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
  • Patriarch Al-Rahi praises parliamentary consensus before his trip to Vatican and France
  • Hezbollah sees nomination of Azour as a ploy to overthrow their candidate Frangieh

BEIRUT: News emerged on Sunday that the largest Christian blocs in the Lebanese parliament — the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, and the Lebanese Phalanges Party — were moving toward reaching a consensus on a presidential candidate.

Among the likely names suggested for the role is former Finance Minister Jihad Azour, 57.

Azour currently serves as the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi made a possible reference to the consensus in his Sunday sermon on the eve of his trip to the Vatican and then to Paris.

Al-Rahi expressed hope that a president of the republic would be elected as soon as possible so that the constitutional institutions could be organized.

He said: “We thank God for what we hear about some consensus among parliamentary blocs regarding the future president, so that he does not pose a challenge to anyone, and at the same time possesses a personality that responds to Lebanon’s needs today and inspires internal and external confidence.”

Al-Rahi hoped the “chaos occurring at several levels” would also stop soon.

Hezbollah and the political coalition allied with it support the nomination of Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Party who is close to the Syrian regime, but most Christian parliamentary blocs in Lebanon reject him.

Mohammed Raad, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc chief, reacted to the possibility of the Christian parliamentary blocs reaching a consensus on Azour as their candidate.

Raad said in a statement on Sunday that “the candidate whose name is circulating is a maneuvering candidate whose mission is to confront the candidate we support and to undermine him.”

He called on the other group “to stop wasting time and prolonging the deadline.”

The presidential vacuum in Lebanon will enter its eighth month on June 1 after 11 parliamentary election sessions failed to enable a presidential candidate to reach the second round of the presidential elections due to a lack of quorum.

Opposition forces to Hezbollah previously insisted on nominating MP Michel Mouawad, but Hezbollah considered him an “inflammatory candidate.”

A political analyst stated that Azour did not want to be a “confrontational or challenging candidate.”

The Lebanese media reported that Azour said he “wants to be the president who carries a rescue project for the country with the approval of everyone.”

The political analyst was cautious about “considering Azour as a final candidate for the Christian blocs, in anticipation of any surprises or changes in positions at the last moment.”

He, however, praised what he saw as the positive direction achieved so far.

MP Elias Hankash, who is involved in the negotiations, said that the chances of electing a president soon had improved.

He also said that name of former Minister Azour was among the names agreed upon by the Free Patriotic Movement.

Hankash said: “There is an insistence that we cannot devote the presidency to Hezbollah.”

He emphasized that “we want an acceptable candidate who has the specifications that we do not compromise on, and we see that the country cannot tolerate settlements, and we are not talking today about a settlement but about accepting a candidate.

“There are principles that many have died for, and a settlement occurs when we give up on principles, but when we agree on a name, this is not called a settlement.”

MP George Okais, a former judge and member of the Lebanese Forces party, spoke of progress in the negotiations between the opposition and the Free Patriotic Movement, without yet reaching an agreement on a unified name.

Okais said he expected that next week could be a turning point in this direction.

He pointed out that the proposal of Azour came as a result of an agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement on a non-provocative name for the Hezbollah team.

At the same time, he said the name could unify the ranks of the opposition, “so we have gone halfway, waiting for the other team.”

Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of the Amal Movement bloc, believes that “the logic of political forces coming together only to obstruct the candidate we supported cannot lead our country to safety.”

He added: “When we supported a candidate for the presidency (Frangieh), we were guided by deep convictions that we wanted a president who could manage national consensus.”

Hashem Safieddine, head of Hezbollah’s executive council, said: “There is no way to reach a president of the republic except through consensus.”

Safieddine added: “This is Lebanon, and this is its nature, and this is how the solutions are in it.” 

Maronite Patriarchate spokesperson Walid Ghayad said on Sunday that Al-Rahi was heading to the Vatican on Monday to meet with Prime Minister Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

He will then travel to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

According to Ghayad, Al-Rahi will ask for France’s assistance in the Syrian refugee issue in Lebanon and the necessity of their return to their country, in addition to addressing financial matters, especially in light of the economic crisis.

Azour coordinated the implementation of important reform initiatives when he served as the finance minister from 2005 to 2008.

Before and after this tenure, he held several positions in the private sector.

They include working at McKinsey & Company and Booz & Company, where he was a senior partner and executive adviser.

Before joining the IMF in March 2017, he was a managing partner at the consulting and investment firm Infinity Partners for investment and business consulting.


Iran says it puts imaging satellite sucessfully into orbit amid tensions with West

Updated 11 sec ago
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Iran says it puts imaging satellite sucessfully into orbit amid tensions with West

Iran says it puts imaging satellite sucessfully into orbit amid tensions with West
  • here was no immediate acknowledgment from Western officials of the launch
TEHRAN: Iran claimed on Wednesday that it has successfully put an imaging satellite into space.
The state-run IRNA news agency, quoting the country’s communication minister, said the Noor-3 satellite had been put in an orbit 450 kilometers (280 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
There was no immediate acknowledgment from Western officials of the launch or of the satellite being put into orbit. Iran has had a series of failed launches in recent years.

Qatar Airways executive says invasive gynecological examinations of passengers won’t be repeated

Qatar Airways executive says invasive gynecological examinations of passengers won’t be repeated
Updated 35 min 13 sec ago
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Qatar Airways executive says invasive gynecological examinations of passengers won’t be repeated

Qatar Airways executive says invasive gynecological examinations of passengers won’t be repeated
  • Qatar Airways Senior Vice President for Global Sales Matt Raos described the incident as “a one-off incident, a very extreme incident.”

CANBERRA, Australia: A senior Qatar Airways executive told an Australian Senate inquiry on Wednesday there would be no repeat of an incident at Doha’s international airport in 2020 in which female passengers were subjected to invasive gynecological examinations.
Australian Transport Minister Catherine King said three weeks ago that the examinations of 13 Australian women who had boarded a Qatar Airways plane to Sydney were a factor in her decision in July to refuse the Qatar government-owned airline additional flights to Australia.
Qatar Airways Senior Vice President for Global Sales Matt Raos described the incident, which occurred when authorities were looking for the mother of a newborn baby found abandoned in a Hamad International Airport trash can, as “a one-off incident, a very extreme incident.”
“We’ve had nothing like it previously in our history and we’re completely committed to ensuring nothing like this ever happens again,” Raos told the committee.
Raos was responding to government Sen. Tony Sheldon, who had asked for a guarantee on behalf of female passengers who feared they would be subjected to such treatment.
The Doha-based executive declined to detail the incident because five women are suing the airline in Australian Federal Court.
“We are participating in that process. We think it’s a very important process and we need to honor it and respect it. It does preclude us from going further into this topic today,” Raos said.
“The outcome of that Federal Court case is something that we will honor and abide,” Raos added.
The five Australian women, whose names are suppressed by a court gag order, say they were taken off the flight to Sydney at Doha at gunpoint by guards and were searched without consent.
Qatar Airways provided no response to their complaints and offered no apology, the women said.
They wrote to Catherine King through their lawyer in June urging that Qatar Airways not be allowed to double its number of Australian services from the current 28 flights per week.
“It is our strong belief that Qatar Airways is not fit to carry passengers around the globe let alone to major Australian airports,” they wrote.
“When you are considering Qatar Airways’ bid for extra landing rights, we beg you to consider its insensitive and irresponsible treatment of us and its failure to ensure the safety and dignity of its passengers,” they said.
Raos said Qatar was “surprised and shocked” that Australia had rejected without explanation its application for additional services to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth which was made on Aug. 22, 2022.
Qatar Senior Vice President Fathi Atti told the inquiry that the airline learned of the decision through the news media on July 10 and did not receive official notification from the Australian government until 10 days later.
The airline said it calculated that the additional services would have provided Australia with 3 billion Australian dollars ($1.9 billion) in economic benefits over five years.
Earlier this month, King said her decision was made in the “context” of women’s complaints about their treatment.
“There is no one factor that I would point to that swayed my decision one way or the other,” King told reporters.
The committee is examining a number of Australia’s bilateral air service agreements.


Small fire at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel extinguished; occupants have returned to rooms - official

Small fire at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel extinguished; occupants have returned to rooms - official
Updated 27 September 2023
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Small fire at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel extinguished; occupants have returned to rooms - official

Small fire at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel extinguished; occupants have returned to rooms - official

BAGHDAD: A small fire that led to guests and diplomatic personnel being evacuated from Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel has been brought under control, an official at the hotel told Reuters via phone early on Wednesday.

The hotel houses several envoys from Gulf states.

The small fire occurred in kitchen, and an official described the evacuation as a routine precautionary measure, saying guests had safely returned to their rooms.

The hotel is in Iraq’s highly fortified Green Zone which hosts parliament, many government buildings and foreign embassies.


Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says

Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says
Updated 27 September 2023
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Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says

Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says
  • Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it

Iraq is keen to overcome a dispute with Kuwait on maritime navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway between the two countries, Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday.
In comments carried by Iraq’s state news agency, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said the country wants a solution that does not conflict with its constitution or with international law.
Iraq respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and is committed to all its bilateral agreements with countries and to the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, a statement from the prime minister’s media office said on Tuesday after Al-Sudani’s meeting with the state’s administration coalition.
“Such crises are resolved through understanding and reliance on rationality, away from the language of emotion and convulsive populist statements that only produce more crises and tension,” Al-Sudani was quoted as telling his cabinet.
Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled this month that a bilateral agreement regulating navigation in the waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law ratifying the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of parliament.
The countries’ shared land border was demarcated by the United Nations in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries. This was left for the two oil producers to resolve.
A maritime border agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.
Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it.


More than 100 dead, scores more injured in Iraq wedding inferno

More than 100 dead, scores more injured in Iraq wedding inferno
Updated 27 September 2023
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More than 100 dead, scores more injured in Iraq wedding inferno

More than 100 dead, scores more injured in Iraq wedding inferno
  • The fire ripped through a large events hall after fireworks were lit during the celebration

Qaraqosh, Iraq: At least 100 people were killed and more than 150 injured when a fire broke out during a wedding at an event hall in the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, officials said early Wednesday.
At the main hospital in the predominantly Christian town east of Mosul, an AFP photographer saw ambulances arriving with sirens blaring and dozens of people gathering in the courtyard to donate blood.
Others could be seen gathering in front of the open doors of a refrigerated truck loaded with black body bags.
Citing a “preliminary tally,” Iraq’s official INA news agency reported that health authorities in Nineveh province had “counted 100 dead and more than 150 injured in the fire at a marriage hall in Hamdaniyah,” as the town is also known.
The casualty toll was confirmed to AFP by health ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr.
Badr said most of the injured were being treated for burns or oxygen deprivation, adding that there had also been crowd crushes at the scene.
In a statement, civil defense authorities reported the presence of prefabricated panels inside the event hall that were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards.”
The danger was compounded by the “release of toxic gases linked to the combustion of the panels,” which contained plastic.
“The fire caused some parts of the ceiling to fall due to the use of highly flammable, low-cost construction materials,” the statement said, with “preliminary information” suggesting fireworks were to blame for the blaze.
Wedding guest Rania Waad, who sustained a burn to her hand, said that as the bride and groom “were slow dancing, the fireworks started to climb to the ceiling (and) the whole hall went up in flames.”
“We couldn’t see anything,” the 17-year-old said, choking back sobs. “We were suffocating, we didn’t know how to get out.”
Emergency crews were seen sifting through the charred remains of the event hall early Wednesday, inspecting the scene by flashlight.

The couple were having their first slow dance when the fire started. (AFP)


In a brief statement, Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani called on the health and interior ministers to “mobilize all rescue efforts” to help the victims of the fire.
The health ministry said “medical aid trucks” had been dispatched to the area from Baghdad and other provinces, adding that its teams in Nineveh had been mobilized to care for the injured.
Safety standards in Iraq’s construction sector are often disregarded, and the country, whose infrastructure is in disrepair after decades of conflict, is often the scene of fatal fires and accidents.
In July 2021, a fire in the Covid unit of a hospital in southern Iraq killed more than 60 people.
And in April of the same year, exploding oxygen tanks triggered a fire at a hospital in Baghdad — also dedicated to Covid patients — that killed more than 80 people.
Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains, northeast of Mosul, Qaraqosh was ransacked by jihadists of the Daesh group after they entered the town in 2014.
Qaraqosh and its churches were slowly rebuilt after the group’s ouster in 2017, and Pope Francis visited the town in March 2021.