Lebanon freezes bank accounts of former central bank governor and associates

Lebanon freezes bank accounts of former central bank governor and associates
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Updated 15 August 2023
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Lebanon freezes bank accounts of former central bank governor and associates

Lebanon freezes bank accounts of former central bank governor and associates
  • Salameh served as central bank governor in Lebanon from 1993 until July 31
  • In July, the French judiciary transferred seized assets belonging to Salameh and his associates to the Lebanese state

BEIRUT: Lebanon has frozen the bank accounts of former central bank governor Riad Salameh and four of his associates, a statement by the Special Investigation Commission said on Monday.
Lebanon has also lifted banking secrecy on the accounts of all five individuals, which include Salameh, his brother Raja, his son Nady, his former assistant Marianne Hoayek and Anna Kosakova, with whom Riad has a daughter, the statement said.
Salameh served as central bank governor in Lebanon from 1993 until July 31. He faces arrest warrants in France and Germany following investigations into whether he and his brother took $330 million in public funds from the Lebanese central bank while he was governor.
The brothers and Hoayek have all been charged in Lebanon over embezzlement and other financial crimes.
The Salameh brothers deny the charges. Nady Salameh has not responded to Reuters requests for comment. Lawyers for Hoayek and Kosakova have also not responded to Reuters requests for comment.
Salameh, in messages to Reuters, denied the allegations made by the three sanctioning countries and said he would challenge them. Some of his assets had already been frozen in previous investigations, he said.
In March 2022, the European Union’s criminal justice cooperation organization announced the freezing of some 120 million euros($130 million) of Lebanese assets in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium, in a case in which Munich prosecutors said Salameh was a suspect.
In July, the French judiciary transferred seized assets belonging to Salameh and his associates to the Lebanese state.
According to Lebanese law, the Special Investigation Commission is headed by the central bank governor. In the absence of an appointed successor for Salameh, first vice governor Wassim Mansouri heads the institution as acting governor. Monday’s statement was signed by Mansouri.


Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s confidence?

Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s confidence?
Updated 21 April 2024
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Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s confidence?

Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s confidence?
  • Analyst says impossible to speculate if the chain of command has been disrupted by post-Oct. 7 killings ascribed to Israel
  • Another analyst believes Quds Force has suffered setbacks as a result of blows suffered by proxies Hamas and Hezbollah

LONDON: Iran brought its decades-long shadow war with Israel into the open on April 13 when it mounted a combined drone and missile attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy annex in Damascus, which killed two senior commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Conceived as the principal defenders of the 1979 revolution, the IRGC has evolved into an institution with vast political, economic, and military powers and its own elite clandestine responsible primarily for its foreign operations, the Quds Force.

However, the delayed response and limited scope of the Iranian retaliatory attack has raised questions about the capabilities and competence of the Quds Force following the elimination of a number of its commanders and senior officers in Syria and Lebanon since Oct. 7.

Although the April 13 attack was unprecedented, marking the first direct strike by Iran on Israeli territory, some experts think the culling of key officers, coordinators and financiers stationed in Arab countries in suspected Israel strikes has dealt the Quds Force a strategic setback.

The Quds Force helps Iran project influence through a string of regional militias known as the “Axis of Resistance,” made up of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Syrian regime, and various armed groups in Iraq, including several Hashd Al-Shaabi-affiliated groups embedded in Iraq’s formal security apparatus.

Eva J. Koulouriotis, a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, believes the Quds Force’s geopolitical setbacks since Oct. 7 “are significant on a number of fronts.”

She added: “From an intelligence standpoint, and through monitoring the Israeli strikes, whether in Syria or Lebanon, it is clear that we are in front of a major breakthrough that reaches the highest levels inside the Quds Force itself and the militias it runs in both countries.

FASTFACTS

Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7 • Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7

Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds

Dec. 25: 1 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Jan. 20, 2024:  5 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Feb. 2: 1 killed in airstrike south of Damascus.

March 1: 1 killed in airstrike in Baniyas.

• March 26: 1 killed in strike in Deir ez-Zor.

April 1: 7 killed in strike on Iranian embassy annex in Damascus.

“This prompted Iran to confirm on the morning of April 14 that its major attack on Israel was to build new ground rules of deterrence to protect its officers and Quds Force advisers in the region.”

Iran’s direct attack on Israel sought to “create a new equation,” IRGC chief Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami claimed in a statement on April 14.

“From now on, if Israel attacks Iranian interests, figures and citizens anywhere, we will retaliate from Iran,” he said in an interview with a state-owned television channel.

But as of Friday night, Israel did not seem deterred. Injuries and “material losses” were reported after a large explosion at a military base in Iraq used by the Hashd and home to its chief of staff.

The blast, at the Kalsu facility in Babylon, killed one Hashd fighter and wounded six more, according to nearby hospital sources. Factions within the Hashd took part in rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq in the early months of Israel’s Gaza offensive.

The previous night, Iran’s Fars News Agency said the IRGC’s air defenses intercepted “suspicious objects” flying over Isfahan. Tehran played down the suspected Israeli attack on an air base, which it said involved small drones. Hossein Dalirian, a spokesman for Iran’s National Centre of Cyberspace, said there had been “no air attack from outside borders.”

The area is home to significant Iranian military infrastructure, including a large airbase, a major missile production complex and several nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed there has been no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.

Explosions were also reported in Iraq and Syria — where armed groups backed by Iran operate — but it was unclear if they were directly linked to the Isfahan strike.

In the months since the Hamas-led attack on Israel of Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israeli military assault in Gaza, Iran has reported the loss of at least 18 IRGC personnel in suspected Israeli raids across the region.

The deadliest of these took place on April 1 in Damascus, resulting in the death of the highest-ranking Quds Force commander in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy.

All 18 Quds Force commanders were reportedly killed in Syria, according to the Financial Times, with 16 in Damascus, one in the coastal city of Baniyas, and one in Deir ez-Zor in Syria’s northeast.

A few days before the end of 2023, an Israeli air raid outside Damascus killed Razi Mousavi, a senior Quds Force adviser who was responsible for coordinating the military alliance between Syria and Iran, Reuters news agency reported.

Almost a month later, a suspected Israeli strike on a residential building in the Mezzeh Western Villas neighborhood of Damascus killed five Quds Force commanders, including the head of the force’s intelligence unit, Yousef Omidzadeh, and his deputy.

Iran’s retaliation of April 13 was a “symbolic” operation and “not meant to (cause) damage” but rather to “send a message to Israel,” Alam Saleh, an associate professor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Australian National University, told Arab News.

The 300 drones and missiles used in the attack were “insignificant,” said Saleh, explaining that “Iran could do the same with at least 3,000 missiles and drones, and it can do it for a month at least every day.”

Due to the nature of the Quds Force, Saleh believes it is impossible to tell whether it has been weakened as a result of its losses since Oct. 7. “We still have very little information about the Quds Force,” he said.

“The Quds Force is not a classic army or military organization. It’s an extraterritorial branch of the IRGC, which is in charge of its operations abroad, in the region particularly, and is in charge of Iran’s regional policies in general, especially when it comes to security studies.

“The Quds Force is accountable to the supreme leader in Iran (Ali Khamenei), so it’s not even part of the government, it is not accountable, it is not transparent.

“What we know is that the Quds Force is an organization that takes (leadership) actions — it is not an executing force — it doesn’t do things, it just leads. And that’s why it has been able to mobilize the non-Iranian armed groups across the region.”

Although the Quds Force is responsible for training and supporting its regional allies, including Hamas, Saleh said that this “doesn’t mean they are not physically present in the region.”

“They’ve been in Syria, they’ve been in Lebanon for decades, in Iraq, of course, even in Afghanistan, and in Yemen.”

Saleh stressed that even the size of the Quds Force remains unknown, with reports estimating the ranks of the IRGC’s overseas arm at anywhere “between 5,000 and 40,000.”

“What we know is that they are too powerful,” he said.

“Iran could have retaliated 10 or 20 years ago … (but IRGC leaders) have been waiting for this moment first to strengthen their military powers and, second, to enhance their influence and strengthen their allies in the region.”

Considerably less optimistic about the future of the “allies” is political analyst Koulouriotis. Examining the state of two key Axis of Resistance members, she told Arab News: “It is certain that Hamas, as an influential militia (in) the Israeli arena, has become extremely weak.

“Hamas was considered one of the most important pressure cards in the hands of the Quds Force.”

As for the Lebanese arena, she said: “Hezbollah is facing great pressure in the southern front in light of Israeli demands to implement Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters beyond the Litani River, and Israeli officials continue to confirm their push to implement this resolution diplomatically and militarily.

“In both cases, Hezbollah is facing a difficult test today, which will make it less effective, leading the Quds Force to lose an additional pressure card in the region.”

However, a report released last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said that “although Hezbollah has lost over 100 fighters since Oct. 7, this level of casualties is manageable for a large organization with many skilled personnel.”

Hezbollah, a key component of the ,” is considered one of the world’s most heavily armed non-state groups, according to Reuters, and has demonstrated the scale of its arsenal since Oct. 7.

The group is estimated to possess some 150,000 missiles and rockets, which, Hezbollah claims, can reach all areas of Israel.

According to Australian National University’s Saleh, if Israel has been killing Quds Force commanders “in order to change Iran’s behavior and (influence) in the region,” then it may not have achieved much.

“Hezbollah is strengthened,” he told Arab News. “Reportedly, it has over 150,000 rockets, and it has also been facilitated with drones. Of course, the Houthis are also strengthened and are more powerful than ever.

“Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq was able to attack an American military base in Jordan, which shows it has also been supplied with highly advanced drones.”

Since Oct. 7, Iran-backed militias have attacked US interests in Iraq and Syria more than 160 times, according to Pentagon figures. One attack on US forces in Jordan, carried out by Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, killed three Americans.

“If we look at (Israel’s) so-called success from Tehran’s point of view, these assassinations did not work,” said Saleh, referring to the killing of Quds Force commanders. Instead, “they had a negative impact on the region. It made Iran more aggressive and more determined to respond.”

Saleh believes that while the killings “look good in the media,” when it comes to the attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises in Damascus, “Israel has miscalculated.”

And although the suspected attacks “show that Israel is, in terms of intelligence, powerful,” said Saleh, “strategically, (they) didn’t change anything — none of these assassinations changed Iran’s behavior, nor did they reduce its power.”

The Israelis “thought they got away with other assassinations or with targeting Iran’s interests, so they thought they could get away with” the Damascus strike, he said.

Stressing that the US is the only power that can cause “real damage to Iran’s military,” Saleh said Israel, which “doesn’t have the technology or capabilities to invade Iran’s nuclear sites,” has failed to drag the US into a direct confrontation with Iran.

“Iran illustrated a good degree of rationality and responsibility in attacking Israel” by informing the regional powers and international powers about their intentions and resorting to a “very low-scale, symbolic” attack, he said. 

However, “definitely, (the response) won’t be the same next time. Next time, it will be different. It will (involve) elements of surprise, strength, and regional proxies … to make sure Israel is deterred.”
 

 


UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals
Updated 20 April 2024
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UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals
  • Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut”

GENEVA: The UN has decried the intentional destruction of complex and hard-to-obtain medical equipment in Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals and maternity wards, further deepening risks to women already giving birth in “inhumane, unimaginable conditions.”
Recent UN-led missions to 10 Gaza hospitals found many “in ruins” and just a couple capable of providing any level of maternal health services, said Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund or UNFPA representative for the state of Palestine.
He said that what the teams found at the Nasser Hospital complex, long besieged by Israeli forces during their operations in the southern city of Khan Younis, “breaks my heart.”

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing complex medical equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted in October.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut.”

Palestinian forensic experts inspect the body of a dead person uncovered in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on April 17, 2024 after the recent Israeli military operation there amid the ongoing fighting in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

“Screens of complex medical equipment, like ultrasounds and others with the screens smashed,” he added.
The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing such equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack inside Israel.
Allen warned that this “purposeful, wanton destruction in the maternity ward,” coupled with other damage and lacking water, sanitation, and electricity, was complicating efforts to get what was previously the second-most important hospital in the Palestinian territory up and running again “to provide a lifeline.”
Meanwhile, at Al-Khair, another specialized maternity hospital in Khan Younis, “it didn’t seem as if there was any piece of working medical equipment,” he said, lamenting that the birthing rooms “stand silent.”
“They should be places that give life, but they just have an eerie sense of death.”
Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are currently even partially functioning.
And Allen said that only three of those were now capable of assisting the estimated 180 women giving birth across Gaza every single day — around 15 percent of whom suffer complications requiring significant care.
The hospitals that can provide such care are thus facing significant capacity constraints.
The Emirati Hospital in the south, the main maternity hospital in Gaza currently, is, for instance, supporting up to 60 births every day, including as many as 12 Caesarian sections, he said.
Given the heavy pressure on the facility, women are discharged just hours after giving birth, “and after C-sections, it is less than a day,” Allen said, stressing “that increases risks.”
He said there was a risk in the number of complicated procedures linked to “malnutrition, dehydration, and fear, which impact the pregnant woman’s ability to give birth safely and carry their baby to full term safely.”
A doctor at the Emirati hospital had told Allen that “he no longer sees normal-size babies.”
Amid a “completely crippled” health system in Gaza, the UNFPA is “deeply concerned about the ability to provide postnatal care,” he said.
He said the agency was deploying midwives and midwifery kits to makeshift school centers to help fill the gap.
The current war started after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Oct. 7.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

 


‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’
Updated 20 April 2024
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‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’
  • Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel

ISTANBUL: The tension between Israel and Iran should not distract from the situation in Gaza, and the priority of the international community should be ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said.
Fidan was speaking in Istanbul on Saturday during Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit.
Shoukry urged Iran and Israel to exercise restraint.
Shoukry’s visit to Turkiye comes amid high tensions in the Middle East following the apparent Israeli attack on Iran. Israel has said nothing about the incident.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Fidan, Shoukry said the region was concerned about the ongoing escalation.
“We’ve warned of the expansion of the conflict from the very beginning,” he said.
“We’ve called on both parties (Iran and Israel) to exercise restraint.”
Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel.
“Any development that could distract us from this fact should be ignored,” he said. “Our priority should be ending Israel’s occupation in Palestine and a two-state solution.”
He said he and Shoukry discussed efforts to deliver more humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Separately, Shoukry said Egypt would host a Turkish delegation to prepare for a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Turkiye at a future date.
The ministers met as Gaza’s civil defense agency said an Israeli strike killed nine members of a Palestinian family, including six children, in the southern city of Rafah.
Five children aged one to seven and a 16-year-old girl were among the dead, along with two women and a man, according to the city’s Al-Najjar Hospital.
“Nine martyrs, including six children, were pulled out from the rubble after Israeli air forces struck a house of the Radwan family in Tal Al-Sultan in Rafah,” Gaza Civil Defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said in a statement.

 


Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods
Updated 20 April 2024
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Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods
  • Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change
  • Lack of drainage infrastructure puts countries such as the UAE at particular risk of flooding

RIYADH: Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates and sister airline flydubai have restored normal operations after heavy rains caused severe flooding across the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, the airlines said on Saturday.
Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai on Tuesday, said a statement released by the airline’s president, Tim Clark.
Due to the impact of the storm, the airline suspended check-in for passengers departing from Dubai and halted its transit operations through Dubai International Airport, a major global travel hub, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.
The airport has struggled to return to normal operations after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Flydubai also returned to its full flight schedule from the airport’s Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 on Saturday following the weather-related disruption, a spokesperson for the airline said.
Clark said Emirates had provided 12,000 hotel rooms and 250,000 meal vouchers to customers who were affected. He added it would take days to clear the backlog of rebooked passengers.
The UAE has suffered the impact of the flooding for days, with roads between the city and Abu Dhabi still partially under water as of Saturday. In Abu Dhabi, some supermarkets and restaurants faced product shortages, unable to receive deliveries from Dubai.
Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change and anticipate that global warming will lead to higher temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region.
A lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains in countries such as the UAE can put them at particular risk of flooding.


‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes

‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes
Updated 20 April 2024
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‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes

‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes
  • Naim Qassem promises ‘proportionate response’ to any escalation by Israel

BEIRUT: Hezbollah on Saturday launched a series of strikes against the Israeli army, targeting military sites near Lebanon’s southern border from Hermon to the coastal city of Naqoura.

The group said that it fired missiles at Israeli soldiers deployed near Har Addir mountain, opposite Rmaych, a mostly Christian village on the border.

It also targeted “spy equipment” in the Israeli outpost of Al-Raheb, opposite the Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab.

Hezbollah said that an operation targeting the Hadb Yarin outpost “with appropriate weapons” resulted in direct hits,” while Ruwaizat Al-Alam in the Kfar Shouba Hills was struck with with four missiles.

Sirens sounded in Even Menachem in western Galilee, and in the Shomera and Kiryat Shmona settlements in response to fears of a Hezbollah drone attack.

Israeli media later confirmed damage to farm property in Even Menachem caused by Hezbollah rockets.

Most residents have fled southern areas of Lebanon after 196 days of clashes between Hezbollah and Israel in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

Israeli airstrikes targeted a house in Kfarkela and the town of Aita Al-Shaab, while Israeli artillery shelled the town of Dhayra.

Reports said a person injured in the Kfarkela strike had been taken to hospital.

The Israeli army fired flares over villages in the western and central areas of the border region late on Friday. Reconnaissance aircraft flew throughout the night over border villages adjacent to the Blue Line, reaching the outskirts of Tyre.

Hezbollah officials said that “we will respond proportionately to any Israeli violation of the established ceiling in the confrontation.”

The group’s deputy, Naim Qassem, said: “If any escalation reaches a certain level, we will confront it as required.”

He added: “There is no withdrawal from the confrontation, and no retreat from support for and protection of Gaza.”

Fighting in southern Lebanon will continue until Israel halts its attacks on Gaza, Qassem said.

“This support is for Gaza and Lebanon as well because whoever sees what is happening in Gaza knows that if they remain silent, they will be next, and they know that if they allow the Israelis to be arrogant, the Israelis will believe they can do whatever they want,” he said.

Hezbollah Central Council member Hassan Al-Baghdadi said that Israel “has not had a worse time than now,” adding: “This can be observed from the reaction of its agents.”