Lebanese security services arrest 2 Syrians involved in people smuggling from Libya

Lebanese security services arrest 2 Syrians involved in people smuggling from Libya
Vehicles are seen at Masnaa border crossing between Lebanon and Syria. Mafias and drug traffickers reportedly benefit from Hezbollah’s presence amid the spread of illegal weapons and the illegal crossings used for organized smuggling to and from Syria. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 02 October 2023
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Lebanese security services arrest 2 Syrians involved in people smuggling from Libya

Lebanese security services arrest 2 Syrians involved in people smuggling from Libya
  • Report of ‘terrorist plot to blow up Baalbek columns’ raises concern

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s General Directorate of Internal Security Forces announced on Monday that they had arrested two Syrian nationals, aged 48 and 52, on suspicion of people smuggling.

The suspects had been accused of smuggling people of various nationalities from Libya to Europe via boats. Their names were not disclosed.

The suspects were operating in coordination with people of Lebanese nationality in the Wadi Khaled region in northern Lebanon, on the border with Syria.

The arrests come a few weeks after a boat sank off the coast of the city of Tobruk, Libya, resulting in the death of dozens of migrants.

The directorate said that the two detainees had fled from Libya to Syria after one of them was the target of a murder attempt by some of the victims’ families. 

The two then secretly entered Lebanon and took up residence in the towns of Lala and Bar Elias in the Bekaa.

The second person was kidnapped by unknown people in the Wadi Khaled area and held captive for four months.

During his captivity, he was compelled to pay $43,000 in compensation to the people he had attempted to smuggle to Europe through Libya, but had failed to do so after taking their money.

According to the directorate, detainees confessed during interrogation to receiving $3,500 for each person.

They also reportedly admitted that hundreds of people were smuggled by sea from Libya to Italy and Greece using boats.

The boats’ capacities ranged from 250 to 500 people of various nationalities.

The operation took place in collaboration with the brother of one of the detainees living in Libya and another person residing in Greece, they said.

Also on Monday, a news report about a terrorist plot to blow up the columns of the historical Baalbek citadel sparked reactions that ranged from surprise to fear to skepticism.

The story, published on Monday morning in An-Nahar newspaper, cited a security report.

The report alleged the existence of a plot by fundamentalist terrorist groups to blow up the columns of Baalbek citadel because it was a pagan symbol, and to send a message to Hezbollah in its stronghold.

Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada, who represents the Amal Movement — an ally of Hezbollah in Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government — neither confirmed nor denied the news.

Mortada said: “Regardless of whether it is true or not, the Jupiter columns remain a beacon and a symbol of civilization, unparalleled anywhere on the planet.

“Therefore it is not unlikely that our enemies might entertain the idea of targeting them with their dark, ignorant tools,” the minister said.

He added: “In any case, we reassure the Lebanese that Baalbek and its citadel are protected, and will remain standing tall despite the hatred of our enemies and the clouds of evil passing through our region.”

The minister criticized the circulation of the terror threat claim as the historic citadel had received a large number of tourists this year.

Baalbek Gov. Bashir Khodr also denied the report.

Khodr considered it to be “a result of the resounding success of this year’s tourist season in Baalbek, and the large numbers of tourists, especially foreigners, whom they are trying to intimidate.”

He said: “Leave Baalbek in peace.”

The city of Baalbek and its region are considered a key stronghold for Hezbollah. The party coexists with the tribes that live in the region.

Mafias and drug traffickers reportedly benefit from Hezbollah’s presence amid the spread of illegal weapons and the illegal crossings used for organized smuggling to and from Syria.

News about extremist groups, especially Daesh, occasionally surfaces in Lebanon.

The Lebanese army has announced a series of security operations over the past two years that have resulted in the arrest of Daesh-affiliated armed cells preparing to implement terrorist plots inside Lebanon.

A security source told Arab News that it was likely that there were sleeper cells of terrorist organizations in Lebanon that could be activated by a political decision, and there were lone wolves as well.

The source said: “Whenever political solutions become more complicated in Lebanon, tension is relieved through a specific security event, and perhaps what happened in the Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp last month is one example.”

In this context, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria quoted a security source on Monday as saying: “The situation in Lebanon is very dangerous, with suspicious movements and attempts to sabotage and disrupt security.”

According to the source, the situation required the highest level of vigilance.

“The security and military agencies are on high alert and are performing their duties to protect it, through coordination with each other to thwart any attempt to tamper with the country’s security and stability.”


At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity
Updated 4 sec ago
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At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity
On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds
El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control

PORT SUDAN: At least 85 people have died in a single hospital in the Darfur city of El-Fasher since fighting reignited between Sudan’s warring parties on May 10, medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.
On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds, said Claire Nicolet, head of the charity’s Sudan emergency program.
In the period since the fighting erupted in the North Darfur state capital, the hospital had received “707 casualties” and “85 have passed away,” she added.
For over a year, fighting has raged between the regular military, under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control and is a key humanitarian hub for a region on the brink of famine.
This month, it has been the site of fierce battles, despite repeated pleas including from the United Nations for fighters to spare the city.
Eyewitnesses have reported repeated artillery shelling and gunfire from both sides, as well as air strikes from the army.
Trapped in their homes by the fighting, many residents are unable to brave the violence on the streets to get wounded loved ones to the hospital.
Doctors Without Borders said casualties who reach Southern Hospital are met by “only one surgeon, putting the facility “under intense pressure.”
Across the country, the war has shuttered over 70 percent of medical facilities and stretched the remaining ones impossibly thin.
“We have only around 10 days of supplies left” for Southern Hospital, Nicolet said, urging the warring parties to provide “safe access” to enable them to replenish stocks.
Since the war began, tens of thousands of people have been killed, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, according to UN experts.
Nearly nine million people have been forced from their homes. By the end of April, North Darfur alone hosted more than half a million people newly displaced in the last year, according to the latest figures from the UN.

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November
Updated 57 min 14 sec ago
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Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November
  • The Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone
  • The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthis claimed on Tuesday to have shot down another US drone over the central province of Al-Bayda, marking the fifth such claim by the militia since the start of their Red Sea campaign in November.
Spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised broadcast that the Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone, which crashed in Al-Bayda province.
Sarea did not disclose when the shoot-down took place, but said the military action came in support of the Palestinian people and as retribution for US and UK bombings of Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen.
“The Yemeni Armed Forces continue to enhance their defensive capacities in order to face the American-British aggression against our nation and carry out military operations in triumph for the oppressed Palestinian people,” Sarea said.
The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November.
On Friday, the militia said its forces shot down a US drone over the central province of Marib while conducting “hostile operations,” soon after locals reported hearing a loud blast and finding wreckage of a drone resembling an MQ-9 Reaper.
The Houthis had previously claimed to have shot down the same drone model on April 26 and Feb. 19 this year, as well as on Nov. 8 last year, over Saada, Hodeidah and the Red Sea, respectively.
Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in international waters around Yemen, mainly the Red Sea, using drones, ballistic missiles and drone boats.
The militia claims its campaign is solely targeting Israel-linked ships in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The US has responded to the Houthi attacks by identifying the militia as a terrorist organization, organizing a coalition of marine task forces and carrying out strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.
In an attempt to revive peace talks stalled by the Houthi Red Sea campaign, the US State Department said on Monday that Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking will return to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
He will meet officials in those countries to discuss the Houthi Red Sea campaign and its implications on Yemen’s peace process.
“The Houthis’ continued attacks threaten progress toward achieving a durable resolution to the conflict in Yemen and obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemenis and people in need across the region,” the US State Department said.


UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity

UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity
Updated 21 May 2024
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UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity

UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity
  • Food distribution in Rafah suspended due to lack of supplies and insecurity

DUBAI: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that food distribution in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah were currently suspended due to lack of supplies and insecurity.
Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the southern and northern edges of the Gaza Strip this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.


Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’
Updated 21 May 2024
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Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’
  • 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday
  • The vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island

NICOSIA: Four ships from the United States and France are transporting aid from Larnaca port to the Gaza Strip amid the spiralling humanitarian crisis there, the Cyprus presidency said on Tuesday.
Victor Papadopoulos from the presidential press office told state radio 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday.
He said the vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island, a distance of about 360 kilometers (225 miles).
Large quantities of aid from Britain, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and other countries have accumulated at Larnaca port.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Tuesday the maritime aid effort was “on track.”
“We have substantial assistance from third countries that want to contribute to this effort,” he said.
The aid shipped from Cyprus is entering Gaza via a temporary US-built floating pier, where the shipments are offloaded for distribution.
The United Nations has warned of famine as Gaza’s 2.4 million people face shortages of food, safe water, medicines and fuel amid the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the coastal territory.
Aid deliveries by truck have slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in early May.
The war in Gaza broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Two days after the war broke out, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor
Updated 21 May 2024
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Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor
  • The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed“
  • The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common

BEIRUT: Daesh group militants killed three Syrian soldiers in an attack Tuesday on an army position in the Badia desert, a war monitor said.
The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that a lieutenant colonel and two soldiers died.
The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common, ahead of an expected wider sweep, said the Britain-based Observatory which has a network of sources inside the country.
In an attack on May 3, Daesh fighters killed at least 15 Syrian pro-government fighters when they targeted three military positions in the desert, the Observatory had reported.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a so-called caliphate and launching a reign of terror.
It was defeated territorially in Syria in 2019, but its remnants still carry out deadly attacks, particularly against pro-government forces and Kurdish-led fighters in Badia desert.
Syria’s war has claimed more than half a million lives and displaced millions more since it erupted in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.