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.”


Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
Updated 40 min 13 sec ago
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Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
  • Galaxy Leader management: ‘There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members’
  • Houthis hold captive the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania

Managers of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship on Tuesday renewed calls for the release of the vessel’s 25 crew being held by Yemen’s Houthi militants for seven months.
The militants used helicopters to attack the Bahamas-flagged ship on Nov. 19. They captured the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania, the ship managers said.
“There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members,” said the ship managers, who requested that they be released to their families without further delay.
The Houthis have used drones and missiles to assault ships in the Red Sea, the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war. Since then, they have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents ship owners, has called the Houthi attacks “unacceptable acts of aggression which threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping.”
Last week, Houthis notched up direct strikes on two ships — the Liberan-flagged Tutor coal carrier and Palau-flagged Verbena, which was loaded with wood construction material.
Those assaults prompted security experts to note a significant increase in the effectiveness of the Iran-aligned militants’ drone and missile attacks.
Rescuers evacuated crews from the damaged ships due to safety risks. One sailor from the Tutor remains missing. Both ships are now adrift and vulnerable to further attack or sinking.
US and British forces on Monday conducted airstrikes targeting Yemen’s Hodeidah International Airport and Kamaran Island near the port of Salif off the Red Sea.


Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
  • “As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said
  • "Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field"

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Tuesday operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were "approved and validated", as Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement engaged in cross-border exchanges of fire.
Senior Israeli military officials "held a joint situational assessment in the Northern Command. As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said in a statement.
"Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field."
Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, and Israel have been trading near-daily fire since the Gaza war was trigged by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack on southern Israel.
The sign-off came as Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier warned Hezbollah that it would be destroyed in the event of a "total war" between the two.
"We are very close to the moment when we will decide to change the rules of the game against Hezbollah and Lebanon. In a total war, Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be hit hard," Katz said, according to a statement from his office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month that the military was ready for an intense operation in Lebanon if necessary, pledging to restore security to the country's northern border.
US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon on Tuesday a day after meeting Israeli leaders, seeking "urgent" de-escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border.


Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
  • Mohammadi refused to attend a trial session in Tehran earlier this month, and in March shared an audio message from prison in which she decried a ‘full-scale war against women’ in Iran

TEHRAN: An Iranian court has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi to a year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” the jailed activist’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mohammadi, 52, has been jailed since November 2021 over several past convictions relating to her advocacy against the obligatory hijab for women and capital punishment in Iran.
Lawyer Mostafa Nili said on X that “Mohammadi was sentenced to one year in prison for propaganda against the system.”
Nili said “the reasons for issuing this sentence” include calls to boycott parliamentary elections, letters to Swedish and Norwegian lawmakers and “comments about Mrs.Dina Ghalibaf.”
Rights groups have said that Ghalibaf, a journalist and student, had been taken into custody after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. Ghalibaf has since been released.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online website said on April 22 that Ghalibaf “had not been raped” and that she was being prosecuted for making a “false statement.”
Iranian police  have intensified enforcement of the country’s dress code for women.

 


Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Updated 18 June 2024
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Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
  • Latest assessment adds to concerns about humanitarian crisis and environmental costs of war

GENEVA: The conflict in Gaza has created unprecedented soil, water, and air pollution in the region, destroying sanitation systems and leaving tonnes of debris from explosive devices, a UN report on the environmental impact of the war said on Tuesday.

The war between Israel and Hamas has swiftly reversed limited progress in improving the region’s water desalination and wastewater treatment facilities, restoring the Wadi Gaza coastal wetland, and investments in solar power installations, according to a preliminary assessment from the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP.
Explosive weapons have generated some 39 million tonnes of debris, the report said.

FASTFACT

UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.

Each square meter of the Gaza Strip is now littered with more than 107 kg of debris. The report said that is more than five times the debris generated during the battle for Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.
“All of this is deeply harming people’s health, food security, and Gaza’s resilience,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Gaza’s environment was already suffering from recurring conflicts, rapid urban growth, and high population density before the most recent conflict began on Oct. 7. The UN assessment adds to concerns about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the environmental costs of war, with Ukraine also recording widespread ecological damage over the past two years.
“Understanding the environmental impacts of war is a grand challenge of our time,” said Eoghan Darbyshire, a senior researcher at the UK-based nonprofit Conflict and Environment Observatory.
“The impacts will not only be felt locally where the fighting is taking place but may be displaced or even felt at the global scale via greenhouse gas emissions.”
The UN assessment stems from a December 2023 request from the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority for UNEP to take stock of environmental damages. UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.
Due to security concerns and access restrictions, the UN used remote sensing surveys, data from Palestinian technical entities, and damage assessments from the World Bank in their report.
Ground measurements, however, would be critical to understanding the extent of soil and water pollution, Darbyshire said.
The report found that the water, sanitation, and hygiene systems are almost entirely defunct, with Gaza’s five wastewater treatment plants shut down. Israel’s long-term occupation had already posed major environmental challenges in the Palestinian territories about water quality and availability, according to a 2020 report by the UN Development Program.
Over 92 percent of water in the Gaza Strip was then deemed unfit for human consumption.
The Gaza Strip had one of the highest densities of rooftop solar panels in the world, with the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating 2023 some 12,400 rooftop solar systems.
But Israel has since destroyed a large proportion of Gaza’s burgeoning solar infrastructure, and broken panels can leak lead and heavy metal contaminants into the soil.
Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed.
Looking at the scale of environmental destruction, “it is my opinion that large areas of Gaza will not be recovered to a safe state within a generation, even with limitless finance and will,” said Darbyshire.

 


Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media

Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media
Updated 18 June 2024
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Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media

Quake kills four, injures 120 in northeastern Iran: state media
  • The US Geological Survey said it hit at a depth of 10 kilometers

TEHRAN: At least four people were killed and 120 injured Tuesday in a 4.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Iran’s northeastern city of Kashmar, state media reported.
The quake struck at 1:24 p.m. (0954 GMT), state television and the local governor said, while the US Geological Survey said it hit at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles).