Middle East faces stark choice between diplomacy and escalation, Lebanon’s caretaker PM Najib Mikati tells Arab News

Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, speaks to Arab News in Davos. (Supplied)
Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, speaks to Arab News in Davos. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 January 2024
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Middle East faces stark choice between diplomacy and escalation, Lebanon’s caretaker PM Najib Mikati tells Arab News

Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, speaks to Arab News in Davos. (Supplied)
  • Gaza ceasefire would reduce hostilities on Lebanese border, allow progress on two-state solution, says Mikati
  • Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, caretaker PM denounces Israeli strikes on Lebanese soil

DAVOS: Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, said on Tuesday that Israel’s recent attacks on Lebanese soil, as well as the ongoing hostilities in Gaza, presented the region with two possible outcomes — win-win or lose-lose.

In an interview with Arab News at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mikati said the region faced a stark choice between a diplomatic resolution to the region’s many overlapping crises or a major escalation.

“We are faced with two solutions today: Either a win-win solution or a lose-lose one,” he said. “In the lose-lose scenario, a region-wide war would be declared, whereas the win-win scenario would involve the required diplomatic solution.”




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Mikati, who is heading Lebanon’s first delegation to the annual meeting since 2019, when the country’s financial crisis began, said his country favored a diplomatic solution that would avoid dragging the region into a costly war.

“Since the war erupted in Gaza, we have been calling for a ceasefire, as it would serve as the foundation for any potential solution,” he said.

“As soon as a ceasefire is reached in Gaza, we will explore a solution aimed at achieving sustainable and permanent stability in south Lebanon, in accordance with the UN Resolution 1701, which must be fully applied.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. However, since the war in Gaza began on Oct. 7, Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters have traded fire along the shared border.

Our greatest fear is that those violations will lead to a war — a prolonged and devastating one for all involved.

Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister

In November, Mikati proposed a three-step plan for peace in Gaza, starting with a five-day pause in hostilities.

During this pause, Hamas would release some of the hostages it seized during its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, while Israel would allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, where Palestinian civilians have endured months under siege.

Meanwhile, world leaders would begin working towards an international summit to implement a permanent two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, Israel has been reluctant to halt its military operation in Gaza. Instead, it appears to have broadened the scope of its mission to include precision airstrikes against Hamas and Hezbollah commanders in Lebanon.




A shell that appears to be white phosphorus from Israeli artillery explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, on Oct. 15, 2023. (AP)

Saleh Al-Arouri, the deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau and founder of the group’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, was killed in a suspected Israeli strike alongside several of his henchmen at an apartment in a Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in Beirut on Jan. 2.

Then, on Jan. 8, Wissam Al-Tawil, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Radwan Force, was also killed in a suspected Israeli drone strike on a vehicle in the southern Lebanese town of Khirbet Selm.

This was followed on Jan. 9 with the death of Ali Hussein Burji, commander of Hezbollah’s aerial forces in southern Lebanon, also in Khirbet Selm in another suspected Israeli airstrike.

The killings on Lebanese soil have only compounded the threat of escalation, with the exchange of missiles and drone attacks along the shared border continuing to intensify.




A Palestinian man carries a victim of an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 7, 2023. (AFP)

Israeli shelling has burned 462 hectares of agricultural and forested land, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, and sparked an exodus from southern villages close to the border with Israel.

Likewise, Israeli civilians living close to the border have been relocated, fearing an attack akin to the Hamas assault of Oct. 7.

An Amnesty International report confirmed that “the Israeli army fired artillery shells containing white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon, in military operations along Lebanon’s southern border” between Oct. 10 and 16.

Furthermore, videos verified by Human Rights Watch in October indicated that Israel had used white phosphorus in military operations in south Lebanon and Gaza on Oct. 10 and 11, respectively.




Hezbollah members take part in a military exercise during a media tour organized for the occasion of Resistance and Liberation Day, in Aaramta, Lebanon May 21, 2023. (REUTERS)

The monitor said on Oct. 12 that these attacks placed civilians “at risk of serious and long-term injuries.”

On Jan. 9, Lebanon filed a formal complaint to the UN Security Council accusing Israel of violating Resolution 1701, citing the use of prohibited weapons containing white phosphorus.

International humanitarian law prohibits the use of white phosphorus in, or in close proximity to, populated civilian areas or infrastructure.

This incendiary substance burns at extremely high temperatures and often starts fires that spread and continue until the phosphorus is depleted.




Pedestrians walk past a closed-down shop with a rental sign in the wake of an economic crisis in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP)

People exposed to white phosphorus can suffer respiratory damage, organ failure and other life-changing injuries. Burns caused by the substance are extremely difficult to treat and can be fatal when affecting just 10 percent of the body.

“We have filed a complaint with the UN on the type of weapons used and other violations committed by Israel,” Mikati told Arab News. “Our greatest fear is that those violations will lead to a war — a prolonged and devastating one for all involved.”

Lebanon has filed additional complaints against Israel at the UN Security Council, including over the suspected targeted killing of Hamas commander Al-Arouri.

If an all-out war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah, many in Lebanon fear it would be far more devastating than the 2006 conflict, which left at least 1,100 Lebanese dead and severely damaged civilian infrastructure, including Rafik Hariri International Airport.




US Ambassador Alternate Representative of the US for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations Robert A. Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023. (AFP)

Since 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with a range of overlapping political and economic crises, which have pushed some 80 percent of the population into poverty. The country’s financial crisis has been deemed one of the world’s worst since the 1850s.

However, the Lebanese government has failed to implement critical reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund to address the root causes of the country’s economic problems.

Parliament has also repeatedly failed since Oct. 2022 to elect a new president, with its 12th unsuccessful attempt in June last year.

“More than 14 months have passed without the election of a president,” Mikati told Arab News, adding that he hoped “all political entities in Lebanon (would) demonstrate the necessary (level of) awareness to expedite the process.”

In the context of regional tensions, however, Mikati seemed doubtful about progress in the short term. “At the present time, electing the president of the Lebanese republic is a top priority, but there have been new developments,” he said.

“This is especially important during these challenging times in the region.”

 


Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

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Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

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  • During his tour the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials

DUBAI: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad began his state visit to Manila, the Philippine capital, on Sunday as part of his Asia tour, reported the Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Tamim received a welcome at Maharlika Presidential Airport from a delegation including Rafael Perbeto Lutilia, minister of energy; Ahmed bin Saad Al-Humaidi, ambassador of Qatar to the Philippines; and Lilibeth Velasco Puno, ambassador of the Philippines to Qatar, along with several senior officials from the Philippine government and members of the Qatari Embassy.

Accompanied by an official delegation, Sheikh Tamim’s itinerary includes visits to Bangladesh and Nepal following his time in the Philippines.

During his tour, the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials, focusing on ways to enhance cooperation and discussing issues of common interest.

Additionally, agreements and memoranda of understanding are expected to be signed across various fields.


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 34,097

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 34,097
Updated 59 min 24 sec ago
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 34,097

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 34,097
  • The tally includes at least 48 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that at least 34,097 people have been killed in the territory during more than six months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The tally includes at least 48 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 76,980 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


Sultan of Oman to visit UAE on Monday - WAM

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Updated 21 April 2024
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Sultan of Oman to visit UAE on Monday - WAM

Sultan of Oman to visit UAE on Monday - WAM

DUBAI: Sultan Haitham of Oman will visit the UAE on Monday for talks with President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, state news agency WAM reported. 

During the visit, both leaders will discuss “the deep-rooted, historical relations between the UAE and Oman and cooperation in various fields,” the agency said. 

The two leaders will also discuss a number of regional and international issues of common interest. 


Kuwait’s PM will serve as emir’s deputy if emir is abroad - KUNA

Kuwait’s PM will serve as emir’s deputy if emir is abroad - KUNA
Updated 21 April 2024
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Kuwait’s PM will serve as emir’s deputy if emir is abroad - KUNA

Kuwait’s PM will serve as emir’s deputy if emir is abroad - KUNA

DUBAI: Kuwait’s prime minister-designate Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah will serve as the emir’s deputy when the latter is not in the country, state news agency KUNA said on Sunday, citing a royal decree.

Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who was sworn in December, has yet to choose a crown prince, who would usually be his deputy.

The Emir selected Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad after the cabinet’s resignation earlier this month. 

The expected move comes after a new parliament was elected and is a procedural one as the current government has to submit its resignation before the legislature’s inauguration.


West Bank village counts losses after settler attack, and fears more

West Bank village counts losses after settler attack, and fears more
Updated 21 April 2024
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West Bank village counts losses after settler attack, and fears more

West Bank village counts losses after settler attack, and fears more
  • Attack began after Israeli went missing, later found dead
  • Residents say Israeli army did nothing to stop raid

AL-MUGHAYYER: The Israeli settlers who rampaged through the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyer on April 12 came in greater numbers and carried more weapons than during any of the previous raids on the Palestinian community, residents said.
Days later, torched homes and cars still bear testament to the attack, which residents said lasted several hours and that they said Israeli soldiers did nothing to stop.
With few means to defend themselves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, they fear more such assaults on the village.
“We have stones and they have weapons, and the army supports the settlers,” said Abdullatif Abu Alia, whose house came under attack. His roof was spattered with the blood of Palestinians wounded as they tried to repel the attackers with rocks. One of them, his relative Jihad Abu Alia, was shot and killed, he said.
“Of course, the aim is to force displacement,” he added.
Al-Mughayyer was one of several Palestinian villages raided by settlers over several days beginning April 12, an escalation that began after a 14-year-old Israeli went missing. His body was discovered not far from Al-Mughayyer the following day.
Israel said he was killed in a terrorist attack.
Violence in the West Bank, seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, was already surging before the Gaza war began in October — fueling further bloodshed in the territory.
Settler violence is a source of growing concern among Israel’s Western allies. A number of countries, including the United States, have imposed sanctions on violent settlers and urged Israel to do more to stop the violence.
Washington imposed sanctions on Friday on an ally of Israel’s far-right national security minister and two entities that raised money for Israeli men accused of settler violence.
The Israeli military said confrontations had spread in the area as a result of the teenager’s killing, and included “exchanges of gunfire, mutual stone throwing and property arson in which Israeli and Palestinian civilians were injured.”
Asked about residents’ accusations that soldiers had done nothing to stop the Al-Mughayyer attack, the military said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and security forces operated with the aim of protecting “the property and lives of all citizens and dispersing the confrontations.”
Gunshot wounds
Ameen Abu Alia, the head of Al-Mughayyer’s municipal council, said 45 Palestinians suffered gunshot wounds in the attack, which began after hundreds of settlers had congregated on a road near the village.
Israeli troops arrived shortly before it started, setting up road blocks and a cordon which left houses on the village outskirts cut off from its center, meaning villagers could not to go to aid those who were under attack, he said.
The soldiers also prevented ambulances from reaching the area to treat wounded people, he said.
The Israeli military said ambulances “were delayed for a security check and then they were given the authorization to continue.”
Abu Alia, the municipal council head, accused the Israeli army of providing security for the settler raid, which the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said had been “accompanied by Israeli forces.”
Complaints about soldiers’ behavior that was not in accordance with orders will be examined, the Israeli military said.
Israel has settled the West Bank extensively since 1967, viewing it as the biblical Judea and Samaria and critical to Israel’s security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promotion of settlement growth has drawn US criticism.
The settlements have eaten up West Bank land where Palestinians have long aimed to establish an independent state that would also include the Gaza Strip and have East Jerusalem as its capital.
Fire truck torched, sheep stolen
His home torched in the attack, Shehadah Abu Rasheed has pitched a tent to provide temporary shelter. Inside, the walls of the house were charred black. Abu Rasheed said his wife was hit by a settler and one of his four children lightly wounded by gunfire.
The settlers also torched a fire truck sent to Al-Mughayyer by the Palestinian civil defense service during the attack, the civil defense said. Its charred remains were being loaded onto a truck when Reuters journalists visited on Wednesday.
OCHA reported that the settlers fully burnt 21 houses in Al-Mughayyer, displacing 86 Palestinians, and that 32 vehicles were damaged, and some 220 sheep were killed or stolen.
It was unconfirmed if the Palestinian man who died during the raid was killed by Israeli forces or settlers, it said.
Four of seven Palestinians killed in the West Bank between April 12 and 15 died in incidents involving Israeli settlers in a series of attacks on Palestinian communities during and after the search for the 14-year-old Israeli, OCHA reported. Another Palestinian man was killed in a settler raid on April 20, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The United States, Britain and the European Union have all imposed sanctions on violent settlers in recent months.
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at an April 15 briefing that Washington condemned last weekend’s violence against Palestinians just as strongly as it condemned the murder of the 14-year-old Israeli. The United States has said it is “incredibly concerned” that Israeli security forces were not doing enough to stop settler violence, he said.
Al-Mughayyer is located in a part of the West Bank where Israel has full security control under interim peace accords which Palestinian leaders signed three decades ago in the belief they would eventually lead to an independent state.
The arrangements mean most of the West Bank is off limits to the security forces of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. Abdullatif Abu Alia, the Al-Mughayyer resident, said the most he hoped for from the Palestinian government was help to erect a protective fence around his house and reinforce the windows.
“What else can they do? They can’t even protect themselves,” he said, referring to Israeli raids into Palestinian cities.