Political, economic reforms ‘returning oxygen to body of Libya,’ PM tells summit

Political, economic reforms ‘returning oxygen to body of Libya,’ PM tells summit
The North African nation has remained unstable since the eruption of violence in 2011. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 February 2024
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Political, economic reforms ‘returning oxygen to body of Libya,’ PM tells summit

Political, economic reforms ‘returning oxygen to body of Libya,’ PM tells summit

LONDON: Libya’s interim prime minister on Wednesday said he expected to be the last head of a transitional government in the country and that political and economic reforms were beginning to take hold.

Speaking at the World Governments Summit in Dubai, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah told delegates that he “wanted oxygen to return to the body of Libya,” and that the rebuild of the country was moving forward at pace.

“We have worked to restructure education, infrastructure, energy, and health. For nearly 10 years, the electricity in Libya was constantly cut off, but we made great efforts to solve this problem and now, it has not been cut off for a single minute for a year-and-a-half,” the PM added.

The North African nation has remained unstable since the eruption of violence in 2011, the overthrow and death of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and a subsequent civil war.

Dbeibah has headed the UN-backed, internationally recognized Government of National Unity since 2021 from Tripoli, but faces opposition from the rival, eastern-based Government of National Stability.

He told Kuwaiti presenter Ammar Taqi that the political and economic rebuild of the country was ongoing despite the division and unrest, and he rejected some outside accusations that Libya had become a land of terrorists.

The premier thanked “friendly countries,” including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkiye, for reopening their embassies and consulates in Tripoli, and urged others to follow suit to assist the rebuilding process, citing the “excellent security conditions” in the capital.

Dbeibah also highlighted the organization of national elections, which Libya’s Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh recently said would be “crucial” to resolving the current challenges facing Libya.

Addressing the summit, Dbeibah said: “We announce that we will be the last transitional government, God willing. We want fair laws that are not tailored for any group, and we will be the first government to hand over to whomever the new parliament chooses and whoever it chooses as president of the country.”

He also reaffirmed on Wednesday a decision he made last year to end fuel subsidies in Libya by the middle or end of this year and to offer direct cash support to citizens instead. He recently described the subsidies as “a drain on the state budget,” and pointed out at the WGS that as much as 40 percent of the national budget was being spent on them.

He noted that, since the discovery of oil in Libya, fuel support to citizens had been provided with a liter of gasoline in Libya currently costing three cents. However, he added that as much as 60 percent of the fuel produced in Libya was being smuggled out of the country, costing its economy billions of dollars in losses.

Dbeibah said the success of the policy depended on convincing Libyans they would be better off without subsidies and ensuring their salaries were improved.

“We decided, in fact, to replace fuel subsidies by paying this support directly into the pockets of Libyans,” he added.

 


Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership
Updated 11 sec ago
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Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership
  • Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain
  • Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

JERUSALEM: Israel will summon ambassadors of countries that voted for full Palestinian UN membership “for a protest talk” on Sunday, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
It came after the Palestinian Authority said it would “reconsider” its relationship with the United States after Washington vetoed the Palestinian membership bid earlier this week.
Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain.

A Palestinian doctor tends to a baby born prematurely after his mother was injured during Israeli bombardment, at the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Only the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.
On Saturday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein said the ministry “will summon for a protest talk the ambassadors of the countries that voted in the Security Council in favor of upgrading the status of the Palestinians in the UN.”
“The ambassadors of France, Japan, South Korea, Malta, the Slovak Republic and Ecuador will be summoned tomorrow for a demarche, and a strong protest will be presented to them,” he said in a post on X.

Blood stains are seen on a wall inside a house following an Israeli raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West bank on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“An identical protest will be presented to additional countries,” he said.
“The unambiguous message that will be delivered to the ambassadors: A political gesture to the Palestinians and a call to recognize a Palestinian state — six months after the October 7 massacre — is a prize for terrorism.”
The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012.
The majority of the UN’s 193 member states — 137, according to a Palestinian count — have recognized a Palestinian state.
 

 


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.