Strongman Haftar and sons tighten grip on eastern Libya

Strongman Haftar and sons tighten grip on eastern Libya
Khaled Haftar (C), son of Libya's eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, meets with emergency first responders in the devastated eastern city of Derna on September 18, 2023 following deadly flash floods. (AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Strongman Haftar and sons tighten grip on eastern Libya

Strongman Haftar and sons tighten grip on eastern Libya

TRIPOLI: The military strongman in the east of divided Libya, Khalifa Haftar, has named one of his sons as army chief, tightening his family’s grip on the oil-rich region.
Saddam Haftar is the third of the field marshal’s six sons to assume a key post, and experts see it as a sign the 81-year-old patriarch is preparing for his succession.
They also warn this entrenches the division of the North African country that has been rocked by chaos since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising.
Energy-rich Libya is split between a United Nations-recognized government in the capital Tripoli in the west and the Haftar-backed rival administration that rules from Benghazi and Tobruk in the east.
Presidential elections that had aimed to unify the fractured country were scheduled for late 2021 but then postponed indefinitely.
In early June, the strongman’s youngest son, General Saddam Haftar, 33, took over as chief of staff of the land forces within Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan Arab Armed Forces.
Saddam’s older brother Khaled was named last July as chief of staff of “security units” within the LAAF.
And in February, another son, Belgacem, took the helm of a newly created development and reconstruction fund.
The appointments continue “what has been from the beginning a private and family army as Haftar bolstered his power,” said Wolfram Lacher of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“The inner circle” which controls “key units and resources of this private empire” is comprised of “his sons but also his cousins, his nephews, his sons-in-law,” Lacher told AFP.
Haftar was once an ally of Qaddafi but fell out with the dictator and then spent years in the United States, where he gained citizenship, before returning to Libya to help topple him.
In the years of war that followed Qaddafi’s ouster and killing, Haftar’s forces gained control of about two-thirds of Libya’s territory, including crucial oil infrastructure in its Sahara desert south.
In 2019-2020, Haftar tried to seize Tripoli but failed, despite backing from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and some Western powers.
His opponents received military support from Turkiye.
Haftar is a declared enemy of Islamist forces and the Muslim Brotherhood but critics say he has previously cooperated with jihadists.
Khaled Al-Montasser, an international relations professor at the University of Tripoli, said that now the aging soldier, who suffered a stroke in 2018, is “stepping up the pace” to prepare for his succession.
Imad Jalloul, a Libyan political analyst, said Haftar’s allies abroad have begun seeing him as “unfit to lead Libya,” hence the need for “new blood.”
Lacher said that in recent years Haftar’s sons had enjoyed “a rapid rise” through the military ranks, “achieving in no time what would take other officers decades.”
He said this “became the subject of mockery” but that “since then, by seeing them every day on social media, the Libyan public started to get used to them.”
Lacher said that Saddam Haftar now holds real military power and a key role in murky business dealings in a graft-ridden country notorious for trafficking of irregular migrants.
The expert said Saddam has a hand in “repression, managing trafficking, embezzling public funds and negotiating shady transactions with political rivals in Tripoli.”
The recent reshuffles are “a clear sign of preparation for the day when Haftar disappears and when his entire power structure is then in danger,” Lacher added.
“It is also a sign that Haftar himself is getting older and can no longer manage this structure all on his own.”
Jalloul said the Haftar clan has brutally repressed opponents across a vast stretch of eastern and southern Libya, where political, tribal and civil society figures have been arrested, disappeared or killed.
The latest example was the death in April of activist Siraj Dughman while in detention at a military base controlled by Haftar.
Last December, former defense minister Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi and six others died in custody while in custody of eastern authorities after their arrests in Benghazi.
Lacher said that “what’s distressing to see in recent months is that Western and UN diplomats, by publicly meeting Haftar’s sons, have begun to legitimize this family power structure, which sees the country’s two thirds and its underground wealth as private property.”


Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
Updated 21 July 2024
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Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port
  • Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the attack was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned Israel’s deadly retaliatory strike on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen that the miltia say killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Late on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani “strongly condemned” the attack saying it was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime.”
Israeli warplanes on Saturday struck the vital port of Hodeidah in response to a deadly drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on Tel Aviv, which killed one civilian.
The Houthis have since threatened a “huge” retaliation against Israel.
Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen.”
Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthis, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The Islamic republic has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they were independent in their decision-making and actions.


Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure
Updated 46 min 43 sec ago
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Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure

Archaeologists in Bahrain unearth Gulf’s earliest Christian structure
  • Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community”
  • Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

DUBAI: Bahraini and British archaeologists say they have discovered what is believed to be the first Christian structure in the Arabian Gulf, dating back to the fourth century.

Located in Samahij, in the Bahraini city of Muharraq, the unearthed structure is considered “the first material evidence of this ancient community,” according to the Bahrain National Communications Center.

“While Christianity is not predominantly associated with the Gulf states today, the Church of the East, also known as the Nestorian Church, flourished in the region for centuries until the 7th century CE, coinciding with the widespread Islam amongst the communities in 610 CE,” the NCC said in a statement.

Archeologists said that radiocarbon dating of the Samahij site confirmed “the building was occupied between the mid-4th and mid-8th centuries CE, likely abandoned as Islam spread among the local population.”

Digging at the site commenced at a mound within the Samahij cemetery, where archaeologists discovered the remains of a mosque.

Further excavation revealed a large building with eight rooms, including a kitchen, dining room, workshop, and three living quarters. It is believed that the construction of the mosque on the site contributed to the preservation of the building below, the NCC added.

The findings suggest the building may have been the residence of the bishop of the local diocese, which included Samahij. Historical sources refer to this area as “Mishmahig” or “Mashmahig,” likely variations of Samahij.

Records also indicate a connection between the region and central church authorities, with one bishop dismissed in 410 and another condemned for challenging church unity in the seventh century.

The excavation project, a collaborative effort between the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities and a British team led by Prof. Timothy Insoll of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, and Dr. Salman Al-Mahari of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, began in 2019 and culminated in these significant findings in 2023.

This discovery is unique due to its location in the heart of a modern, densely populated town, unlike previous Christian structures found in remote areas along the Gulf coast.

Notable finds include three plaster crosses, two adorning the building’s exterior and one possibly kept as a personal memento, along with wall carvings featuring a fish symbol and part of the “Chi Rho” symbol, representing “Christ.”

Al-Mahari explained that the excavation, now in its final stages, is an important piece of Bahraini history, providing valuable insights into the Christian presence in the region.

Initial studies suggested the site dated from the sixth to eighth centuries, but radiocarbon dating confirmed fourth century origins, making it one of the oldest Christian buildings in the Arabian Gulf. Recent findings include a clear Eastern cross on a plaster slab.

The excavation also revealed details about the building and its inhabitants’ lives. Constructed with stone walls coated in plaster and plaster floors, the building featured sockets and holes indicating door and seat placements. The kitchen contained built-in ovens with bases and storage areas. Artifacts suggest the inhabitants enjoyed a good standard of living, consuming meat, fish, shellfish, and various crops. The discovery of semi-precious agate beads and broken Indian pottery indicates the occupants were involved in trade, particularly with India. Small drinking glasses and 12 copper coins suggest the use of Sasanian Empire currency. Additionally, spindle whorls and copper needles hint at the possibility of cloth production for religious purposes.

Insoll said: “We stress the importance of this site and the need to preserve it, highlighting its historical and archaeological value.”

He added: “We were amused to find someone had drawn part of a face on a pearl shell using bitumen, possibly for a child who lived in the building. This is the first physical evidence of the Nestorian Church in Bahrain, providing a fascinating insight into how people lived, worked, and worshiped.”


Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye
Updated 21 July 2024
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Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye

Iraq to import electricity from Turkiye
  • PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Sunday a new power line will bring electricity from Turkiye to its northern provinces as authorities aim to diversify the country’s energy sources to ease chronic power outages.
The 115-kilometer (71-mile) line connects to Kisik power plant west of Mosul and will provide 300 megawatts from Turkiye to Iraq’s northern provinces of Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, according to a statement by the prime minister’s office.
PM Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani said the new line is a “strategic” step to link Iraq with neighboring countries.
“The line started operating today,” Ahmed Moussa, spokesperson for the electricity ministry, told AFP.
Decades of war have left Iraq’s infrastructure in a pitiful state, with power cuts worsening the blistering summer when temperatures often reach 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Many households have just a few hours of mains electricity per day, and those who can afford it use private generators to keep fridges and air conditioners running.
Despite its vast oil reserves, Iraq remains dependent on imports to meet its energy needs, especially from neighboring Iran, which regularly cuts supplies.
Sudani has repeatedly stressed the need for Iraq to diversify energy sources to ease the chronic outages.
To reduce its dependence on Iranian gas, Baghdad has been exploring several possibilities including imports from Gulf countries.
In March, a 340-kilometer (210-mile) power line started operating to bring electricity from Jordan to Al-Rutbah in Iraq’s southwest.


Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

Yemen’s Hodeidah  battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike
Updated 21 July 2024
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Yemen’s Hodeidah battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike

Yemen’s Hodeidah  battles port blaze after deadly Israel strike
  • Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.”
  • The strike killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Sunday were still battling a blaze at the Houthi-run port in Yemen’s Hodeidah, hours after an Israeli strike on the harbor triggered a massive fire and killed six people, according to the militia.
Saturday’s strike on the vital port, a key entry point for fuel and humanitarian aid, is the first claimed by Israel in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, about 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) away.
It killed six people and wounded 80, many of them with severe burns, the rebel-run health ministry said in a statement carried by Houthi media.

On Sunday, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the militia’s “response to the Israeli aggression against our country is inevitably coming and will be huge.” 

Israel said it carried out the strike in response to a drone attack by the Houthis on Tel Aviv which killed one person on Friday.
More operations against the Houthis would follow “if they dare to attack us,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Following the strike, the Israeli military said Sunday it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen toward the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, noting that “the projectile did not cross into Israeli territory.”
Saree, the Houthi spokesman, said the militia had fired ballistic missiles toward Eilat, the latest in a string of Houthi attempts to hit the port city.
The militia announcement came as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze at the Hodeidah port, with thick plumes of black smoke shrouding the sky above the city, said an AFP correspondent in the area.
Fuel storage tanks and a power plant at the port where still ablaze amid “slow” firefighting efforts, said a Hodeidah port employee.
The port employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security concerns, said it could take days to contain the fire, a view echoed by Yemen experts.
“There is concern that the poorly equipped firefighters may not be able to contain the spreading fire, which could continue for days,” said Mohammed Albasha, senior Middle East analyst for the US-based Navanti Group, warning that it could reach food storage facilities at the harbor.
Hodeidah port, a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for militia-held areas of Yemen, had remained largely untouched through the decade-long war between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government propped up by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis control swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, and the war has left millions of Yemenis dependent on aid supplied through the port.
Despite Houthi assurances of sufficient fuel stocks, Saturday’s strike triggered fears of worsening shortages, which war-weary Yemenis are ill-equiped to handle.
The attack is “going to have dire humanitarian effects on the millions of ordinary Yemenis living in Houthi-held Yemen,” Nicholas Brumfield, a Yemen expert, said on social media platform X.
It will drive up prices of fuel but also any goods carried by truck, the analyst said.
Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, which has been battling the Houthis for nearly a decade, condemned the strike, and held Israel responsible for a worsening humanitarian crisis.
A statement carried by the official Saba news agency said the Yemeni government holds “the Zionist entity fully responsible for any repercussions resulting from its air strikes, including the deepening of a humanitarian crises.”
It also warned the huthi militia against dragging the country into “senseless battles that serve the interests of the Iranian regime and its expansionist project in the region.”


‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen
Updated 21 July 2024
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‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen

‘Deeply concerned’ UN chief calls for restraint after Israel’s attack on Yemen
  • The internationally recognised government of Yemen also condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws

DUBAI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern over Israel’s airstrikes on Saturday in and around the port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

Guterres called on all parties to “avoid attacks that could harm civilians and damage civilian infrastructure.”

In a statement, the secretary-general said that he “remains deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation in the region and continues to urge all to exercise utmost restraint.”

Israel’s stike on Hodeidah, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week, left several dead and more than 80 people injured.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes struck a power plant and a fuel storage facility.

Meanwhile, the internationally recognised government of Yemen on Sunday condemned Israel's airstrikes as a violation of international laws, holding Israel responsible for worsening the humanitarian crisis and strengthening Houthi militias.

The government, in a statement, urged the Houthis to prioritize national interests and engage in peace, while calling on the international community to support Yemen's authority and implement Resolution 2216.

The government also reiterated support for the Palestinian people and called for an end to Israeli aggression.