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.”


Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes
Updated 14 July 2024
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Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes

Syria says soldier killed, three wounded in Israeli strikes
  • Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement

DAMASCUS: One Syrian soldier was killed and three others were injured in Israeli air strikes against military sites and a residential building in Damascus early on Sunday, the Syrian army said.
The army said in a statement that the attacks were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
For years Israel has been carrying out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that started in 2011.
Israeli strikes on Syria increased after the start of the war in Gaza last October.
Sunday’s strikes targeted “a number of our military sites in the southern region and one of the residential buildings in the Kafar Souseh area in the city of Damascus,” the Syrian army said in a statement.
“Our air defense systems confronted the enemy’s missiles despite their density and shot down a considerable number of them.”
Israel’s army said its strikes were in response to the launch of two drones from Syria toward the north of Eilat on Saturday, which it said were intercepted.
“Overnight, the IDF struck a Syrian military command center and infrastructure sites. Additionally, terror targets used by the Syrian military’s Aerial Defense Unit were struck,” it added.
 


Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’

Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’
Updated 14 July 2024
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Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’

Hamas leader slams Israel’s ‘heinous massacres’
  • Haniyeh denounced comments made by Netanyahu as well as “new conditions and points” in the ceasefire proposal that was first outlined by US President Joe Biden in May

GAZA CITY: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday accused Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to block a ceasefire in the Gaza war with “heinous massacres” carried out by Israeli forces, a statement by the Palestinian militant group said.
The head of the political bureau of the group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and several other countries, called on international mediators to act following two attacks in Gaza that Palestinian officials said killed more than 100 people.
An Israeli strike on the Al Mawasi camp for displaced persons, which Israel said had targeted the Hamas military chief, left at least 90 dead and 300 wounded, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Hamas’ political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh. (AFP file photo)

The civil defense agency said at least 20 people were killed in a strike on a makeshift mosque at Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.
The Hamas statement said Haniyeh contacted officials in Qatar and Egypt, which are seeking to mediate in the war set off by the Hamas October 7 attacks, as well as Oman and Turkiye to discuss the “brutal massacres.”
He said Hamas had shown “a positive and responsible response” to new proposals for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange, but “the Israeli position taken by Netanyahu was to place obstacles that prevent reaching an agreement,” according to the Hamas statement.
Haniyeh also denounced comments made by Netanyahu as well as “new conditions and points” in the ceasefire proposal that was first outlined by US President Joe Biden in May.
“This is also linked to the heinous massacres committed by the occupation army today,” he was quoted as saying.
Haniyeh called on the mediators “to do what is necessary with the American administration and others to stop these massacres.” Qatar and Egypt have both condemned the Israeli strikes.
The statement said Haniyeh would hold more contacts.
Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will destroy Hamas and bring back all hostages taken during the October 7 attack.
Following talks this week, Netanyahu also introduced a new condition that Israel must retain control of territory on Gaza’s border with Egypt to stop arms smuggling to Hamas.
Netanyahu told a press conference on Saturday that Israel’s military pressure had forced Hamas to seek a ceasefire, and that Hamas had sought 29 changes to the ceasefire proposal.
“I am not moving a millimeter from the outline that President Biden’s gave his blessing to, but I am also not allowing Hamas to move a millimeter,” Netanyahu said.
 

 


Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics

Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics
Updated 14 July 2024
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Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics

Tunisia arrests opposition party official in continuing crackdown on critics
  • Ajami Lourimi, secretary-general of the Ennahdha Party, was detained with two others without judicial permission, party says
  • Ennahdha was the largest party in parliament until President Kais Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021

TUNIS: A leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired opposition party Ennahdha was arrested Saturday, his party said in a statement on Facebook.
The party, whose chief Rached Ghannouchi has been in jail since April last year, did not give any reason for the arrest.
“Ajami Lourimi, the secretary-general of the Ennahdha Party, was detained without judicial permission along with two companions in Borj Al Amrim,” around 37 kilometers (23 miles) west of the capital Tunis, the statement said.
Ennahdha was the largest party in parliament until President Kais Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021.
He has since ruled by decree in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region more than a decade ago.
Last September, two leaders of Ennahdha, former prime minister Hamadi Jebali and Mondher Ounissi, who had served as Ennahdha’s acting chairman since Ghannouchi’s arrest, were arrested.
Saied’s government closed Ennahdha’s offices across Tunisia after Ghannouchi’s arrest over charges related to “terrorism.”
He is the best-known opposition figure imprisoned in Tunisia since Saied dismissed parliament and seized all state power in 2021.
Ennahdha had dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolt that toppled the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and launched the region’s Arab Spring revolts.
Ghannouchi was among more than 20 of Saied’s political opponents and other prominent figures, including former ministers and business executives, arrested early last year.
The arrests came as the North African country readies for its general presidential elections, set to take place in October.
Saied has not yet announced if he will seek another term.


Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon

Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon
Updated 14 July 2024
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Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon

Hezbollah fires rockets after Israeli strike on Lebanon
  • Hezbollah had already launched multiple attacks against Israeli military positions along the border on Saturday

BEIRTU, Lebanon: Lebanon’s Hezbollah launched rockets at Israel on Saturday after an Israeli air strike that according to a Lebanese security source killed two civilians in the country’s south.
The Israeli military, whose forces have been trading regular cross-border fire with Hezbollah since early October, said its raid had targeted two operatives from the Iran-backed group.
The Shiite Muslim movement said it had retaliated by launching dozens of rockets at the border town of Kiryat Shmona, in Israel’s north.
The Israeli military said four soldiers were wounded including one “severely,” after air defenses intercepted most of the “approximately 15 launches... identified crossing from Lebanon.”
Israeli aircraft then “struck a Hezbollah field commander who was operating in the area of (Kfar) Tebnit in southern Lebanon,” the military added.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported multiple wounded in an Israeli drone strike on a vehicle near Kfar Tebnit.
Hezbollah had already launched multiple attacks against Israeli military positions along the border on Saturday.
The Lebanese security source, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that “two civilians were filling up water from a roadside spring” in south Lebanon’s Deir Mimas area when they were killed in an “Israeli air strike.”
A source close to Hezbollah, also requesting anonymity, said one of the men was a member of the group and the father of a fighter who had been killed, while the second man was a member of Hezbollah ally the Amal movement.
The pair were “civilians, not fighters,” the source added.
The Israeli army said in a statement that “soldiers identified two Hezbollah terrorists preparing to launch projectiles toward Israeli territory in the area of Deir Mimas in southern Lebanon.”
“Shortly following the identification, the IAF (air force) struck the terrorists,” the statement added.
Hezbollah said it had launched rockets “in response to the aggressions by the Israeli enemy against the villages... and civilians in the south.”
Hezbollah has traded almost daily fire with Israeli forces in support of ally Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
The NNA said an “enemy drone” killed two men on Saturday in the same area, identifying one of them as a local council member for the Amal movement in the nearby village of Kfar Kila.
It said they were collecting water from the spring “to take it for livestock in Kfar Kila.”
The Amal movement released a statement saying one of its members, born in 1964, was killed.
In Lebanon, the cross-border violence since October has killed more than 500 people, mostly fighters but also including more than 90 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 29 people have been killed, the majority of them soldiers, according to the authorities.
The violence, largely restricted to the border area, has raised fears of all-out conflict between the foes, which last went to war in the summer of 2006.
 

 


Crucial farm jobs dry up in drought-stricken Morocco

Crucial farm jobs dry up in drought-stricken Morocco
Updated 14 July 2024
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Crucial farm jobs dry up in drought-stricken Morocco

Crucial farm jobs dry up in drought-stricken Morocco
  • The area is now about 2.5 million hectares compared to four million prior to the onset of severe water scarcity, according to figures given by Agriculture Minister Mohammed Sadiki

SIDI SLIMANE, Morocco: In a sun-baked village north of Morocco’s capital Rabat, Mustapha Loubaoui and other itinerant workers wait idly by the roadside for farm work made scarce by a six-year drought.
Loubaoui, 40, rode his combine harvester for 280 kilometers (175 miles) hoping to pick up work in what previously had been the booming agricultural village of Dar Bel Amri.
His day-long journey was for nothing. Now Loubaoui fears he will end up like the roughly 159,000 Moroccan agricultural workers who, official figures say, have lost their jobs since early last year.
“Work has become hard to come by because of drought,” Loubaoui told AFP.
Large areas of the Mediterranean have been under “alert drought conditions,” a phenomenon even more pronounced in Morocco and its neighbors Algeria and Tunisia, according to the European Drought Observatory’s latest analysis.
In Morocco, a lack of water threatens the viability of the important agriculture sector, which employs around a third of the working-age population and accounts for 14 percent of exports.
More than one third of Morocco’s total cultivated area lies unused because of drought.
The area is now about 2.5 million hectares compared to four million prior to the onset of severe water scarcity, according to figures given by Agriculture Minister Mohammed Sadiki.
And as the arable land shrank, so did employment.
The North African kingdom’s unemployment rates rose to a record 13.7 percent in the first quarter of 2024, said the High Planning Commission (HCP), the government’s statistical body.
It said 1.6 million of Morocco’s 37 million people are out of work and stressed that “the labor market continues to endure the effects of drought.”

Among the people behind the statistics is Chlih El Baghdadi, a farmer who lives near Dar Bel Amri.
His grain harvest suffered a major loss from drought, leaving him sitting at home rather than working his fields.
He and his five children now depend financially on his wife, who is employed at a larger farm near the city of Meknes, about 70 kilometers from their village.
Such operations, whose yield is mainly for export, have survived the drought because of their water-hungry irrigation systems employed under the “Green Morocco Plan” (PMV) launched in 2008.
Since then, agricultural revenues doubled from 63 billion dirhams to 125 billion dirhams ($12.5 billion) in 10 years, according to official data.
Another program, “Generation Green 2020-2030,” aims to enhance Morocco’s sustainable agriculture in light of climate challenges.
It targets a doubling of agricultural exports to reach 60 billion dirhams by 2030.
Yet despite the initiatives, climate change-driven unemployment has not eased.
“We have modern and sophisticated agriculture, but it only spans around 15 percent of cultivatable areas,” said Abderrahim Handouf, a researcher and agricultural engineer.
The “majority of farmers remain at the mercy of climate change” and other economic sectors are “not able to accommodate them,” he added.

The kingdom has striven to develop its industrial and service sectors over the past two decades, hoping to create more jobs, but these have not compensated for climate-linked unemployment.
Cars, for example, topped Morocco’s exports last year with a record value of more than 141 billion dirhams.
But the industry “only creates up to 90,000 jobs per year” while there are 300,000 job seekers, Moroccan industry minister Ryad Mezzour said in May.
“Employment is the weak spot of the economic system,” he said in a radio interview.
Facing criticism, Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch told parliament last month that “drought has become reality.”
He announced the expected creation of 140,000 new jobs as part of investment deals worth 241 billion dirhams in fields including renewable energy, telecommunication, tourism and health.
But the numbers were far from the million jobs he had promised to create by 2026.
For farmers like Benaissa Kaaouan, 66, it’s too late. He said he would have walked away from agriculture if he had learned another skill.
Now he stands in the middle of his zucchini fields in Dar Bel Amri, most of them sun-spoiled.
“There’s no life without rain,” Kaaouan said ruefully.