UN agency says Libya floods kill 4, displace more than 2,500

Libyan police drive through a flooded road, caused by heavy rain, in the capital Tripoli on Nov. 6, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2019

UN agency says Libya floods kill 4, displace more than 2,500

  • The UNHCR says that the rains began on May 28 in the town of Ghat, 1,300 kilometers from Tripoli
  • The statement says 30 people have been injured

CAIRO: The UN refugee agency says heavy rains have triggered severe flooding in southwestern Libya since late May, killing four people and forcing more than 2,500 to flee their homes.
The UNHCR says in a statement released on Friday that the rains began on May 28 in the town of Ghat. The town is located some 1,300 kilometers, or about 800 miles, from the capital of Tripoli.
The statement says 30 people have been injured. The flooding has also damaged and blocked main roads and flooded Ghat’s only hospital that serves the town’s 20,000 inhabitants.
The UNHCR has sent a relief convoy with tents, mattresses, blankets and other needed items that’s expected to arrive in Ghat later in the day. It says the shipment will assist 400 families.

Foreign fighters must leave Libya: US official

Updated 3 min 14 sec ago

Foreign fighters must leave Libya: US official

  • US acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs was attending Berlin conference on Libya
  • ‘Libyan ceasefire agreement calls for withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, no exceptions’

LONDON: The remaining “thousands” of foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya must leave the country urgently, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood said on Thursday at a press briefing attended by Arab News.

Hood was speaking from Berlin, where he was attending a conference on Libya alongside international allies and partners.

The US will “continue to work with our allies to operationalize their (foreign fighters’) departure. Progress on this was made here in Berlin, but obviously there’s much more work to do,” he said.

“The Libyan ceasefire agreement calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, no exceptions … The Libyans are clear: They want everybody out.”

The conference was organized amid plans to hold Libyan elections this December to select a new government. The Libyan state is currently controlled by a government of national unity.

Hood said Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh “represents an effort by the Libyan people and the major political actors to come together and form a government of national unity on an interim basis to bring them toward elections. If you’d asked them a year-and-a-half ago if that was possible, they’d say no.”

He added: “We’ve seen remarkable progress among political actors to stop fighting, to start various committees … and to make important decisions, which has ended the fighting and brought the political actors together to form a government.”

Hood said the conference was aimed at producing a unified, stable and peaceful Libya, and the US has “had contact on the sidelines … with all the major players, including Russia.”

He added that Washington wants to pursue opportunities for cooperation with Moscow and the other influential nations.

“I think there’s space for cooperation here, not just on the humanitarian side but on the security side as well,” he said. “I think we all have an interest in making sure Libya isn’t an exporter of instability.”

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Updated 22 min 16 sec ago

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

  • Ex-UN appeal judge: Ebrahim Raisi ‘guilty of crimes against humanity’
  • ‘If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled to arrest him and put him on trial’

LONDON: Iran now has an “international criminal” as its president, according to a panel of experts who warned that this could mean he faces arrest if he leaves the country and may be unable to attend the UN.

At an event on Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, a panel of diplomats and human rights experts said Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners means he is guilty of crimes against humanity — a label that could seriously harm his global diplomatic standing.

“We now have an international criminal as president ... He’s guilty of crimes against humanity, committed in late 1988 by the slaughter of thousands of prisoners,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a former UN appeal judge and former president of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

Robertson, who has conducted an extensive investigation into the 1988 massacres, added that Raisi and his Justice Department henchmen sent prisoners to their deaths in “two waves.”

First killed, Robertson said, were members, allies and sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a political group that participated in the 1979 revolution but was later turned upon by the regime following a political disagreement.

“Most of them had actually already completed their sentences. They were executed without pity,” said Robertson.

“The second wave was of theocratic dissidents: Communists, atheists, left-wingers. They were executed for being opposed to the theocratic state of Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini. There we have a crime against humanity.”

Most of the people killed were detained for participating in protests in the early 1980s, said Robertson. They were then subjected to what Amnesty International has called “death commissions,” in which judiciary officials led by Raisi, who was then a prosecutor in Tehran, asked them apparently innocuous questions.

“They didn’t know it, but on their answers their lives depended,” said Robertson. Those who gave answers indicating an MEK or atheist affiliation were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga line that led straight to the gallows,” he added.

“They were hung from cranes four at a time … Some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”

Raisi’s direct involvement in these crimes could come back to bite Iran in an unexpected way, Robertson said.

“The UN will have to grapple with the fact that one of its members is led by an international criminal,” he added.

“If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under its law — universal jurisdiction as we call it — to arrest him and put him on trial,” said Robertson

Nick Fluck, president emeritus of the law society of England and Wales, pointed out that Raisi has said in press conferences that he is “proud” of his role in the 1988 massacres.

This “serves as an important wakeup call that we can’t just sit silently on the sidelines. Silence and inaction don’t produce change, and in this case it’s clear that change is radically needed,” Fluck said.

“This is a leader who’ll be widely, I hope, shunned. There will be a lack of credibility about anything he may say.”

Fluck said Raisi’s domestic legitimacy is also seriously lacking, following an election that saw heavy state involvement, with hundreds of candidates barred from running and millions of Iranians boycotting the poll.

“Dissidents and reformists urged voters to boycott the poll. That’s perhaps why, although he inevitably won the election, he did so with a very low turnout,” Fluck added.

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

Updated 24 June 2021

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

  • Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank

JERUSALEM: An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority who was a candidate in parliamentary elections called off earlier this year died after Palestinian security forces arrested him and beat him with an iron rod on Thursday, his family said.
Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its authoritarianism and human rights violations. Earlier this week, another prominent activist was detained by the PA and held overnight after criticizing it on Facebook.
The crackdown on dissent comes as the internationally-backed PA faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who view it as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a three-decade-old peace process that has yet to deliver an independent state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel. The 85-year-old leader has been powerless to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements, home demolitions, evictions in Jerusalem and deadly Israeli military raids, and was largely ignored during the recent unrest in Jerusalem and the 11-day Gaza war.
Western nations nevertheless view the PA as a key partner for rebuilding Gaza, which is ruled by the militant Hamas group, and eventually reviving the moribund peace process.
Ammar Banat, a cousin of the deceased, said around 25 Palestinian security forces stormed the home where Nizar was staying, blowing out doors and windows. They beat Nizar with an iron bar and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes before undressing him and dragging him away, Ammar told a local radio station, citing two other cousins who were present during the arrest.
In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said Nizar’s “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early Thursday. It said he was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations called for an independent investigation, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh later announced the formation of an investigative committee. He said a doctor chosen by the family would participate in the autopsy and the family would be invited to provide testimony.
Around 100 protesters gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah and tried to march to the PA’s headquarters. Palestinian security forces halted them and fired tear gas as scuffles broke out.
In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the West Bank city of Hebron, where his wife was inside with their children. He blamed the attack on Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, saying only they would have access to tear gas and stun grenades.
“The Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told The Associated Press in May in an interview at a home where he was hiding out. “They fire their guns into the air at Fatah celebrations, they fire their guns in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other and they fire their guns at people who oppose Fatah.”
He said prominent Fatah supporters were waging an incitement campaign against him on social media in which they accused him of collaborating with Israel, which most Palestinians view as treason. He denied the accusation, and Hamas and another militant group condemned what they referred to as his “assassination” by PA forces.
More recently, he had criticized the Palestinian leadership over an agreement in which Israel sent the PA a shipment of coronavirus vaccines that were soon to expire in exchange for fresh doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year. The PA called off the agreement after it faced a wave of criticism on social media. Israel said the doses it sent were safe and effective.
The European Union’s delegation to the Palestinians wrote on Twitter that it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death and called for a “full, independent, and transparent investigation.” The United Nation’s Mideast envoy, Tor Wennesland, also called for an investigation into the incident, saying that the “perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces detained a prominent activist and held him overnight after he took to Facebook to criticize the PA’s arrest of another individual. Issa Amro is an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA, and has been detained by both in the past. he also criticized the PA over the vaccine exchange.
A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who canceled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas. The militant group drove out forces loyal to Abbas when it seized power in Gaza in 2007.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Abbas when he visited the region after the Gaza war last month, and the Biden administration is working to improve US relations with the PA after they fell to an all-time low under President Donald Trump.
The European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years. Earlier this week, the EU signed an agreement to provide $425 million in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them cope with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.


Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Berlin on June 23, 2021, on the sidelines of a new round of Libya peace talks. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
Updated 24 June 2021

Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

  • Premier urges parliament to approve election law to allow December election to go ahead

BERLIN: Libya’s foreign minister said on Wednesday international powers had made progress at talks in Berlin on the removal of foreign fighters from the country, although a final communique from the UN-backed conference specified no concrete new measures.

Libya has had little stability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising against then-head of state Muammar Qaddafi, but a UN-led peace process brought a ceasefire last summer after fighting between rival factions paused.

Wednesday’s meeting in Berlin aimed to make progress on removing mercenaries and other foreign forces from Libya, months after the ceasefire called for their withdrawal, as well as on steps toward securing a December election.

“Hopefully within coming days mercenaries (on) both sides will be withdrawn,” Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush told a news conference following the talks.

A senior official at the US State Department said Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Libya, had reached an initial understanding to work toward a target of pulling out 300 Syrian mercenaries from each side of the conflict.


A US State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said he believed there was an understanding between Russia and Turkey on a step-by-step withdrawal of their fighters.

“This will not mean that everybody will take their mercenaries back overnight,” he said. The talks were also attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A second State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

“Getting at what we think is one of the key de-stabilizing elements, the presence of these foreign fighters, Syrians, Chadians, Sudanese, that is an important first step and it’s not something we had before,” the official said.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba called on Libya’s parliament to approve an election law to allow the December election to go ahead and to pass his government’s budget.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the necessary seriousness from the legislative bodies,” he said.

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Updated 23 June 2021

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

  • Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi's remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building
  • Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s army chief on Wednesday hailed “unprecedented” cooperation with the US, as he wrapped up a US visit focused on preventing Tehran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building, as talks continue in Vienna between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving their 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.
Kohavi’s visit, which began on Sunday, also came four weeks since Israel and Gaza’s Palestinian Islamist rulers Hamas agreed a cease-fire ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
At the US military’s Central Command in Florida, Kohavi met Centcom commander General Frank McKenzie, where he discussed the Gaza war, the Syrian arena and coordination between the countries.
“The IDF’s operational cooperation with the US military is unprecedented in its scope and has reached new heights,” Kohavi said in a statement, using the acronym for Israel defense forces.
“The mutual and main goal of action for the two armies is thwarting Iranian aggression,” he added.
“Iran seeks to establish and entrench terrorists in many countries (and) continues to pose a regional threat in terms of nuclear proliferation, advanced weapons systems including ballistic missile capabilities, and the financing of terrorist armies,” the Israeli general said.
Kohavi was also meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Iran’s regional entrenchment throughout the Middle East and the flaws” of the nuclear deal with Iran, a statement from the military said.
In meetings with Sullivan and CIA head William Burns, Kohavi was “presenting multiple ways to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities,” the army said.
Kohavi was due to return to Israel on Friday.