Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions

It is known that Hezbollah has long been involved in the war in Syria and maintains military bases and training centers inside Syrian territories near the border with Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2020

Lebanese MPs warn Hezbollah over US sanctions

BEIRUT: Political forces in Lebanon have renewed pressure on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah to reform or face the US imposition of the Caesar Act, which could prove catastrophic for the country.

Lebanese political circles are abuzz with debate over Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and the likelihood of the imposition of the Caesar Act, which calls for biting sanctions on the Assad regime and its supporters.

Mouaz Mustafa, who is a member of the Caesar Act team, recently said that prominent political figures in Lebanon were likely to be targeted alongside Hezbollah because the goal of the sanctions was to reach all people who had any kind of agreements with the Syrian regime.

Lebanese politicians are not taking this matter lightly as is evident from their statements calling for an end to smuggling along the Syria-Lebanon border and for Hezbollah to be disarmed.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), recently blamed “de facto forces” for the illegal smuggling along the borders in an apparent dig at the powerful military outfit.

It is known that Hezbollah has long been involved in the war in Syria and maintains military bases and training centers inside Syrian territories near the border with Lebanon. Diesel and flour smuggling is carried out through illegal crossings from Lebanon to Syria.

In a strongly worded message, FPM MP Ziad Aswad said: “We cannot go on holding weapons while our people are hungry.”

Aswad warned Hezbollah that “the price of its weapons is paid by all Lebanese.”

The most obvious position on American messages reaching Lebanese parties came through the admission of Aswad that “the Americans’ decision is necessary to disarm the (Hezbollah) party, or else manage yourself, Lebanese.”

This unprecedented stance of the FPM against Hezbollah coincided with a political campaign by the Iranian-backed group’s opponents against the illegal crossings.

Lebanese security forces have stepped up measures to prevent cross-border smuggling with the Lebanese Army arresting several smugglers and closing five illegal crossings.

The forces also removed bridges in Lebanese border villages and the town of Hermel and closed dirt roads. One of these roads passes through the Orontes River Basin up to the Syrian border.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah responded to calls to deploy the army and UN forces on the border with Syria by asserting that Lebanon “cannot control the situation alone because the borders are overlapping and the matter is complicated. The solution is a bilateral cooperation between the two governments
and armies.”

Former Minister May Chidiac said: “We have to wait to know the details of the (Caesar) Act and the regulations that will be covered by the sanctions because it is not clear yet.”

 Chidiac told Arab News that “the American officials responsible for Lebanon stress the necessity of closing the illegal crossings and combating customs smuggling.”

The aim is to dry up the channels that support Hezbollah’s statelet in Lebanon, and the American conditions can be monitored during Lebanon’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund regarding its financial crisis.”

Chidiac added: “Lebanon is no longer a priority for the Americans. There is a shifting of cards in the region due to the sharing of Russian and Iranian influence in Syria. What is incomprehensible is Hezbollah’s refusal to deploy UNIFIL forces on the eastern border of Lebanon with Syria, even though it accepted its deployment the Resolution 1701 to reinforce the role of UNIFIL on the southern border of Lebanon.”

The former Ambassador for Lebanon to the US Dr. Riyad Tabbara said that “the US … is sending messages regarding dealings with Hezbollah.”

Tabbara told Arab News that “The Caesar Act has opened the door for US President Donald Trump to choose whoever he wanted for sanctions. The phrase ‘everyone who cooperates with Hezbollah’ is flexible and allows for the expansion of targeting and pressure.”

Tabbara said that the Americans “do not want to ruin Lebanon, but rather to pressure Hezbollah.”

He added that “the FPM’s stance indicates that the movement has received American messages, but it is trying to persuade Washington that it can play an effective role on the issue of Hezbollah.”

Regarding illegal crossings, Tabbara said that pressure from Washington on their closure is incessant and does not involve the Caesar Act: “Rather, these pressures may help influence Hezbollah.”

Former MP Faris Saeed said that the “Caesar Act will have a significant impact on Lebanon in terms of preventing the export of any commodity to the Syrian regime under the threat of prosecution and sanctions, and therefore what goes from Lebanon to Syria will be a violation of the international law. Whoever tries to persuade the Lebanese to invest in Syria is mistaken.”

 


Sudan capital locked down after coup triggers deadly unrest

Updated 23 sec ago

Sudan capital locked down after coup triggers deadly unrest

  • Life comes to a halt in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile, with roads blocked either by soldiers or by barricades erected by protesters
KHARTOUM: Roads were blocked, shops were shut, phones were down and mosque loudspeakers blared calls for a general strike in Sudan on Tuesday, a day after the army seized power in a coup that triggered unrest in which at least seven people were killed.
Life came to a halt in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile, with roads blocked either by soldiers or by barricades erected by protesters.
The night appeared to have passed comparatively quietly after Monday’s unrest, when protesters took to the streets after soldiers arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other civilians in the cabinet. A health ministry official said seven people had been killed in clashes between protesters and the security forces.
The leader of the takeover, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, dissolved the military-civilian Sovereign Council set up to guide Sudan to democracy following the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years ago.
Burhan announced a state of emergency, saying the armed forces needed to protect safety and security. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an elected civilian government then. On Tuesday he dissolved committees that govern trade unions, Arabic news channels reported.
The Sudan information ministry, still loyal to Hamdok, said on its Facebook page the transitional constitution gave only the prime minister the right to declare an emergency and the military’s actions were a crime. Hamdok was still the legitimate transitional authority, it said.
The main roads and bridge between Khartoum and Omdurman were closed to vehicles by the military. Banks and cash machines were shut, and mobile phone apps widely used for money transfers could not be accessed.
Some bakeries were open in Omdurman but people were queuing for several hours, longer than usual.
“We are paying the price for this crisis,” a man in his 50s looking for medicine at one of the pharmacies where stocks have been running low said angrily. “We can’t work, we can’t find bread, there are no services, no money.”
In the western city of El Geneina, resident Adam Haroun said there was complete civil disobedience, with schools, stores and gas stations closed.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an activist coalition that played a major role in the uprising that toppled Bashir, has called for a strike.
Hamdok, an economist and former senior UN official, was detained and taken to an undisclosed location on Monday after refusing to issue a statement in support of the takeover, the information ministry said. Troops also arrested other civilian government figures and members of the Sovereign Council.
Western governments have condemned the coup, called for the release of the detained civilian leaders and threatened to cut off aid, which Sudan needs to recover from an economic crisis.
The United States has said it was immediately pausing delivery of $700 million in emergency support.
Sudan has been ruled for most of its post-colonial history by military leaders who seized power in coups. It had become a pariah to the West and was on a US terrorism blacklist under Bashir, who hosted Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes.
Since Bashir was toppled, the military shared power uneasily with civilians under a transition meant to lead to elections in 2023. The country had been on edge since last month when a failed coup plot, blamed on Bashir supporters, unleashed recriminations between the military and civilians.

Israel envoy to brief US over ban on Palestinian groups

Updated 26 October 2021

Israel envoy to brief US over ban on Palestinian groups

  • Israel last week designated prominent Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations
  • The announcement has outraged the activist community in Israel

TEL AVIV: Israel is sending an envoy to Washington amid a deepening rift with the Biden administration over six outlawed Palestinian rights groups, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.
Israel last week designated the prominent Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations, sparking international criticism and repeated assertions by Israel’s top strategic partner, the United States, that there had been no advance warning of the move.
Israel’s move marked what critics say was a major escalation of its decades-long crackdown on political activism in the occupied territories. The US State Department has said it would seek more information on the decision.
Joshua Zarka, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, told Israeli Army Radio the envoy would “give them all the details and to present them all the intelligence” during his visit in the coming days.
Zarka said he personally updated US officials on Israel’s intention to outlaw the groups last week, and said he believed Washington wanted a more thorough explanation of the decision.
The rights groups decision is emerging as a test of the relationship between the Biden administration and Israel’s new government, which was formed in June by eight politically disparate parties. The coalition ended the 12-year rule of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s hard-line government enjoyed broad support from the Trump administration, which moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, largely allowed settlement building to continue unfettered, cut funding to the Palestinians and presented a vision for the Mideast that sided with Israel’s positions.
The Biden administration has mostly restored traditional foreign policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. But with the US focused on other pressing domestic and foreign issues, the conflict was expected to take a backseat.
The fractious coalition government has also sought to minimize the Palestinian issue, agreeing not to make major moves that might threaten its stability. But in recent weeks, it has ramped up focus on the conflict, offering a number of goodwill gestures to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and also pushing forward on building thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers.
Most dramatic was the decision on the civil society groups, which has rattled the coalition and returned focus to the conflict and Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians seek for a future state.
Israel has for years alleged the groups’ links to a Palestinian militant group but even under Netanyahu’s hard-line government, stopped short of labeling them terrorist organizations.
The announcement has outraged the activist community in Israel, which in recent years has also faced pushback from hard-line Israeli governments. In a joint statement Monday, more than 20 Israeli human rights groups, including some of the country’s leading, most established organizations, condemned the step, calling it “a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work.”
The declaration against the Palestinian rights groups appeared to pave the way for Israel to raid their offices, seize assets, arrest staff and criminalize any public expressions of support for the groups. Most of the targeted organizations document alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which routinely detain Palestinian activists.
The designated groups are Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, as well as the Addameer rights group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.


Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon

Updated 26 October 2021

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati hopes cabinet meetings resume soon

  • Local media say Najib Mikati would not ask for another meeting to convene before a framework agreement was reached

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday he hoped cabinet meetings would resume after a two-week hiatus since a row over the Beirut blast probe led some ministers to ask for his removal.
Local media had said that Mikati would not ask for another meeting to convene before a framework agreement was reached.

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Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup

Updated 26 October 2021

Telecommunications interrupted in Sudan after coup

  • There was no official confirmation of the communications interruption

KHARTOUM: Telecommunications were interrupted in Sudan, a Reuters witness said on Tuesday, a day after the country’s military seized power in a coup and a health ministry official said seven people were killed in clashes between soldiers and street protesters.
There was no official confirmation of the communications interruption. A Reuters witness said Internet and phone services were severely limited.
Life is at a standstill in the capital Khartoum, where shops and services are closed and some roads are still blocked by the military after a mostly quiet night.
The leader of the takeover, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, dissolved the military-civilian Sovereign Council that had been established to guide the country to democracy following the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years ago.
Burhan announced a state of emergency, saying the armed forces needed to protect safety and security. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an elected civilian government then.
Events in Sudan mirror those in several other Arab countries, where the military has consolidated its grip following popular uprisings.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an activist coalition in the uprising against Bashir, has called for a strike. The call for a general strike could be heard from the loudspeakers of mosques in Khartoum.
The Sudan information ministry, which is still loyal to ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, said on its Facebook page the transitional constitution gives only the prime minister the right to declare a state of emergency and that the military’s actions are a crime. Hamdok is still the legitimate transitional authority, it said.
Hamdok, an economist and former senior UN official, was detained and taken to an undisclosed location after refusing to issue a statement in support of the takeover, the information ministry said.
The governments of the United States, UK and Norway condemned the coup in Sudan, saying they were deeply concerned about the situation in the country.
They called on security forces to release those who were detained unlawfully, according to a joint statement released by the US State Department.

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UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

Updated 26 October 2021

UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

  • Group of special rapporteurs said designation of six organizations is an ‘attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere’
  • They said it is not what a democracy following accepted humanitarian standards would do; called on the international community to ‘defend the defenders’

NEW YORK: UN human rights experts on Monday “strongly and unequivocally” condemned the decision by Israeli authorities to designate six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations.
“This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere,” the special rapporteurs said.
“Silencing their voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do.” 
They called on the international community to “defend the defenders” and added: “These civil society organizations are the canaries in the human rights coalmine, alerting us to the patterns of violations, reminding the international community of its obligations to ensure accountability, and providing voices for those who have none.”
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.
They include Martin Lynk, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
The experts said that antiterrorism laws must not be used as a tool to undermine freedoms, and reminded Israeli authorities that the Security Council and all other UN bodies “have all been clear about the requirement to apply counter-terrorism measures in a manner which is consistent with international law and does not violate states’ international obligations.”
Such “egregious misuse” of counterterrorism measures by Israel, the experts added, undermines the security of all.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday designated as terrorist groups the Palestinian organizations Addameer, which provides legal support for prisoners and collects data on arrests and detentions; Al-Haq, which documents rights violations; Defense for Children International Palestine; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
“These organizations speak the language of universal human rights (and document abuses in Palestine),” the experts said. 
They added that the decision to designate them as terrorist organizations effectively bans their work and gives the Israeli military free rein to arrest employees, close offices and confiscate assets.
The experts expressed concern that in the case of one of the organizations, the decision might be a reprisal for cooperation with UN groups.
“The Israeli military has frequently targeted human rights defenders in recent years as its occupation has deepened, its defiance of international law has continued and its record of human rights violations has worsened,” the experts said.
“While international and Israeli human rights organizations have faced heavy criticism, legislative restrictions and even deportations, Palestinian human rights defenders have always encountered the severest constraints.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN office in Jerusalem, in addressing the issue, continues to engage with the Israeli authorities and the concerned parties.
“The secretary-general has repeatedly expressed concern about the shrinking space for civil society in many places around the world, including in Israel,” he added.

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