Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Demonstrators confront with riot police as they try to cross barricades on a road leading to the UNESCO Palace where Lebanon's parliament is holding a legislative session, during a protest against a controversial amnesty draft law, in Beirut Lebanon May 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.


Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

Updated 10 min 4 sec ago

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

  • Whether aid operations will be extended depends on 'things the security council and international community need to be doing in the run-up to the possible renewal’
  • Other countries’ efforts to reach a settlement in Syria are welcome but only if they ‘proceed from the respect of territorial integrity'

NEW YORK: When the UN Security Council agreed to extend a cross-border humanitarian operation into Syria earlier this month, concerns were raised over the wording of the resolution as some considered it ambiguous.

Resolution 2585 stated the mandate for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border had been extended for six months until Jan. 10, “with an extension of an additional six months, until July 10, 2022, subject to the issuance of the secretary-general’s substantive report.”

Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, was adamant that the US saw the resolution “being automatically renewed following the (secretary-general’s) report. No vote will be required and the council will work with the secretary-general’s office to ensure that once he puts his report on the table, that it will be accepted by all council members.”

However, in his first encounter with journalists since the vote took place, the charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation at the UN, Dmitry Polianskiy, quickly debunked the American interpretation and media reports that adopted it.

“This is not the case,” Polianskiy said. “Whether or not the mechanism will be prolonged for another half year, like what the ambassador said, is dependent on how transparent the secretary-general’s report will be. There are a lot of conditions in the text of the resolution. It is very significantly beefed up with a lot of things that the security council and the international community are supposed to do in the run-up to this possible prolongation in six months.

“So, there is no automatism in this part.”

The unanimous vote to extend the mandate for the transport of aid to Syria through a crossing on the border with Turkey came after Russia finally agreed to a compromise with the US.

It followed months of intransigence on the part of Moscow, which argued that all aid should be channeled through the regime in Damascus. Russia also blamed the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country on international sanctions imposed on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Polianskiy reiterated this position and said Moscow hoped to see “a dramatic increase in cross-line deliveries and in the efforts to assist in the reconstruction of Syria.”

Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped directly to those areas by other nations.

“Our position is that the cross-border mechanism belongs to history,” Polianskiy said. “It was adopted when the Syrian government was not in control of its territories, and it goes contrary to the principles of humanitarian assistance, which call first for the consent of the receiving country. Syria refused cross-border aid from the beginning.

“Now, our international partners should prove that they are sincere in their pledges to us that they will work through cross-line deliveries as well. For the initial period, we will want (the latter) to supplement cross-border deliveries, for them to work as a single package because if it is about helping people living there, then it does not matter how you deliver humanitarian aid, cross-border or cross-line. But if you have political reasoning, yes this matters very much. So we think that political reasoning should not be (factored in) our decisions on Syria.”

The Russian envoy repeated his country’s claim that the economic suffering in Syria is a result of western unilateral sanctions and “coercive measures.”

“It is very hypocritical, on one hand, to increase the assistance to Syrians, and on the other hand, to keep unilateral sanctions and coercive measures,” Polianskiy said.

Russia continued to defend the Assad regime at the security council and called on nations to take part in the reconstruction efforts of the war-ravaged country. At the same time, Western council members and others reiterated that they will not support any reconstruction aid that benefits the regime absent progress in achieving the political reforms called for in Resolution 2254.

During his meetings in Moscow this week, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, expressed hope that the common understanding seen in adopting the humanitarian resolution could be developed “into more of a unity when it comes to the political process.”

In order for that to happen, Pedersen said “we need to sit down together and discuss what all of us can bring to the table.”

Polianskiy said: “I do not know what magical solution Mr. Pedersen has to accommodate these concerns and how he will bring all the parties, including the government, to the negotiations table.

“Let us see. He is a very talented and experienced diplomat. We respect him very much. But so far, we think that the only working format is the constitutional committee which is taking place in Geneva. We hope there will be another meeting and we are trying to assist as much as we can in a settlement for Syria and to get up to speed with the constitutional committee.”

The Russian diplomat welcomed other countries’ efforts but only if they “proceed from the respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty in Syria. But the devil is in the details, so let us see what comes out of it.”

He added: “It is not that we want to monopolize some kind of negotiation track on Syria. We were from the very beginning advocating for a dialogue to find a solution. But the fact is there are certain states that still do not want to engage with the current Syrian government, which is legitimately recognized by the whole world.”


Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

Updated 45 min 50 sec ago

Children among 19 killed in Syria clashes

BEIRUT: Six civilians including several children were among 19 people killed on Thursday in the fiercest clashes to rock Syria’s Daraa province since it was captured by the government, a war monitor said.
Artillery shelling by regime forces on the village of Al-Yadudah, northwest of Daraa city, killed a woman, her child and three other youngsters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime artillery fire also killed a sixth civilian in the district of Daraa Al-Balad further south, according to the Observatory.
The deaths bring the toll for Thursday’s clashes to a total of 19 across the province, which is located in southern Syria.
The figure includes at least eight Syrian regime fighters and five gunmen affiliated with former opposition groups, the monitor said.
The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied forces recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011.
State institutions have returned but the army still has not deployed across the whole province, and tit-for-tat bombings and assassinations between former opposition figures and regime forces have since become routine.
Tensions flared on Thursday, leading to the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa since it came under regime control.”
The fighting started when regime forces fired artillery shells toward the former opposition hub of Daraa Al-Balad in tandem with a ground push, the observatory said.
In response, gunmen launched a counterattack across many parts of the Daraa countryside, where they seized several regime positions and captured over 40 regime fighters.


Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

Updated 30 July 2021

Nuclear talks with Iran ‘cannot go on indefinitely,’ says Blinken

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”

KUWAIT CITY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that nuclear talks with Iran “cannot go on indefinitely” but that Washington was “fully prepared” to continue negotiations.
The US is indirectly involved in Iran’s talks with world powers to revive a nuclear deal that gave Iran some relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
The deal was torpedoed in 2018 by then US President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.
“We’re committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely ... we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do and remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations,” Blinken said during a visit to Kuwait on Thursday. “The ball remains in Iran’s court.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government has been holding talks with major powers in Vienna since April on bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But a deal now seems unlikely until after he hands over to President-elect Ebrahim Raisi early next month. Raisi is an ultraconservative but has expressed support for the nuclear talks, arguing Iran needs an end to US sanctions.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Iran’s ultraconservative camp, which deeply distrusts the US, has repeatedly criticized Rouhani over the 2015 deal.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that experience has shown “trusting the West does not work,” referring to the US withdrawal from the deal and its fallout.
Raisi has said his government will support talks that “guarantee national interests,” but will not allow negotiations for the sake of negotiations.
One of the major criticisms of the 2015 deal raised by Trump was its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its alleged interference in regional affairs.
But Tehran has always rejected bringing non-nuclear issues into the agreement, which is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Khamenei also criticized the US for refusing to “guarantee that (it) will not violate the agreement in the future” by pulling out unilaterally, as Trump did in 2018.
Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi said this month that the talks must “await our new administration” as Tehran is “in a transition period.”
Rouhani, in office since 2013 and preparing to leave after the maximum two consecutive terms, had repeatedly promised to secure relief from sanctions before the end of his term.
But earlier this month, he expressed hope that his successor can clinch a deal to lift sanctions, insisting that from his administration’s side, “the work was ready” to be done.


Egyptian electricity minister heads to Russia to launch equipment manufacturing project for Dabaa nuclear plant

Updated 29 July 2021

Egyptian electricity minister heads to Russia to launch equipment manufacturing project for Dabaa nuclear plant

CAIRO: Egyptian Electricity and Renewable Energy Minister Mohammed Shaker headed to Russia to attend a joint celebration ceremony to begin manufacturing the first long-term equipment for the Dabaa nuclear power plant.

A high-level technical delegation is accompanying the minister.

According to a statement, Shaker and Rosatom Director-General Alexey Likhachev are set to discuss the progress of the Dabaa nuclear power plant and its future work.

Russia’s Rosatom is leading the Dabaa construction work.

The minister will also visit a group of Russian companies responsible for manufacturing long-term equipment for the nuclear plant.

The tour will cover Atomenergomash, which is responsible for manufacturing the compressor vessel, and Tagmash, which is responsible for manufacturing the reactor’s core catcher.

The past period witnessed intense technical meetings at the Nuclear Power Plants Authority.

The talks resulted in agreements regarding the quality assurance program for the manufacturer and quality plans for the equipment, as part of preparations to start manufacturing the plant’s long-term components.

The reactor’s core catcher is distinctive for its advanced third-generation reactors, to which the reactors of the Dabaa nuclear plant belong.

All the technical stages of its manufacture are carried out within the Russian Federation.

Logistical executive measures will then be taken to transfer it to the Dabaa site.

The manufacture of the reactor core catcher is a major milestone in the implementation of the Dabaa nuclear plant and comes as part of a series of continuous achievements that the project has been witnessing recently as a result of the concerted efforts of the Egyptian and Russian technical teams.


Egypt completes initial design phase of MisrSat-2 satellite

Updated 29 July 2021

Egypt completes initial design phase of MisrSat-2 satellite

CAIRO: Egypt’s new satellite, MisrSat-2, is scheduled to launch in December 2022, just three months behind schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) said on Thursday.

Mohammed ElKoosy said the “first phase of the initial designs” had been completed and that the “engineering model” was currently being manufactured “with Chinese support.”

The satellite was initially set to launch in September next year, but the timeline has been slightly altered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained.

The EgSA CEO also revealed that the satellite assembly center — located in Egyptian Space City near the New Administrative Capital — is close to completion. Egyptian Space City is due to open in March or April, he said.

Once the center is complete, assembly of MisrSat-2 will begin almost immediately, he said.

ElKoosy said Egypt’s ambitious plans for its space industry are in line with the country’s strategy for sustainable development. He cited the African Development Satellite — currently being manufactured by five African countries, with Egypt taking the lead — as an example. That satellite is designed to “measure the climate considerations of African countries, reducing their danger and controlling emissions rates.”