Lebanese MPs criticize delay of consultations to choose new prime minister

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Lebanese MPs criticize delay of consultations to choose new prime minister

  • A majority of Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs had announced that they would back Hariri as the new PM during the parliamentary consultations
  • FPM leader Gebran Bassil launched an attack on Hariri on Tuesday, widening the political divide

BEIRUT: The Lebanese pound had seen a significant improvement in its dollar exchange rate following an announcement last week by Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, that he is the “natural candidate” to head the next government.
However, the rate jumped to over LBP8,000 to the dollar on the Lebanese black market on Thursday — having dropped by LBP1,200 over the previous two days — after President Michel Aoun announced that the binding parliamentary consultations to designate Lebanon’s new prime minister, which were scheduled for Thursday, were to be postponed for a week.
Questions were raised about Aoun’s unilateral decision, and about the message he is sending to the international community and the Lebanese people, who are hopeful that the rapid installation of a new government might alleviate some of the economic and social ills that the country currently faces.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he was against postponing the consultations “even for one day.”
The leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, said, “Postponing the consultations is forbidden under the circumstances the Lebanese are experiencing.”
A majority of Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs had announced that they would back Hariri as the new prime minister during the parliamentary consultations. Aside from his own party, Hariri has the support of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the Marada Movement, and Armenian MPs, giving him a total of at least 70 votes — a clear majority among the 120 currently serving MPs. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces will reportedly not support him.
FPM leader Gebran Bassil —  who is also the president’s son-in-law — launched an attack on Hariri on Tuesday, widening the political divide. However, presidential palace sources said there was “no personal reason” behind Aoun’s decision to postpone the consultations. In 2018, Aoun blocked the formation of a government led by Hariri, stipulating that Bassil had to be given a ministerial position.
The palace statement said that Aoun took his decision “at the request of some parliamentary blocs, after the emergence of difficulties that require … solutions.”
Former MP Fares Souadi said simply: “We are headed down to hell.”
A source close to Aoun told Arab News the president is “keen to provide the largest (possible amount) of parliamentary support for the PM who will form the Cabinet, given the importance … of the tasks required of the government in the next phase, which needs a broad national consensus and not division.”
Several politicians pointed out that governments had been formed without unanimous consensus in the past, including those of Hassan Diab and Najib Mikati.
There is concern among parliamentarians that Aoun has postponed the consultations in order to force Hariri not to nominate himself as PM. However, Hussein Al-Wajeh, Hariri’s adviser for media affairs, told Arab News: “Postponing the consultations will not change the position of Hariri, who is holding on to the French initiative and government of specialists. The French initiative was, and still is, the only — and last — chance to stop the collapse and to reconstruct Beirut. The postponement will not change that, and disruption was never a solution for Lebanon and the Lebanese.
“If the president abides by legitimacy, that should be reflected while forming a government, not while assigning the person who will form the government”, he added.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon two days after the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion that devastated the city, and returned three weeks later to check on the status of the reforms he specified as a condition for international support.
The ‘French initiative’ Macron laid out for debt-ridden Lebanon included a two-week deadline for the formation of an independent government of experts that would only stay in office a few months.
Also on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker met with Berri and PSP President Walid Jumblatt on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, after attending the opening session of the Lebanon and Israel negotiations in Naqoura.
Schenker also met with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, whose media office said: “Schenker showed particular interest in Al-Rahi’s talk about neutral Lebanon. He stressed the US’s (desire to see) an effective and transparent Lebanese government that provides basic services for the Lebanese people, regardless of (who its leader is), and reiterated America’s ongoing support for Lebanon.”


Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Updated 20 sec ago

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

  • 3 Jewish passengers refused to travel with Arabs
  • Company: Driver swayed by ‘racist manipulation’

LONDON: An Israeli public transport firm has issued an apology after a racist incident in which 50 Palestinian workers were removed from a bus following complaints from Jewish customers. 

The incident in Tel Aviv sparked controversy after reports that three Jewish passengers boarded in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of the city and refused to share the bus with Arabs. 

The bus firm, Tnufa, said one of the Jewish passengers conned the driver into believing that he was an official from the Transport Ministry, and threatened the driver.

Israelis and Palestinians use the bus to go to and from the West Bank, the BBC reported, adding that Israeli law prohibits segregated services.

Tnufa said the driver was inexperienced and had been swayed by “racist manipulation.” It added that one of the Jewish passengers falsely claimed that the Transport Ministry had ordered that Arabs needed to be kicked off the route.

“The new driver said he argued with the imposter, but he told him that he could lose his job or receive a large fine if he did not follow the instructions immediately,” Tnufa said.

“The company apologises to the passengers for the unfortunate incident,” Tnufa’s CEO Mikhael Kopilovsky said in a statement, adding that “many of our drivers and workers at the company are Arabs.”


New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

Updated 10 August 2022

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

  • The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1
  • A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order”

BEIRUT: A new buyer is being sought for the first grain shipment to leave Ukraine under a hard-won deal with Russia after the original Lebanese buyer canceled its order, the Ukrainian embassy said.
The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of maize and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli at the weekend.
But now the keenly anticipated shipment is looking for a buyer after the shipping agent agreed to a request to cancel the original order in the light of the long delay in delivery.
A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order,” the Ukraine embassy said in a statement late Tuesday.
The agent is now studying alternative bids for the maize before deciding on its destination, the embassy added.
The Razoni is currently anchored off the Turkish port of Mersin, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Another ship docked in Turkey Monday with a cargo of 12,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, becoming the first to reach its destination under the deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow on its coast.
Ukraine said Monday it was “optimistic” that the millions of tons of wheat and other grain that had been trapped in its silos and ports could now be exported, in a major boost for world food supplies.

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Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Updated 10 August 2022

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

  • The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, had been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014

MOSUL: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi on Wednesday inaugurated the reconstruction of Mosul international airport, still in disrepair five years after the battle that expelled Daesh from the city.
Entire sectors of the northern metropolis have remained in ruins since the July 2017 recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led multinational coalition.
The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, has been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014.
Kadhemi, in an official ceremony at the airport on the southern outskirts of Mosul, laid the foundation stone for its renovation.
Airport director Haider Ali told AFP that the reconstruction has been assigned to two Turkish companies and is expected to take 24 months.
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants has regained a semblance of normality: shops have reopened, traffic jams are back and international agencies have been funding restoration projects for historic sites.
But huge challenges remain.
At the end of 2021, the Red Cross estimated that 35 percent of west Mosul residents and less than 15 percent in east Mosul, which bore the brunt of the fighting, have enough water to meet their daily needs.
Kadhemi, quoted in a statement issued by his office, said that “huge efforts” were being made to rebuild the city.
In January, a provincial official spoke of a $266-million budget for major reconstruction projects, notably in the health, education and transport sectors for 2021-2022, according to the state news agency INA.


Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

  • The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “childish” Wednesday claims by the United States that an Iranian satellite launched by Russia is intended for spying.
The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a “profound threat.”
“We are aware of reports that Russia launched a satellite with significant spying capabilities on Iran’s behalf,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
The head of Iran’s Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, told reporters Wednesday that the spying allegation was “basically childish.”
“Sometimes, some comments are made to incite tensions; saying that we want to spy with the Khayyam satellite... is basically childish,” he said.
“The Khayyam satellite is entirely designed and built to meet the needs of the country in crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on.”
Ahead of the launch, there was speculation that Russia might borrow Iran’s satellite temporarily to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or longer” to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.
Iran’s space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite “from day one” in an apparent reaction to the Post’s report.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, according to the space agency.
Khayyam is not the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.
In 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement.
Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.


Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

Updated 10 August 2022

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

  • Navy escort flotilla was headed by the destroyer Jamaran

TEHRAN: An Iranian naval flotilla thwarted an overnight attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea, a senior commander said Wednesday.
“The escort flotilla of the naval arm of Iran’s armed forces, headed by the destroyer Jamaran... promptly deployed to the scene last night after receiving a request for help from an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, and engaged with the attacking boats,” said the navy’s deputy head of operations, Rear Admiral Mustafa Tajeddini.
“Thanks to the effective (naval) presence and after heavy exchanges, the attacking boats made off,” he told state television.
Tajeddini did not give details of the ship which was targeted or of who was suspected of mounting the attack.
In November 2021, pirates attempted to seize an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, ISNA news agency said at the time.
Two weeks earlier, an Iranian warship repelled an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden.
Like other countries dependent on the shipping lane through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, Iran stepped up its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden after a wave of attacks by Somalia-based pirates between 2000 and 2011.
But the number of attacks has fallen sharply in recent years.