Violent lockdown protests wound dozens in northern Lebanon

Lebanese security forces use water cannon to disperse protesters outside the Serail, headquarters of the Governorate of North Lebanon, during ongoing demonstrations in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on January 27, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2021

Violent lockdown protests wound dozens in northern Lebanon

  • Hariri: Some are using people’s pain to deliver political messages

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Command has announced that 31 soldiers were wounded during clashes between protesters and security forces in the northern city of Tripoli, after protests turned violent.

People took to the streets in Tripoli, the south Beirut Dahye suburbs and in the Bekaa to protest their living conditions after a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon has been extended until Feb. 8.

The command said: “Soldiers were wounded after being attacked by protesters with stones, Molotov cocktails and firecrackers. Military vehicles and gear have also been damaged. Five people have been arrested for causing damage to public and private properties, as well as inciting riots and assault on security forces.”

On Wednesday morning, van drivers who were banned from working due to the current lockdown closed the strategic main road of Dahr Al-Baydar linking Beirut and Bekaa.

Protests continued in Tripoli with the participation of activists in Akkar in the far north.

These protests were explained by the Lebanese media as “politically motivated movements.”

Protests have also coincided with a campaign on social media against the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, launched mostly by supporters of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

The campaign came in response to Free Patriotic Movement official and former minister Mario Aoun’s tweet: “No one can eliminate the phenomenon of Michel Aoun and we will extend his presidential term.” 

His tweet was a response to a call for early parliamentary elections from various political parties, notably the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb.

The government formation matter has turned into a political dilemma as confidence has been lost among political leaders who stand accused of putting personal gain over public interest.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was instructed to form a new government on Oct. 22, but no progress has been made, with Aoun opposed to Hariri’s proposed cabinet of 18 ministers.

Aoun had earlier said in a statement that “naming, nominating and distributing the ministers to ministerial portfolios is not an exclusive right for the prime minister-designate, based on two articles in the constitution,” adding that the president “has a constitutional right to approve the entire government before signing.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, Hariri expressed concern “that some might be using the Lebanese people’s suffering and hard living conditions to deliver political messages through the protests.”

MP Anwar Al-Khalil addressed Aoun directly in a tweet, holding him “responsible for getting 60 percent of the Lebanese people below the poverty line while the only thing you care about is to preserve the seat of presidency to pass it on to your son-in-law.”

He also accused the president of “pushing the PM-designate toward resigning over failing to fulfill this task.”

The Beirut-based Arabic Al-Mayadeen TV channel quoted sources close to the presidency affirming that “the ‘I-am-the-strongest’ policy will not work and using people’s instincts in a constitutional matter will not work either. What will actually help Lebanon is for Hariri to go back to the constitution and form a salvation government in cooperation with the president.”

With growing political rifts and stubbornness, religious leaders in Lebanon warned of “quickening collapse amid the continuing rifts among decision makers and the obstruction of national and foreign attempts to bring the two sides together to save the country from the disaster that would be the result of miscalculations and personal differences leading Lebanon to an impasse.”

Religious leaders called for “immediate action to form a government above all personal and factional interests.”

They delivered a clear message to stop messing with the country’s fate. “The people will not forgive and history will not forget,” they said.


At least nine killed in shelling on north Syria market, rescuers say

Updated 35 sec ago

At least nine killed in shelling on north Syria market, rescuers say

  • Warring factions in Syria’s 11-year conflict have carved up the north into a patchwork of zones of control
Nine people were killed including at least five children in a rocket attack on a market in the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab on Friday, according to emergency responders working in rebel-held areas.
The White Helmets, a rescue group working in parts of Syria still held by armed opposition factions, said at least 28 others were wounded.
The warring factions in Syria’s 11-year conflict have carved up the north into a patchwork of zones of control.
Al-Bab falls within the areas of Aleppo province held by Turkish-backed rebels, but other parts are held by Syrian government troops backed by Russia.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by Kurdish groups who have opened a dialogue with the Damascus-based government, also control parts of the north and northeast.
The head of the SDF’s media center, Farhad Shami, said the group had nothing to do with Friday’s attack.
Activists in Al-Bab had been planning a protest after Muslim midday prayers on Friday to denounce comments by Turkey calling for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the opposition.
In a statement distributed to media after Friday’s attack, the activists canceled the demonstration over fears of further violence.

Market blast in north Syria kills at least 9, injures dozens

Updated 20 min 9 sec ago

Market blast in north Syria kills at least 9, injures dozens

  • The attack on the town of Al-Bab came days after a Turkish airstrike killed at least 11 Syrian troops and US-backed Kurdish fighters

BEIRUT: A rocket attack on a crowded market in a town held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters in northern Syria Friday killed at least nine people and wounded dozens, an opposition war monitor and a paramedic group reported.
The attack on the town of Al-Bab came days after a Turkish airstrike killed at least 11 Syrian troops and US-backed Kurdish fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, blamed Syrian government forces for the shelling, saying it was in retaliation for the Turkish airstrike.
The Observatory said the attack killed at least 10 and wounded more than 30.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, had a lower death toll, saying nine people, including children, were killed and 28 were wounded. The paramedic group said its members evacuated some of the wounded and the dead bodies.
Discrepancies in casualty figures immediately after attacks are not uncommon in Syria.
Turkey has launched three major cross-border operations into Syria since 2016 and controls some territories in the north.
Although the fighting has waned over the past few years, shelling and airstrikes are not uncommon in northern Syria that is home to the last major rebel stronghold in the country.
Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
President Bashar Assad’s forces now control most parts of Syria with the help of their allies, Russia and Iran.


Palestinian killed in Israeli West Bank raid: Palestinian ministry

Updated 48 min 29 sec ago

Palestinian killed in Israeli West Bank raid: Palestinian ministry

  • Israeli military say soldiers came under fire during a raid in the town
  • Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories Presse: A Palestinian man was killed Friday by Israeli forces during a raid in the north of the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Salah Sawafta, 58, “died of critical wounds, sustained by live bullets from the occupation (Israeli military) in the head, in Tubas this morning,” a ministry statement said.
The Israeli military said soldiers came under fire during a raid in the town.
During an operation in “Tubas, several suspects hurled Molotov cocktails and opened fire at (Israeli) troops, who responded with fire,” the army said in a statement, adding “hits were identified.”
The mayor of Tubas, Hossam Daraghmeh, said Sawafta had been leaving dawn prayers when he was shot.
“He left the mosque and was heading to his house wearing a prayer robe. There was a vengeful soldier stationed in a building near the municipality who shot him in the head,” he said.
Daraghmeh said Sawafta had been unarmed when he was hit.
“This man did not have a stone or anything in his hand,” he said.
The Israeli military said five people were detained in overnight raids across the West Bank.
On Thursday, a 20-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops during clashes in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967, when it seized the territory from Jordan.


Algeria wildfires ‘all under control’: civil defense

Updated 50 min 46 sec ago

Algeria wildfires ‘all under control’: civil defense

  • Since the beginning of August, almost 150 blazes have destroyed hundreds of hectares (acres) of forest in Africa’s largest country

Algiers: Wildfires, which killed at least 38 people and left a trail of destruction in eastern Algeria this week, are now under control, a civil defense official told AFP on Friday.
“All of the fires have been completely brought under control,” said fire brigade Col. Farouk Achour, of the civil defense department.
Since the beginning of August, almost 150 blazes have destroyed hundreds of hectares (acres) of forest in Africa’s largest country.
Deadly fires have become an annual scourge in Algeria, where climate change has turned large areas of forest into a tinderbox in the blistering summer months.
The justice ministry launched an inquiry after Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud suggested some of the fires were started deliberately, and authorities on Thursday announced four arrests of suspected arsonists.
Authorities have been accused of being ill-prepared, with few firefighting aircraft available despite record casualties in last year’s blazes and a cash windfall from gas exports with global energy prices soaring.

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A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

Updated 18 August 2022

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

  • Timing coincides with efforts by both countries to build relationships in region, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey have announced the upgrading of diplomatic relations and the return of their ambassadors and consuls general after years of strained ties between the two nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid greeted such a diplomatic breakthrough as an “important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel.

According to Dr. Nimrod Goren, president of the Mitvim Institute and co-founder of Diplomeds — The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy — the announcement on the upgrading of ties marks a diplomatic success.

"It is the culmination of a gradual process that has taken place over more than a year, during which Israel and Turkey have worked to rebuild trust, launch new dialogue channels, adopt a positive agenda, re-energize cooperation, confront security challenges, and find ways to contain differences," Goren told Arab News.

“Based on these positive developments, restoring relations at the ambassadorial level is now seen as a natural step, perhaps even a long overdue one,” he said. 

“It was important to seal this move before internal politics gets in the way, as elections in both countries are drawing near,” Goren added.

Goren said that the timing also “coincides with efforts by both Israel and Turkey to improve and deepen their various relationships in the region.”

Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, expelled their ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests along the Gaza border.

Relations were completely frozen after the death of nine Turkish activists over an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in 2010. 

Since then, many attempts have been made to mend ties, especially in the energy sector, and in trade and tourism, which emerged as strategic avenues for cooperation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have spoken on the phone several times and Herzog visited Ankara last March. 

As part of mutual trust-building efforts, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also visited Jerusalem in May, marking the first visit to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years. His visit was reciprocated by Lapid, then Israeli foreign minister, in June. 

The two countries also cooperated in counter-terrorism efforts following Iranian assassination plots against a Turkish-Israeli businessperson as well as Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Turkey took steps to curtail the movements of Hamas within the country. 

They also signed a civil aviation agreement last month. 

Dr. Gokhan Cinkara, an expert from Necmettin Erbakan University, thinks that shifts in regional geopolitics are the main determinants for Turkey’s new efforts for normalization. 

“The competition between status quo and revisionism in the region is over. Consequently, every country has alternatives and can be replaced, which is also the case for Turkey. Due to the economic crisis and geopolitical deadlock that the country is passing through, it was inevitable for Turkey to search for new options,” he told Arab News.  

“The appointment of diplomats will ensure that bilateral relations will continue to operate under an institutional routine.”  

The ambassador to Israel is expected to be appointed soon. Both countries are also set to hold a joint economic commission meeting in September. 

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Ankara would continue to support the Palestinian cause. 

“Despite the new chapter in relations, Israel and Turkey still have differences of opinion on key policy issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Goren said. 

“These differences will not go away, but Israel and Turkey are aware of the need to be sensitive in how they deal with them and to put in place bilateral mechanisms to regularly engage on these issues,” Goren said.

“If Israel and Turkey can somehow support each other on the road to conflict resolution with third countries (e.g., Turkey with Egypt, Israel with the Palestinians) — that will be a major benefit of the new chapter in ties.”

As bilateral relations have been moving on a positive trajectory since Israeli President Herzog’s visit to Ankara, Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, pointed to the timing of the envoy exchange. 

“The Israeli side has been taking the process a bit slowly in order to understand whether Ankara was sincere in its efforts to mend fences,” she told Arab News. 

Ankara’s “calm and measured response in the face of tensions in Jerusalem and in Gaza in the last couple of months and its full cooperation with Israeli intelligence against Iranian plots which targeted Israeli citizens in Turkey have seemingly reassured Israel’s concerns,” she said.

Nasi thinks that the ambassadorial exchange shows Turkey and Israel’s willingness to give the normalization process a formal framework, as well as their readiness to move to the next phase. 

“Considering the upcoming elections in Israel in November, normalization of diplomatic ties is likely to provide a shield against the interference of domestic politics,” she said. 

Although Turkey and Israel have managed to turn a new page in bilateral relations, Nasi thinks that it is equally important to see what they are going to write in this new chapter.  

“Both countries have a lot to gain from developing cooperation at a time when the US is shifting its focus and energy to the Pacific region and Iran is about to become a nuclear power,” she said.

“On the other hand, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put energy security front and center once again. It revived hopes that the pipeline project that would carry Israeli natural gas via Turkey could be eventually realized,” she said. “While the unsettled Cyprus question remains the elephant in the room, it all comes down to the sides’ mending political trust. We may therefore see some openings in the future.”

Goren thinks that a relaunching of the Israel-Turkey strategic dialogue and the resumption of regular high-level contacts will also assist the countries lessen mutual misperceptions — related, for example, to Israel’s ties with the Kurds and Turkey’s ties with Iran — and avoid gaps in expectations.  

“Israel and Turkey should make sure that this time — unlike what happened in the previous decade — their upgrade of ties will be sustainable and long-term,” Goren said. 

The exchange of ambassadors has been also welcomed by the US.

“Today’s announcement that Israel and Turkey are fully restoring their diplomatic relations. This move will bring increased security, stability, and prosperity to their peoples as well as the region,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at White House. 

Nasi also said that Turkey’s relations with Israel “have always been a factor of its relations with the West and with the US in particular. In the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ankara has been threading a fine path with Russia.”

Nasi said “normalization of ties with Israel may aim to send a message to the US Congress, whose favorable view and support on the modernization of F16s is very much sought for.”