UN gives green light to fund Lebanon tribunal for 2021

The Valentine’s Day 2005 truck bombing on Beirut’s seafront that killed former prime minister Hariri and 21 others and injured 226 sparked huge protests against Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 20 February 2021

UN gives green light to fund Lebanon tribunal for 2021

  • Guterres said he intends to extend the mandate of the tribunal for two years starting March 1
  • Lebanon is mandated to pay 49 percent of the tribunal’s costs

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council has given a green light to keep the UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri operating and funded for at least this year.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to the council circulated Friday that the president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge Ivana Hrdličková, informed him in November that its work wouldn’t be finished by the expiration of its mandate Feb. 28.
The judge asked for a two-year extension “to significantly advance its work toward completion,” Guterres said.
Guterres said he intends to extend the mandate of the tribunal for two years starting March 1, or until its cases are completed or available funds are exhausted “if sooner.”
Lebanon, which is mandated to pay 49 percent of the tribunal’s costs, faces a dire financial situation which has left the tribunal with a serious funding shortfall. The remaining 51 percent of the tribunal’s funding comes from voluntary contributions.
Guterres said he launched an urgent appeal to all 193 UN member states and the international community on Dec. 20 to support the tribunal, but “unfortunately, the appeal did not generate any new commitments of funds.”
Without additional funding, he said, the UN was informed that the tribunal “may not be able to carry out its mandate beyond the first quarter of 2021.”
“To bring the ongoing judicial proceedings of the Special Tribunal to an abrupt close in these circumstances would be unprecedented,” Guterres wrote. “A premature closure would have a significant impact on international justice efforts and would send a negative message to the people of Lebanon and to victims of terrorism worldwide.”
After consulting Lebanon’s government and Security Council members, Guterres said he intends to request approximately $25 million from the General Assembly, called a “subvention,” to cover the anticipated shortfall in funding from the Lebanese government and donors in 2021. This would be temporary, while the tribunal seeks additional funds, he said.
Britain’s UN ambassador, Barbara Woodward, the current council president, said in a letter to the secretary-general that members approved his intention to extend the tribunal’s mandate and to request about $25 million in funds from the General Assembly for 2021.
She said this was with the understanding that the money will be reimbursed from voluntary contributions the tribunal receives, and its voluntary funding arrangements will not be changed.
“The members of the council stress that contributions from Lebanon, as well as from the donors, should remain a major source of funding for the Special Tribunal and that additional efforts should be made to avoid reliance on the subvention,” Woodward said.
Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis, which began in late 2019, is the country’s worst in modern history, with the economy contracting 19% in 2020. Tens of thousands around the country have lost their jobs, and nearly half the population of more than 6 million is living in poverty. The crash of the local currency has led to triple-digit inflation.
In early December, the World Bank said Lebanon’s economy faces an “arduous and prolonged depression” because its politicians refuse to implement reforms that would speed up the country’s recovery.
The Valentine’s Day 2005 truck bombing on Beirut’s seafront that killed former prime minister Hariri and 21 others and injured 226 sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Damascus denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years there.
The UN investigation into Hariri’s assassination was broadened to include 14 other Lebanese killings.
The Netherlands-based Special Tribunal sentenced Salim Ayyash, a member of the Hezbollah militant group, in absentia to life imprisonment in December for his involvement in Hariri’s assassination. Ayyash has never been arrested. Three other Hezbollah members tried with him were acquitted.
Summary :
The UN Security Council has given a green light to keep the UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri operating and funded for at least this year. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to the council circulated Friday that the president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon informed him in November that its work wouldn’t be finished by the Feb. 28 expiration of its mandate. She asked for a two-year extension to advance its work “toward completion.” Guterres says he intends to extend the tribunal for two years, and the president of the Security Council says members approved extending the mandate.


UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Updated 28 February 2021

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Updated 28 February 2021

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at

AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.


Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

Updated 28 February 2021

Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for COVID-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.