Opinion

World should not overlook Hezbollah’s illegal activities

World should not overlook Hezbollah’s illegal activities

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The pomegranate shipment from Lebanon that was used to smuggle Captagon drugs and was seized by the Saudi authorities last week should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, it has been well known for some time now that Hezbollah protects and engages in a myriad illegal activities.
This once again highlights the fact that this organization has no respect for the law, governments, citizens’ interests and well-being or anything that does not support its own interests. And in that case, all that matters is that it gets its share of the drug smuggling money. This was, of course, not an isolated incident. In June last year, the European law enforcement agency warned that Hezbollah operatives were believed to be “trafficking in diamonds and drugs.” Also last year, two major seizures of Captagon pills were achieved by police in Italy and Greece, with a combined value exceeding $1 billion.
Hezbollah, with the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has for decades been relying on illegal activities to finance part of its activities. When one knows the control Hezbollah has over every single port and airport in Lebanon, as well as its control of all smuggling routes and its international network from Africa to the Americas that has been targeted by the US Justice Department, there is no doubt about the role it plays in international drug trafficking.
As Saudi Arabia takes the necessary action and bans agricultural products from Lebanon, I wonder how the Lebanese authorities might guarantee strong measures against drug organizations and launch a strong crackdown on their protectors. This is simply impossible. Lebanon is now the land of lawlessness. It has no credibility, as everything is permitted. Once again, one should remember that the Saudi decision came after repeated similar smuggling attempts from Lebanon, and patience and support have their limits.
This time it was drugs, but knowing that Hezbollah and the IRGC are ultimately behind these activities means that these routes and channels could also be used to try and smuggle other illegal materials, such as explosives and weapons. In short, Lebanon is no longer eroding but simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran. This not only applies to the Gulf, but also to countries from Asia to Europe.I am nevertheless expecting several Western analysts to shift the topic of Hezbollah’s nefarious role in Lebanon and take the usual spin of “Arab countries are abandoning Lebanon,” as if everyone should yield to the blackmail imposed by Hezbollah with a smile on their face. We insult you but we need you to welcome our expatriates; we send you smuggled drugs in fruits, but you need to keep importing our products; we threaten your security, but you still need to lobby for us internationally; we disappear your deposits in our banks, but you still need to send us subsidies and support our corrupt, rotten economy. Am I missing something else?

Lebanon is simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran.

Khaled Abou Zahr

This time, they might start adding a third wing to their usual Hezbollah description that separates the political organization from the armed one — an illegal wing. They might as well start justifying such activities as they provide Hezbollah with resources due to the dire economic situation and the inability of the IRGC to support it due to US sanctions. They have absolved Hezbollah and Iran from so much more, so this would not be a surprise, especially as the nuclear deal is back on track.
It has also become shameful and humiliating that Lebanese political leaders are asking other countries to not take measures against it while all this is taking place and Lebanon bears responsibility. This is “Stockholm syndrome” politics at its highest level. If Lebanon cannot clean its own house, we should not expect change from others. There is no longer a place for the politicians’ justification of a “bitter pill” for the greater good. The greater good of Lebanon comes with the end of Hezbollah’s status. It is time all politicians stopped marketing this greater good phrase while protecting Hezbollah, as this is what is dragging the country into more chaos. Change will only come with an end to Hezbollah’s military arsenal and its status of being above and controlling the state; Vichy-like trials would also be needed.
Another important point to investigate is that there is no drug trade without money laundering. For every flow of goods, there is a flow of money going in the opposite direction. At the very least, investigations should focus on this. Which banks or local financial institutions might have facilitated this? Could the Banque du Liban have played a historical role in covering such operations for Hezbollah until the US sanctions were imposed? It is high time for a thorough, forensic investigation into trading and financial institutions — private and public — in Lebanon.
We are at a decisive time. As the world re-engages with Iran through the nuclear deal, it should not ease up on Hezbollah’s illegal activities and the IRGC. The US should continue sanctioning Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon and everywhere else. The US Justice Department, which in 2018 designated Hezbollah as a transnational crime organization, should keep focusing on and disrupting these activities. It is also a much-needed message to Iran that Hezbollah’s activities will not be tolerated.
It is also important for the US and the European nations involved in the nuclear deal to properly categorize Hezbollah as what it really is. It is not a Lebanese political party, it is not a group resisting occupation, it is not a social organization for the Shiite community — it is a non-state terrorist organization with its master in Tehran.
The international community needs to understand that one cannot build a country with an organization that conducts such activities. This cannot be accepted; even pragmatism does not allow it. It is time to put pressure on Iran in Lebanon, or else this will be its first step toward blackmailing the Mediterranean region and Europe. Iran should integrate and play a role in the future of the region as the nuclear deal intends, but it needs to give up these activities and Hezbollah’s current structure. This is as essential as a nuclear deal.

Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Explained: How Hezbollah built a drug empire via its ‘narcoterrorist strategy’

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Hezbollah is accused of exploiting the disarray in Syria by producing drugs in the war-torn country before exporting them for financial gain. Counter-narcotics agencies have recently foiled several smuggling operations. (AFP)
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Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement drive in a convoy in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photo by Ali Dia / AFP)
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Lebanese Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah is cheered by his supporters as he speaks through a giant screen in Beirut's southern suburb. (AFP file photo)
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A Saudi anti-narcotics officer arranges a display of Captagon pills and pomegranates shipped from Lebanon. (SPA file photo)
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Captagon pills are exposed from a crushed pomegranate fruit that was part of a fruit shipment from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia. (SPA file photo);
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Updated 03 May 2021

Explained: How Hezbollah built a drug empire via its ‘narcoterrorist strategy’

  • Discovery of amphetamines in two consignments has compelled Kingdom to ban import of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon
  • The pills may have originated in Syria, where drug production exploded during the war in areas under Assad regime control

DUBAI: Lebanese fruits and vegetables are no longer welcome in Saudi Arabia after the Kingdom’s vigilant port authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle narcotics inside pomegranates.

Last month, Jeddah Islamic Port’s customs officers seized more than 5 million Captagon pills expertly hidden in a pomegranate consignment from Lebanon. Separately, amphetamine pills stashed in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon were seized in Dammam’s King Abdulaziz Port.

The Kingdom responded to the incident by banning the import and transit of fruits and vegetables coming from Lebanon.

Waleed Al-Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, disclosed that there had been attempts to smuggle more than 600 million pills from Lebanon during the past six years.

Deploring the economic impact of the drug bust and import ban, Michel Moawad, a Lebanese politician who resigned from parliament in protest over the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut blast, said that farmers and legitimate importers are “today paying the price because of Captagon smugglers.”

“What are we gaining by exporting missiles, militias and drugs?” he said. “What are our interests when we are hostile to Arabs and the international community, when we go fight in Yemen and other places?”

When Moawad demanded that Lebanon’s “soil must remain totally sovereign, without security strongholds, illegal weapons, missiles, military training camps for Houthis and no Captagon factories,” he did not have to explicitly name Hezbollah.

The failed attempt to smuggle the amphetamine pills into Saudi Arabia is most likely linked to the Iran-aligned Shiite group with an active military wing, an unnamed source told the Independent Persian.

The source pointed to Hezbollah’s reputed association with the smuggling of drugs, including Captagon pills manufactured in Syria, a charge the group strenuously denies.

The source added that Hezbollah, by virtue of its authority over both “legal and illegal” border checkpoints between Syria and Lebanon, has unchecked control over all drug-related operations.

Hezbollah officials and politicians have yet to comment on the accusations.




Captagon pills recovered by saudi anti-narcotics officers from a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon are put on display. (SPA)

Lebanese security officials have arrested four people so far on suspicion of being connected with the seized cargo. Local news media reports speculated that the pomegranates came from Syria via either the Al-Masnaa border checkpoint or the northern border crossing of Al-Aboudeyye.

After the certificate of origin was changed from Syrian to Lebanese, the consignment was shipped to Saudi Arabia through Beirut’s port, which lacks scanning devices for detecting drugs. The Independent Persian cited the source as saying “the Captagon was produced in Syria, transported to Beirut then consigned to the Kingdom.”

Earlier in April, Greek authorities seized more than four tons of cannabis hidden in a shipment of dessert-making machines heading from Lebanon to Slovakia in the country’s main port of Piraeus, following a tip from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Greece’s authorities said that the street value of the drugs was estimated at $4 million and that Saudi Arabia’s drug enforcement agency assisted them in the case.




Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement drive in a convoy in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photo by Ali Dia / AFP)

In January, the BBC aired a documentary that showed Italian police burning 85 million amphetamine pills, weighing 14 tons, that had been seized in June 2020. Italy’s financial crimes police said that the contraband came from the Syrian port of Latakia.

The origin of the contraband was initially thought to be Daesh but turned out to be Syria, according to the BBC’s documentary, which alleged that the Syrian regime and its ally, Hezbollah, are deep into the drug trade as a major source of funding.

The size of the haul indicated that the amphetamine pills were manufactured on a very large scale in proper factories, something that was evidently beyond the ability of Daesh given the loss of most of its territory. That left areas under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad as the likely source of the pills.

The BBC’s report mentioned, however, that Captagon is produced illegally in Lebanon. The Italian authorities did not publicly announce a possible manufacturer of the pills but confirmed that they came from Latakia.

Illegal drug production is believed to have exploded in Syria during the civil war, emerging as a source of much-needed income for the Assad regime. The ruling clique and its foreign allies have used the proceeds from drug trafficking to evade sanctions imposed by the West.




Narcotics like Captagon pills and hashish are considered key sources of income for both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. (AFP)

Amphetamine in Captagon is also known for its fear-inhibiting and stimulating effects, which have proved useful during protracted firefights in war-torn areas in the Middle East.

In the past few years, authorities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Jordan, among other countries, have seized enormous quantities of Captagon, often in shipments originating in Syria.

In a televised address in January, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said that accusations about its involvement in amphetamine production had “no credibility.”

“Our position on drugs, of all kinds, is (clear). It’s religiously banned to manufacture, sell, buy, smuggle and consume. In some cases, the punishment could even be execution, according to Sharia laws,” he said.

However, US and European drugs agencies are convinced that Hezbollah profits from the drug trade. Europol, a European law enforcement agency, issued a report in 2020 cautioning that Hezbollah members were using European cities as a base for trading in “drugs and diamonds” and to launder the profits.

INNUMBERS

  • 10,100 - Hashish packets seized on Syria-Jordan border in 2020.
  • 4.1 million - Captagon pills seized on Syria-Jordan border in 2020.
  • $4 million - Market value of drugs seized by Greece with Saudi help in April.
  • $24 million - Lebanon’s annual fruit & vegetable trade with KSA until the ban.
  • 85 million - Amphetamine pills seized in Italy in June 2020.

In 2018, the US State Department named Hezbollah among the top five global criminal organizations. Reports indicate that Hezbollah’s criminal operations have increased of late in response to Iranian directives to generate income as part of its efforts to dodge US sanctions.

For their part, police in Israel have accused Hezbollah of smuggling hashish into the country.

Lebanon is known to be one of the world’s top producers of cannabis, which is widely cultivated in areas considered strongholds of Hezbollah, notably Baalbek and Hermel.

Opinion

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

Last year, the US State Department and Washington’s intelligence community said that there was ample evidence to support claims linking Hezbollah to criminal activities, including drug trafficking, in South America and Europe.

Since 2009, many Lebanese have been sanctioned by the US Treasury for their connection to organized crime, involving drug trafficking and money laundering. Many of those sanctioned were linked to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has built strong connections with the tri-border area of Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil in South America, home to more than 5 million people of Lebanese origin. Local contacts are believed to facilitate and conceal Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking, money-laundering and terrorist-financing operations in this area.

Antoine Kanaan, editor in chief of Lebanon Law Review, says that there is little doubt that Hezbollah was behind the Captagon found in the consignment of pomegranates that reached Jeddah.

He said that pomegranate is not even commercially produced in Lebanon, adding that it is a secondary fruit crop whose cultivation is "restricted to plots of land as small as private orchards and gardens.




Pomegranates are among Lebanon's major agricultural export to Saudi Arabia. (SPA photo)

By contrast, Syria is well known for its pomegranate production, especially in areas such as Daraa, he told Arab News.

“That means that the pomegranates that went from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia originated in Syria,” said Kanaan, who believes that the Captagon was inserted into the fruits in Lebanon.

The amount of Captagon involved and the ingenuity of the plot confirm Hezbollah’s involvement, or at least consent and profit-sharing, according to Kanaan, who further noted that consensus governs everything in Lebanon, even drugs.

“I believe Hezbollah is the number one Captagon supplier in the region and there’s no way an independent Lebanese trader, or even the Syrian government, would have dared pull this off without involving Hezbollah,” he said.

As to why the drugs were sent to Saudi Arabia, Kanaan said: “It is possible but unlikely that they were headed for (Iran-backed Houthi) fighters in Yemen.”




To sustain its paramilitary force, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement export drugs to countries it considers non-allies, such as Saudi Arabia. (AFP file photo)

Brig. Gen. Adel Machmouchi, a former chief of antinarcotics department at Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, said that the drug bust in Jeddah has exposed Lebanon as one of the countries that does not cooperate with international drug-enforcement bodies.

In a TV interview over the weekend, he suggested that the Lebanese ministries and security bodies concerned should have “better and closer control” over areas — in Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon — where illegal farming and production of drugs takes place.

He said that the government should transform those illegal businesses into legitimate, productive projects.

Machmouchi said that punishments “are not harsh enough to curtail crimes of producing, trafficking and smuggling drugs,” and should be made harsher to act as a deterrent.

He claimed there are about 20 factories used to produce Captagon pills in Lebanon. “Lebanese antinarcotics bodies should (join forces) with counterparts in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries to be able to combat this crime and halt the process of using Lebanon as a launchpad to smuggle drugs,” Machmouchi said.


Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas militants in Gaza

Updated 15 May 2021

Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas militants in Gaza

  • “It was not a lie. It was a manipulation," says Or Heller, a veteran military correspondent
  • The announcement sent Hamas fighters rushing into defensive positions in an underground network of tunnels

JERUSALEM: Early Friday, just after midnight, the Israeli military put out an ominous statement to the media: “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”
The terse statement set off frenzied speculation that Israel had launched a ground invasion of Gaza — a much-feared scenario that would mark a bloody escalation of this week’s operation against Hamas militants. Some reporters were even told outright the incursion had begun.
Hours later, the military issued a “clarification.” There were no troops inside Gaza. But by then, several major news outlets had erroneously reported the ground offensive was under way.
While the army attempted to play down the incident as a misunderstanding, well-placed Israeli military commentators said the media had been used as part of an elaborate ruse to lure Hamas militants into a deadly trap that may have killed dozens of fighters.
“They didn’t lie,” said Or Heller, a veteran military correspondent on Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “It was a manipulation. It was smart and it was successful.”
This is how it unfolded:
Late Thursday, after days of airstrikes, Israel announced it was calling up thousands of reservists and amassing troops along the border ahead of a possible ground invasion. In another sign of escalation, Israeli tanks stationed along the border opened fire at targets inside Gaza.
In previous rounds of fighting, ground incursions have resulted in widespread destruction in Gaza and heavy casualties on both sides.
That set the stage for the late-night deception. According to Heller, Israel began scrambling forces along the border in what appeared to be final preparations for an invasion. Then came the announcement to the media, issued simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic on Twitter. There followed alerts in major outlets that the invasion was under way.
The Israeli moves sent Hamas fighters rushing into defensive positions in an underground network of tunnels known as the Metro, according to Heller and other Israeli reports.
Israel called in 160 warplanes and bombarded the tunnels for 40 minutes, the military said. Heller said it was his understanding that scores of militants had been killed, though he said it was impossible to say.
“What we saw tonight was a very sophisticated operation that had a media aspect to it,” Heller said.
Hamas has not commented on the incident, and it was impossible to confirm the Israeli reports.
Heller said veteran Israeli correspondents, who have close ties to the military and in many cases have served themselves, knew that there was no way Israel was sending troops across enemy lines at this stage. Heller and other military correspondents even put out statements on Twitter assuring the jittery public that there was no ground operation.
The Associated Press, based on its analysis of the army’s statement, phone calls to military officials and on the ground reporting in Gaza, concluded there was no ground incursion and did not report there was one.
But others said the military had misled them or even lied when asked to clarify, turning the foreign media into an accessory of sorts.
Felicia Schwartz, correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, said she alerted news of a ground offensive after receiving explicit confirmation from Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.
In a statement posted on Twitter, she said Conricus “told me directly, `There are ground troops in Gaza.’ That was the basis for a first story saying so. He retracted that statement two hours later and I changed the story to reflect that, and that is noted in the text and will be corrected.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Conricus blamed an “internal miscommunication.”
“These things can sometimes happen in the midst of a complex operation with many moving parts and with an unclear picture of what was happening,” he said. “As soon as I understood that I had the wrong information, I updated the relevant people with a clarification.”
Militaries around the world have long used deception and trickery against their enemies. Two years ago, the Israeli military reportedly faked the injuries of soldiers at the scene of a Hezbollah missile strike, going so far as to evacuate them to a hospital in a helicopter.
According to reports at the time, the army staged the injuries to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had inflicted casualties and therefore would agree to a cease-fire.
Friday’s misleading statement further strained what has often been a rocky relationship between the IDF and the foreign media.
Peter Lerner, a former military spokesman to the foreign media, said the Israeli public in general has long felt the international media focus too heavily on the Palestinian side of the story while minimizing Israeli concerns and suffering — and the army is similarly inclined.
Lerner said he felt it was unlikely the military intentionally lied, but damage was done regardless.
“Your currency is credibility,” he said. “I think this is a crisis of that credibility in the way it’s being portrayed.”


7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots

Updated 15 May 2021

7 dead in West Bank as Israel deals with 3 hot spots

  • Security Council to meet on Sunday

JERUSALEM: The number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank has risen to seven.

The Israeli army said one was killed after attempting to stab a soldier. Palestinian health officials confirmed that death and said six other Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in the occupied West Bank.

The Health Ministry said five were killed in stone-throwing clashes with Israeli forces in several locations, and a sixth was killed during an attempt to stab an Israeli soldier on Friday. A seventh was killed in Nablus.

Israel faced a widening conflict, as deadly violence escalated across the West Bank amid a massive aerial bombardment in Gaza and unprecedented unrest among Arabs and Jews inside the country.

A Palestinian security source said Friday’s fighting was the “most intense” since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.

Palestinian armed groups in the enclave have launched more than 1,800 rockets at Israel since Monday, killing nine people, with sirens wailing across the country throughout the week.

Violence on Fridays in the West Bank is a traditional facet of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Friday’s escalation appeared linked to the raging hostilities in Gaza and the internal unrest in Israel.

More than 150 were injured across the territory occupied by Israel since 1967, with Palestinians hit by Israeli bullets, tear gas and in some cases live fire, said the Red Crescent.

The UN said the Security Council would meet Sunday to address Gaza.

China accused the US of “ignoring the suffering” of Muslims, after Washington stopped the council from meeting Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel,” and his department urged citizens to “reconsider” travel to the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said rocket fire by Hamas against Israel amounted to “terrorist attacks.”

Several international airlines — including British Airways, Lufthansa and Iberia — canceled flights amid the onslaught.

Israel said hundreds of the rockets fired toward its territory, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, had been intercepted.

Israel has hit roughly 750 sites it described as military targets such as Hamas bomb-making facilities and the homes of senior militant commanders. Three high-rise buildings were flattened.

Israel estimates that more than 30 leaders of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad have been killed.

“I said we’d deliver heavy blows to Hamas and other terror groups, and we’re doing that,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“They’re paying and will continue to pay dearly for that. It’s not over yet.”

Within Israel, an unprecedented wave of mob violence has seen Arabs and Jews savagely beat each other and attack places of worship.

More than 750 people have been arrested this week, including more than 100 overnight, police said.

In Lod, where an Arab man was shot dead by a Jewish Israeli on Monday, the outside of a synagogue was burnt overnight, they added.

Officers had detained Jews “walking around looking for trouble” in Netanya and Beersheba, while Arabs in other towns attacked police and police stations with stones and petrol bombs.

In one of the most shocking episodes of the intercommunal violence, a far-right Jewish mob beat a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, leaving him with serious injuries.

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s civil aviation authority said it was directing incoming flights to Tel Aviv to circle offshore when rockets are being fired from Gaza, with pilots choosing whether to divert to Ramon airport in the south or wait until runways are checked for ordnance.


‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes

Updated 15 May 2021

‘Death and darkness’: Gazans’ night of terror as Israel strikes

  • The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially the northern areas, began shortly after midnight and lasted more than 30 minutes

GAZA CITY: Muhammad Abu Fares’ family and relatives endured the most terrifying night of their lives on Thursday when Israeli artillery launched a devastating bombardment on towns in the northern Gaza Strip.

“I heard shells exploding and people screaming,” Abu Fares, 27, who lives in the Bedouin village, told Arab News.

“I went out quickly to see what was happening. The house next to ours was hit and some neighbors helped remove the bodies and the wounded.

“The scene was terrible with several bodies lying there and the injured crying out for help. I carried six bodies out to the street,” he said.

Israeli artillery targeted border areas in the northern Gaza Strip, including the towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia as well as the Bedouin village, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and seek shelter in UN schools.

Abu Fares went with his family to an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) school in Beit Lahia after accompanying three wounded people in an ambulance to hospital.

The UN aid organization said in a statement: “As of last night hundreds of people, many Palestine refugees, are seeking refuge and safe shelter in UNRWA schools, especially in the northern part of the strip and Gaza city.

“UNRWA has to quickly turn identified schools into properly managed shelters. In 2021, the situation is slightly different in that we now have to consider the COVID-19 pandemic and how to minimize the risk of people crowding in a confined space and spreading the virus.” 

The Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially the northern areas, began shortly after midnight and lasted more than 30 minutes, leaving residents terrified.

Lubna Younis, 37, told Arab News: “We endured a night during which we saw death more than once. We did not know what was happening or where the shelling was coming from. We thought this would be the end. The shelling had become indiscriminate and Israeli warplanes bombed homes everywhere.”

The Israeli strikes raised the death toll to 122, including 31 children and 20 women, while more than 900 others were wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

On Friday, the streets were empty of people, and shops remained closed, except for some grocery stores.

Mamdouh Mutair, 42, sat at the entrance to his house with some of his neighbors after six houses nearby were destroyed by Israeli shelling late on Wednesday.

“My mind cannot understand what happened and is still happening. It is beyond comprehension and without logic. In a quarter of an hour, there was death, there was smoke and darkness everywhere,” Mutair told Arab News.

“Dozens of rockets fell suddenly at midnight, destroying all the houses in front of us. Broken glass was everywhere, the cars under the houses were destroyed, children were terrified, I embraced my children and my wife, and we began crying and kissing them as if it was the end of our lives,” he said.

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Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action

Updated 15 May 2021

Lebanese in war of words over Palestine action

  • Former MP warns country ‘is neither a military base nor a missile platform for Palestinian, Iranian factions’
  • Power shortages add to woes as Turkish firm halts supply

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s response to the violence in Gaza and its relationship with Palestine is the subject of angry debate after rockets were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israeli settlements.

Former MP Nadim Gemayel warned that “Lebanon is neither a military base nor a missile platform for Palestinian factions or Iranian militias.”

He demanded that “the state and security services act quickly and strike with an iron fist, for Lebanon today cannot afford to repeat the experience of the 60s.”

Gemayel said the “number one cause today is the Lebanese cause only.”

MP Bilal Abdallah said that “Lebanon is facing an economic collapse and a vacuum in its political power, and the Palestine issue should not be put at the forefront.”

He told Arab News: “What is happening requires insight and calm.”

The remarks of both political figures came as Lebanese and Palestinian youths stormed a fence on the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel on Friday.

However, they were unable to cross the Israeli security barrier that stood in their way.

Groups of young men demonstrated near the border area facing the settlement of Al-Mutla, and attempted to cross a barbed-wire fence to gain access, but were met with tear-gas canisters fired by Israeli troops, forcing them to disperse and return to Lebanese territory.

The incident came after rockets were launched from southern Lebanon on Thursday toward Israeli settlements.

While Hezbollah denied any connection to the strikes, a statement hinted at the group’s potential involvement in the conflict if violence worsens.

The Lebanese army announced on Friday that “military units found three rockets in the vicinity of the Rashidieh refugee camp in the Tire region in southern Lebanon.”

At least four Grad missiles were fired from the vicinity of the Rashidieh camp, targeting the Israeli settlements of Shlomi and Nahariya. No party has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab, commander of the Palestinian National Security Forces in Lebanon, told Arab News that he visited the Rashidieh camp on Friday morning for an inspection, and that “the situation was normal.”

He said: “No rockets were fired from the camp or its surroundings, but rather from an area further away.

“We do not know who fired the rockets, and we leave the matter to the Lebanese army, as this area falls under its responsibility, and the army units are carrying out their tasks in search of the rocket launchers.

“I have not received any information until now about the matter from Lebanese Army intelligence.”

The Lebanese quandary over Palestine is a division that goes back to the demands of the Maronite Patriarchate for Lebanese neutrality.

Solidarity with Palestine dominated Friday sermons in mosques, and protests broke out around the country.

MP Bilal Abdallah told Arab News: “Emotionally, we are all in solidarity with the Palestinians and distressed by the killing that is taking place against the innocent. There is no arguing on this matter. But expanding the war zone is a matter that needs to be studied.”

Abdallah said: “If opening the Lebanon front is required, this has its own calculations and consequences.”

He added: “Let us look at the prospects of the ongoing clash, whether it is rectified with a cease-fire or if it escalates.”

The MP said that Lebanon “cannot afford any involvement in what is happening, so let it be a complete front and not only Lebanon, but rather open the Golan fronts all the way to Jordan.”

Abdallah added: “The existing communication in the region involves redrawing their map, and this presupposes the need to avoid rushing to judgment.”

However, another popular sentiment among the Lebanese public is that the issues facing their own country should be dealt with first, before foreign affairs are considered.

The Lebanese internal crisis was aggravated by the announcement of the Electricite du Liban (EDL) on Friday that electricity supply has begun to decline after Turkey’s Karpowership, which supplies the country through two floating stations, said it had “suspended supplies due to payment arrears, and after a legal threat to its stations.”

A spokesperson said that the company “regretted turning off the generators,” adding that it had “made every effort to avoid taking this decision.”

Lebanon receives 370 megawatts of electricity from the company, about a quarter of total supply.

The country may face critical electricity problems unless, according to the EDL statement, a speedy decision is made regarding a controversial treasury advance of 300 billion Lebanese pounds ($196 million) for the resumption of tenders for the buying of fuels, especially gas.

The EDL has also urged officials to secure hard currencies for production, transportation, and distribution, to ensure a minimum level of stability in Lebanon’s electricity supply.


Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians

Updated 15 May 2021

Jordanians march to border in solidarity with Palestinians

  • Protestors demand government open border to Palestinians, end diplomatic ties with Israel

AMMAN: Hundreds of Jordanians held an impromptu protest near the Jordanian border with the occupied Palestinian territories on Friday, calling on their government to take action over the escalating conflict in Israel.

The event, quickly organized on social media, was held near the village of Karameh in the Shouna governorate under the slogan “yalla (let’s go) to the borders.”
 
The protesters, waving Palestinian and Jordanian flags, gathered near the monument for the martyrs of the Battle of Karameh, and called on the Jordanian government to open the border. 

The monument is a poignant location, as the site of significant Jordanian-Palestinian military resistance against an Israel Defense Force (IDF) offensive in 1968, leading to the eventual Israeli withdrawal from the village on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.

Mohammad Hmeidi, a doctor who attended the protest, told Arab News: “Our goal … is to pressure the government of Jordan to cut off its relations with (Israel), to cancel the Gaza deal and to kick out the (Israeli) ambassador as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

Protesters chanted slogans in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza, shouting “millions are willing to die and become martyrs.”

They also chanted in support of Mohammad Deif, leader of Hamas’s Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, which are currently engaged in rocket attacks and counter strikes with the IDF.
 
Jordanian security forces broke up the protests when demonstrators came too close to the border. A spokesman for the police said they had used reasonable force with some of the protesters, after they entered several private properties and caused damage.
 
Adnan Abu Odeh, a former adviser to Jordan’s King Hussein, told Arab News that the protests are important for their symbolic value. 

“It is Friday and Jordanian youths are unemployed. This event is important, especially in that it gives emotional support to Palestinians, but the real problem for Israel is within — the crime of apartheid between Israelis and Palestinians, which had been hidden since 1948, is now obvious for all to see,” he said, referring to a recent report by Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of enforcing an apartheid system across the country.

Abu Odeh said he was unsure whether this would tempt Jordan to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv, however.

“Jordan had exhausted all its efforts at the UN. It has provided the defense team fighting the eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, with all the documents in its possession,” he said.

“It all depends on whether the Israelis will continue their onslaught, or accept the offers for a ceasefire.”