Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun warned of an increasingly untenable situation. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

  • Threat to military ‘leaves entire country at risk,’ defense ministers warn summit

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun on Thursday expressed confidence that the military will overcome what he described as a “crucial and delicate period” facing Lebanon.

The military chief warned of an increasingly untenable situation, but said that the institution remains strong.

“We believe that we will overcome this crucial and delicate period thanks to the strong will of our soldiers, and to the support of the Lebanese people and the friendly countries,” Gen. Aoun said.

His remarks came as 20 members of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), in addition to European and Arab countries, the UN, EU and other international organizations attended a virtual conference on Thursday to support the army.

Discontent is brewing among Lebanon’s security forces over a currency crash that has wiped out most of the value of their salaries. Lebanon’s pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar since late 2019.

The conference, organized by France in collaboration with Italy and the UN, aimed to mobilize support through in-kind aid for the Lebanese Army such as food, medicine and spare parts for its military equipment, in light of the collapse of the pound and the effect of the country’s struggling economy on the military.

Lebanon is facing a political deadlock and the biggest economic crisis in its history, and there are expectations that the army will step in to protect public safety in the event of a full collapse — much feared by the international community.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said: “We are concerned that the Lebanese army remains capable of fulfilling its duties in maintaining security and stability.”

Her Italian counterpart, Lorenzo Guerrini, highlighted the importance of “quickly responding to the needs of the army by providing it with basic support requirements.”

Joana Wronecka, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said that the army must be kept “cohesive and operative.”

Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister, said: “Taking into consideration the unstable environment — full of upheaval and uncertainty — that surrounds Lebanon, the army is a guarantee for stability and for the security of the Lebanese people.”

The minister said the army is facing the same problems as the Lebanese people.

“Its purchase power is eroding and it needs strong support to keep performing its duties. The army’s personnel need support in order to provide livelihood for their families.”

Gen. Aoun reviewed the army’s requirements at Thursday’s talks, saying that there is “an incremental need today to support it so that it remains tenacious and capable of doing its duties.”

He said that the depreciation of the Lebanese pound had stripped military salaries of 90 percent of their value.

Gen. Aoun warned that “the continuous retreat of the economic and financial situation in Lebanon will eventually lead to the collapse of institutions, including the military institution, which will render the whole country vulnerable on the security level.”

Soldiers “need support as individuals to overcome this precarious period,” he added.

“The army is the guarantee for security and stability in Lebanon and the region. Jeopardizing its role will lead to the collapse of Lebanon and to the spread of chaos.”

France, which has led international efforts, has sought to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after failed attempts to agree a new government and launch reforms.

“The participants highlighted the dire and steadily degrading economic and social conditions in Lebanon. In this context, they stressed that the Lebanese army, though overstretched, remains a crucial pillar of the Lebanese state,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement.

“Their cohesiveness and professionalism remain key to preserving the country’s stability.”

Houthis besiege thousands of civilians in Marib’s Al-Abedia

Updated 11 sec ago

Houthis besiege thousands of civilians in Marib’s Al-Abedia

  • Local government officials told Arab News that the Houthis besieged Al-Abedia area, south of Marib province

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have laid siege to thousands of civilians inside a government-controlled area in the central province of Marib.
Intensifying fighting for the energy-rich city of Marib has killed dozens of combatants during the past 24 hours.
Local government officials told Arab News on Monday that the Houthis besieged Al-Abedia area, south of Marib province, after their forces scored a string of territorial gains following a rapid assault on government troops, preventing people, including the sick, from leaving or entering the area.
“We have not been able to deliver humanitarian assistance to the 5,106 besieged families and children as the militias blocked roads and prevented them from even leaving for medical treatment,” Khaled Al-Shajani, the head of Marib’s office of the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDPs Camps, told Arab News by telephone.
He urged international organizations and powerful countries to pressure the Houthis to lift their siege and stop military operations to allow civilians to leave their homes.
The government official said that more than 1,043 families had also left homes in Hareb district, southeastern Marib, and sheltered in the city of Marib since earlier this month. This was adding more pressure to the large displacement camps in Marib that host more than 2 million people, he said.
Local military officials and media reports said on Monday that heavy fighting broke out between the Houthis and government troops in Al-Mashjah, Al-Kasarah, Hareb, Jabal Murad and Serwah as the Houthis escalated ground attacks and artillery fire on government troops defending the city of Marib.
Dozens of combatants, most of them Houthis, have been killed in the fighting or in airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes.
“There are martyrs from the national army, but the Houthi deaths are much bigger,” a military official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News, noting that hundreds of Houthis have been killed since the weekend.
Yemeni officials say that they cannot put a number on Houthi deaths as most of the rebels are killed by the coalition’s warplanes behind the frontline or even before taking part in the fighting. The latest round of fierce fighting in Marib began in February when the Houthis renewed a major military offensive to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the densely populated northern half of the country.
The local authority in the northern province of Hajjah said that the death toll from the Houthi missile strike on a flame-lighting ceremony in Medi town on Saturday had risen to 12 people, including three military and security officials. The Houthis fired a ballistic missile on Saturday night at a gathering of government officials and civilians marking the 59th anniversary of the Sept. 26 revolution.
Another ballistic missile hit the city of Marib, destroying the house of the governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada.
The increase in fighting in Marib comes as government-controlled areas continue to record a high number of coronavirus infections.
The Aden-based national coronavirus committee on Monday announced 54 new cases, nine deaths and 42 recoveries in government-controlled areas, bringing the total number of cases to 8,988, including 1,703 deaths and 5,570 recoveries.

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

Updated 27 September 2021

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

  • FM Faisal Mekdad pledges to continue to fight to rid country of ‘terrorists’
  • Denounces use of chemical weapons despite their use by Assad regime to quell revolution

NEW YORK: Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has accused the country’s adversaries of using the coronavirus disease pandemic as an opportunity to attack Syria, and issued a warning to the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces that the Assad regime will use “all possible means” to expel them from the country.

Speaking on Monday, the final day of the UN General Assembly, Mekdad said that “the world has experienced unprecedented circumstances, where hospitals reached full capacity, millions of lives were lost, economies contracted” as a result of COVID-19.

But, he continued, “some used the pandemic to settle political scores. Others selfishly ignored the needs of others, choosing to believe they are alone on this Earth.”

The minister, who assumed office less than a year ago, denounced countries who allegedly “took advantage of the pandemic to scale up their unilateral coercive economic measures against those countries and people who differ from them.”

The Syrian representative did not name any state explicitly, but the US has implemented a sanctions regime against Syria and its leadership due to crimes committed over the course of the country’s brutal civil war — including the repeated use of chemical weaponry and other human rights abuses.

Mekdad also pledged that the Assad regime would continue the country’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria, and said those that “continue to support and invest in terrorists will be doomed to fail.”

Throughout his speech, he railed against the US, Turkey, and Israel, taking the opportunity to denounce Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was recognized as Israeli territory by the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, but is considered Syrian by the UN.

He also accused both Turkey and the US of looting Syrian resources and occupying territory within the country. 

“Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from the majority of Syrian territories, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law,” said Mekdad.

In a thinly veiled threat against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia convened by the US to fight Daesh, Mekdad said: “As for the few seeking secession in northeast Syria, we warn them against harboring such illusions. By pursuing such ends, they align themselves with those plotting against Syria’s unity — and they will be dealt with accordingly.”

Mekdad also used his speech to rally against the use of chemical weapons, calling them “reprehensible and completely unacceptable under any circumstances by anyone, anywhere at any time.”

He explained that, for this reason, Syria signed up to multilateral conventions against the use of the weapons, and “fulfilled its obligations in record time.”

In 2013, a chemical weapon attack in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, attributed to the Syrian government, killed hundreds of people, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 1,500. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also noted as recently as August this year that Syria still has not fulfilled all of its obligations under the chemical weapons treaties — including the requirement to declare what chemical weapons the regime still has stockpiled and where they are being held.

Syria has also ignored requests by the UN body to issue a visa for a team leader in its command post in the country, OPCW said, “which left the command post with only support staff from UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) for the second time this year.”

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

Updated 27 September 2021

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

  • Al-Busaidi says that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen
  • The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait”

LONDON: Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al-Busaidi has told the UN General Assembly that the sultanate is focussed on ending the war in Yemen in cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Al-Busaidi said that Oman is continuing “its tireless endeavors and working with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UN, the US envoys for Yemen, and all the concerned Yemeni parties in order to end the war through a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.”

The foreign minister added that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen, in particular the areas of medicine, health care, food, fuel and housing.” 

Al-Busaidi said that Oman “joined our voice with everyone who believes in a comprehensive political settlement to the existing crisis in a way that restores stability and security while retaining the security of the countries of the region.”

He addressed regional security, referring to the AlUla summit last year, stressing that the sultanate “has welcomed and supported the positive developments that resulted from the AlUla summit that was held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait.”

Al-Busaidi continued on the theme of regional security by expressing Oman’s hope that “the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear program will lead to the desired consensus among all parties because we firmly believe that this will be in the interest of the region and the world.” 

Following his comments on Iran and its nuclear program, the foreign minister referred to the need to “ensure freedom of maritime navigation” to “enhance economic growth opportunities.”


Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Updated 27 September 2021

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

  • Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday rejected a complaint by the UN nuclear watchdog that it was blocked from a nuclear site, arguing that the facility was exempt from a recent agreement.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop near Tehran contrary to a September 12 agreement with Iran.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter.
“During the discussions in Tehran and Vienna, Iran indicated that... equipment related to this Complex are not included for servicing,” he wrote, referring to IAEA work on its surveillance equipment.
Sunday’s IAEA statement “isn’t accurate and goes beyond the agreed terms,” he added.
This month’s agreement between the IAEA and Iran came days after the nuclear watchdog had decried a lack of cooperation from Tehran.
Agency inspectors had been allowed to service monitoring and surveillance equipment and to replace storage media at “all necessary locations” except the TESA Karaj workshop, the IAEA said on Sunday.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in his latest report on Iran informed member states that the Islamic republic had granted all other access from September 20-22.
The IAEA’s latest report comes amid stalled negotiations to revive a 2015 landmark agreement scaling back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions. Iran in turn again started to ramp up its nuclear activities.
Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But that dialogue has been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.
Iran’s foreign minister said Friday that talks would restart “very soon,” but the US has called for a clear timetable.

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

Updated 27 September 2021

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

  • Workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium

VIENNA: Iran must stop denying the UN nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Monday.
The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing.
TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage. The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation between Iran and the West.
“We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a US statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
It was responding to an IAEA report to member states on Sunday that said Iran had granted access to sites as agreed on Sept. 12 but not to the workshop, where IAEA inspectors were denied access on Sunday. They had planned to check if the workshop was ready to operate and re-install cameras if it was.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said overnight on Twitter that before the deal with the IAEA, Iran indicated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” because of ongoing investigations and Sunday’s report “goes beyond the agreed terms of the JS (Joint Statement).”
The European Union told the IAEA board that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
A resolution criticizing Iran at the Board of Governors could kill hopes of resuming indirect talks between Iran and the United States to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Iran usually bristles at such resolutions and its news hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran is prepared to return to the negotiating table but not under Western “pressure.” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday Iran would return to the talks “very soon.”
“We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” the US statement said. “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”