Former premiers say subpoena against Diab ‘dangerous, unprecedented step’

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 28 August 2021

Former premiers say subpoena against Diab ‘dangerous, unprecedented step’

  • In a letter to the prosecutor, the secretary general of parliament said the subpoena fell outside Bitar’s jurisdiction
  • Exclusion of President Aoun, who was aware of danger and did nothing to avoid disaster, questioned

BEIRUT: There is fury in Lebanon after the judge leading the probe into last year’s Beirut blast hit the country’s prime minister with a subpoena, a decision described as a “dangerous and unprecedented step” affecting the highest political position in the Sunni community.

At least 215 people died and thousands more were wounded when tons of ammonium nitrate exploded on Aug. 4, 2020.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following the tragedy, although he has stayed on in a caretaker capacity until a new administration is formed.
Senior political figures accused Lebanese President Michel Aoun of negligence, saying he was aware of the danger that the ammonium nitrate posed but “did nothing to avoid a possible disaster.”
“The subpoena affects the highest political position of the Sunni community in Lebanon and excludes Aoun, who was aware of the danger these tons of ammonium nitrate pose and did nothing to avoid a possible disaster,” according to the former prime ministers.
“Never, in the history of Lebanon, has a subpoena been drawn up against a prime minister like the one Judge (Tarek) Bitar issued,” they said, as they rejected his “selective justice and politicized judiciary.”
They added that the “dangerous (and) unprecedented step represented a not-so-innocent action” that took advantage of the law and the anger of the families of the victims to undermine Diab’s position, excluding all other high-ranking positions in the country which were responsible for the crime.
“This step is fraught with political suspicions because it goes in line with years-long attempts to overturn the Taif Agreement (a power-sharing arrangement between Christians and Muslims) and weaken the prime minister’s stature. Such actions have been committed over the past couple of years to disrupt the formation of a government and limit the constitutional powers of the prime minister-designate.
“Aoun personally admitted that he knew of the presence of these large quantities of ammonium nitrate at the port 15 days before the date of the explosion. These materials were brought to Lebanese territory without prior permission from the Cabinet and the relevant military and security authorities, because of the enormous danger these materials pose. Fifteen days is a long enough period to dismantle a nuclear bomb, so why not dispose of explosive materials?

HIGHLIGHTS

• Senior political figures accused Lebanese President Michel Aoun of negligence, saying he was aware of the danger that the ammonium nitrate posed but ‘did nothing to avoid a possible disaster.’

• Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has been criticizing Bitar for weeks, demanding he provide evidence to support his decision to summon current and former officials for questioning.

“The president’s immunity should be lifted with regard to this serious crime, and then the judicial investigator will be freed from articles that do not give him legal and constitutional rights to try presidents and other officials.”
The Consultative Gathering, a Sunni parliamentary bloc affiliated with Hezbollah and its allies, also criticized Bitar’s decision.
“Bitar disregarded all those who covered and participated for years in the negligence that turned into a crime against the homeland and decided to target Diab and make allegations against him,” they said. “He made a dangerous, unprecedented step by issuing a subpoena against him. Bitar would not have dared to do so had Diab been a leading sectarian figure in this country that has turned into a sad laughing stock. The decision to accuse Diab of violating his duties ought to be made by Parliament, according to Article 70 of the constitution. Bitar committed a constitutional violation.”
They stressed that they opposed “defying” the prime minister’s stature and “treating this position as a scapegoat.”
Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has been criticizing Bitar for weeks, demanding he provide evidence to support his decision to summon current and former officials for questioning. “The investigation is politicized. Either it works clearly, or the judiciary must find another judge,” he said.
On Friday, the Parliament’s General Secretariat reacted to Bitar’s action by saying it was not up to the judiciary to decide on his jurisdiction. “Parliament follows up on this matter in preparation for the necessary procedures.”
The immunity of former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, Youssef Fenianos and Nohad Machnouk has not yet been lifted to allow Bitar to interrogate them, after he accused them of negligence.
Bitar also does not have permission to pursue the heads of General Security, State Security, and judges.
Lebanon’s Public Prosecution hinted that it might reject the subpoena against Diab because it was “impossible to implement it, as he is a current prime minister and not a former one, and since all the security services are affiliated with him.”
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian also raised the subpoena scandal during a Friday sermon at the inauguration of a new mosque in Beirut. The inauguration was attended by Diab and Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati.
“The prime minister’s position is just as important as any other leading position in Lebanon, and targeting the caretaker prime minister is reprehensible as well as it is an offense to the way of behaving with a prime minister,” Derian said, calling on Parliament to issue a law to lift “all immunities” for the probe.
“Let justice take its course by all means, without any selectiveness, discretion and maliciousness,” added the cleric.


Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem

Updated 18 May 2022

Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem

  • The office of Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said the march would take place on May 29 along its “customary route” through Damascus Gate
  • Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in the march, waving Israeli flags, singing songs and in some cases, chanting anti-Arab slogans

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities on Wednesday said they have given the go-ahead for flag-waving Jewish nationalists to march through the heart of the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City later this month.
The decision threatens to re-ignite violence in the holy city.
The office of Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said the march would take place on May 29 along its “customary route” through Damascus Gate.
Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in the march, waving Israeli flags, singing songs and in some cases, chanting anti-Arab slogans, as they pass by Palestinian onlookers and businesses.
Barlev’s office said the decision was made after consultations with police.
The march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel subsequently annexed the area in a step that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Last year’s Gaza war erupted as the march was just getting underway, even after authorities changed the route at the last moment to avoid Damascus Gate.
The Old City, located in east Jerusalem, has experienced weeks of violent confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators, and the march threatens triggering new unrest.
Tensions also have been heightened by an Israeli police crackdown during the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last Friday. As the funeral procession got underway, police pushed and beat mourners, causing the pallbearers to lose control of the coffin and nearly drop it.
Abu Akleh, a well-known journalist, was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank last week. The Palestinians, including witnesses who were with her, say she was shot by Israeli troops. Israel says that Palestinian gunmen were active in the area, and it is not clear who fired the deadly bullet.


Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

Updated 18 May 2022

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

  • The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike
  • The US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists

WASHINGTON: An investigation into a 2019 strike by US forces in Syria that killed numerous civilians found no violations of policy or wanton negligence, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The internal US Army investigation focused on an operation by a special US force operating in Syria which launched an airstrike on a Daesh bastion in Baghouz on March 18, 2019.
The investigation was sparked last year after the New York Times reported that in the original strike the US military had covered up dozens of non-combatant deaths.
The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike.
The Times report said a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” and that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
But the final report of the investigation rejected that conclusion Tuesday.
It said that the US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists.
The commander “received confirmation that no civilians were in the strike area” and authorized the strike.
However, they later found out there were civilians at the location.
“No Rules of Engagement or Law of War violations occurred,” the investigation said.
In addition, the commander “did not deliberately or with wanton disregard cause civilian casualties,” it said.
The report said that “administrative deficiencies” delayed US military reporting on the strike, giving the impression that it was being covered up.
The Times cited an initial assessment of the incident saying that about 70 civilians could have been killed.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that 52 combatants were killed, 51 of them adult males and one child, while four civilians died, one woman and three children.
Another 15 civilians, 11 women and four children, were wounded, he said.
Asked if anyone was being punished for the civilian deaths, Kirby said the investigation did not find the need to hold any individuals accountable.
The probe “did not find that anybody acted outside the law of war, that there was no malicious intent,” Kirby said.
“While we don’t always get everything right, we do try to improve. We do try to be as transparent as we can about what we learn,” he said.

Related


World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE

Updated 18 May 2022

World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE

  • The 828m Burj Khalifa, which towers over Dubai and is usually visible across the financial hub, retreated behind a curtain of airborne dirt that shrouded much of the country
  • The Middle East’s sandstorms are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend associated with overgrazing and deforestation, overuse of river water and more dams

DUBAI: The world’s tallest building disappeared behind a grey layer of dust on Wednesday as sandstorms that have swept the Middle East hit the United Arab Emirates, prompting weather and traffic warnings.
The 828-meter (2,716 ft, 6ins) Burj Khalifa, which towers over Dubai and is usually visible across the busy financial hub, retreated behind a curtain of airborne dirt that shrouded much of the country.
The UAE is just the latest country in the path of sandstorms that have smothered Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others in recent days, closing airports and schools and sending thousands to hospital with breathing problems.
Capital city Abu Dhabi’s air quality index (AQI) soared into the “hazardous” zone overnight, according to waqi.info and the Plume pollution app.
The Middle East’s sandstorms are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend associated with overgrazing and deforestation, overuse of river water and more dams.
Experts say the phenomenon could worsen as climate change warps regional weather patterns and drives desertification.
Emirati authorities issued a nationwide warning urging residents to remain vigilant.
“Abu Dhabi Police urges drivers to be cautious due to low visibility during high winds and dust,” the police force tweeted, as residents took to social media to publish photos and videos.
“Please do not be distracted by taking any videos or using your phone,” it added.
A National Center for Meteorology graphic showed nearly all the country covered by the storm, with the warning: “Be on the alert: hazardous weather events are expected.”
Winds with speeds up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour are blowing the dust, it said, reducing visibility in some areas to less than 2,000 meters (2,200 yards).
However, a Dubai airports spokesman said there was no impact on air traffic. Weather conditions were expected to remain the same for the next few days.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, badly hit on Tuesday, conditions eased in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday but continued to restrict visibility in the city center.
Emergency rooms in Riyadh hospitals received some 1,285 people suffering from respiratory problems over 24 hours from the sandstorm, the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel reported late on Tuesday.
The Saudi national weather center reported that dust was also affecting visibility in the west and south, specifically in Assir, Najran, Hael and Medina provinces. Medina is home to Medina city, the second-holiest city in Islam.
The center predicted another sandstorm would arrive in the kingdom by Sunday.


‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO

Updated 18 May 2022

‘Conflict, destruction’ prevent return to Iraq’s Yazidi heartland: NGO

  • ‘Nearly two-thirds of Sinjar’s population — over 193,000 Yazidis, Arabs, and Kurds — remain displaced’
  • The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority who were persecuted by Daesh for their non-Muslim faith

BAGHDAD: Violence and sluggish reconstruction have prevented the return to Iraq’s northwestern town of Sinjar of its predominantly Yazidi population after the abuses of militant rule, the Norwegian Refugee Council said Wednesday.
Five years after the defeat of the Daesh group, which committed massacres against the Yazidis and used their women as sex slaves, the town’s Yazidi, Muslim Kurdish and Arab residents are no closer to returning home, especially after a surge in violence earlier this month.
The aid group said that “nearly two-thirds of Sinjar’s population — over 193,000 Yazidis, Arabs, and Kurds — remain displaced.”
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority who were persecuted by Daesh for their non-Muslim faith after its capture of the town in 2014.
“Widespread destruction of civilian houses, new clashes, and social tensions” are preventing returns, NRC said in a report.
Out of 1,500 people surveyed by the aid group to determine how decisions to return home are made, about 64 percent “said their homes were heavily damaged.”
“A staggering 99 percent of those who applied for government compensation had not received any funding for damaged property,” it said.
“Families from Sinjar remain in displacement, with thousands still living in camps,” NRC’s country director for Iraq, James Munn, said.
“We need durable solutions put in place so Iraqi families can once again start living their lives and plan for a safer future.”
The aid group called on the Iraqi government and the authorities in the autonomous Kurdistan region to “prioritize the rehabilitation of infrastructure and the restoration of services to allow for safe housing, land, and property, alongside public infrastructure.”
Some “80 percent of public infrastructure and 70 percent of civilian homes in Sinjar were destroyed” during the conflict years ago, the NRC said.
In early May, fighting broke out between Iraqi troops and Yazidi fighters affiliated with Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), killing at least one Iraqi soldier.
The Iraqi army was seeking to apply an agreement between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region for the withdrawal of Yazidi and PKK fighters from Sinjar.
More than 10,000 people fled the latest fighting, adding to the population of displaced.


Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

Updated 18 May 2022

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

  • Iran has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf states
  • Ship carrying over 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel was seized in Gulf waters, escorted to harbor in Hormozgan

DUBAI: Iranian authorities seized a foreign ship attempting to smuggle fuel out of the country and detained its crew, state news agency IRNA said on Wednesday.

Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in value of its national currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.

The ship, carrying more than 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel, was seized in Gulf waters and escorted to harbor in the southern province of Hormozgan, where it was handed to judicial authorities for investigation, the agency added.

“We were able to identify and detain a ship carrying smuggled fuel intended to transport large-scale smuggled fuel shipments east of Maru Island,” chief of provincial border guards Hossein Dehaki said.

Several ships in recent months have been detained for smuggling fuel in the Gulf by Iranian authorities.