US Senate delegation says Hezbollah is ‘cancer spreading in Lebanon’

A US congressional delegation met Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Wednesday. (@LBpresidency)
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Updated 01 September 2021

US Senate delegation says Hezbollah is ‘cancer spreading in Lebanon’

  • During his visit, Sen. Murphy warns that any member of government involved in corruption cases will be subject to US sanctions
  • Under the impression that a new government will be formed at the end of this week, delegation assures Lebanon president Aoun that Washington will work with Beirut

BEIRUT: A US congressional delegation led by Sen. Chris Murphy met with Michel Aoun on Wednesday and had some harsh words for Lebanon's president before departing the shattered country under the impression a new government would be formed by the end of the week.

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, it is creating destruction in the region and is a cancer that is spreading in Lebanon,” said Murphy, who is the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism.

Despite Murphy’s disdain for the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, he said the US would not turn its back on the country as it tries to climb out of a financial collapse that began in 2019.

“We will continue to support Lebanon,” he said. “Corruption is a pattern in the Lebanese government, and this is unacceptable. Any member of the government involved in corruption cases will be subject to US sanctions.”

The president’s media office said that the meeting with the US delegation focused on “the situation in Lebanon and the future steps” as Aoun told the Americans that there “is progress in the government formation process.”

During a meeting with a number of journalists at the airport before the US delegation left for Israel, Murphy said the delegation heard from all Lebanese officials their assurance that a new government will be formed at the end of this week.

“The congressional delegation assured the president that Washington will work with the new government,” Murphy said.

Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic crisis that the World Bank has described as potentially one of the most severe crises since the mid-19th century.

The situation has crippled military institutions and other security forces. Lebanon has been without a stable government for more than a year, even though three different figures have been assigned to handle the task of leadership.

More than 70 percent of Lebanon’s population has slipped below the poverty line and the Lebanese pound has collapsed, losing more than 90 percent of its value on the black market.

The international community is also unlikely to aid state institutions if a national government has not been formed.

The fuel shortages that Lebanon has witnessed since the start of the summer have encouraged sales on the black market and prompted disputes outside gas stations.

“There is no need for Lebanon to depend on Iranian fuel as any fuel that is transported through Syria is subject to sanctions,” Murphy said. 

“Hezbollah is an organization that will take a portion of the oil money, and this oil will not solve the fuel crisis in Lebanon.”

Tensions from the national fuel shortage developed into violent clashes with weapons and knives in some areas, threatening civil coexistence.

Gasoline and diesel prices have also increased with the gradual lifting of subsidies, which is expected to be fully completed by the end of September. Security raids have unveiled enterprises hoarding millions of tons of subsidized fuel across the country, to be later sold at higher prices.

Energy minister in the caretaker government, Raymond Ghajar, told the public on Wednesday: “The first shipment of Iraqi fuel (30 million tons) will arrive in Lebanon in the second week of September and the second shipment (33 tons of oil) will arrive in the third week of September.”

The shipments are aimed at increasing the supply of power from as little as 30 minutes per day in some areas to more than eight hours.

Lebanon has also inked an agreement with Iraq to buy 1 million tons of fuel to be used in power plants.

Ghajar added: “Lebanon has received no request to import fuel from Iran.”

But the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said earlier that a shipment of Iranian fuel from a third vessel was being sent to Beirut.

Sources close to PM-designate Najib Mikati told Arab News: “Mikati was reassured by Hezbollah that the Iranian shipment will cause no distress to anyone.”

A meeting was also held between the US delegation and Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Gen. Joseph Aoun. It focused on ways to help the army maintain stability in the country.

In a speech delivered in March, Gen. Aoun asked Lebanon’s ruling political class: “Where are we headed? What are you planning to do? We have warned you of the danger of the situation more than once. The Lebanese are hungry and poor — and soldiers, like the rest of the people, are suffering and hungry.”

Gen. Aoun also rejected criticism of the army’s acceptance of foreign aid, and said: “If it was not for that aid, the situation would have been much worse.”

According to a report issued by Washington, the congressional delegation in Lebanon is discussing issues related to “regional security and democracy.”

The group will travel to Israel and the West Bank after their stop in Lebanon.

It includes senators Richard Blumenthal, Jon Ossoff and Chris Van Hollen.

Murphy and Ossoff will later continue on to Tunisia and Greece.

“New leadership and simmering crises dot the landscape of the Mediterranean right now,” the delegation said. “We look forward to speaking directly with key actors in the region, especially the new Israeli government and Palestinian leadership.

“This trip will also give us the chance to discuss the path forward to protect democracy in Tunisia and address the economic and political crisis in Lebanon. The US must be a force for good in the Middle East and North Africa, and we look forward to a productive trip.”

Syria reports 39 dead in cholera outbreak

Updated 11 sec ago

Syria reports 39 dead in cholera outbreak

DAMASCUS: Syria’s health ministry has recorded 39 deaths from cholera and nearly 600 cases in an outbreak spreading in the war-ravaged country that the United Nations warned is “evolving alarmingly.”
A total of 594 cases have been recorded across 11 of its 14 provinces since late last month, the health ministry said late Tuesday.
“The situation is evolving alarmingly in affected governorates and expanding to new areas,” the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.
Most of those who have died are in the northern province of Aleppo, and it was not immediately clear if the dead were included in the overall case tally.
It is the first major outbreak of cholera in Syria in over a decade.
The extremely virulent disease is generally contracted from contaminated food or water, and causes diarrhea and vomiting.
It can spread in residential areas that lack proper sewerage networks or mains drinking water.
The disease is making its first major comeback since 2009 in Syria, where nearly two-thirds of water treatment plants, half of pumping stations and one-third of water towers have been damaged by more than a decade of war, according to the United Nations.
The source of the latest outbreak is believed to be the Euphrates River which has been contaminated by sewage pollution.
Reduced water flow due to drought, rising temperatures and dams built by Turkey have compounded the pollution problem.
Despite the contamination, over five million of Syria’s about 18 million people rely on the Euphrates for their drinking water, according to the UN.
The latest outbreak is especially alarming for overcrowded displacement camps that have little access to clean water and sanitary products.
Cholera can kill within hours if left untreated, according to the WHO, but many of those infected will have no or mild symptoms.
It can be easily treated with oral rehydration solution, but more severe cases may require intravenous fluids and antibiotics, according to the WHO.
Worldwide, the disease affects between 1.3 million and four million people each year, killing between 21,000 and 143,000 people.

Iran judiciary opens probe into death of teenage girl

Updated 05 October 2022

Iran judiciary opens probe into death of teenage girl

  • The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people

TEHRAN: Iran’s judiciary has opened an investigation into the death of a teenage girl, who was reportedly killed during protests over the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since Amini died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces.
“A case has been filed in the criminal court to investigate the cause of Nika Shakrami’s death,” Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency late Tuesday.
“An order to investigate the case has been issued and necessary measures are being taken in this regard,” he added.
Earlier, the prosecutor said 400 protesters were released from prison “on condition of not repeating their actions.”
He stressed, however, that those “who acted against national security” will be dealt with “decisively, seriously and without leniency.”

Iran summons British ambassador after ‘interventionist comments’

Updated 05 October 2022

Iran summons British ambassador after ‘interventionist comments’

  • Britain’s foreign ministry had summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires over crackdown on protests

DUBAI: Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador in Tehran in reaction to “interventionist comments” from the British foreign ministry, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported on Wednesday.
“The British side, by issuing unilateral statements, shows that it has a role in the belligerent scenarios of terrorists active against the Islamic Republic,” the director general of Western Europe at Iran’s foreign ministry added, after saying that London’s remarks on Iran’s internal affairs were “based on fake and provocative interpretations.”
Britain’s foreign ministry said on Monday it had summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires, Iran’s most senior diplomat in Britain, over the crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.
The British envoy in Tehran was summoned on Tuesday.
The Iranian official added Tehran will consider possible options in response to any unusual actions from Britain.
A 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, Amini was arrested on Sept. 13 by the morality police in Tehran for wearing “unsuitable attire.”


Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the US a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?

He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.


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

While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.


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EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

Updated 04 October 2022

EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

  • Rights groups voiced concern after riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night
  • Video footage showed detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads

PARIS: The European Union said Tuesday it was weighing tough new sanctions on Iran over a lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the “killing” of Mahsa Amini, after a similar move by the United States.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after the notorious morality police detained the Kurdish Iranian for allegedly breaching rules requiring women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
Anger over her death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock Iran in almost three years and a crackdown that has seen scores of protesters killed and hundreds arrested.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering “all the options at our disposal, including restrictive measures, to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have been responding to the demonstrations.”
It came after President Joe Biden said the United States would impose “further costs” this week on “perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters” in Iran.
Rights groups voiced deep concern after Iranian riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against hundreds of students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night, with video footage showing detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads.
Protests also spread to schools, with video footage shared by Kurdish rights group Hengaw showing schoolgirls demonstrating in two cities in Amini’s native Kurdistan province.
“Women, Life, Freedom,” the young female protesters chanted as they marched down the central strip of a busy highway in Marivan, in footage that AFP has not independently verified.

Biden gave no indication of what measures he was considering against Iran, which is already under crippling US economic sanctions largely related to its controversial nuclear program.
Iran on Tuesday accused the US leader of “hypocrisy” in invoking human rights to impose fresh punitive measures.
“It would have been better for Mr.Joe Biden to think a little about the human rights record of his own country before making humanitarian gestures, although hypocrisy does not need to be thought through,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in an Instagram post, reported by Iranian media.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had on Monday accused arch foes the United States and Israel of fomenting the protests.
The riots “were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” Khamenei said.

The unrest has overshadowed diplomatic efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers which had come close to a breakthrough in recent months before stalling again.
But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed the “problems with Iran’s behavior” are separate from efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which Washington will pursue “as long as we believe” it is in US national security interests.
In his first public comments on Amini’s death, 83-year-old Khamenei stressed on Monday that Iranian police must “stand up to criminals.”
Khamenei said “some people, without proof or an investigation, have made the streets dangerous, burned the Qur'an, removed hijabs from veiled women and set fire to mosques and cars.”
He added that “this is not about hijab in Iran,” and that “many Iranian women who don’t observe the hijab perfectly are among the steadfast supporters of the Islamic republic.”
On Tuesday, an official said singer Shervin Hajjipour — arrested after his song “Baraye” (“For“), with lyrics taken from social media posts about the reasons people were protesting, went viral — had been released on bail.
Another 400 people arrested in the crackdown were released Tuesday “on condition of not repeating their actions,” Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had been arrested.
At least 92 protesters have been killed so far in the Mahsa Amini rallies, said Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, which has been working to assess the death toll despite Internet outages and blocks on WhatsApp, Instagram and other online services.
Amnesty International said earlier it had confirmed 53 deaths, after Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said last week that “around 60” people had died.
At least 12 members of the security forces have been reported killed since September 16.