Vatican envoy accuses Lebanese politicians of profiting from country’s suffering 

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun meets with the Vatican’s foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher at the presidential palace in Baabda on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 February 2022

Vatican envoy accuses Lebanese politicians of profiting from country’s suffering 

  • Archbishop Paul Gallagher: Weakening Christian presence would destroy Lebanon’s identity
  • "Let there be an end to the few profiting off the suffering of many," the archbishop said

BEIRUT: A Vatican envoy criticized Lebanon’s politicians on a visit to Beirut on Tuesday, saying “those in power must make the decision to work for peace and not for their own interests, and must stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for foreign interests”.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, passed on Pope Francis’ message to Lebanese President Michel Aoun that “any weakening of (the) Christian presence would destroy the internal balance and Lebanese identity.”

He stressed the pope’s concern over the situation in Lebanon to Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri, saying: “He believes that reforms, along with the support of the international community, will help Lebanon preserve its own identity.”

On the first day of his visit, the archbishop met commander-in-chief of the army, Joseph Aoun, and academics at Saint Joseph University. He also prayed for the victims of the Beirut port explosion.

Gallagher will meet Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi on Wednesday and inaugurate a conference titled “Pope John Paul II and Lebanon the Message,” before meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other heads of Muslim communities on Thursday.

The archbishop told Aoun that the pope is closely following developments in Lebanon, the presidency’s press office said. Quoting the pontiff, Gallagher said: “Lebanon deserves exceptional attention, as the entire Middle East looks to it as a message for the future, and from here comes the necessity of preserving the Lebanese national identity, and if the situation does not develop positively, it will be reflected in the region.”

The archbishop emphasized that “a strong and united Lebanon can set an example for the entire Middle East, with its Christians and Muslims, in the service of the common good for all, and we hope that it plays this role again in the future. 

“It is easy to say that Lebanon is a message; however, we must work together to make this message a tangible reality.”

Aoun called on the Vatican to continue its support “in view of the gravity of the challenges facing us, which are unprecedented in the modern history of Lebanon, and we hope that, through this support, along with the support of other friends of Lebanon in the world, we will overcome the negative repercussions of the regional crises and conflicts.”

The archbishop conveyed to the Lebanese people “the pope’s concern for the country due to the deep economic, social and political crisis.”

He said the Vatican’s position was that “reforms, along with the support of the international community, are necessary to help Lebanon preserve its own identity, as an example of peaceful coexistence and brotherhood between different religions.”

Gallagher urged “the international community to continue providing support and assistance to Lebanon.

“Let there be an end to the few profiting off the suffering of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations; the Lebanese must have an opportunity for their children to have a better future in the country, away from any external interference,” he added.

The archbishop expressed the Vatican’s fear over Lebanon’s uncertain future. “We call on everyone, all leaders — locally and internationally — to preserve Lebanon as a message of living together, brotherhood and hope among religions,” he added.

Asked if the Vatican could be a mediator, he said: “Diplomatic activity is a dialogue between representatives of internationally recognized entities. In any dialogue, it is not possible to predict the outcome, however, we will encourage political leaders and civil society. When we talk about the role of mediator between political players, we can fulfil this role if there is an invitation to the Holy See.”

He added that Pope Francis would like to visit Lebanon soon.

In a statement after meeting Aoun, the archbishop expressed the need “to bring justice to the victims of the horrible Beirut port explosion, and all the Lebanese people.”

Forty days have passed since the judge leading the probe into the explosion, Tarek Bitar, was dismissed from the case on Dec. 23.

A delegation of the victims’ families met on Tuesday with Nader Kasbar, president of the Bar Association, to inquire about the reasons for the bar not taking any position on obstacles in the investigation of the blast, which happened on Aug. 4, 2020.

Hezbollah has succeeded in dividing families of the victims putting pressure on authorities to find the truth.

Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, criticized — along with Hezbollah — Bitar’s work, after having previously defended him, with the investigation now at a halt.

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

Updated 30 September 2022

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

  • Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners
  • Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens for meeting protesting teachers

DUBAI: Iran’s intelligence ministry says it has arrested nine foreigners over recent anti-hijab protests sweeping the country.
In a statement carried by the state-run news agency IRNA, the ministry said Friday that those arrested included citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely, has triggered an outpouring of anger at Iran’s ruling clerics.
Her family says they were told she was beaten to death in custody. Police say the 22-year-old Amini died of a heart attack and deny mistreating her, and Iranian officials say her death is under investigation.
Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners. Protesters have denied such claims, portraying their actions as a spontaneous uprising against the country’s strict dress code, including the compulsory hijab for women in public.
Iran has detained individual foreigners in the past, often on claims that they were spies while not providing evidence. Critics have denounced the practice as an attempt by Iran to use detained foreigners as bargaining chips for concessions from the international community.
Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens, Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69 over meeting with protesting teachers and taking part in an anti-government rally.
A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including a Swedish tourist, two French citizens, a Polish scientist and others.
The arrests come as leaked government documents show that Iran ordered its security forces to “severely confront” antigovernment demonstrations that broke out earlier this month, Amnesty International said Friday.
The London-based rights group said security forces have killed at least 52 people since protests over the Amini’s death began nearly two weeks ago, including by firing live ammunition into crowds and beating protesters with batons.
It says security forces have also beaten and groped female protesters who remove their headscarves to protest the treatment of women by Iran’s theocracy.
The state-run IRNA news agency meanwhile reported renewed violence in the city of Zahedan, near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It said gunmen opened fire and hurled firebombs at a police station, setting off a battle with police.
It said police and passersby were wounded, without elaborating, and did not say whether the violence was related to the antigovernment protests. The region has seen previous attacks on security forces claimed by militant and separatist groups.
Videos circulating on social media showed gunfire and a police vehicle on fire. Others showed crowds chanting against the government. Video from elsewhere in Iran showed protests in Ahvaz, in the southwest, and Ardabil in the northwest.
Amnesty said it obtained a leaked copy of an official document saying that the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces ordered commanders on Sept. 21 to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries.” The rights group says the use of lethal force escalated later that evening, with at least 34 people killed that night alone.
It said another leaked document shows that, two days later, the commander in Mazandran province ordered security forces to “confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-Revolutionaries,” referring to those opposed to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought the clerics to power.
“The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Amid an epidemic of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in Iran, dozens of men, women and children have been unlawfully killed in the latest round of bloodshed.”
Amnesty did not say how it acquired the documents. There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities.
Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that at least 28 reporters have been arrested.
Iranian authorities have severely restricted Internet access and blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp, popular social media applications that are also used by the protesters to organize and share information.
That makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the protests, particularly outside the capital, Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.
Iranians have long used virtual private networks and proxies to get around the government’s Internet restrictions. Shervin Hajjipour, an amateur singer in Iran, recently posted a song on Instagram based on tweets about Amini that received more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was taken down.
Non-governmental Iran Human rights Organization said that Hajjipour has reportedly been arrested.

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

Updated 30 September 2022

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

  • Cleric Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari: The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters

DUBAI: An influential Iranian cleric called for tough action on Friday against protesters enraged by the death of a young woman in police custody who have called for the downfall of the country’s leaders.
“Our security is our distinctive privilege. The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters,” said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, a leader of prayers that are held on Fridays in Tehran before a large gathering.
“The people want the death of Mahsa Amini to be cleared up... so that enemies cannot take advantage of this incident.”
Amini, a 22-year-old from the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Her death has caused the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019. The demonstrations have quickly evolved into a popular revolt against the clerical establishment.
Amnesty International said on Friday the government crackdown on demonstrations has so far led to the death of at least 52 people, with hundreds injured.
Amnesty said in a statement it had obtained a copy of an official document that records that the General Headquarters of Armed Forces issued an order to commanders in all provinces to “severely confront” protesters described as “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”.
Despite the growing death toll and crackdown by authorities, videos posted on Twitter showed demonstrators calling for the fall of the clerical establishment.
Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has more than 150,000 followers, posted videos which it said showed protests in cities including Ahvaz in the southwest, Mashhad in the northeast and Zahedan in the southeast, where people were said to be attacking a police station.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
Meanwhile, Iran rejected criticism of its missile and drone attack on Wednesday on the Iraqi Kurdistan region where Iranian armed dissident Kurdish groups are based. The United States called it “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Iran has repeatedly asked the Iraqi central government officials and regional authorities to prevent the activities of separatist and terrorist groups that are active against the Islamic Republic,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told state media.


Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

Updated 30 September 2022

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

  • Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead
  • Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill

SANAA: As a cease-fire deadline in war-ravaged Yemen draws near, civilians hope the truce will be extended — fearing any fresh fighting would wipe out the small gains they have made.
In the rebel-held capital Sanaa, agriculture graduate Loujain Al-Ouazir has been working to raise goats and chicken poultry for three years on a farm on top of one the ancient city’s iconic mud brick tower houses.
Ouazir only managed to make the farm successful in recent months amid the truce, which allowed goods to move more freely and cut the price of supplies.
“Thanks to the truce, the prices of animal feed and fuel have come down,” Ouazir said. “It’s easier to bring in feed and goats from other regions.”
Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead and created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A UN-brokered cease-fire, which took effect in April and has twice been renewed, has reduced casualties by 60 percent and quadrupled fuel imports into the rebel-held Hodeida port, more than 40 humanitarian groups said on Thursday.
The truce has largely held, although the rival sides have traded blame over violations.
Ouazir said the relative peace — especially an end to air strikes in Sanaa — has created a safer environment for her business of selling milk and eggs.
“I hope the truce will continue until the war stops completely,” she said, adding that she dreamt of expanding her farm “on the ground, and not on the roof of the house.”
The truce is due to expire on Sunday, with the UN working to ensure each side agrees to extend once again.
Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt, while oil tankers have been able to dock in Hodeida, also under Houthi control.
The series of temporary truces have brought some respite to a people exhausted by eight years of war, where about 23.4 million of Yemen’s population of 30 million rely on humanitarian aid.
But there has been little fundamental progress toward peace.
A seige remains in place on Taiz, a large city in the southwest controlled by the government but surrounded by Houthi forces.
Despite the cease-fire, the main roads around the mountainous city remain shut.
In the center of Taiz, old pickups are packed tight with passengers who want to go to the nearby town of Al-Hawban, taking bumpy back roads through the mountain.
Before the war, it was a simple journey of 15 minutes.
“Now I need four or five hours,” Taiz resident Bassem Al-Sabri said.
Diego Zorrilla, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the truce had improved the situation “in many respects” but “life remains difficult” for the vast majority.
“From a humanitarian point of view, the renewal of the truce on October 2 is a moral imperative,” Zorrilla said.
“Only a resolution of the conflict can allow the economy to recover, lift people out of poverty and reduce humanitarian needs,” he added.
Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill.
In May, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the truce “presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past.”
But in view of the stalled peace talks, a key aim of the truce, it has therefore “fundamentally changed nothing” and is proving to be “a failure in certain respects,” said Thomas Juneau, from the University of Ottawa.
“On the Houthi side, there is no serious will to negotiate and therefore to make compromises with the government,” said Juneau.
On the government side, differences between multiple anti-rebel factions have widened.
“We have seen the lines of fracture which were very deep widen, tensions worsen and, in many cases, become violent,” he said.
For Juneau, there is an “absurdity in renewing a truce which does not work,” and which therefore only “delays the return” of violence.
But, he added, “I don’t see any other alternative.”

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor

Updated 30 September 2022

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor

  • A total of 241 people have been killed by Russian strikes in Syria during the past year
  • Moscow has been among the top political, economic and military backers of the government in Damascus since 2011

BEIRUT: Russian strikes in Syria have decreased since it invaded Ukraine, resulting in fewer deaths, a war monitor said Friday, seven years into Moscow’s intervention in the Middle Eastern country.
A total of 241 people have been killed by Russian strikes in Syria during the past year, mostly fighters from the Daesh group but also including 28 civilians, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
That marked the lowest annual death toll since Russia launched its strikes in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar Assad on September 30, 2015.
“Russia’s role has generally declined in Syria since the start of the war on Ukraine” in late February, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria.
This led to a “significant decline in its strikes on the Syrian desert” where Russia has been targeting IS jihadists, the Observatory said.
Moscow has been among the top political, economic and military backers of the government in Damascus since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011.
Its military intervention was crucial in turning the tide for Assad and lending him the upper hand in the conflict after his forces had lost large swathes of territory to rebel and jihadist groups.
The Observatory has put the death toll from the Russian strikes throughout seven years at more than 21,000 — including 8,697 civilians, a quarter of whom were children.
Almost half a million people have been killed, with millions more displaced and large swathes of the country devastated during the conflict.

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad

Updated 30 September 2022

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad

  • At least 76 people have been killed in Iran’s violent crackdown on the protests
  • Taliban disperse demo in Kabul, clashes at embassy in Oslo, threat of new EU sanctions

JEDDAH: The Tehran regime faced growing international isolation on Thursday as a wave of unrest inside Iran spread across borders. 

In Afghanistan, Taliban forces fired shots into the air to disperse a women’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul in support of the protests in Iran. 

Afghan women rally in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on September 29, 2022 in a sympathy protest for Mahsa Amini. (AFP)

Demonstrators carried banners that read: “Iran has risen, now it’s our turn” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship,” and chanted the “Women, life, freedom” mantra used in Iran. Taliban forces snatched the banners and tore them in front of the protesters. 

One of the protest organizers said it was staged “to show our support and solidarity with the people of Iran and the women victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

In Norway, two people were injured and 90 were arrested in clashes at a demonstration in front of the Iranian embassy in Oslo. Several dozen protesters, some draped in the Kurdish flag, tried to break into the embassy compound. 

Norwegian police restrain activists protesting outside Iran's embassy in Oslo on Sept. 29, 2022. (AFP)

The demonstration came a day after Iran launched missile and drone strikes that killed 13 people in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran accuses Kurdish dissidents there of fueling two weeks of protests in Iran, which began when 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died in morality police custody. 

Amini had been on a visit to Tehran with her family when she was arrested and accused of wearing her hijab with “insufficient modesty.” 

At least 76 people have been killed in Iran’s violent crackdown on the protests, with security forces using tear gas, batons, birdshot and live ammunition. 

Germany’s foreign minister on Thursday urged the EU to impose further sanctions on Iran because of its treatment of protesters.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately end their brutal treatment of demonstrators,” Annalena Baerbock told the German parliament.

Activists protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on September 28, 2022, against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran. (Reuters)

She said she would do everything within the EU framework to impose sanctions against those responsible for oppressing women in Iran.

France’s Foreign Ministry has said it would back sanctions as a response to “new massive abuses on women’s rights and human rights in Iran.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would “consider all the options at its disposal ... to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have responded to the ensuing demonstrations.”

Inside Iran, the regime warned prominent sports and entertainment figures against any further support of the protests. “We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots,” Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said.

Former TV host Mahmoud Shahriari has already been arrested for “encouraging riots and solidarity with the enemy,” and Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi urged people to “stand in solidarity” with the protesters.

“They are looking for simple yet fundamental rights that the state has denied them,” he said.


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