Lebanon, Egypt sign agreement to supply Beirut with gas

Lebanon's Energy Minister Walid Fayyad, on a call with World Bank's Regional Director before import deals are signed on June 21, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 23 June 2022

Lebanon, Egypt sign agreement to supply Beirut with gas

  • World Bank agrees to finance the gas import agreement on the condition that Lebanon enacts power sector reforms

BEIRUT: Lebanon and Egypt inked, on Tuesday, a deal to import Egyptian gas to a power plant in northern Lebanon through Syria. The agreement would increase badly needed electricity supplies in Lebanon that is suffering a severe energy crisis and chronic outages. However, US assurances are needed that the countries involved namely Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan will not be targeted by American sanctions and the Caesar Law imposed on Syria. This is not yet guaranteed.

The deal would see gas piped to Lebanon’s northern Deir Ammar power plant, where it could add some 450 megawatts, or around four extra hours of power per day to the grid.

“This agreement would not have happened without Egypt adopting the project from the first moment and following it up with its details and supporting all its stages to ensure an increase in quantity,” said Walid Fayad, minister of energy in the Lebanese caretaker government, at a press conference held at the Ministry of Energy after the signing of the two contracts.

With the signing of the agreement, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria have completed all steps to move forward to secure electricity for the Lebanese people.

“We are looking forward to get the final guarantees from the United States, especially regarding sanctions, therefore the support of the United States and the international community is essential,” Fayad said.

The agreement was signed by the director general of oil facilities at the Lebanese Energy Ministry Aurore Feghali, Chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) Magdy Galal and the Director of the Syrian’s General Petroleum Corporation Nabih Khrestin.

“Lebanon, Syria and Egypt agreed to transport 650 million cubic meters of Egyptian gas through Syria to Lebanon annually,” the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported.

“Syria has made great efforts despite the pressures and difficulties to prepare the line that was damaged, during a short period of time. We are now ready to transport the Egyptian gas, and there are no legal problems,” said a representative of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon.

Political observers in Lebanon have linked the facilitation of the file of gas import through Syria to bartering with the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.

Former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said that the “initiative to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Egypt and Lebanon to import Egyptian gas is a very good one.”

“In the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was an agreement to build a pipeline to transport oil from Iraq (IPC) through Syria, and then to two Mediterranean estuaries in Syria and Lebanon," Siniora said in an interview with the Egyptian channel DMC. “In the early 1950s, the Tapline pipeline was built to transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. These lines were practically discontinued in the 1980s. The signing of the agreement today is very important economically, politically and nationally.”

Siniora noted that “the gas to be transported to Lebanon through the construction of pipelines across the Mediterranean was the idea of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2003, but the Syrian-Lebanese security system, which the government was suffering from at the time, hindered this plan.”

Siniora said that during his tenure as prime minister “an agreement was signed between Lebanon and Egypt to transport Egyptian gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria and Egyptian gas was pumped for nearly a year between 2008 and 2009 to Tripoli. However, the problem that still exists so far is that there is not yet a complete gas pipeline connecting southern and northern Syria. Therefore, the transfer of Egyptian gas to Tripoli was replaced by the pumping of Egyptian gas from Egypt to Jordan, and therefore to southern Syria. Syria used this gas in its south and in turn supplied Lebanon with the same amount of gas from the gas fields in Homs in northern Syria and transported it to northern Lebanon, i.e. to the Deir Ammar power plant.”

The gas supply to Lebanon still requires Lebanese logistical preparations. The World Bank has said it is ready to finance the operation with a 270-million-dollar loan, provided that Lebanon enacts long-awaited power sector reforms. But Lebanon has not yet made the reforms.

Amos Hochstein, the US mediator of Lebanon’s maritime borders negotiations with Israel, who visited Lebanon last week, was informed of an undisclosed Lebanese position on the demarcation of the maritime border.

Lebanon appeared to have abandoned line 29, which is being advocated by a technical team in the Lebanese army based on British documents.

President Michel Aoun refused to sign an amendment to a decree handed over to the United Nations years ago saying line 23 was the border line, making line 29 the correct line.

Aoun said line 29 was a “negotiating line.”

During his recent visit to Lebanon, Hochstein met with the Lebanese ministry of energy as part of his political meetings.


Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Updated 13 August 2022

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

CAIRO: A vehicle accident involving an overturned microbus in southern Egypt killed at least nine people and injured eight, authorities said Saturday.
The crash took place Friday when the passenger vehicle overturned following a tire blowout on a highway in Minya province 273 kilometers (170 miles) south of the capital Cairo, provincial authorities said in a statement.
The microbus, a sort of mass transit minivan, was transporting people from Sohag province to Cairo, the statement said.
Ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to hospitals in Minya, the statement added.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
Earlier this month, a microbus collided with a truck in Sohag, killing at least 17 people and injuring four others. In July, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer truck in Minya, leaving 23 dead and a least 30 wounded.

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Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.


Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Updated 12 August 2022

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

  • Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July
  • Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr held a mass prayer outside parliament in Baghdad on Friday in a show of support for the powerful Shiite cleric who has called for Iraq’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July after a 10-month political stalemate that followed elections last October. Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to form a government free of Iranian-backed parties.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing the chamber from electing a new government and is demanding early elections.
On Wednesday he said the judiciary must dissolve parliament by the end of next week. If not “the revolutionaries will take another stand,” he said without elaborating.
Outside parliament on Friday thousands of Sadr supporters gathered for prayer. Most were dressed in black to mark the Muslim month of Muharram and some wore white capes symbolizing burial shrouds and their willingness to die.
“You will not break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a big red stage set up outside parliament. “There is no going back from this revolution ... and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, men picked their way through the worshippers and sprayed them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We have revolted and there is no going back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for an early election and make sure that all the corrupt faces are excluded from the upcoming elections...I became unemployed because of the corrupt parties.”
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists have run some of Iraq’s most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.
Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday, the latest in a series of protest and counter-protest in recent days which have led to fears of unrest.
Sadr counts millions of Iraqis among his followers and has shown he can still stir up gatherings by hundreds of thousands of supporters, mostly working-class Shiite Muslims, if he needs to exert political pressure.
His father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was killed more than 20 years ago for his outspoken opposition Saddam Hussein. When Saddam was topped in a US-led invasion in 2003 Sadr began an insurgency against US troops.
His new foes, however, are fellow Shiite leaders and parties mostly aligned with Iran, as Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who rejects foreign interference. Those groups, like Sadr, are backed by heavily armed militias, but do not hold the same sway as he does over masses of fanatical followers.


Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

Updated 12 August 2022

Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

  • Comments sparked calls for protests in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces
  • Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria

SYRIA: Protests broke out in Syria’s rebel-held north on Friday over a call from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition.
“We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this,” Cavusoglu said Thursday, in remarks to diplomats.
The comments have sparked calls for protests after Friday weekly prayers in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces and their supporters, including in Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus.
Similar calls were made in Idlib, controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and other rebel groups, to gather at border crossings with Turkey.
Small protests already began overnight in some areas, including Al-Bab, where dozens gathered holding opposition slogans and chanting against Turkey.
Some demonstrators burned a Turkish flag, while others took down Turkey’s colors hung up around the city, an AFP photographer said.
Dozens of others gathered at the Bab Al-Salama crossing to Turkey, many shouting “death rather than indignity.”
Turkey’s top diplomat also revealed that he had held a short meeting in Belgrade in October with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Meqdad, adding that communication had resumed between the two countries’ intelligence agencies.
But he denied direct talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, despite long-standing calls from Russia for such dialogue.
Cavusoglu added that Turkey would continue its fight against “terrorism” in Syria, following warnings from Ankara since May that it could launch new strikes on Kurdish-held areas in north and northeast Syria.
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Turkey links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it.
Cavusoglu’s comments have sparked widespread anger among the opposition, with renowned figure George Sabra writing on Facebook: “If Cavusoglu is concerned with reconciling with the Syrian regime, that is his business. As for the Syrians, they have a different cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the dearest price.”
About half a million people have died during Syria’s 11-year conflict, which has destroyed large swathes of the country and displaced millions of people.