Lebanon seeks to reassure Gulf, Germany after travel warnings

A picture shows a burnt car carcass at the Ain el-Helweh camp in Lebanon’s southern coastal city of Sidon, on August 4, 2023, following the latest flare-up in the camp for Palestinian refugees. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2023
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Lebanon seeks to reassure Gulf, Germany after travel warnings

  • Mikati said he had spoken with his security chiefs and assessed that the situation “does not call for concern or panic”
  • He said there had been “significant progress” in resolving the violence in Ain el-Hilweh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker premier Najib Mikati said on Saturday there was no cause for “concern or panic” about his country’s security situation, after Germany and Gulf countries issued new travel warnings following outbreaks of violence.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Britain updated their travel warnings amid clashes between rival armed groups in the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh in Lebanon’s south.
In a statement, Mikati said he had spoken with his security chiefs and assessed that the situation “does not call for concern or panic.” He said there had been “significant progress” in resolving the violence in Ain el-Hilweh, where at least 13 people have been killed in fighting.
The statement said foreign minister Abdullah Bou Habib had been tasked with reassuring Arab countries that their citizens were safe in Lebanon.
The Saudi embassy on Friday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon quickly and avoid areas where there have been armed clashes.
The Saudi statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, stressed “the importance of adhering to the Saudi travel ban to Lebanon.”
Kuwait on Saturday urged its nationals in Lebanon to stay vigilant and avoid “areas of security disturbances,” but stopped short of asking them to leave.
Last week, Germany warned citizens not to travel to Palestinian camps in Lebanon, among other areas. Britain advised against “all but essential travel” to parts of Lebanon’s south, including near Ain el-Hilweh.
Around a quarter of the camp’s 80,000 residents have been displaced by fighting there on July 29 between mainstream faction Fatah and hard-line Islamists
Ain el-Hilweh is the largest of 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which host up to 250,000 Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations’ agency for refugees from Palestine (UNRWA).


EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

Updated 7 sec ago
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EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

BRUSSELS: Talks on deploying a EU mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
Two diplomats said the US had suggested the EU revive its EU Border Assistance Mission or EUBAM Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.
The crossing is the main entry point for aid from Egypt and has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it from the Gazan side nearly three weeks ago.
Rafah city is now fire in an Israeli military assault, which judges at the top UN court said on Friday should immediately halt.
“Even if we now have people on the ground talking to the different parties and seeing how it could be done, we are in a very preliminary part of the story,” said the senior official.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could be mandated by the 27 members on Monday to come up with “some kind of operative conclusions that could allow the mission to deploy.”
He said a deployment could not happen “in the current circumstances, not in war circumstances.”
“We are talking about the future,” the official said.
Three EU diplomats said the discussion would be on the table, but there was nothing concrete to discuss. One said the proposal was a “long shot.”
The mission would need unanimous approval from EU member states. Also, EUBAM is a civilian mission, and given the potentially dangerous nature of the operation, personnel and equipment would need to be adapted.
Diplomats said that such a mission could go ahead only if Egypt and Israel were also in favor.
Two US officials said Washington was reviewing options to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing, but no definitive plans have been developed yet. Israel began its offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.


Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Updated 24 May 2024
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Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

  • The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom“
  • The four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held

QAMISHLI, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Friday that they had handed over a woman and three children to British representatives for repatriation, with a source saying they had been held in a camp for militants’ relatives.
Five years after the Daesh group was driven out of its last bastion in Syria, tens of thousands of the militants’ family members, including from Western countries, remain in detention camps in the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom,” following a meeting with a British delegation led its Syria envoy Ann Snow.
A source within the administration told AFP the four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held.
Britain’s foreign ministry said UK officials had “facilitated the repatriation of a number of British nationals from Syria to the United Kingdom.”
“This repatriation is in line with the long-standing policy that all requests for UK consular assistance from Syria are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances including national security,” the spokesperson said.
On May 7, the United States announced it had brought back 11 Americans including five minors, as well as a nine-year-old non-US sibling of an American, from internment camps in northeastern Syria.
The United States in the same operation facilitated the repatriation of six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens and one Finnish citizen, eight of them children, Secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
And in December, the Kurdish administration handed over to Britain a woman and five children who had also been held in a camp.
Despite repeated appeals by the Kurdish authorities, a number of Western countries have refused to take back their citizens from the camps.
Among the most high profile cases is that of Shamima Begum, a former Briton stripped of her citizenship after leaving the country aged 15 to marry an Daesh group fighter.


Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Updated 24 May 2024
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Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

  • Parliamentary speaker accuses Israel of ‘greed’ over Lebanese resources
  • Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day

BEIRUT: Lebanon is willing to cooperate with any international effort to stop Israeli aggression and bring security to the region, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Friday.
However, in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Berri warned that Lebanon “is not ready to waive any of its sovereign rights.”
He also accused Israel of displaying “greed toward Lebanon, its resources, its entity, and its land, sea, and air borders.”
Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day.
The parliamentary speaker called for intensified international and regional efforts to halt Israel’s assault in the Gaza Strip, saying this was crucial to maintain security and stability in the entire region.
Hezbollah claims its actions have been in support of Gaza amid further Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Thursday from the northern command headquarters “to carry out detailed, important and even surprising plans to return displaced settlers to the north.”
He claimed Israel had killed hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
Benny Gantz, a minister in the Israeli war Cabinet, said: “Get ready from now on for the return of the residents of the north to their houses safely in early September by force or order.”
Berri returned from Tehran after attending the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
In his message to the Lebanese, he renewed Lebanon’s “commitment and adherence to UN Resolution 1701, and all its terms and stipulations.”
The resolution calls for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon to be replaced by Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, and the disarmament of armed groups including Hezbollah.
Berri accused Israel of ignoring the resolution “since the moment it was issued, with over 30,000 land, sea and air violations.”
Lebanon “upholds its right to defend its land with all the available means in the face of Israeli hostilities,” he said.
He called for the liberation of “the remaining occupied territory in the Kfarchouba Hills, the occupied Shebaa Farms, the northern part of the GHajjar village, and the contested border points with occupied Palestine all the way to the B1 point in Ras Al-Naqoura.”
Caretaker Minister of Defense Maurice Slim said that Lebanon preferred peace to war.
However, “defending the land was and will be the Lebanese state’s choice through the resilience of its army and people, especially the steadfast ones who are still residing in their villages and towns to repel the aggression,” he said.
Israeli warplanes on Thursday struck the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the Bint Jbeil district.
Sirens sounded in Israeli settlements opposite the border with Lebanon amid fears of possible drone attacks.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that Hezbollah’s drones caused significant damage in the northern towns and resulted in several fatalities.
Another newspaper, Israel Hayom, said that Hezbollah’s drones are “one of the biggest threats facing Israel in the northern arena.”
The newspaper said that Hezbollah leader Mohammed Hassan Fares, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike last week in Qana, was a scientist who specialized in robotics and machine learning.


2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

Updated 24 May 2024
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2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

  • Palestinians ‘actively deprived’ of essential items as Israel steps up operations in city
  • Some in Gaza have been displaced as many as 9 times since October

LONDON: The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that 2,000 aid trucks are stuck in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, with Palestinians in Gaza being “actively deprived” of essential goods.
Rafah is the last remaining area of Gaza yet to come under full assault by Israeli forces, with fears now mounting of an imminent operation to take the southern city.
The NRC’s head of operations in Gaza, Suze van Meegen, told the BBC: “The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions.”
She said medical supplies, tents, water tanks and food are being held up at the border, and in some cases Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced as many as nine times since Israel launched its military operation last October.
“People have no choice but to put their faith in so-called ‘humanitarian safe zones’ designated by the forces that have killed their family members and destroyed their homes,” she added.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel told the BBC that he believes Israel is moving ahead with plans to occupy Rafah with tacit US support.
“It’s quite clear that the Americans are no longer trying to prevent Israel from occupying Rafah. So the Israelis may proceed carefully and not too quickly. But it’s less of a question of whether the Israelis are going to occupy Rafah. It’s quite clear that they are,” he said.
It comes despite earlier warnings by US President Joe Biden against Israel attacking “population centers,” and with the International Court of Justice set to rule on the legality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza after a case was submitted by South Africa in December accusing Israel of genocide.


Escaped Iranian director receives ovations at Cannes

Updated 24 May 2024
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Escaped Iranian director receives ovations at Cannes

  • He received raucous standing ovations before and after the gala screening of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which is competing for the top prize Palme d’Or
  • He attended the premiere on Friday alongside his daughter and Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani, who lives in exile in France

CANNES, France: It is one of the most dramatic storylines ever delivered at Cannes: Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof walked the red carpet Friday after fleeing a prison sentence in his home country just days before the film festival.
He received raucous standing ovations before and after the gala screening of “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which is competing for the top prize Palme d’Or.
“I hope the entire apparatus of oppression and dictatorship will disappear from Iran,” he told the packed Cannes theater, where he brandished photos of the movie’s actors.
Made underground in Iran on a tiny budget, it tells the story of a court prosecutor whose family life is torn apart by the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests that convulsed the country in 2022-23.
Friday was the last day of the Cannes Film Festival screenings, with the winners from the 22 entries to be announced on Saturday by a jury led by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig.
Rasoulof came under pressure in Iran to withdraw his latest from the festival, but he already knew during the production that he faced a new eight-year prison sentence for “collusion against national security” and hatched a plan to escape the country.
He attended the premiere on Friday alongside his daughter and Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani, who lives in exile in France.
Speaking after the premiere, Rasoulof said he was thinking of “everyone who allowed this film to be made — those who are here, and those who were prevented from coming.”
An outspoken critic of Iran’s rulers, Rasoulof had already served two prison terms over his uncompromising political films and had his passport revoked in 2017.
It took 28 days on the road, moving between border villages, to get out of the country, he told Deadline magazine.
“The good thing about going to prison in Iran is that you meet all kinds of youthful people who can help you in such conditions,” he told the magazine.
The final film to screen in the competition, later Friday, is “The Most Precious of Cargoes,” the first animated film to compete for the Palme d’Or since 2008’s “Waltz With Bashir.”
It is the tale of a twin thrown to safety from a death train transporting his Jewish parents to Auschwitz, from Michel Hazanavicius, director of the Oscar-winning “The Artist.”
The 77th edition of the world-famous festival has seen a lot of sex, gore and #MeToo-related issues.
A late frontrunner is “All We Imagine as Light,” which premiered Thursday.
The first Indian entry in 30 years, it is a poetic monsoon-set portrayal of two nurses who have migrated to Mumbai, described as a dreamlike five-star “triumph” by The Guardian.
“Emilia Perez,” an audacious musical about a Mexican narco boss having a sex change, has also been a favorite.
Demi Moore has emerged as a serious contender for the best actress award after rave reviews for her “fearless” performance in “The Substance,” an ultra-gory horror film about the pressures women face to maintain bodily perfection as they age.
There has been a lot of love for “Anora,” a raw and often-hilarious story about a New York erotic dancer who strikes gold with a wealthy client, only to face the wrath of his Russian oligarch parents.
Francis Ford Coppola’s ambitious fable “Megalopolis” has its admirers but proved sharply divisive, while Donald Trump biopic “The Apprentice” has drawn strong reviews as well as legal threats from the former US president.
Also on Friday, George Lucas arrived in town to accept an honorary Palme d’Or.
“It’s always great to be recognized,” said the “Star Wars” creator.
“Obviously we have a lot of fans and all that kind of stuff. But in terms of awards, I don’t make the kind of movies that win awards!“