Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Lebanon's Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (R) meeting with Ambassadors Walid Bukhari (Saudi Arabia), Hervé Magro (France), Sheikh Saud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (Qatar), Alaa Moussa (Egypt), and Lisa Johnson (US) at the Grand Serail in Beirut on Feb. 29, 2024. (X: @Lebanon24)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

  • UNIFIL highlights ‘necessity of freedom of logistical movement’ to implement UN resolution

BEIRUT: The ambassadors of the Arab-International Quintet Committee on Lebanon have stressed the need to “accelerate the process of electing a new president.”

They also indicated that “there does not necessarily have to be a direct link between what’s happening in Gaza and Lebanon.”

The five ambassadors met Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday.

“What’s happening in Gaza should be a greater incentive for Lebanon to complete the process of electing a president, as it is of utmost importance for the future days,” said Egyptian Ambassador Alaa Moussa after the talks.

He was commenting on behalf of the other committee members, and added: “The challenges and commitments the region will witness require Lebanon to have a president speaking in its name.”

The committee, which comprises the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, and France, follows developments in Lebanon.

It affirmed that “in the coming period, it will seek to create once again the environment necessary, for the Lebanese political forces that have a genuine desire, to move toward ending this matter as soon as possible.”

Lebanon has been without a president since November 2022. The parliament has failed to elect one despite holding 12 electoral sessions — the last of which was in June — as candidates failed to make it to the second round of voting due to internal political disputes.

Moussa added: “The committee has a unified stance, which is our commitment to providing all possible assistance and facilitation.

“There is a renewed spirit, and we will work on this in the coming period to reach a unified position and a road map to complete the presidential election process. So far we remain optimistic."

A political observer said that the US had insisted on the restoration of stability in southern Lebanon to facilitate diplomatic efforts based on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to end hostilities in the country.

Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that an early halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. He added he was confident that Hezbollah would announce a ceasefire if Israel did the same.

His remarks came as a new clash was reported between Iran-backed Hezbollah and UN Interim Force in Lebanon troops in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday night.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said a peacekeeping vehicle on a routine logistical operation from southern Lebanon to Beirut ended up on an unplanned route.

The UNIFIL vehicle, which was carrying soldiers from a Malaysian battalion, entered the Hayy Al-Sullum area where Hezbollah members intercepted it, confiscating equipment and cameras.

Some reports said that UNIFIL staff were handed over to Hezbollah’s security committee while others claimed that they were handed over to the Lebanese army and later released.

The incident occurred amid ongoing discussions to bolster UNIFIL’s operations in the south to support the Lebanese army, while mending relations with Hezbollah.

The tension stems from Hezbollah’s objections to UNIFIL’s incursions into residential neighborhoods without being accompanied by the army.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said: “In addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons.

“This freedom of movement is essential to implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”

Fighting has meanwhile continued between Israel and Hezbollah on the southern front.

The Israeli air force carried out noon raids on Friday on the border town of Aita Al-Shaab after a night of heavy shelling which caused extensive damage.

Israeli artillery then targeted the towns of Houla and Wazzani in the Marjayoun district.

The Lebanese Armed Forces announced that “members of an army patrol found an Israeli army drone carrying leaflets, and a specialized army unit worked to dismantle …it.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced that it had shot down “an Israeli army drone in the Azziyeh valley at midnight Thursday-Friday.”


Moroccans in pro-Palestinian march rally against Israel ties

Updated 20 May 2024
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Moroccans in pro-Palestinian march rally against Israel ties

  • Rabat has officially denounced what it said were “flagrant violations of the provisions of international law” by Israel in its war against Hamas, but has not given any indication that normalization with Israel would be undone
  • Israel has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

CASABLANCA, Morocco: Thousands of Moroccans demonstrated Sunday in Casablanca in support of the Palestinian people and against ties with Israel, an AFP journalist said, more than seven months into the Gaza war.
Protesters in Morocco’s commercial capital chanted “Freedom for Palestine,” “If we don’t speak out, who will?” and “No to normalization,” and many wore keffiyeh scarves or waved Palestinian flags.
The North African kingdom established diplomatic ties with Israel in late 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords which saw similar moves by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Under the deal, the United States recognized Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Since the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip began on October 7, large-scale demonstrations in Morocco have called for the abrogation of the normalization accord.
On Sunday, the demonstrators marched through central Casablanca in a protest called by a grouping of leftist parties and Islamist movements.
“I cannot remain indifferent and silent in the face of what is happening to the Palestinians who are being killed on a daily basis,” demonstrator Zahra Bensoukar, 43, told AFP.
Idriss Amer, 48, said he was protesting “in solidarity with the Palestinian people, against the Zionist massacre in Gaza and against normalization” of ties with Israel.
Rabat has officially denounced what it said were “flagrant violations of the provisions of international law” by Israel in its war against Hamas, but has not given any indication that normalization with Israel would be undone.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas on October 7 launched an unprecedented attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages on October 7, of whom 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 the Israeli military says are dead.
 

 


What do we know so far about the mysterious crash of the helicopter carrying Iran’s president?

Updated 19 May 2024
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What do we know so far about the mysterious crash of the helicopter carrying Iran’s president?

  • Initially, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the helicopter “was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog”

BEIRUT: The apparent crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s president and foreign minister on Sunday sent shock waves around the region.
Details remained scant in the hours after the incident, and it was unclear if Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the other officials had survived.
Here’s what we know so far.
WHO WAS ON BOARD THE HELICOPTER AND WHERE WERE THEY GOING?
The helicopter was carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Raisi was returning from a trip to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan earlier Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, the news agency said.
WHERE AND HOW DID THE HELICOPTER GO DOWN?
The helicopter apparently crashed or made an emergency landing in the Dizmar forest between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, near its border with Azerbaijan, under circumstances that remain unclear. Initially, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the helicopter “was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.”
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE SEARCH OPERATIONS?
Iranian officials have said the mountainous, forested terrain and heavy fog impeded search-and-rescue operations. The president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, said 40 search teams were on the ground in the area despite “challenging weather conditions.” The search is being done by teams on the ground, as “the weather conditions have made it impossible to conduct aerial searches” via drones, Koulivand said, according to IRNA.
IF RAISI DIED IN THE CRASH, HOW MIGHT THIS IMPACT IRAN?
Raisi is seen as a protégé to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a potential successor for his position within the country’s Shiite theocracy. Under the Iranian constitution, if he died, the country’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would become president. Khamenei has publicly assured Iranians that there would be “no disruption to the operations of the country” as a result of the crash.
WHAT HAS THE INTERNATIONAL REACTION BEEN?
Countries including Russia, Iraq and Qatar have made formal statements of concern about Raisi’s fate and offered to assist in the search operations.
Azerbaijani President Aliyev said he was “deeply concerned” to hear of the incident, and affirmed that Azerbaijan was ready to provide any support necessary. Relations between the two countries have been chilly due to Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, Iran’s regional arch-enemy.
There was no immediate official reaction from Israel. Last month, following an Israeli strike on an Iranian consular building in Damascus that killed two Iranian generals, Tehran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel. They were mostly shot down and tensions have apparently since subsided.

 


EU Red Sea mission says it defended 120 ships from Houthi attacks

Updated 19 May 2024
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EU Red Sea mission says it defended 120 ships from Houthi attacks

  • Human rights activist raps cases of prisoner fatalities as a result of torture in militia’s captivity

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The EU mission in the Red Sea, known as EUNAVFOR Aspides, said on Sunday that it had protected over 100 ships while sailing the critical trade channel and shot down more than a dozen Houthi missiles and drones in the last three months.

In a post on X marking three months since the start of its operation, the EU mission, which is now made up of five naval units and 1,000 personnel from 19 contributing nations, said that its forces had destroyed 12 drones, one drone boat, and four ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis from areas under their control in Yemen, as well as provided protection to 120 commercial ships since February.

“Great day for Freedom of Navigation, as 3 months have passed since the launch of ASPIDES. Three months of multiple challenges and great achievements. ASPIDES continues its mission in full compliance with international law, to ensure maritime security and seaborne trade,” EUNAVFOR Aspides said.

On Feb. 19, the EU announced the commencement of EUNAVFOR Aspides, a military operation in the Red Sea to defend international marine traffic against Houthi attacks.

At the same time, the Philippines Department of Migrant Workers said on Sunday that 23 of its citizens who were aboard the oil ship assaulted by Houthi militia in the Red Sea on Saturday were safe.

“The DMW is closely coordinating with international maritime authorities, shipping companies, and local manning agencies on the status of ships with Filipino seafarers traversing high-risk areas and war-like zones in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” the DMW said in a statement carried by the official Philippine News Agency. 

For seven months, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats against commercial and navy ships along international commerce lanes off Yemen, including the Red Sea.

The Houthis claim that their strikes are intended to push Israel to cease the war in Gaza and allow humanitarian supplies into the Palestinian territory. 

Three civilian sailors, including two Filipinos, were killed in March after the Houthis launched a missile at their ship in the Red Sea.

Many international shipping companies directed their ships to avoid the Red Sea and other passages off Yemen, opting for longer and more costly routes through Africa.

Meanwhile, Yemen human rights activists have said that a man held by the Houthis during the last seven years died as a result of abuse in Houthi imprisonment, making him the latest victim of torture within Houthis detention facilities. 

On Saturday, the Houthis told the family of Najeed Hassan Farea in Taiz through the Yemen Red Crescent that their son had died in their custody, but they did not explain how.

The Houthis abducted Farea in February 2017 after storming his village and home in the Al-Taziya district, preventing him from contacting his family and denying them information about where he was being detained.

Eshraq Al-Maqtari, a human rights activist in Taiz who reached Farea’s family, told Arab News that the Houthis cruelly tortured the man and that his family was stunned to hear of his death after years of information blackout since his detention.

“He was denied the right to communicate, to know his fate, and the right to healthcare, which appears to have caused his death,” she said, adding that since the start of the year, there have been three verified cases of prisoner fatalities as a result of torture in Houthi captivity.


10 years on, thousands forgotten in Syria desert camp

Updated 19 May 2024
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10 years on, thousands forgotten in Syria desert camp

  • Rukban camp was established in 2014 as desperate people fled Daesh and Syrian regime bombardment in hopes of crossing into Jordan

BEIRUT: In a no-man’s land on Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan, thousands are stranded in an isolated camp, unable to return home after fleeing the regime and militants years ago.

When police defector Khaled arrived at Rukban, he had hoped to be back home within weeks — but eight years on, he is still stuck in the remote desert camp, sealed off from the rest of the country.

Damascus rarely lets aid in and neighboring countries have closed their borders to the area, which is protected from Syrian forces by a nearby US-led coalition base’s de-confliction zone.

“We are trapped between three countries,” said Khaled, 50, who only gave his first name due to security concerns.

“We can’t leave for (other areas of) Syria because we are wanted by the regime, and we can’t flee to Jordan or Iraq” because the borders are sealed, he added.

The camp was established in 2014, at the height of Syria’s ongoing war, as desperate people fled Daesh and regime bombardment in hopes of crossing into Jordan.

At its peak, it housed more than 100,000 people, but numbers have dwindled, especially after Jordan largely sealed its side of the border in 2016.

Many people have since returned to regime-held areas to escape hunger, poverty and a lack of medical care. The UN has also facilitated voluntary returns with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The last UN humanitarian convoy reached the camp in 2019, and the body described conditions there as “desperate” at the time.

Today, only about 8,000 residents remain, living in mud-brick houses, with food and basic supplies smuggled in at high prices.

Residents say even those meager supplies risk running dry as regime checkpoints blocked smuggling routes to the camp about a month ago.


Egyptian churches begin preparations to celebrate anniversary of Holy Family’s journey

Updated 19 May 2024
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Egyptian churches begin preparations to celebrate anniversary of Holy Family’s journey

CAIRO: Egypt’s Coptic community is preparing to celebrate the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Family into Egypt, starting on June 1.

Churches in the country have begun early preparations to welcome visitors, focusing on securing and preparing the sites along the journey the Holy Family is believed to have taken.

Robier El-Fares, an Egyptian Coptic researcher for Arab News, said: “The celebration of the journey of the Holy Family is a relatively new tradition that benefits religious tourism in Egypt. This comes after many years of neglecting the celebration.”

He added: “The route includes about 20 locations that represent the journey from Bethlehem in Palestine, fleeing the persecution of Herod who intended to kill Jesus Christ, and their subsequent travel to Egypt through plateaus and deserts.”

Father Augustinos Morris, priest of the Holy Family Church in Zeitoun, Cairo, for the Coptic Catholics, told Arab News: “Masses will be held at nine in the morning and six in the evening for all Copts who wish to participate. The readings are from Matthew 2, which discusses the flight into Egypt, and include a passage from the Old Testament in the Bible, amid the procedures followed in the holiday masses organised by the scout team.”

Father Matta Philip, priest of St. Mary’s Church in Maadi, Cairo, said: “The church is considered the first point of the Holy Family’s journey to Upper Egypt through a staircase, from there to a boat and then to Upper Egypt.”

He said: “Inside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Maadi, there is an icon depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, the altar vessels, and the Bible open to the verse — ‘Blessed be my people Egypt,’ — and a map of the family's route that starts from Arish and extends to the Monastery of Al-Muharraq.”

“Inside the church is the historic staircase that the Holy Family crossed, with an altar at its beginning where prayers are held,” he said. “From this staircase, the family headed to areas like Al-Bahnasa and Mount Al-Tair and other routes to the Monastery of Al-Muharraq, a journey that took about six months.”

Robier El-Fares said: “The known points of the Holy Family’s journey are 20, starting from Farma, located between the cities of Arish and Port Said, then to Tel Basta.”

“In Cairo, there are many points through which the Holy Family passed, including the area of Ain Shams, in addition to other areas in Maadi and Zeitoun, to start the points of Upper Egypt (southern Egypt), which are numerous including Gabal Al-Tair in Minya, and the Monastery of the Virgin Mary,” he said.