Archive for the ‘ Lebanon ’ Category

Lebanon, others in Mideast, bury victims of Istanbul attack

January 03, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon on Tuesday buried its citizens who perished in the Istanbul nightclub massacre on New Year’s Eve amid an outpouring of grief that has for days dominated local TV channels and discussions among the country’s politicians.

Lebanon — a Mediterranean nation of 5 million people — lost three nationals in the carnage in Turkey. The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, killed 39. Another six Lebanese nationals were wounded, according to local media.

Funerals were also held in Jordan and in Israel, which lost a citizen each in the assault. One of Lebanon’s victims Rita Chami, 26, had lost her mother to cancer only last July. She had taken time out of her university studies to care for her.

The other two — Haykal Mousallem, 34, and Elias Wardini, 26 — were both personal fitness trainers in Beirut. Wardini was engaged to be married; Mousallem got married four months ago. Both of their partners survived the attack.

Lebanon, accustomed to tragedy in the aftermath of its civil war and occasional bouts of violence, has treated its Istanbul victims as national heroes, their coffins draped in the Lebanese flag as they were brought back home.

In Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood, grieving relatives and friends set off fireworks on Tuesday morning as residents bid Wardini farewell. His funeral was attended by some of the country’s leading Christian politicians. Mousallem was buried in his native Chouf district, outside the Lebanese capital. Chami will be buried on Thursday.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked the Lebanese to stand still for five minutes in memory of the dead. But the local press went further than that. The country’s top TV stations sent reporters on intrusive assignments on Sunday, broadcasting live from the homes of the bereaved as they learned of the fates of their loved ones.

On Twitter, Hariri urged the outlets to leave the families in peace. The bodies were repatriated Monday night, sparking another media frenzy, first at the airport and then the hospital morgues where the remains were taken.

Wardini’s funeral was broadcast live on Tuesday on national TV, which called the victims “martyrs in every meaning of the word,” and condemned Islamic State militants as “enemies of God.” The New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina club also touched others across the Middle East. The IS said it targeted Christian revelers in response to Turkish military operations against the militant group in northern Syria — but most of the dead were foreign tourists from Muslim countries. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said nearly two-thirds of the victims in the upscale club, which is frequented by local celebrities, were foreigners.

In Jordan, hundreds attended the funeral ceremony Tuesday for 44-year-old businessman Nawras Assaf who died in the Istanbul attack. Assaf’s wife was among those wounded. In Israel, thousands attended the funeral Tuesday of 18-year-old Layan Nasser, an Arab Israeli killed in the Istanbul attack. She had gone to Istanbul to celebrate the New Year’s with three friends.

Mourners wept as they marched through the streets of Tira behind Nasser’s wooden coffin. The city’s mayor, Mamoun Abd El Hai, declared a day of mourning, with banks and municipal offices closed. “She had dreams to work, to progress, to study, to raise a family, but unfortunately the terror put an end to her dreams and ended her life,” the mayor told The Associated Press.

Another Israeli traveling with Nasser was wounded in the attack. Nasser’s father told Israeli Channel 10 TV that he had a bad feeling about his daughter’s trip to Istanbul. “I was very concerned about this trip,” Zaher Nasser said. “I asked her not to travel in light of the bad security situation there, but she insisted to go with her friends.”

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Saudi unblocks military aid to Lebanon: Lebanese source

Riyadh (AFP)

Jan 10, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Lebanon agreed Tuesday to hold talks on restoring a $3-billion military aid package, opening a “new page” in relations, a Lebanese official source said.

“The blockage is lifted,” said the official in the delegation of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who held talks over lunch with King Salman in the Saudi capital.

After a tense year which saw Saudi Arabia freeze the aid deal over what it said was the dominance of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, Aoun arrived in Riyadh on Monday night with a delegation of ministers.

It was his first trip to the kingdom since his election in November ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian former army chief who was backed by Hezbollah, clinched the presidency with shock support from Saudi ally Saad Hariri, a leading Sunni figure who in return was named prime minister.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is hoping for a more stable Lebanon, after concerns over the role played by Hezbollah in the Lebanese government and the threat posed by jihadists and the war in neighboring Syria.

The Iran-backed Shiite militant group has fighters in Syria supporting forces of President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, backs some rebels opposed to his government.

Riyadh last March declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organisation” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

In February, the kingdom halted the $3-billion (2.8-billion-euro) military aid package to Lebanon to protest what it said was “the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.

The program would see Riyadh fund the transfer of vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France, which has been seeking to boost arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

The Lebanese official told AFP that a “new page” in relations with Riyadh had been turned and said the aid was “going to move”.

“There is truly a change. But when and how, we have to wait to see,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

He added that King Salman’s son, the powerful Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will discuss with his Lebanese counterpart how to move the package forward.

– ‘Security, stability’ –

After Aoun’s election, France’s foreign ministry said it was in “close dialogue” with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in hope of a deal.

Aoun told Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbaria that his ministers of foreign affairs, education, finance and information would meet their Saudi counterparts “to find some fields of cooperation.”

Asked vaguely about the military aid, Aoun said: “Of course we will discuss all the possible issues.”

Syria’s nearly six-year civil war has been a major fault line in Lebanese politics, and the country hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.

Aoun said that Lebanon’s partners “have agreed to build Lebanon, regardless of the results in the other countries, because building Lebanon is for all, and secondly, security and stability is for all.”

He told Al-Ekhbaria his country’s internal political situation had improved, and expressed confidence that “balance” can be maintained.

“The state must realize, and maintain, security and stability for individuals and groups even if there are different political visions regarding neighboring and regional countries,” Aoun said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Saudi_unblocks_military_aid_to_Lebanon_Lebanese_source_999.html.

New Cabinet in Lebanon vows to ‘preserve stability’

December 18, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — A new 30-member national unity Cabinet headed by Prime minister Saad Hariri was announced Sunday in Lebanon nearly two months after a new president was elected, and the premier vowed that his top priority would be to protect the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Cabinet includes most of the country’s political groups, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, which holds two seats. It was to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters shortly after the Cabinet was announced, Hariri said his government’s priority would be to “preserve the stability that is prevailing in Lebanon amid fires that are spreading around the region.”

He said his government would work to “isolate our country from the negative effects of the Syrian war” and would seek international help in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into Lebanon.

Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, or a quarter of the country’s population. The Syrian war has spilled over into Lebanon on several occasions over the past five years, with clashes and bombings that killed scores.

Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s war. Hariri has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad’s government, while Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to back the Syrian leader. Hariri, who served as prime minister for 14 months until early 2011, began working to form the new Cabinet in early November, days after the country’s newly elected president, Michel Aoun, asked him to do so. The new government must still be approved by parliament.

A Christian leader and strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, Aoun was elected president by parliament on Oct. 31, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in Lebanon. His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Muslim Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. Hariri is the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and influential politician who was assassinated in 2005 in Beirut. Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Lebanon stopped wall construction around Palestinian camp

November 26, 2016

The Lebanese army has halted construction of a security wall around the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, a Lebanese-Palestinian group in the refugee camps said in a statement yesterday.

“The Lebanese army responded to our demands and stopped the construction of the so-called security wall around the Palestinian refugee camp,” a statement by the group known as the Unified National Leadership (UNL) said.

During a meeting held on Thursday between the UNL and representatives of the Lebanese army, the latter said that it would halt the construction of the wall around the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp, though it was not immediately clear if this was a temporary measure.

According to the statement, the meeting came in the wake of different activities and several contacts made during the last week, noting that those efforts led to the army’s halting of construction of the wall.

The UNL thanked the Lebanese army for accepting their request to stop building the wall, stressing it would exert its utmost efforts to maintain the security situation inside the Palestinian camps to allay Lebanese fears that terrorists and organised criminals were operating within refugee camps.

Last week, the Palestinian Hamas organization, who hold sway over the Gaza Strip, called on the Lebanese authorities to stop building the wall around Ain Al-Hilweh.

Hamas’ spokesman in Lebanon, Ali Baraka, called for launching “a dialogue with the leaders of the Palestinian factions about the reality and future of Palestinian existence in Lebanon,” stressing that his movement rejects any policy to isolate the refugee camp.

“Building the wall is bad for Palestinian-Lebanese relations,” he insisted, “and harms the interests of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Meshaal also denounced the building of a wall around the camp, and communicated with several leading Lebanese politicians, including major players such as Saad Al-Hariri who is likely soon to be Lebanon’s prime minister.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161126-lebanon-stopped-wall-construction-around-palestinian-camp/.

Hamas blasts planned wall around Lebanese refugee camp

23 November 2016 Wednesday

Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has criticized plans by the Lebanese authorities to build a concrete wall around a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

The planned wall, the group said in a statement, is “the wrong way to deal with the issue of Palestinian refugees”.

On Tuesday, reports emerged that the Lebanese authorities had begun erecting a concrete barrier around Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.

Located southeast of Lebanon’s coastal city of Sidon, Ain al-Hilweh is currently home to more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom came to the camp in recent years after fleeing the conflict in next-door Syria.

“This wall… will only serve to hurt the refugees’ cause, threaten their future, harm their interests and contribute to the deterioration of their already-dire humanitarian condition,” Hamas said.

The group criticized what it described as Lebanon’s policy of “the collective isolation” of Palestinian refugee camps on its territory.

Hamas went on to assert that the planned wall would represent a violation of international law and the principles of human rights, and would likely strain Palestinian-Lebanese relations.

According to UN figures, roughly 460,000 Palestinian refugees are currently living in 12 major camps scattered across Lebanon.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/180574/hamas-blasts-planned-wall-around-lebanese-refugee-camp.

Hezbollah ally elected as Lebanon’s new head of state

November 01, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as president on Monday, filling a post that had been vacant for more than two years and injecting hope that the country’s long-running political paralysis would come to an end.

But the 81-year-old retired general who presided over the final bloody chapters of the Lebanese civil war and is a strong Hezbollah ally has an unenviable task ahead — forming a government out of the country’s unruly political factions and dealing with an array of problems that includes what to do with more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled the war in neighboring Syria.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, enjoys a wide base of support among Lebanon’s educated Christians, but is a deeply divisive figure for his role in the 1975-90 civil war and for his shifting alliances, especially with Hezbollah, the country’s most powerful military and political force. His election was seen by many as a clear victory for the pro-Iranian axis in the Middle East, giving a boost to Hezbollah and the Shiite Lebanese group’s ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Aoun secured a simple majority of votes in parliament after a tension-filled, chaotic session that saw several rounds of voting because extra ballots appeared in the ballot box each time. In the end, the transparent box was placed in the middle of Parliament, where lawmakers cast their votes in front of two witnesses who watched to make sure no extra ballots were put in.

“We haven’t voted in a long time. We’re learning again,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri joked of the nearly two-hour process. In the end, Aoun garnered 83 votes out of 127 lawmakers present at the session. He had been widely expected to achieve a two-thirds majority in the first round, but failed by two votes.

Members of parliament broke out in applause after Aoun was finally declared president. His supporters across the country erupted in cheers as they watched the proceedings on screens set up in the streets. Celebratory gunfire could also be heard in the capital.

“I’m with Hezbollah, and my hand is with Hezbollah, and we are with Aoun,” said Khalil Shukr, a 21-year-old supporter who wore a yellow T-shirt, the color of the Hezbollah flag. “We’ve got a president today who will take care of all the Lebanese, all of Lebanon, not just one faction,” added Shukr, standing among a crowd gathered at the Mar Yousef church in Aoun’s childhood hometown of Haret Hreik, now a crowded Beirut suburb dominated by Hezbollah.

“There are going to be obstacles, but he is a strong man and is impartial, and we are hopeful things will change, that he will fight back corruption,” said Aida Ghanimeh, a 46-year-old supporter, as she watched the vote on a giant screen in the capital, Beirut.

The election comes at a time of great regional upheaval, especially in neighboring Syria, where the civil war has repeatedly spilled over into Lebanon. In a televised speech to lawmakers shortly before he was sworn in, a somber-looking Aoun acknowledged the challenges ahead.

“Lebanon is passing through minefields and has been safe from the raging regional fires, and we will prevent any spark from reaching it,” he said. Among the first congratulatory phone calls Aoun received was from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “We are certain that with your election, the resistance movement will be strengthened,” the Iranian leader told him, according to Rouhani’s website. Assad and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also congratulated Aoun in phone calls.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby described Aoun’s election as a “moment of opportunity” to restore government institutions as Lebanon emerges from years of political impasse. However, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has topped recent Israeli polls, said Israel should worry when Lebanon elects a president who has the backing of Hezbollah, adding that the militant movement is bound to turn its aggression toward Israel once the war in Syria comes to an end.

Lebanon has been without a head of state for 29 months after President Michel Suleiman stepped down at the end of his term in May 2014. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, its parliamentary speaker a Shiite Muslim and its prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Parliament failed 45 times to elect a new president due to political infighting that led to a lack of a quorum as Aoun’s bloc and allied Hezbollah lawmakers boycotted the sessions because his election was not guaranteed.

In the end, it took an about-face by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunni leader, who formally endorsed Aoun for president last week — reportedly in exchange for Aoun promising him the position of prime minister.

That endorsement was the final piece of an unlikely coalition that left parliamentary speaker Berri, a Shiite strongman who is accustomed to playing kingmaker in Lebanese politics, on the sidelines of the show.

Aoun will now have to bring Berri, a longtime rival, back into the fold. “I think everyone’s interests are aligned with getting through this with minimum damage,” said Ayham Kamel, an analyst at the London-based think tank Eurasia Group, who predicted Hariri would again be called upon to form a Cabinet.

Aoun “cannot make miracles, but he can be an arbiter,” said Hanna Anbar, executive editor of The Daily Star, who covered the last days of the civil war holed up in the presidential palace with Aoun. “If he can clear certain hurdles that will be enough to run a smooth presidency and a smooth government.”

There is, however, one party that comes out of the maneuvering on top. With its reliable ally Aoun as president and its Shiite political partner, Berri, running parliament, Hezbollah is in the powerful position of mediating between the two main branches of government.

“There will be active mediation by Hezbollah to try to narrow the differences between Berri and the other parties, and I think there’s going to be a grand bargain,” Kamel said. Following Monday’s parliamentary vote, Aoun drove to the presidential palace in the southeastern Beirut suburb of Baabda, returning exactly 26 years after he was forced out of it as army commander and interim premier by Syrian forces and Lebanese troops loyal to a rival commander.

On Wednesday, he is expected to begin consultations with lawmakers over their choice for prime minister.

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Syria refugees in Lebanon now get aid with debit card

October 25, 2016

BAR ELIAS, Lebanon (AP) — International agencies in Lebanon have begun distributing aid to Syrian refugees through a single debit card. The card is meant to simplify aid delivery and give refugees more choices. It is valid for five years, a reflection of the protracted Syria conflict that has displaced millions.

The card replaces separate distributions for food, cash and winter aid, also by debit card. Contributors include the World Food Program, the U.N. refugee agency and the Lebanon Cash Consortium, an aid alliance that offers $175 a month in “unconditional” cash to the most vulnerable.

On Tuesday, hundreds lined up in the town of Bar Elias in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to pick up the new cards. Refugee Watfa al-Faraj, 38, said she relies on the aid to buy medicine for a sick teenage son.

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