France Refers 15 ‘Hezbollah’ Members to Criminal Court on Drug, Money-Laundering Charges

The French general prosecutor referred 15 'Hezbollah' members to the criminal court on drug and money-laundering charges. (Reuters)
The French general prosecutor referred 15 'Hezbollah' members to the criminal court on drug and money-laundering charges. (Reuters)
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France Refers 15 ‘Hezbollah’ Members to Criminal Court on Drug, Money-Laundering Charges

The French general prosecutor referred 15 'Hezbollah' members to the criminal court on drug and money-laundering charges. (Reuters)
The French general prosecutor referred 15 'Hezbollah' members to the criminal court on drug and money-laundering charges. (Reuters)

The French general prosecutor ordered that a 15-member cell of Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” group be referred to the criminal court on charges of drug dealing, money-laundering and conspiracy.

The weekly Le Nouvel Observateur magazine said the cell cooperated with international drug and money-laundering networks, most notably a Colombian network known for its dealings in hard cocaine and heroin.

Ties with the Colombian network go back to 2016 when it was seeking a partner that could facilitate its European operations after it had fallen foul of authorities there.

French authorities, in cooperation with European and US agencies, managed in 2016 to arrest some members of the Lebanese cell after they had monitored their transfer of tens of millions to euros to Colombia. The members of the cell had also made frequent flights to France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to launder the drug money.

It resorted to various means to launder money, such as buying luxury cars and watches in Europe and later selling them in Lebanon and other countries. The watch purchases exceeded 14 million euros.

According to the magazine, Lebanese Mohammed Ammar, known as Alex, was in charge of the “Hezbollah” network. Detained operatives linked to the cell have been identified as Ali Z., Abd M., Mohammed Ali and Mohammed N.

Ammar was arrested in Miami in the US in October 2016 after authorities tracked his suspicious bank activity. His brother was arrested in Switzerland with 870,000 euros in cash in his possession. That same year, two people associated to Ammar’s wife were arrested in the Netherlands with two million euros in their possession.

One of the members of the cell was arrested in mid 2016 at Abidjan airport while he was planning on transferring 1.7 million euros from the drug trade in Africa to “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

The French magazine cited reports that confirmed that the Iranian-backed “Hezbollah” had made, along with South American gangs, 500 million dollars annually from smuggling drugs.

Several European countries had previously arrested various drug smuggling networks affiliated to “Hezbollah”.

In 2009, Dutch authorities detained 17 members of an international drug network linked to the party. It was involved in the smuggling of 2,000 kilograms of cocaine in a single year.

In 2011, German authorities arrested two people for smuggling large sums of drug money in Europe and transferring them to an individual who is associated with “Hezbollah.” Investigations revealed that they had received special training at “Hezbollah” military bases in Lebanon.

The US and Ecuador busted drug networks linked to the party. Colombian drug dealer Walid Maqlad had stated during a television recording that “Hezbollah” members trained in Venezuela with other paramilitary groups on how to produce and deal drugs.

A prominent member of the US Congress had declared at the end of 2012 that drug production and trade represents 30 percent of “Hezbollah’s” revenue.



Swiss Team to Visit Lebanon in Central Bank Chief Probe

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh attends a presentation of the IMF Economic Outlook for the Middle East at Lebanon's Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh attends a presentation of the IMF Economic Outlook for the Middle East at Lebanon's Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam/File Photo
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Swiss Team to Visit Lebanon in Central Bank Chief Probe

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh attends a presentation of the IMF Economic Outlook for the Middle East at Lebanon's Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh attends a presentation of the IMF Economic Outlook for the Middle East at Lebanon's Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam/File Photo

A Swiss delegation will visit Lebanon as part of investigations into Central Bank chief Riad Salameh, a judicial official said Thursday, as European legal pressure mounts on the top banker.

Switzerland was the first European country to open an investigation into Salameh, who is the subject of a series of judicial probes at home and abroad into the fortune he has amassed during some three decades in the job.

In January 2021, Lebanon said it had received a Swiss judicial assistance request as part of a probe into more than $300 million in fund movements by the central bank chief, as well as his assistant and his brother.

Lebanon "was informed by the Swiss authorities that a Swiss judicial delegation will visit Lebanon soon" over Salameh's case, the official told AFP on Thursday, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The delegation will meet a local judge and might seek to question individuals over the wealth of Salameh and his entourage as other European countries have done, the official added.

In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to a probe into Salameh's wealth.

Judicial authorities in France and Munich in Germany last month issued arrest warrants for Salameh over accusations including money laundering and fraud, and Interpol subsequently issued Red Notices targeting him.

An Interpol Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant but asks authorities worldwide to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal action.

European investigators this year have questioned Salameh in Beirut, also hearing from others including his assistant Marianne Hoayek, his brother Raja, a Lebanese minister and central bank audit firms.

Lebanon does not extradite its nationals, but Salameh could go on trial in Lebanon if local judicial authorities decide the accusations against him are founded, an official previously told AFP.

Following the Red Notices, a local judge questioned Salameh, confiscated his French and Lebanese passports, banned him from traveling and released him pending investigation.

In February this year, Lebanon charged Salameh as part of its own investigation, which it opened after the assistance request from Switzerland's public prosecutor.

Salameh, who denies all accusations against him, continues to serve as central bank governor. His mandate ends in July.

Activists say the travel ban helps shield him from being brought to justice abroad -- and from potentially bringing down others in the entrenched political class, which is widely blamed for endemic corruption in the crisis-hit country.


Algeria, US Begin New Round of Security Dialogue

A photo of the US delegation with Algerian military and civilian officials (US Embassy in Algiers)
A photo of the US delegation with Algerian military and civilian officials (US Embassy in Algiers)
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Algeria, US Begin New Round of Security Dialogue

A photo of the US delegation with Algerian military and civilian officials (US Embassy in Algiers)
A photo of the US delegation with Algerian military and civilian officials (US Embassy in Algiers)

Members of a high-ranking US government delegation confirmed at the end of a visit to Algeria that the talks, which brought them together with security officials addressed cooperation and countering terrorism.

The security dialogue is a cornerstone of the US-Algeria relations as both countries seek stability and prosperity in North Africa and the Sahel.

A US interagency delegation of senior officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Defense visited Algeria on June 5-6 for a security dialogue to advance shared regional counterterrorism and stability goals.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Anna Morris and other high-ranking US officials met with their counterparts from the Algerian Ministries of Foreign Affairs, National Defense, Interior, and Finance.

Morris lauded Algerian efforts and effective policy in combating sources of terrorist financing.

She indicated that Algeria has mechanisms that protect the financial system against all forms of terrorist financing, which also guard the international financial system, including the US.

The talks are within the framework of periodic meetings of a "security dialogue" between the two governments regarding the evaluation of joint actions to counterterrorism, exchanging information about extremists in the Sahel region, drying up terrorism financing sources, and tracking suspicious money sources.

In a press meeting in Algiers on Tuesday, attended by Asharq Al-Awsat, the US delegation mission described the meetings with their Algerian counterparts as "fruitful."

A US official at the Department of Defense said the talks addressed security challenges in the Sahel region, military activities, and strengthening military cooperation and security in the area.

He pointed out that there is a shared vision regarding solving African problems by working to develop development capabilities to achieve prosperity, stressing that this type of issue should not be dealt with through military solutions.

The senior official also pointed out that maintaining stability is crucial to ensure the success of counterterrorism and eradicating poverty.

Deputy Coordinator for the Bureau of Counterterrorism overseeing Regional and Multilateral Affairs Gregory LoGerfo stated that Algeria and the United States are partners in the search for solutions to security problems and the Sahel to achieve prosperity and spread security and stability.

LoGerfo noted that he has been working with Mali, Mauritania, and Togo governments for the same purpose.

The official stressed that Washington is a "reliable partner," with an excellent partnership with Algeria and a shared vision regarding the situation in Mali and Burkina Faso.

LoGerfo has been visiting Algeria since 2015.

Military and civilian sites in Mali and Burkina Faso were recently attacked by extremists.

The three officials stated that the US defense sector is interested in expanding partnerships with African countries in combating terrorism, adding that they are ready to provide tools that can help solve the security issues.

They highlighted that the US government wants African officials to understand how terrorist financing and suspicious funds are transferred abroad to determine the needed mechanisms to address this threat.

Regarding Algeria's endeavor to diversify its military weapons purchases and whether the visit addressed an Algerian request for US military equipment, the delegation members confirmed that their government welcomed a supposed proposal. However, their meetings with Algerian officials did not discuss this matter.


Grundberg Awaits Saudi, Omani Efforts to Find Yemen Solution

Grundberg with British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad (Grundberg's Office)
Grundberg with British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad (Grundberg's Office)
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Grundberg Awaits Saudi, Omani Efforts to Find Yemen Solution

Grundberg with British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad (Grundberg's Office)
Grundberg with British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad (Grundberg's Office)

Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy to Yemen, wrapped up a series of high-level meetings in Riyadh and Muscat with Yemeni parties and ambassadors representing the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council.

During these discussions, Grundberg emphasized that his office is diligently formulating a range of perspectives and visions in anticipation of the outcomes stemming from joint efforts of Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Grundberg clarified that efforts aim to achieve consensus on measures to improve living conditions and implement a nationwide ceasefire, as well as initiate a comprehensive UN-backed process for a sustainable peace transition.

On Monday, the UN envoy visited the Omani capital, Muscat, where he met with senior Omani officials and held discussions with the chief Houthi negotiator, Abdulsalam Fleitah, commonly known as Mohammed Abdulsalam.

They explored ways to advance the ongoing peace efforts.

Grundberg’s visit came after a series of multiple meetings held by the UN envoy in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

During these meetings, he met with Yemeni President of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad Al-Alimi, Council member Aidarus Al-Zoubaidi, and Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik.

According to the envoy’s statement, these meetings were devoted to discussing ways to achieve consensus on measures to improve living conditions, implement a nationwide ceasefire, and initiate a comprehensive UN-backed process for a sustainable peace transition in Yemen.

Grundberg also met with Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, as well as ambassadors from the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council, in order to consult on ways to ensure combined regional and international support for the mediation efforts led by the UN.

Additionally, Grundberg met with Yemeni House of Representatives Speaker Sultan Al-Barakani and presented the efforts and communications he made during his visits to countries involved in the region, including the US and China, as stated by the official website of the Yemeni House of Representatives.

The UN envoy affirmed that his office is preparing various perspectives and visions for solutions considering the outcomes resulting from the Saudi and Omani efforts, in addition to his own endeavors.

He stated that despite the highly complex Yemeni crisis, the UN remains committed to achieving comprehensive political solutions that serve the Yemeni people, preserve the lives, security, stability, unity, and territorial integrity of its citizens.

 

 

 


Amnesty: Increase in Custodial Deaths Must be a Wake-up Call to Lebanon’s Government

File photo of Roumieh prison, east of Beirut. Photo: Getty images
File photo of Roumieh prison, east of Beirut. Photo: Getty images
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Amnesty: Increase in Custodial Deaths Must be a Wake-up Call to Lebanon’s Government

File photo of Roumieh prison, east of Beirut. Photo: Getty images
File photo of Roumieh prison, east of Beirut. Photo: Getty images

Amnesty International has called on the Lebanese authorities to “urgently prioritize the health of prisoners,” saying deaths in prisons run by the Interior Ministry nearly doubled in 2022 compared to 2018, the year before the ongoing acute economic crisis began.

Ministry of Interior figures shared with the organization paint a stark picture of rising mortality rates as deaths increased from 14 in 2015 to 18 in 2018 and 34 in 2022.

“The sharp increase in custodial deaths must be a wake-up call to the Lebanese government that their prisons need urgent and drastic reform. They must decongest prisons, including through utilizing non-custodial measures as alternatives to pre-trial detention, and must commit additional resources to ensure people in prison are receiving adequate healthcare and have immediate access to emergency medical care,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The economic crisis is no excuse for prison authorities to deny prisoners access to medication, shift the cost of paying for hospitalization to the families of prisoners or delay prisoners’ transfers to hospitals,” she said.

“The judiciary should promptly and impartially investigate every death in custody, and any shortcomings and neglect on the part of the authorities must be addressed, including, where appropriate, through prosecution of those responsible,” Majzoub added.

According to Amnesty, The Ministry provided no explanation of the causes of deaths in custody. But the organization’s investigation raised concerns that the marked increase in deaths in custody is linked to the economic crisis crippling the country, as well as shortcomings in prison and health authorities in the provision of adequate and timely medical care to people in custody.

Overcrowding in prisons has become particularly acute in recent years. Lebanese prisons are 323% over capacity, and around 80% of detainees are held pre-trial, said Amnesty's investigation titled “Instead of Rehabilitation, He Found Death: Deaths in Custody Doubled Amidst Four-Year Economic Crisis.”

The combination of overcrowding and dire detention conditions has led to the deterioration in the health of the prison population. Meanwhile, in light of depreciating currency and skyrocketing inflation, resources for the provision of healthcare have drastically decreased, it added.

While the authorities have blamed the economic crisis for the deterioration in the health of prisoners, in at least three cases of deaths in custody in 2022, families of the deceased told Amnesty that prison officials dismissed the complaints and symptoms of those detainees prior to their death, delaying their treatment and transfer to hospitals and causing their conditions to worsen.


Israel to Discuss E1 Settlement Plan that Divides the West Bank into Two

A picture taken from the E1 corridor in the West Bank, showing the Maale Adumim settlement (Getty Images)
A picture taken from the E1 corridor in the West Bank, showing the Maale Adumim settlement (Getty Images)
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Israel to Discuss E1 Settlement Plan that Divides the West Bank into Two

A picture taken from the E1 corridor in the West Bank, showing the Maale Adumim settlement (Getty Images)
A picture taken from the E1 corridor in the West Bank, showing the Maale Adumim settlement (Getty Images)

Israel pushed for the discussion of the most politically sensitive settlement plan in the West Bank, despite the strong opposition of the US and the international community.

The Central Planning Committee in the Israeli Civil Administration of the West Bank will meet the following Monday to discuss the "E1" settlement plan dividing the West Bank into two parts, linking Jerusalem with the Maale Adumim settlement.

The Israeli Walla website said that the most politically sensitive project aims to prevent establishment of a future contiguous Palestinian state.

Walla said that the meeting would occur despite being postponed several times due to international pressure and fierce opposition, especially from the United States and Europe.

The US, the UN, and the EU have publicly rejected the project several times, saying it is destructive to the two-state solution.

The E1 is a vast settlement project approved in 1999 and extends over about 12,000 dunams of the occupied West Bank, most of which are lands declared by Israel as "state lands."

The project aims to connect Jerusalem with several Israeli settlements by confiscating Palestinian lands and establishing new settlements in the area between East Jerusalem and the settlement of Maale Adumim.

The plan will further isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and create a continuous chain of illegal settlements extending from East Jerusalem to the Jordanian border.

It will impede the geographical contiguity between the north and south of the West Bank, separating it and making it impossible to establish a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority believes the E1 is dangerous and has repeatedly threatened to take advanced steps, such as canceling agreements or withdrawing recognition of Israel if it implements the project.

An Israeli official said that the Subcommittee for Objections would discuss public objections to the plan, suggesting that it will not make any practical decisions regarding the building.

According to Israeli sources, Washington opposed the meeting and wants to prevent the slightest progress, which it believes thwarts the two-state solution.

By ending objections, Israel would have achieved a significant step towards removing obstacles and beginning the construction plans. Notably, the objections stage is the last in a series of steps before publishing tenders.

The Walla report stated that the session may exacerbate tensions with the US administration at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to improve his relations with the White House.

The Israeli "Peace Now" movement said that the most extremist and dangerous government in the country's history is eradicating any chance for a better future after it decided to allow the return to the Homesh settlement.

"They are again spitting in the faces of our American friends, and this reflects continued harm to the security and political interests of the State of Israel," the Israeli group Peace Now said.

Peace Now said Netanyahu was taking these steps to appease settler leaders in the West Bank who are allies of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the extreme-right Religious Zionism Party.

Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the report.


Israeli Army Mounts Rare Raid into Palestinian City of Ramallah, Clashes Ensue

TOPSHOT - This picture shows a battery of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the southern city of Ashdod on May 13, 2023.(Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
TOPSHOT - This picture shows a battery of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the southern city of Ashdod on May 13, 2023.(Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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Israeli Army Mounts Rare Raid into Palestinian City of Ramallah, Clashes Ensue

TOPSHOT - This picture shows a battery of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the southern city of Ashdod on May 13, 2023.(Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
TOPSHOT - This picture shows a battery of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the southern city of Ashdod on May 13, 2023.(Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Clashes erupted after Israeli forces mounted a rare raid into the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank early on Thursday, in what the military said was an operation to demolish the house of an assailant.

A Reuters witness said a large military convoy arrived in downtown Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, leading hundreds of Palestinians to gather in the area.

Some Palestinian youth hurled stones at the Israeli forces, who fired live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd, the witness said. Trash bins that were set on fire blocked roads as ambulance sirens wailed.

The Palestinian health ministry said at least six people were transferred to hospital for treatment, including three who sustained gunshot wounds.

The Israeli military said its forces were operating in Ramallah "to demolish the residence of the terrorist who carried out the bombing attack in Jerusalem last November".

The twin blasts killed two people, including an Israeli-Canadian teenager, and wounded at least 14 others in what police said were explosions of improvised bombs that were planted at bus stops near the city exit and in a junction leading to a settlement.

"The demolition of the homes of fighters is a collective punishment that falls under the war crimes committed by the occupation against our people," said Abdel Fattah Dola of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

Israel has said the policy of demolishing homes of perpetrators is both punitive and a deterrence to potential attackers.

Hours earlier the US envoy to Palestinians, Hady Amr, met with senior Palestinian official Hussein Al-Sheikh.

Violence in the West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has risen during the past year. Israel has intensified its military raids amid a spate of street attacks carried out by Palestinians in its cities.

The Palestinian health ministry said at least 158 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since January. Israel's foreign ministry said 20 Israelis and two foreign nationals have been killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period.


UNICEF Says 300 Trapped Children Rescued from Sudanese Orphanage

A Sudanese armed forces' (SAF) armored personnel carrier (APC) is pictured in southern Khartoum amidst ongoing fighting on June 7, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
A Sudanese armed forces' (SAF) armored personnel carrier (APC) is pictured in southern Khartoum amidst ongoing fighting on June 7, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
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UNICEF Says 300 Trapped Children Rescued from Sudanese Orphanage

A Sudanese armed forces' (SAF) armored personnel carrier (APC) is pictured in southern Khartoum amidst ongoing fighting on June 7, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
A Sudanese armed forces' (SAF) armored personnel carrier (APC) is pictured in southern Khartoum amidst ongoing fighting on June 7, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

About 300 infants, toddlers and older children have been rescued from an orphanage in Sudan’s capital after being trapped there while fighting raged outside, aid officials said Thursday. The evacuation came after 71 children died from hunger and illness in the facility since mid-April.

The tragedy at the Al-Mayqoma orphanage made headlines late last month as fighting raged outside between Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces.

The deaths have highlighted the heavy toll inflicted on civilians since mid-April when the clashes erupted between forces loyal to Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and RSF forces led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.

About 300 children at the Al-Mayqoma orphanage in Khartoum were transferred to a “safer location” elsewhere in the northeastern African nation, said Ricardo Pires, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.

Sudan’s ministries of social development and health have taken charge of the children, while UNICEF has provided humanitarian support including medical care, food, educational activities and play, Pires said in an email to The Associated Press.

He said the children had received medical checks following their long journey to their new location, adding that “any child requiring hospitalization will have access to healthcare.”

The International Committee of The Red Cross, which helped with the evacuation, said the children, aged between 1 month to 15 years, were relocated after securing a safe corridor to Madani, the capital of Jazira province, about 135 kilometers southeast of Khartoum. Seventy caretakers have been transferred with the children, the ICRC said.

“They (the children) spent incredibly difficult moments in an area where the conflict has been raging for the past 6 weeks without access to proper healthcare, an especially hard situation for children with special needs,” said Jean-Christophe Sandoz, the head of the ICRC delegation in Sudan.

Nazim Sirag, an activist who heads the local charity Hadhreen, said in a phone interview that the children were ferried late Tuesday to a newly established facility in Madani.

Sirag, whose charity led humanitarian efforts to help the orphanage and other nursing homes in Khartoum, said at least 71 children died at the Al-Mayqoma since the war in Sudan began on April 15.

Among the dead were babies as young as three months, according to death certificates obtained by the AP. The certificates listed circulatory collapse as a cause of death, but also mentioned other contributing factors such as fever, dehydration, malnutrition, and failure to thrive.

Their relocation followed an online campaign led by local activists and international charities, which intensified after the death of 26 children in two days at the orphanage in late May. The children had been trapped in the fighting for over seven weeks as food and other supplies dwindled. The facility was inaccessible because of the war had turned the capital and other urban areas into battlefields.

“The safe movement of these incredibly vulnerable children to a place of safety offers a ray of light in the midst of the ongoing conflict in Sudan,” Mandeep O’Brien, UNICEF Representative in Sudan, said in a statement. “Many millions of children remain at risk across Sudan."

Local volunteers, meanwhile, evacuated 77 other children earlier this week from separate foster homes in the coastal, Sirag of Hadhreen said. The children have temporarily sheltered along with 11 adults in a school in the town of Hasahisa, also in Jazira province, he said.


Hezbollah Maneuvers, Calls for ‘Unconditioned Dialogue’ to Elect President

Jihad Azour is a former minister and the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department. (AFP/File)
Jihad Azour is a former minister and the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department. (AFP/File)
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Hezbollah Maneuvers, Calls for ‘Unconditioned Dialogue’ to Elect President

Jihad Azour is a former minister and the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department. (AFP/File)
Jihad Azour is a former minister and the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department. (AFP/File)

Hezbollah party in Lebanon is maneuvering around the country’s presidential crisis, one time resorting to tactics of threats, and another to calling for dialogue to agree on a candidate for the top state post.

Hezbollah deputies and officials have not shunned away from addressing this major entitlement in their statements now that the opposition has named former minister Jihad Azour as their candidate for the post, facing the party’s candidate, Suleiman Franjieh.

The political scene has shifted after bringing Azour forward to the forefront. The Shiite duo (Hezbollah and AMAL Movement) have shown some confusion which became evident in the latest statement of the party officials.

Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem and Hezbollah official Sheikh Nabil Qaouq have recently called for “unconditioned dialogue”, refusing to say that the party wishes to impose its own candidate.

Qassem called for “unconditioned dialogue in order to elect a president,” and for a “dialogue session without any conditions or reservations on any party or side in Lebanon in a bid to discuss the whole options publicly...in order to reach results”.

Qassem added that “no political party in Lebanon is capable of imposing its candidate this way. Don't be afraid of dialogue, in the end you will choose what you want and what you are convinced of, and we will pick what we want and what we are convinced of.”

Qaouq on the other hand, said on Wednesday that Hezbollah “has not imposed a president on anyone”, and similarly "refuses to have anything imposed on it".

“Hezbollah is not looking for shares in ministries and administrations, but wants a president who embodies national consensus to sail the salvation ship with the help of everyone”, he noted.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Lebanese Forces spokesman Charles Jabbour commented on Hezbollah’s latest positions.

He said that through its rhetoric, Hezbollah is distributing roles among its officials in order to impose their own candidate (Suleiman Franjieh). “This has become impossible”, remarked Jabbour.

“There is confusion inside the party as the result of the opposition’s agreement on a single candidate”, he stated.

When Hezbollah calls for dialogue, it does so to garner agreement on its own candidate, added the LF spokesman.

Lebanon, plagued by a major economic crisis since 2019, has been without a president since the term of Michel Aoun ended in October.

 


Massive Fire as Sudanese Factions Battle for Control of Arms Factory

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
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Massive Fire as Sudanese Factions Battle for Control of Arms Factory

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

A massive fire broke out on Wednesday near a military complex containing an arms factory in southern Khartoum that Sudan's army has battled to defend in some of the fiercest fighting for weeks in its conflict with a rival faction, witnesses said.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in the eighth week of a power struggle with the army, attacked the heavily protected, sprawling Yarmouk complex on Tuesday, witnesses said. The group on Wednesday posted videos in which it claimed to have taken over a warehouse filled with weapons and ammunition as well as several entry points to the site.

The army used air strikes to try to repel the RSF advance, witnesses said.

Fighting across the three cities that make up Sudan's greater capital region - Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman - has picked up since a 12-day ceasefire between the army and RSF formally expired on June 3 after repeated violations.

"Since yesterday there has been a violent battle with the use of planes and artillery and clashes on the ground and columns of smoke rising," Nader Youssef, a resident living near Yarmouk, told Reuters by phone.

Due to the proximity of fuel and gas depots, "any explosion could destroy residents and the whole area", he said.

A fire that began in the morning suddenly grew in size before sunset on Wednesday as explosions were heard, another resident living close to the depots said.

Local activists said the fires were caused by the bombing of the fuel and gas depots, and that houses in the area had been hit by shells and stray bullets.

Residents in Omdurman and Bahri, about 15 km (9 miles) away, reported that towering flames were visible after nightfall from Yarmouk.

The RSF quickly seized swathes of the capital after war erupted in Khartoum on April 15. Army air strikes and artillery fire have not dislodged them, but the RSF may face a challenge restocking with ammunition and fuel as the conflict drags on.

The violence has derailed the launch of a transition towards civilian rule four years after a popular uprising ousted strongman President Omar al-Bashir. The army and RSF, which together staged a coup in 2021, fell out over the chain of command and military restructuring plans under the transition.

- WATER SHORTAGES

The conflict has wreaked havoc on the capital, reignited deadly violence in the long volatile western region of Darfur and displaced more than 1.9 million people.

Most health services and the banking system have collapsed, power and water is often cut and looting has spread. Food supplies have been dwindling.

UNICEF said on Wednesday that some 297 children were evacuated from Khartoum's Mygoma orphanage, which has been in the midst of heavy fighting. Reuters previously reported that dozens of babies had died there since the war began due to dehydration and malnutrition, and that the orphanage had housed about 400 children before the conflict started.

In Bahri, north of the Blue Nile from Khartoum, local activists said that more than 50 days of water cuts had driven many people from their homes and that they could be caught in the crossfire if they searched for water.

More than 1.4 million people have been displaced within Sudan and a further 476,800 have fled into neighbouring countries, most of which are already struggling with poverty and internal conflict, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Sudan's health ministry has recorded at least 780 civilian deaths as a direct result of the fighting. Hundreds more have been killed in the city of El Geneina in West Darfur. Medical officials say many bodies remain uncollected or unrecorded.

The United Nations says some 25 million - more than half Sudan's population - are in need of humanitarian assistance and that aid that could help about 2.2 million people had been delivered since late May.


Algeria Elected to UN Security Council, Among 5 New Members

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. (AFP)
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. (AFP)
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Algeria Elected to UN Security Council, Among 5 New Members

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. (AFP)
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. (AFP)

The United Nations General Assembly elected Algeria, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Slovenia and South Korea to the UN Security Council on Tuesday for two-year terms starting January 2024.

The five countries elected will replace Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana and the United Arab Emirates.

The election of Algeria as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council is a diplomatic success that shows Algeria is “back on the international stage”, said a statement from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The development reflects the international community's respect and esteem for the president, it added.

The North African nation will start its term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council on January 1, 2024 after the vote of 193 member states of the UN.

The election is also a renewed opportunity for Algeria to reaffirm its principles and values, and to exchange its vision on issues related to international peace and security, the presidency statement said.

It added that Algeria is determined to focus its efforts to boost international peace and security and strengthen key partnerships. It is keen on promoting the principles and values of non-alignment, continuing efforts to combat terrorism, and enhancing the participation of women and youth in these international efforts.

“Algeria will also be keen to make the voice of Arab and African countries heard and to defend common strategic interests in various issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the Security Council,” it said.

On this occasion, Algerian authorities expressed their “sincere thanks and deep gratitude to the African Union, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, for their adoption and generous sponsorship of Algeria’s candidacy.”