English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For August 04/2023
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge him before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God
Luke 12/06-10: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. ‘And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on August 03-04/2023
Video link of the Divine Liturgy that Patriarch Al-Rahi presides today, August 03/2023, in the Maronite St. Gerges Cathedral in downtown Beirut, for the repose of the souls of the martyrs and victims of the 4 August explosion, and prayers for the healing of those who are still suffering/with the text of the sermon
Al-Rahi at the mass for the victims of the port explosion: The people’s demand for an international fact-finding committee to assist the judicial investigator in accomplishing his mission is right.
Al-Rahi backs families call for int'l panel of inquiry in port case
Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges more assertive US approach in Lebanon on Beirut Blast commemoration
Beirut explosion: Renewed calls for international inquiry on eve of anniversary
ISG calls on Lebanese authorities to lift obstacles hindering port probe
Lebanon Urges Kuwait to Rebuild Beirut Port Silos
Kiosks of Chaos: Unauthorized kiosks in Beirut Port turn into security concerns
Mikati threatens army intervention if Ain al Hilweh conflict not contained
Mikati fiercely criticizes Palestinian groups over Ain el-Helweh unrest
Uneasy calm settles over Ain el-Helweh after overnight clashes
Haniya urges Nasrallah, Berri and Mikati to halt Ain al-Helweh clashes
Nasrallah: Those who blocked truth in port case are the ones who politicized it
Lebanon hands over to Italy a suspected drug dealer arrested near Beirut
Hezbollah, FPM to issue declaration, Franjieh to show positivity
Pessimism over Le Drian's call for September dialogue
Dollar drought: BDL's funding freeze puts Lebanon's government in a critical financial situation
Lebanese judge seeks arrest of former central bank governor Riad Salameh
Judiciary sources to LBCI: Nullification of Judge Abou Samra's decision to keep former BDL Governor Riad Salameh
Lebanese judge requests arrest of Riad Salameh
BDL reportedly inclined to completely stop funding state as of Monday
Banks from 4 Arab countries in talks to invest in struggling Lebanese banks
Spotlight on low-quality universities: Lebanon's Higher Education Council takes action
Economic and Security Conditions in Lebanon/Matthew Levitt/The Washington Institute/August 03/2023
The ghosts of Hangar/L'Orient Today/By Christophe Boltanski, 03 August 2023

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 03-04/2023
Russia says downed six drones less than 200 km from Moscow
Blinken accuses Russia of "abusing" the world food system
EU tightens sanctions against Belarus and targets marching industry
Russian shelling hits landmark church in Ukrainian city of Kherson
Israel's Supreme Court hears case against law protecting Netanyahu
Israelis protesting for democracy, what about the occupation of Palestinians?
Majority of submissions to UN body on Israeli occupation support Palestinians view
Iraq Stresses Commitment to Demarcate Borders with Kuwait
Saudi, Kuwait reject Iran claims to disputed gas field
India to participate in KSA summit over ways to start Ukraine war negotiations
Hundreds rally in support of Niger's ruling junta
Trump to face judge in DC over overturning 2020 presidential election results
Sudan: Conflicting Statements over the Jeddah Negotiations
Amnesty: Extensive War Crimes In Sudan's 'Unimaginable Horror'
Jordanian authorities arrest drug trafficker with international gang links
Barghouti’s Wife Leads Movement to Support Him as Possible Successor to Abbas
ISIS Says its Leader Was Killed in Syria and Names his Successor

Titles For The Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 03-04/2023
Israel's protest movement - and the battle for its soul - really is a tale of two cities/Anshel Pfeffer/The National/August 03/2023
Syrians' Deportation from Türkiye: Murky Process of Disastrous Consequences/Fayez Sara/Asharq Al Awsat/August 03/2023

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on August 03-04/2023
Video link of the Divine Liturgy that Patriarch Al-Rahi presides today, August 03/2023, in the Maronite St. Gerges Cathedral in downtown Beirut, for the repose of the souls of the martyrs and victims of the 4 August explosion, and prayers for the healing of those who are still suffering/with the text of the sermon
Al-Rahi at the mass for the victims of the port explosion: The people’s demand for an international fact-finding committee to assist the judicial investigator in accomplishing his mission is right
NNA/LCCC/03 August 2023/Google Translation
His Beatitude the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Al-Rahi, presided over the Divine Liturgy in the Maronite St. Gerges Cathedral in downtown Beirut, with the intention of the martyrs and wounded of the Beirut port explosion, on the third anniversary of the explosion, at 6:70 pm today, assisted by the Archbishop of Beirut, Bishop Boulos Abdel Sater, and Bishops Michel Aoun. Paul Matar, in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Paolo Borgia, a group of Beirut bishops, the Prosecution Office of the Bar, the Commander of the Fire Brigade in Beirut, Colonel Maher Al-Agouz, and a number of officers, men, priests, monks, nuns, families of martyrs and believers.
After the gospel, the shepherd delivered a sermon titled, “There is nothing hidden but it will be revealed, and nothing hidden but it will be known” (Luke 12:2).
Homily of Patriarch Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Al-Rahi at the Mass for the victims of the Beirut port bombing (4 August 2020) Saint Gerges Cathedral – Beirut, August 3, 2023
“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2).
1. With these words, the Lord Jesus confirms that no one can hide the truth, because it is light, “and the light cannot be covered by darkness” (John 1: 5). No matter how hard people try to hide the truth, there will come a day when all the leaves that hide it from view will fall.
The truth that they have been trying to hide by obstructing the investigations of the judicial investigator three years ago, is concerned with the identity of those responsible for the explosion, the storage of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, and of course its source and route, and its detention, and the neglect of the measure regarding it upon knowledge of its news and the failure to remove it and return it to the source of its release. The Lord Jesus describes as “hypocritical” political persons who pretend to be innocent while deceiving them by evading appearing before the investigating judge. If you are innocent, why do you evade and obstruct the investigation?
2. This truth is not buried, as if it is dead, but rather the consciences of all those responsible for the catastrophe of August 4, 2020 are crying out, just as the voice of God was crying out to the conscience of Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, day and night, in sleep and wakefulness: “Cain, where is your brother Abel? What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground?” (Genesis 4: 9-10).
Abel today are the two hundred and thirty-five (235) dead, about five thousand wounded and handicapped, and thousands of homes, churches, places of worship, institutions, shops, and hotels that were destroyed and affected half of the capital and its suburbs. How can we remain silent about this catastrophe, when those directly or indirectly involved, by virtue of their responsibility, evade the judiciary with political coverage? Let us not forget what happened at the time of the bombing: there are those who heard and saw, and there are statements made at the time and then removed from the media circulation!
3. We offer this Divine Sacrifice at a time when our loved ones offered their sacrifice at that terrible hour. We offer it to comfort the souls of the victims, heal the wounded and disabled, console their families, reveal the hidden truth until now, apply justice, and judge fair compensations for those affected. At the same time, we join the hundreds of families whose loved ones are crying to this day and crying out for truth and justice, and the thousands of families who suffer from the destruction that has displaced them from their homes, and those who suffer from injuries in the bodies of their members. With you, we raise our thanks to His Holiness Pope Francis, who mentioned in the angelic prayer last Sunday afternoon the catastrophe of the port bombing. “And he raised prayers for the victims and their families who search for truth and justice. He hoped that the complex Lebanese crisis would find a solution that befits the history of Lebanon and the values of the Lebanese people. He concluded by reminding that Lebanon is also a message” (July 23, 2023).
4. What hurts these families and hurts us the most is the indifference of state officials who are preoccupied with their interests and cheap accounts. Unfortunately, they are not concerned with those who are still on their pain beds in hospitals or in their homes, some of whom have been in a coma for three years, and others who need surgeries and permanent treatments that they cannot bear the financial burden of. And what to say about the damaged buildings and houses whose people are displaced while they are unable to repair them?
But God does not leave His children who are in the world prey to injustice and actions that hinder and stop the work of the judicial investigator with successive and expanded formal responses that tied his hands for three years. A hatch must be opened in this wall.
We rightfully consider the victims’ families’ demand for an international fact-finding committee to assist the forensic investigator in accomplishing his mission, and we urge countries to hand over to Lebanon their information, investigations, and images captured by their satellites, and we demand that they put an end to political interference in the investigation file.
5. We appreciate the work of the Prosecution Office of the Bar Association, which has been working for three years and insisting on following up the case of the port bombing disaster, in order to achieve truth, justice and fair compensation for those affected, defying all obstacles. The difficulty and denial of obtaining administrative, parliamentary and trade union permits to pursue some suspects; The case for bringing up the substitute judge; The judicial investigator’s decision to resume his duties to break attempts to obstruct investigations, judicial practices, and decisions taken by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation.
The Bar Association thankfully responded to these procedures with statements, litigation lawsuits, and penal complaints with the Court of Cassation and Judicial Inspection.
6. It is necessary to mention what the Office of the Prosecutor did abroad, such as obtaining a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Justice in Britain, convicting SAVARO of its civil responsibility, among others, for the Beirut Port bombing, and obliging it to compensate the victims and their plaintiffs. The ruling determined the amounts of compensation due to them. The court recognized this company’s liability in February of this year. It is known that this provision is enforceable in all countries of the world, taking into account the provisions related to the implementation formula in each country.
This does not mean that the port bombing investigations have ended, or that those responsible for this explosion will remain unpunished, or that Lebanese society will not receive justice, nor will it know the truth. Justice is not defeated by injustice, nor is truth destroyed by darkness.
So the words of the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel remain clear: “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2). To him be glory and thanksgiving with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen.

Al-Rahi backs families call for int'l panel of inquiry in port case
Naharnet/Aug 03, 2023
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Thursday presided over a mass for the victims and wounded of the Beirut port blast, on the eve of the third anniversary of the tragedy. “The truth that they are trying to conceal by impeding the investigations of the investigative judge for the past three years is related to the identity of those responsible for the bombing and for storing ammonium nitrate at the Beirut port,” al-Rahi said. He also called for the truth regarding “the source (of the ammonium nitrate), the route (of the ship that brought it), the confiscation (of the ship and its cargo), the inaction upon learning about it and the failure to remove it and return it to the port of origin.”Lamenting the presence of “political figures who are claiming innocence while evading appearance before the investigative judge,” al-Rahi added: “If you are innocent, why are you running away and obstructing the investigation?” “We cannot forget what happened when the explosion itself took place: some people heard and saw things and some statements were made before being removed from circulation,” al-Rahi said. Moreover, the patriarch said he supports the demand of the families of the victims for the formation of an international panel of inquiry that would help the investigative judge in completing his mission, while calling on world powers to “hand to Lebanon the information, investigations and satellite images they have” and to “put an end to the political interferences in the file of the investigations.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges more assertive US approach in Lebanon on Beirut Blast commemoration

LBCI/August 03, 2023
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a letter to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on the commemoration of the Beirut port explosion, highlighting its skepticism towards the current US approach to Lebanon and calling for a more assertive role to prevent Lebanon from becoming an Iranian client state.
Led by Ranking Member James E. Risch of Idaho, the Committee emphasized the need for the US to better support credible political candidates and robust civil society, increase sanctions on corrupt Lebanese officials, curb Hezbollah’s weapon storage in civilian areas, bolster support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), cut off Iranian revenue streams sustaining Hezbollah, and prioritize accountability. The letter condemned the Lebanese parliament’s continued failure to select a president, a situation which, the Committee noted, rendered significant reform efforts practically impossible. It called for US clarity in supporting reform-minded political candidates, while opposing those furthering Lebanon’s political stalemate. The Committee singled out Nabih Berri, the current speaker of the Lebanese parliament, criticizing his alignment with Hezbollah and his use of parliamentary procedures to delay the appointment of a new president. The letter also pointed out Hezbollah’s continued stockpiling of weapons among civilian populations and buildings, posing a significant threat to Israel, US troops, and diplomats. It urged the Biden Administration to exercise a 2018 law mandating sanctions against those using human shields.
The Committee endorsed the US’ continued support of the LAF, emphasizing its role as a trusted institution in Lebanon and a counter-terrorism partner. Hezbollah’s financial reliance on Iran was also underscored. The Committee argued that ambiguity in the Biden Administration’s Iran policy was indirectly fueling Hezbollah. It pressed for further actions to cut off Hezbollah’s financial lifelines. The letter concluded by calling for stronger accountability, notably in relation to the tragic Beirut port blast, the death of an Irish UN peacekeeper, and the murder of Lokman Slim, an outspoken Hezbollah critic.
The Committee’s message served as a potent reminder on the commemoration of the devastating Beirut port explosion, a catastrophe that underscored Lebanon’s political dysfunction and humanitarian crises.  It urged the Biden Administration to utilize a wider range of diplomatic tools to further US interests in Lebanon and to prevent the country’s further descent into becoming an Iranian-client state.

Beirut explosion: Renewed calls for international inquiry on eve of anniversary

Jamie Prentis/The National/August 03/2023
The UN Human Rights Council has once again been urged to establish a fact-finding mission into the Beirut port blast, on the eve of the third anniversary of the deadly explosion. In light of the stalled domestic investigation, hundreds of human rights groups, survivors and families of the victims said a mission should be established “in order to show that such deliberate inaction has consequences”. The August 4 2020 blast killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed many parts of the Lebanese capital.
While such calls are not new, they highlight what many see as an absence of justice over the explosion and anger over the stalled domestic investigation. The blast came after a stock of ammonium nitrate – stored at the port for years – caught fire. No reason has been provided for it being stored there and no senior officials have been held accountable. The stalled investigation has been repeatedly blocked and undermined by legal challenges. “The Lebanese authorities have been given every opportunity to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of holding those responsible for the explosion to account,” read a joint statement to the Human Rights Council, signed by the rights groups, survivors, families of the victims and others. “But three years later, they have proven that they will use every tool at their disposal – legal and extralegal – to evade accountability and perpetuate a culture of impunity in the country,” the letter added.
Earlier this year, 38 countries issued a joint statement, delivered by Australia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which voiced concern that the investigation had not been concluded and had been “hampered by systemic obstruction, interference and intimidation”.
The joint letter noted that “the Lebanese authorities have failed to take any steps to ensure that the domestic investigation can move forward or to adopt a law guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary in line with international standards”.
The domestic probe of Judge Tarek Bitar had been on hold since December 2021 after a series of legal challenges. He sought to reopen the case in January of this year when he charged senior politicians, judicial figures and security officials in connection with the explosion.
But soon after, Lebanon’s top prosecutor told Judge Bitar that the investigation was still on hold and charged him with rebelling against the judiciary. The explosion is regarded as a symptom of decades of mismanagement and corruption in Lebanon, which also led to a devastating economic collapse that began in 2019.

ISG calls on Lebanese authorities to lift obstacles hindering port probe
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
The International Support Group for Lebanon has marked the third anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 by expressing solidarity with the families of the victims and with those whose lives, homes, and livelihoods were “severely affected by this tragic event.”
“Three years since this deadly explosion left over 220 people dead, and many thousands injured and rendered homeless, the families of the victims and the Lebanese people are left wanting for truth, justice and accountability,” the ISG said in a statement. Lamenting the lack of progress in the judicial proceedings, the ISG called on the Lebanese authorities to “lift all obstacles hindering the pursuit of justice and facilitate the completion of an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation.”“Ensuring judicial accountability and combating impunity is integral to restoring the credibility of Lebanon’s state institutions. The stalemate in the port explosion investigation underscores the urgent need to safeguard the independence, impartiality and integrity of the Lebanese judiciary,” it said. The members of the ISG also called on the Lebanese parliament to “accelerate the adoption of necessary legislation to strengthen the independence of the judiciary in line with international standards,” while pledging that they continue to “stand by Lebanon and its people.”The International Support Group brings together the U.N. and the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the U.S., together with the European Union and the Arab League.  It was launched in September 2013 by the U.N. Secretary-General with former President Michel Suleiman to help mobilize support and assistance for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and state institutions.

Lebanon Urges Kuwait to Rebuild Beirut Port Silos
Beirut: Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
Lebanon’s Minister of Economy, Amin Salam, sent a letter to the Emir of Kuwait, Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al Sabah, urging him to rebuild the wheat silos that were destroyed by the Beirut port explosion three years ago.
“We are counting on Kuwait’s support to complete the initiative launched by the late Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Sabah, to rebuild the silos,” Russia’s Sputnik quoted Salam as saying. He added that he conveyed this call for the sake of the people of Lebanon and not the government, “because bread is for the people, and it is not permissible for an Arab country to be left without a strategic stockpile.” “There is no doubt that we always face a significant challenge in terms of food security since we lost the grain silos at the Port of Beirut. We lost the strategic stockpile, which usually ensures sustainability for three to six months,” Salam told the Russian agency. He added: “Unfortunately, Lebanon did not have a long-term vision, and the stockpile was located in one place, sufficient for three months. In its absence, we now rely on wheat imports; so when it is received, we can eventually have flour available through its milling in Lebanon and its distribution to bakeries.” Salam noted that the country uses 30,000 to 35,000 tons of wheat per month to produce 20,000 to 25,000 tons of flour. He continued: “In the event of a major shortage in Lebanon, we can cover our need from Egypt’s large stock. But this solution will not take us out of the danger circle, in terms of delays in the delivery of wheat, which leads to rise in prices.” The economy minister revealed that Lebanon has drawn up a plan to distribute strategic food stocks in several geographical locations, by rebuilding silos in the port of Beirut on an area of 22,000 sqm, as well as new silos in the port of Tripoli on a surface of 35,000 sqm.

Kiosks of Chaos: Unauthorized kiosks in Beirut Port turn into security concerns
LBCI/August 03, 2023
One of the unlicensed "hookah" kiosks is now part of the list whose owners were arrested by the State Security office at the Beirut Port. The owner was referred to the Financial Public Prosecutor's office and later to the investigating judge, charged with electricity theft from the port's private network.
The number of individuals arrested for electricity theft inside the Beirut Port is six. However, according to the Public Trucks Syndicate, the total count of unauthorized kiosks causing significant financial losses to the treasury remains unknown. The area around entrance No. 14 of the Beirut Port has become a security hotspot, hosting banned activities like drug trafficking and even prostitution, all overseen by the port's administration. The issue goes beyond electricity theft within the port premises. It is a security concern that the Interior Ministry should promptly address. Truck owners in need by the port administration have their contracts renewed, while kiosk owners who are not needed should vacate the premises. Moreover, there is already a decision by the Supreme Defense Council for removal, so why the delay in implementation?

Mikati threatens army intervention if Ain al Hilweh conflict not contained
Nada Homsi/The National/August 03/2023
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Thursday threatened army intervention to stem days of heavy fighting between rival factions in the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp which has left at least 13 dead and dozens injured. In a phone call to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas – also the head of the Fatah party, which wields considerable power in Lebanon’s refugee camps – prime minister Najib Mikati demanded an end to armed clashes which have threatened to spill out of the Ain al Hilweh camp and into the coastal city of Saida. "The army and all of Lebanon's security forces are going to perform the required role in maintaining security and halting the fighting," Mr Mikati told Mr Abbas, according to a statement released by his office. Mr Mikati called the fighting a “flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty” and said it was unacceptable for the warring Palestinian groups to “terrorise the Lebanese”. Already the clashes have resulted in dozens injured and thousands of people displaced from the camp, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. Hundreds of families are sheltering in the agency's schools and in mosques until it is safe to return to the camp.
Ain Al Hilweh is notorious for harbouring fugitives and Islamist gangs. The camp has been the site of a power struggle between Palestinian factions and a network of extremists for over a decade. Two people were killed and around 10 injured in renewed fighting between Islamist insurgent groups and Palestinian factions overnight, according to a member of the Popular Committees, a coalition of representatives that run the camp, on Thursday – bringing the death toll up to 13. “It was a very bleak night. The clashes lasted until dawn,” he told The National. “People can't take it any more,” he added. “We fall asleep every night to the music of bombs.”The fighting, which has continued despite a ceasefire being agreed on Monday, had subsided by Thursday morning. While clashes between rival factions are not uncommon, this week’s battles have been especially ferocious due to assassination of high-profile Fatah commander Abu Ashraf Al Armoushi and four of his bodyguards on Sunday. Fatah identified the assailants as members of the militant group Jund Al Sham and allied groups. Palestinian political officials have warned that a long-term ceasefire in the camp would be on the condition of the surrender of Mr Armoushi’s killers.
While periods of calm have punctuated the camp’s atmosphere over the last few days, heavy fighting has routinely continued to erupt. Videos of the battle shared with The National by camp residents showed a series of rockets hurtling overhead, while explosions were heard in the distance.
Fatah, the strongest political faction in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps, has for years attempted to contain the presence of outlaws and smaller networks of insurgents who seek to gain control of Ain Al Hilweh. Asbat Al Ansar, an Islamist fundamentalist group with an operations base in the camp and allied with the Islamist militant groups accused of killing Mr Armoushi, issued a statement distancing itself from this week's clashes and claimed the ceasefire was broken by Fatah. “We were surprised, at exactly nine o’clock this evening, by a violent attack on our centres and mosques in the Al Ta’ara neighbourhood and Al Safsaf neighbourhood by unruly elements of the Fatah movement,” it said. The group added that it refused to engage in clashes between Fatah and Islamist factions despite the death of one of its own members this week. “We assure our Palestinian and Lebanese people that we have not and will not be dragged into these clashes, whatever the price,” the group said, calling on political leaders to find an end to the conflict. Ain Al Hilweh is home to more than 50,000 registered refugees. Many of them came from coastal towns in northern Palestine. Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps present fertile ground for fugitives and outlaw groups to flourish owing to a contentious decades-old agreement that, for the most part, prevents Lebanon’s military from entering them. But the Lebanese military does intervene in some rare cases. Notably, Ain al Hilweh is also home to some of the 30,000 Palestinian refugees displaced from the Nahr Al Bared camp, which was destroyed in 2007 during 15 weeks of fighting between the Lebanese army and extremist groups. Some of those militants expanded into Ain Al Hilweh following the conflict.

Mikati fiercely criticizes Palestinian groups over Ain el-Helweh unrest
Associated Press/August 03, 2023
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday lashed out at the Palestinian factions over the fighting that has been raging since Saturday at the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp. A statement issued by his office said Mikati followed up on the situation through phone calls he made with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestine Liberation Organization official Azzam al-Ahmad and Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour. Mikati also received a phone call from Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.“The premier renewed his call for the Palestinian leaders to halt the fighting, which represents a flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty,” the statement said. “It is impermissible and unacceptable for the Palestinian organizations to consider that Lebanon’s land is violable or to resort to this bloody fighting and terrorize the Lebanese, especially the sons of the South, who have been embracing the Palestinians for many years,” the statement quoted Mikati as saying. He also emphasized that “the army and the rest of the Lebanese security agencies will carry out the needed tole to control security and halt the fighting.”Mikati’s remarks came as cautious calm returned to the camp and surrounding area Thursday after a night of renewed clashes. Ain el-Helweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp and home to about 50,000 people, has been rocked since Sunday by fierce battles between Abbas’ Fatah party and Islamist groups Jund al-Sham and al-Shabab al-Muslim.
Fatah has accused the Islamists of gunning down a Fatah military general, Abu Ashraf al Armoushi, in the camp on Sunday. The fighting has so far killed more than a dozen people, wounded dozens more, and displaced thousands. Dr. Riad Abu al-Einein, head of Al Hamshari Hospital near the camp, told The Associated Press that the hospital had received the body of a person killed in Wednesday night’s clashes, bringing the total number killed in the battles to 13, with dozens more wounded. If the situation continues, he said, “it will affect not only the families in the camp but all of the people in Sidon, especially as there were several rocket-propelled grenades and gunshots hit residential areas in the city,” he said. Maher Shabaita, head of Fatah in the Sidon region, confirmed that one of the group’s members was killed in Wednesday night’s clashes. He said Fatah fighters had defended themselves after the Islamist groups attacked one of Fatah’s centers in the camp, breaking a cease-fire agreement reached Monday, in what he described as part of a “project to destroy the camp and transform the camp into a camp of militants, possibly a camp of terrorists.” Palestinian factions in the camp have formed an investigative committee to determine who was responsible for Armoushi’s killing and hand them over to the Lebanese judiciary for trial, he said. The Lebanese Army generally doesn't enter the Palestinian camps, which are controlled by a network of Palestinian factions, and hasn't taken an active role in the conflict in Ain el-Helweh. In 2007, the Lebanese Army battled Islamist extremists in another Palestinian camp, Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon, razing most of the camp in the process. Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese Army general who is now a researcher in military affairs, said it was unlikely that the army would intervene in the Ain el-Helweh clashes, because -- unlike in Nahr al-Bared -- the combatants haven't directly targeted the army.

Uneasy calm settles over Ain el-Helweh after overnight clashes
Associated Press/August 03, 2023
A cautious calm returned to Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp in south Lebanon Thursday after a night of renewed clashes. Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, which is home to about 50,000 people, has been racked since Sunday by fierce battles between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and Islamist groups Jund al Sham and Shabab al Muslim. Fatah has accused the Islamists of gunning down a Fatah military general, Abu Ashraf al Armoushi, in the camp on Sunday. The fighting has so far killed more than a dozen people, wounded dozens more, and displaced thousands. In the city of Sidon, outside the camp's borders, around 100 camp residents who had fled the clashes were sheltering in a nearby mosque on Thursday. Sheikh Ahmad Nader said that around 2,000 people had sheltered at the mosque since the beginning of the clashes.
"We are tired of all of this," said Mohamed Sabakh, an Ain el-Hilweh resident staying in the mosque with his family. "We have children." Even outside the camp, Sabakh said, they feel trapped by the fighting. "Look around you, all the stores are closed. People are locked down in their houses. There is nowhere to get bread even, all the roads are closed."Dr. Riad Abu al-Einein, head of Al Hamshari Hospital near the camp, told The Associated Press that the hospital had received the body of a person killed in Wednesday night's clashes, bringing the total number killed in the battles to 13, with dozens more wounded. If the situation continues, he said, "it will affect not only the families in the camp but all of the people in Sidon, especially as there were several rocket-propelled grenades and gunshots hit residential areas in the city," he said. Maher Shabaita, head of Fatah in the Sidon region, confirmed that one of the group's members was killed in Wednesday night's clashes. He said Fatah fighters had defended themselves after the Islamist groups attacked one of Fatah's centers in the camp, breaking a cease-fire agreement reached Monday, in what he described as part of a "project to destroy the camp and transform the camp from a camp of militants, possibly a camp of terrorists." Palestinian factions in the camp have formed an investigative committee to determine who was responsible for Armoushi's killing and hand them over to the Lebanese judiciary for trial, he said. The Lebanese army generally doesn't enter the Palestinian camps, which are controlled by a network of Palestinian factions, and hasn't taken an active role in the conflict in Ain el-Hilweh. In 2007, the Lebanese army battled Islamist extremists in another Palestinian camp, Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon, razing most of the camp in the process. Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese army general who is now a researcher in military affairs, said it was unlikely that the army would intervene in the Ain el-Hilweh clashes, because — unlike in Nahr al-Bared —the combatants haven't directly targeted the army.

Haniya urges Nasrallah, Berri and Mikati to halt Ain al-Helweh clashes
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has contacted Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker PM Najib Mikati, urging them to exert efforts to halt the deadly clashes that have been raging for six days at the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon.
In a message to Nasrallah, Haniya stressed his movement’s “keenness on security and stability at the camp and its neighborhood,” noting that “Palestinian arms should only be pointed at the Zionist enemy.”
Haniya also emphasized that “the decisions taken by Palestinian authorities should be respected, especially by the Joint Palestinian Action Committee, and in full coordination with the relevant Lebanese official authorities, in terms of not resorting to arms, ceasing fire permanently, withdrawing gunmen from the streets and giving the inquiry panel a chance to perform its role in probing the crimes that happened.”And in a phone call with Mikati, Haniya urged him to “exert more efforts to consolidate the new ceasefire that was reached last night.”
The clashes between Palestinian factions in Ain al-Helweh have pitted members of President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party against Islamist groups accused of gunning down Palestinian military general Abu Ashraf al Armoushi on Sunday.
Dr. Riad Abu al-Einein, head of Al Hamshari Hospital, told The Associated Press the hospital received several wounded in the renewed clashes Wednesday night, but there were no immediate reports of deaths. In the previous days’ clashes, he said, 12 people were killed and the hospital had received 56 people wounded in the fighting. A Palestinian official in the camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said two people were killed and 15 wounded in a rocket attack by the Islamist group Jund al-Sham on a Fatah position Wednesday night. Jund al-Sham and another Islamist group, Shabab al-Muslim, are the two groups that have been facing off against Fatah fighters, he said, adding that other Islamist factions, including Hamas, were not involved. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has reported that more than 2,000 people were forced to flee in search of safety since the beginning of the clashes. The state-run National News Agency reported that Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour met with the commander of the Lebanese army, Gen. Joseph Aoun, on Wednesday to discuss developments in the camps and attempts to secure a new cease-fire. The violence began Saturday when an unknown gunman tried to kill Palestinian militant Mahmoud Khalil but instead fatally shot his companion. Full-blown clashes erupted Sunday when Islamic militants shot and killed Armoushi and three escorts as they were walking through a parking lot, according to a Palestinian official.

Nasrallah: Those who blocked truth in port case are the ones who politicized it
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday expressed sympathy with “all those who were wounded in the Beirut port blast on August 4,” 2020, lamenting that “from the very first moment after the port explosion, some malicious TV stations said that Hezbollah was behind blowing up the port.”“Those who blocked the truth in the port blast case are the ones who politicized this case. The real reason behind the loss of the truth in the Beirut port explosion is some parties’ linking of the case to regional events,” Nasrallah added, in a televised address commemorating late Shiite cleric Sheikh Afif al-Nabulsi. “The same TV station that accused Hezbollah of the port explosion is saying that Hezbollah is behind what’s happening at the Ain el-Helweh camp and this is nonsense,” Nasrallah went on to say. He added: “We are not responsible for the Ain el-Helweh battle in any way. We are against this fighting, we are trying to resolve it and I urge all the parties concerned to halt the battles.”

Lebanon hands over to Italy a suspected drug dealer arrested near Beirut
Associated Press/August 03, 2023
Lebanon handed over to Italy on Thursday morning a suspected Italian drug dealer arrested last month north of Beirut, judicial officials said. Bartolo Bruzzaniti was flown to Italy on a private jet that took off from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The anti-Mafia prosecutors based in Reggio Calabria, a city in the region of Calabria in southern Italy, have called Bruzzaniti a major organized crime figure. He was also described as a prominent player in the Bruzzaniti-Morabito-Palamara clan, which is based near the Calabrian town of Africo and is known for criminal activities abroad. Bruzzaniti was arrested while dining in July at a restaurant in the coastal town of Jounieh, north of Beirut, in a joint action by Lebanon's General Security Directorate and Italy's financial police as part of an Interpol action and a crackdown on the prominent Italian organized crime syndicate known as 'Ndrangheta that has activities outside Italy. According to an official Lebanese document, seen by the Associated Press, the Italian Embassy in Beirut had formally agreed to take "the wanted man" who had agreed to go to Italy to stand trial there. Lebanese judicial officials did not give further details. Lebanese media have reported that Bruzzaniti came to Lebanon from the African nation of Ivory Coast several months ago and had lived in different apartments around the country until his arrest. Italian prosecutors also contend that Bruzzaniti helped finance long-time fugitive Rocco Morabito, described as a global cocaine dealer. Morabito was extradited to Italy in July 2022 from Brazil, a year after his arrest in the Latin American country. In October 2022, Bruzzaniti eluded capture on an Italian warrant as part of a crackdown in which some three dozen suspects were sought in an investigation of suspected international drug trafficking. Lebanon, which does not extradite its citizens and has no extradition treaties with other countries, made the news when it refused to hand over fugitive and auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Nissan and Renault. Ghosn, a Lebanese citizen, was arrested in Japan in 2018 on charges of breach of trust but fled to Lebanon in 2019 in a daring escape out of the country aboard a private jet.

Hezbollah, FPM to issue declaration, Franjieh to show positivity
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
Dialogue between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement has made progress on the files of decentralization and the trust fund and will move next week to the file of the presidency, a media report said. “A declaration containing the results will be issued and will represent a continuation of the Mar Mikhail Agreement and the president’s characteristics, with the possibility that the agreement be announced prior to the return of French envoy (Jean-Yves) Le Drian in mid-September,” ad-Diyar newspaper reported. Sources informed on the dialogue, specifically after the latest lengthy meeting between FPM chief Jebran Bassil and Hezbollah official Wafiq Safa, meanwhile said that Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh will soon visit Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi and will “take positive steps towards the FPM.” “Speaker Nabih Berri is also relieved over the atmosphere between Hezbollah and the FPM,” the sources said. According to information obtained by ad-Diyar, a possible agreement between Bassil and Franjieh would “open the door to the Progressive Socialist Party to change its stance after Bassil would have provided a Christian cover for Franjieh, something that the PSP had demanded.”“This development would also open the doors to the National Moderation Bloc to vote for Franjieh,” the daily added.

Pessimism over Le Drian's call for September dialogue
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
Official political sources have cast doubt on the success chances of the dialogue that French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for in a bid to break the presidential deadlock. It is not guaranteed that this dialogue will succeed, “wherever it might be held, whether in parliament or at the French embassy at the Pine Residence, seeing as only Le Drian has shown seriousness, whereas the parties are clearly not serious about engaging in a responsible dialogue that would eventually lead to consensus over a president,” the sources told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Thursday. Opposition parliamentary sources meanwhile told the daily that they do not see “any chance for agreeing with Hezbollah on a president.”“Our participation in dialogue would not at all mean that we would be giving up our candidate, ex-minister Jihad Azour. We will take part under this ceiling while showing openness towards any convicning alternative proposal,” the sources said. “Our final decision is that we will not cede the presidency to Hezbollah and we will confront any attempt in this direction wherever it may come from,” the sources added.

Dollar drought: BDL's funding freeze puts Lebanon's government in a critical financial situation
LBCI/August 03, 2023
Lebanon is grappling with a clear and critical challenge as the Banque du Liban (BDL) suspends its financial support to the government, leaving it without any dollars. The only option for deputy governors to access the mandatory reserve and remaining funds of depositors is through the issuance and adoption of a government-drafted law in the parliament to ensure their legal coverage. Prime Minister Najib Mikati has warned that by the end of August, the government will be unable to secure funds for necessities like medicine and salaries. According to the BDL's numbers, the government currently relies on around $80 million to pay public sector salaries in dollars at the Sayrafa exchange rate. Additionally, approximately $30 million is allocated for supporting critical medicines, and $20 million covers various state expenses, including food, fuel for the military and security forces, and fuel for OGERO's power stations.
So, what will happen if the funding from BDL ceases? According to governmental sources, the solution proposed is to pay salaries in Lebanese lira instead of dollars, using state revenues. However, this approach is not sustainable, which leads to an increase in the money supply in the market, driving up the demand for dollars and, consequently, its exchange rate. As a result, the value of salaries could quickly erode, particularly after the summer season when expatriates go, leaving no dollars to stabilize the market. The critical issue lies in other expenses, especially the need for dollars to support critical medicines. The lack of dollars may hamper essential healthcare services. According to deputy governors sources, the importance of borrowing is not merely for funding purposes but to secure the implementation of necessary reforms that generate income for the government and restore economic confidence. They highlight that the loan can be suspended anytime with a decision from the Central Council if the reforms are not implemented. Thus, The situation leaves the country with a choice: enact reforms or face uncertainty.

Lebanese judge seeks arrest of former central bank governor Riad Salameh
Nada Maucourant Atallah/The National/August 03/2023
Judge Helena Iskandar filed an appeal against the decision of the first investigating judge in Beirut to release Riad Salameh after his hearing. Riad Salameh greets employees on his last working day as the head of the Lebanese Judge Helena Iskandar, the president of the Cases Authority at the Ministry of Justice, on Thursday asked the Indictment Division in Beirut to arrest former central bank governor Riad Salameh. Ms Iskandar serves as the representative of the Lebanese state, both domestically and internationally, in the cases related to the alleged money laundering of more than $330 million by Mr Salameh and his associates.The Lebanese state, recognised as a victim in the case, took action by becoming a civil party in March to assert its rights and seek the return of misappropriated funds in the event of a conviction. "We are hoping for the arrest order to be issued," Ms Iskander told The National. "I have the prerogative as a plaintiff on behalf of the Lebanese state," she said. She said she had filed an appeal against the decision by Beirut's First Investigative Judge, Charbel Abou Samra, to release Mr Salameh after a hearing on Wednesday. Mr Abou Samra did not set a date for the next hearing but instructed Mr Salameh to be available for further judicial proceedings."I have the right to appeal the decision," Ms Iskander said. "It will then be up to the prosecutor's office to decide whether they uphold the decision of the investigative judge or issue an arrest warrant for him," she said.
In March Ms Iskandar filed domestic and international lawsuits for money laundering, bribery, forgery, illicit enrichment and tax evasion against Mr Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh and his assistant Marianne Hoayek. This was a long awaited step which could pave the way for Lebanon to recover the assets allegedly bought using more than $330 million in embezzled public funds, if Mr Salameh is found guilty. She also ordered the state to freeze the trio's assets in the country. At least six European countries — Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Switzerland — have opened investigations to determine if luxurious European properties owned by Mr Salameh and his family were purchased with funds embezzled from the central bank. In 2021, a separate probe was opened in Lebanon, which led to charges being pressed against Mr Salameh, his brother and Ms Howayek in February after an 18-month inquiry. The file was transferred in February to Mr Abou Samra, with limited progress so far. In April, both France and Germany issued arrest warrants for Mr Salameh, followed by two Interpol red notices. Mr Salameh, who stepped down on Monday at the end of his term after 30 years in charge of the central bank, has repeatedly claimed his innocence, stressing that no public funds entered his private accounts.

Judiciary sources to LBCI: Nullification of Judge Abou Samra's decision to keep former BDL Governor Riad Salameh
LBCI/August 03, 2023
The Beirut Prosecution Commission has nullified the decision of Investigating Judge Charbel Abou Samra to keep former Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh following an appeal by the Cases Authority. As a result, Salameh has been summoned to appear in court on August 9. Various accusations have been raised against him, including allegations of corruption, money laundering, and mishandling of the country's financial crisis. The decision to summon Salameh to court is part of the ongoing efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the country's economic turmoil and financial mismanagement.

Lebanese judge requests arrest of Riad Salameh
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
The head of the lawsuits dept. at the Justice Ministry, Judge Hilana Iskandar, has filed an appeal against a decision by Beirut’s acting First Examining Magistrate Charbel Abou Samra that had allowed ex-Central Bank chief Riad Salameh to walk free following interrogation. According to the National News Agency, Iskandar has asked the Beirut Accusatory Commission to arrest Salameh over several reasons that she mentioned in her appeal. Once lauded for reviving Lebanon's economy, Salameh left office Monday after three decades in the job, wanted abroad and reviled at home after years of financial meltdown. The 73-year-old French-Lebanese national is widely viewed as a key culprit in the country's dramatic economic crash, which the World Bank called one of the worst in recent history. Salameh is also wanted by authorities in France and Germany for alleged financial crimes, with Interpol issuing Red Notices targeting him. Lebanon does not extradite its citizens. One of the world's longest-serving central bank governors, he faces numerous accusations including embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad.
Salameh has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and defended his legacy. European delegations have made several trips this year to Beirut to question Salameh, his brother and others in his close circle. In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth $130 million in a move linked to a French probe into Salameh's personal wealth. Earlier this year, Lebanon charged him with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. The domestic probe was opened following a request for assistance from Switzerland's public prosecutor, who is investigating more than $300 million in fund movements by Salameh and his brother. In February, Swiss media reported that 12 banks in the country had received up to $500 million in money Salameh is alleged to have embezzled.

BDL reportedly inclined to completely stop funding state as of Monday
Naharnet/August 03, 2023
The Central bank is inclined to stop funding the state completely as of Monday, MTV said, after the government and parliament failed to pass a law that would allow the government to borrow foreign currency from the central bank.
First central bank vice-governor Wassim Mansouri, who took over as BDL's acting governor on Tuesday, had urged parliament and the government to cooperate in order to legalize spending during a transitional period before the central bank stops funding the state completely. He said that the central bank would only lend the government on condition that a law allowing it be passed and that government pay back the loans through a realistic plan. In a cabinet session Tuesday, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he had distributed Monday the indebtedness draft law to the ministers. He said that draft laws must be distributed at least one week before being discussed in cabinet. On wednesday, Mikati met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Diman. After the meeting he said that Cabinet cannot pass the law, but it can ask parliament to approve a proposed draft law as soon as possible. On Thursday Cabinet convened again to discuss the 2023 state budget. "We still don't have a draft law on the state's indebtedness from the central bank," Finance Minister Youssef al-Khalil said before the session.

Banks from 4 Arab countries in talks to invest in struggling Lebanese banks
Associated Press/August 03, 2023
Banks from four Arab countries are interested in investing in Lebanon's struggling banking sector, which was hard-hit by the small nation's three-year economic meltdown, a top Arab banker said Thursday. Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in its short and troubled history that has skyrocketed poverty and inflation, and crippled its bloated public sector and infrastructure. Wissam Fattouh, the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Banks, spoke to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the biggest regional banking conference held in Beirut since the historic economic crisis began in October 2019. Caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam and Lebanese and regional banking officials called on their Arab counterparts to invest in the crisis-hit country and help revitalize its battered economy. Fattouh told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath in July that Jordanian and Iraqi banks have expressed an interest to buy small Lebanese banks. "During our numerous visits to Arab countries and visits with banking leadership, we discussed the possibilities of owning and possessing some Lebanese banks that have the intention to sell," Fattouh told the AP. He did not name the banks interested in investing in Lebanon.
As of 2022, some 61 banks operate in the tiny Mediterranean country, of which 46 are commercial banks. Many have downsized due to the crisis. The World Bank says Lebanon's financial crisis is among the worst worldwide since the mid-19th century — a culmination of decades of financial mismanagement, corruption, and nefarious policy. In late 2019, Lebanon's dollar shortages created a panic and run on the banks as they imposed strict withdrawal limits for depositors who kept their savings there. Under what financial experts and the World Bank described as a Ponzi scheme, Lebanon's central bank would entice commercial banks to lend dollars at high interest rates to stay flushed with cash. The banks then attracted customers to deposit their savings in their accounts at even higher interest rates. Lebanon since then has run on a cash economy. The value of its local currency, the Lebanese pound, has lost around 90% of its value, primarily determined by an opaque black market rate that has become standard for most goods and services across the country. Depositors desperate for money have since been withdrawing their savings at exchange rates far lower than the market rate. "The fate of those deposits at the Central Bank is still a mystery," Fattouh explained. "So they will go for banks that don't have high liabilities and only have some deposits in the Central Bank."The International Monetary Fund and the Lebanese government reached a tentative agreement in April 2022, which called for an "externally assisted bank-by-bank evaluation for the 14 largest banks." The audit never happened, as Lebanon's ruling political parties and officials, many of whom are shareholders or owners in the banks, refused to implement any reforms. The country has been without a president since October and its Central Bank governor stepped down on Monday. But Fattouh said this provides an opportunity for investors. "The investors have a perspective that once constitutional matters are back in order in Lebanon with the election of a president, that banking license will become, I'm guessing, around $200 million," he said. "So it would cost far less for them to acquire that bank now and end up being very profitable."

Spotlight on low-quality universities: Lebanon's Higher Education Council takes action
LBCI/August 03, 2023
In a move to address the long-standing concerns about certain universities in Lebanon, a high-level meeting of the Higher Education Council is scheduled to take place on Monday. The meeting aims to thoroughly investigate the files of several universities that have been flagged for non-compliance with academic standards and regulations. More than seven universities, often called low-quality educational institutions, are under the spotlight due to their alleged violations. Furthermore, these small institutions are not among the well-known and reputable universities in the country and have been controversial for their practices. However, among the reported violations are serious breaches of educational protocols, including:
Exceeding allowed student enrollment
Some of these universities have enrolled a higher number of students than the permitted capacity, potentially compromising the quality of education provided. Enrolling students in Master's programs without equivalency of their Bachelor's Degrees. It has come to light that certain universities have admitted students into Master's programs without verifying the equivalency of their Bachelor's degrees, raising concerns about academic integrity.
Initiating teaching programs without proper authorization
Some of these institutions have reportedly started offering academic programs without obtaining the necessary licenses and accreditations, which might compromise the degree's value.
Non-compliance with the required percentage of professors holding doctoral degree.
Concerns have been raised about these universities not ensuring that professors teaching Master's programs hold doctoral degrees and meet the required academic qualifications. The Higher Education Council, during its meeting on Monday, will deliberate on the appropriate actions to be taken against these universities. The decisions reached in the meeting will be submitted to the Minister of Education for final approval. The Council is committed to protecting the students' interests and ensuring they receive education of the required academic standards. The measures to be implemented against the universities will focus on safeguarding the quality of teaching and holding institutions accountable for any violations.

Economic and Security Conditions in Lebanon
Matthew Levitt/The Washington Institute/August 03/2023
Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.
Articles & Testimony
Lebanon’s current problems stem from persistent economic and political corruption, and Hezbollah remains the de facto enforcer of this mafia-like status quo.
On July 20, the Middle East Policy Council convened its 113th Capitol Hill conference with a panel that included Matthew Levitt, The Washington Institute’s Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of its Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. The following is an edited transcript of his remarks; to read other panelists’ remarks or the subsequent Q&A session, visit the MEPC website.
Let’s be very clear: Lebanon’s economic and security crises are intimately intertwined. Just consider, for example, the Lebanese government’s default on its sovereign debt in March 2020, and then just a little while later the tragedy of the Beirut explosion that August. Both of those events resulted from one key, corrosive, corrupt phenomenon: Political mafia bosses across the Lebanese political and sectarian spectrum continue to prioritize their own power and patronage systems over the needs of the Lebanese people.
Today, despite all that’s transpired, these same political bosses continue to prevent even the most basic political reforms necessary to break the country’s political stalemate and facilitate international financial support. Noting this sad state of affairs, the World Bank described the Lebanese financial crisis as a “deliberate depression orchestrated by the country’s elites at the expense of the country’s long-term stability and social peace.”
It should not surprise you that when polled, an overwhelming percentage of Lebanese express dismay at their own government’s disregard of the needs of ordinary citizens. Note these findings, for example, from a November 2022 poll commissioned by The Washington Institute. Ninety-one percent of respondents said the government was doing too little to pay attention to the opinions of ordinary citizens. Overall, the gloomy outlook was universal, expressed by Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Druze, young and old. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said the Lebanese government was doing too little in response to three key economic concerns. First, reduce the level of corruption in economic and public life. Second, meet people’s needs for an acceptable standard of living. And three, address the burden of taxes and other obligations in a fair way.
Unfortunately, Lebanese political bosses’ prescription for addressing such concerns is not political or economic reform, but doubling down on their respective power and patronage systems. Let’s be clear, corruption is at the heart of Lebanon’s economic and political crises. This economic and political rot is deeply entrenched and is protected by powerful political bosses across the spectrum, and across Lebanon’s political and sectarian divide. All this threatens Lebanon’s near-, medium-, and long-term security and stability, and corruption is by no means limited to any one party in Lebanon. Yet, no Lebanese party presents a greater security threat to Lebanon domestically, and to its neighbors in the region, than Hezbollah—in part because Hezbollah is the de facto militant enforcer of the corrupt political system from which it and other sectarian political parties benefit.
Consider a few examples of the unique ways in which Hezbollah undermines Lebanese security and stability, and risks regional war. Hezbollah has a dedicated element—Unit 121—whose sole purpose is to carry out assassinations in Lebanon of people that it doesn’t like. Think [former Prime Minister] Rafiq Hariri. Think [intelligence official] Wissam Eid. Think [activist] Lokman Slim, and a whole lot of other names that we don’t have time to go through.
With help from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah maintains a robust program to retrofit old missiles with guidance systems and build new precision-guided missiles. [Secretary-General] Hassan Nasrallah himself has appeared on television, displaying a map of Israel and warning that Hezbollah missiles can hit any part of Israel. These facilities in Lebanon where they’re retrofitting these missiles are located in residential neighborhoods, near schools and hospitals and mosques, effectively using Lebanese civilians as human shields.
Over the past few years, Hezbollah has unilaterally declared parts of Lebanon to be its own independent military zones and denied UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] forces access to these areas, including areas near and along the Blue Line, the de facto border. Hezbollah regularly harasses UNIFIL forces, and in December, a Hezbollah operative killed Private Sean Rooney, an Irish UNIFIL soldier.
Hezbollah’s illicit financial activities in Lebanon severely undermine the country’s financial system, which has always been a key backbone of the economy. Take a close look, for example, at the U.S. Treasury Department’s actions against entities like the Jammal Trust Bank. When it took that action in 2019, the Treasury noted that Hezbollah operatives were going around threatening the families of Lebanese bankers—not just the bankers themselves, but their families—if they froze the accounts of Hezbollah operatives.
Hezbollah has dug attack tunnels from Lebanon under the Blue Line into Israel for the express purpose of carrying out attacks. These were discovered and sealed in 2018, but neither the Lebanese government nor the Lebanese people got any say in this decision, though they would bear the costs of any ensuing conflict with Israel. Hezbollah has used its environmental NGO—they call it Green Without Borders—as a platform not only to collect intelligence on Israeli activities across the border but literally to fire antitank missiles at an Israeli military ambulance across the border within Israel proper in 2019.
More recently, Hezbollah launched a drone at an Israeli offshore gas platform. It infiltrated and sent an operative into Israeli territory to carry out a terrorist attack. It gave Hamas tacit approval to fire rockets at Israel from Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon. It’s harassed Israelis living just across the border in northern Israel by aiming lasers at drivers as they drive the roads and at private homes. It’s damaged the security fence along the Blue Line. And, most recently, it’s set up tents in Israeli-controlled parts of the Shebaa Farms, right along the Blue Line, in an effort to increase border tensions.
Hezbollah’s efforts to obstruct any investigation into the August 2020 Beirut explosion speaks volumes about the organization’s concerns about where they fear an unimpeded investigation may lead. This is to say nothing about Hezbollah’s complete disregard for the Lebanese policy of disassociation from fighting in Syria, which caused the Syrian Civil War to bleed into Lebanon on multiple occasions. But aside from the security threats to Lebanon created by the group’s activities, Hezbollah presents a domestic threat to effective governance in Lebanon as well, by virtue of creating a shadow economy benefiting its own shadow citizenry, the success of which comes at the expense of the formal economy and of the Lebanese government.
Nasrallah has highlighted the group’s successful model of social welfare governance in Lebanon and touted its success at building and maintaining its own base of support in the face of significant challenges. By providing these services parallel to and, in many cases, in place of those provided, or not provided, by the government of Lebanon, Hezbollah has created a shadow economy—a gray economy that benefits its supporters, builds grassroots support, and enables Hezbollah to derive a significant measure of authority from its base of support.
Though not the official government, Hezbollah has built politically and economically powerful relationships with those who benefit from its largesse, a kind of parallel governance structure. This not only bolsters Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon, it undermines the standing and legitimacy of the government of Lebanon and undermines the efforts of the United States and others to help that government. Hezbollah has thus effectively made itself part of the governance system in areas it controls, even as it remained apart from the government itself. Later, when Hezbollah decided to enter politics and have some of its members assume positions in national government, it continued to function as an independent organization, running parallel to the government of which it was also a part, but without the accountability of being a government institution.
So today, Hezbollah benefits from being both a part of and apart from the political system. Unlike many violent nonstate actors, which have only limited access to the formal economy and are heavily reliant on shadow economies, Hezbollah is able to benefit from the formal, regulated economy and simultaneously run its own parallel, shadow economy, which sucks from and undermines the formal economy. Taken together, Hezbollah’s shadow economy and parallel government structure undermine both political and economic stability in Lebanon and regional security across the Eastern Mediterranean.
So allow me to end where I started. The crux of the problem in Lebanon is corruption, both economic and political. This prevents both the economic and political reforms necessary to save the country from becoming—and I don’t use these words lightly—a failed state. Hezbollah is by no means the only problematic political party in this regard, but by virtue of being the one faction that has held onto its weapons after the Taif Accords [of 1989, to end the Lebanese Civil War], it is the de facto enforcer of the rule of the corrupt mafia dons.

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L'Orient Today / By Christophe Boltanski, 03 August 2023 

The Beirut Port Blast of Aug. 4, 2020 killed more than 200 people and injured thousands. To this day, it is still unclear who imported the ammonium nitrate to the port, and why. With the official investigation stalled, a series of suspicious assassinations has fostered doubts about the cause of the catastrophe.
Christophe Boltanski wades through the tangle of facts and lies to try and assemble the puzzle.
For want of something better, the highway that spans the port of Beirut serves as a memorial to the families of the dead. Surrounded by crude drawings and angry slogans, photos of the victims of the fireball that devastated part of the city on Aug. 4, 2020 line the side of the bridge. This highway, perpetually jammed with traffic, is hardly a place for contemplation, but from its vantage point everything is in plain view: the heaps of torn metal, burned-out cars, boats on their side, twisted pulleys, the skeletal towers of the grain silo, and, where the dock should be, a huge crater awash with muddy water. In the distance one can even see the pier next to which the Rhosus sank, omen of the disaster to come.
A mosaic shattered into a thousand pieces. An enigma. This is what Beirut’s port looks like: a time-frozen field of ruins, the visual replica of a paralyzed justice system. The inquiry is stalled because of the diverse proceedings brought against Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of the investigation. Three years further on, one of history’s largest non-nuclear explosions remains unexplained: 235 deaths, more than 6,500 injured, 77,000 apartments destroyed, and zero results. No trial to date, not even one accomplice behind bars. A new unpunished crime in a country that has seen so many others.
“In this affair, things are never what they seem. It all requires investigations which are extremely complicated and dangerous.”
Journalists, lawyers, activists are trying to break down this wall of silence. They want to understand how a cargo of explosives could arrive in Beirut and then be left abandoned in a hangar for six long years, before detonating in a blinding shaft of light. To achieve their purpose, they must unravel an incredible tangle of false names, shell companies, fraud and lies. “It’s a lifetime worksite” comments Zena Wakim, a lawyer with the foundation Accountability Now, which works against impunity in Lebanon. “In this affair, things are never what they seem. It all requires investigations which are extremely complicated and dangerous.”
From the start, one man proposed a method for not getting lost in this tentacular case. “What we have here is a jigsaw puzzle,” explained Lokman Slim, during an interview on Arabic television. This Lebanese intellectual, publisher, archivist, translator and documentarist is remembered for his free-speaking, secular, rigorous, sometimes forceful style. His idea was to examine the total picture, and not the sum of different elements, because a single piece, examined on its own, signifies nothing. Once the sides of the puzzle have been assembled, the large volumes defined and certain details brought to light, a whole other picture appears. While the Lebanese authorities would only concede a series of omissions, Lokman Slim denounced a “war crime” committed by Russia, Syria and Hezbollah. Twenty days later he was found shot to death in his car.
His body lies at rest in his garden, in front of the family house in southern Beirut. To reach his grave, one must get through a roadblock, then a second, then a maze of narrow streets decked in yellow, the color of Hezbollah. On the walls of the gray, high-rise buildings there are faded portraits of “martyrs” in combat gear. In the midst of this chaos of concrete and warlike images, the Villa Slim is an oasis. The front door is open, as always. The son of an eminent Shiite lawyer, Lokman Slim lived among his own in the district of Haret Hreik, now the stronghold of a political-military movement that he relentlessly challenged.
Surrounded by her husband’s countless books and files, the German-Lebanese filmmaker Monika Borgmann is fighting to know the truth: “His interview caused a stir. He was just presenting facts in a very logical way. Naturally people told him: ‘You’re going too far.’ But he had given so many interviews on sensitive subjects.” Lokman’s sister, Rasha al-Ameer, who with her brother created the publishing house Dar al-Jadeed, has similar doubts: “He was obstinate. It was David against Goliath. I used to tell him: ‘They have rockets but what do you have?’” She sighs. “This interview was maybe the last straw, but they had plenty of other reasons to kill him.”
Slim’s is not an isolated case. Like the aftershocks that follow an earthquake, major crimes in Lebanon always give rise to others. In the aftermath of the explosion, several assassinations shocked the city. Homicides that were never solved, always perpetrated by professionals and followed by botched investigations, too quickly suspended for an alleged lack of leads and suspects.
At first glance, the victims have nothing in common, except that they are all linked to the port of Beirut. Why were they murdered? Was it because of information they had or the post that they occupied? Did they threaten to break the law of silence? Would their testimonies have helped reconstitute the pieces of the puzzle? Their friends and families have agreed to speak, some for the first time, most of them remaining anonymous and obviously scared. “Be diplomatic,” one of them whispered, “because our lives are at risk.”
Before telling their story, it will be useful to examine another suspicious death, the death of a customs officer that occurred before the catastrophe.
In Beirut port, colonel Joseph Skaf headed the anti-illegal migration and money laundering division. On Feb. 21, 2014 he alerted his seniors to the “public security” risk posed by a vessel, the Rhosus, docked for the last three months, because it was carrying ammonium nitrate, “a highly dangerous and explosive material.” In a handwritten letter, he advised that it should be moved away from the pier to the breakwater and put under surveillance. “Before him, no-one had mentioned the presence of nitrate in the port,” said one of Lebanon’s most eminent investigative journalists, Riad al-Qobeissi of the Jadeed-TV channel. The customs officer suspected fraud. He found it strange to moor a cargo for such a long time at that location. That is why he asked for it to be moved away.
Depending on its nitrogen content, ammonium nitrate has various uses: below a threshold of 33.5 percent, it is a widely used fertilizer. Above this, it is used to make explosives. With a content of 34.7 percent, the white powder packed into the hold of the Rhosus is used to make bombs.
Who owned the Rhosus ? How did it get there? According to a first version based on the testimony of its captain, it was acquired by a Russian businessman, Igor Grechushkin, convicted of aggravated theft and without naval experience. The vessel left Batoumi, on the Black Sea, on Sept. 27, 2013 heading for the port of Beira in Mozambique, with a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate produced by the Georgian chemical plant Rustavi Azot, the end client being a private firm, the Fabrica de Explosivos de Moçambique. In heavy debt, the shipowner diverted the vessel to Beirut in order to load a second cargo and thus have the necessary funds for its passage through the Suez Canal. But the seismic survey machines that the Rhosus was to take on board were too heavy. During loading on Nov. 25, they damaged a hatch cover. The port authorities declared the vessel unfit for navigation and immobilized it, later ordering its seizure after complaints of unpaid claims. Greshushkin took this opportunity to disappear. This account, widely repeated, is full of lies.
After being transferred to airport customs operations, colonel Skaf let the matter rest. His letter was never answered. Stuck in a drawer somewhere, it never even reached some of those it was addressed to. If this officer had not been transferred somewhere else, could he have prevented the catastrophe? “We will refuse to let them unload this cargo,” he told his brother.
The catastrophe should never have happened. As in other countries, Lebanese law forbids materials for military use entering its territory without a special permit. Depending on its nitrogen content, ammonium nitrate has various uses: below a threshold of 33.5 percent, it is a widely used fertilizer. Above this, it is used to make explosives. With a content of 34.7 percent, the white powder packed into the hold of the Rhosus is used to make bombs.
On the first documents — the unified list and arrival statement — sent to customs and the port authority, this was not mentioned. The mails exchanged between the various departments did not define the nature of the merchandise. The authorities only seemed to be concerned by the unloading process because the vessel was at risk of sinking. On June 27, 2014 a summary judgment judge ordered the cargo to be stored in a “safe place.” He also had no idea what was in it. “In its request, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation mentions a ‘dangerous substance’ which might pollute port waters. Why does it not mention ammonium nitrate?” asks Riad al-Qobeissi. At the time, the holder of this coveted, and very lucrative, portfolio was Ghazi Zeaiter, a leader of the Shia party Amal, Hezbollah’s ally.
The vessel’s contents were unloaded on the sly during the night of Oct. 22-23, 2014 and stacked in Hangar no. 12, reserved for dangerous materials, and then forgotten.
Two years later Joseph Skaf, now aged 56, retired and ran for office in parliamentary election on an independent ticket. On March 4, 2017 he attended a campaign dinner. At 3 a.m. he had still not returned to his apartment in the north of Beirut. His wife failed to reach him by phone. She was worried. A friend went to look for him and found his Range Rover at the foot of his building, headlights on, the trunk open. He shouted “Joseph” and saw his body 1.8 meters away, stretched out, arms crossed, on the ramp going down to the underground carpark. His skull was crushed, his eye swollen, his hands and knees covered in bruises and a rib broken, as if he’d been in a fight. The autopsy found no internal cause that would explain his fall. No heart attack, no stroke, no alcohol in the blood. A medical report attributed his death to a cerebral hemorrhage, with no other details. The police called it an accident.
“They did not protect the scene of the crime and questioned no one. They wanted to close the case as quickly as possible,” said one of his close friends. A forensic medical expert appointed by the family came to a very different verdict. According to him, Skaf “was the victim of a brutal attack.” He was struck in the eye and below the rib cage before being pushed from a great height.
A customs officer will always have enemies, especially at Beirut port, nicknamed “the cave of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.” This outgrowth in the heart of the city is a concentrate of the shortfalls in the Lebanese system. It’s the kingdom of fraud, bribery, the mafia, scandal after scandal. Forced to act after so many empty promises, in 2019 president Michel Aoun created an anti-corruption bureau in the heart of the port zone and entrusted it to State Security, one of the country’s four intelligence services.
“My mission was to gather information on every form of misappropriation. We started from scratch, with few resources or staff,” recalls its chief, captain Joseph Naddaf. He now works in a newly renovated building near the container terminal. His old offices, next to the silos, were destroyed. Civilian security agents armed with assault weapons ensure his protection. Aged 35, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, he is the whistle-blower in this story. His warnings, instead of being heeded, tripped off a devastating chain reaction.
Towards the end of 2019, a “source” informed him of the presence of ammonium nitrate in Hangar 12. His investigation didn’t get far. “I didn’t know what it was. I had to ask experts, and it was the beginning of Covid.” When he visited the hangar, he was surprised to see there was no watchman there. “One of the rear doors of the warehouse had been forced open. Right next to it, there was a hole in the wall fifty centimeters in diameter. I could see bags piled in great disorder. Anyone could have taken them.” Staying outside, he just took photographs of the ripped, half-empty bags. “I was not authorized to enter. Only customs and the port authority had access. My role was just to make a report.” He wrote five. In the report delivered to the prosecutor’s office on June 1 2020, he reiterated the facts, with the warning: “Ammonium nitrate, in case of fire, would cause a huge explosion with disastrous consequences for Beirut’s port. We fear that this material could be stolen and used to make explosives.”
His report started making the rounds and threatened to be leaked in the media. On July 20, State Security sent a summary of it to President Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. A risk of theft and explosion? Once the matter had been referred, general prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat could have demanded that the bags be transferred to a secure location, or even that they should be counted to make sure none was missing. He simply asked for repairs to be made. On August 4, around 4 pm, three workmen from an outside company soldered the damaged door without knowing what was behind it. The port employee who should have supervised the work was not there. After their departure, at 5:54, a witness posted a video on Twitter showing thick, black smoke clouds billowing over the hangar. The fire service arrived on site four minutes later. A first explosion shook the air at approximately 6:07, followed thirteen seconds later by an even more powerful one.
The next day, while stunned residents combed the ruins, the famous letter from Joseph Skaf reappeared online. His friends and family were stupefied to discover its existence. “He had never spoken about it to us, but it was definitely his handwriting,” said one of them. They didn’t know who had published his message from the grave, nor why it had been divulged at this precise time. It added more fire to their doubts. One of his sons, Michel, until then silent, tweeted on Aug. 8: “A crime was committed in March 2017. My father did not slip or fall. He was brutally attacked and assassinated in front of his home.”
Another case rekindled their suspicions. Once again it concerned a customs official, an ex-colonel. Having retired early, Mounir Abou Rjeily was building himself a second residence in Qartaba, a mountain village above Byblos. On Dec. 1, 2020 he went up there to see how the work was progressing. Because of a thick mist, he decided to sleep on site. In the morning, his cell phone was not answering. Worried out of her mind, his wife, Maguy, drove there and found him in pajamas on his bed, lying in a pool of blood. His teeth had been ripped out, his skull fractured. “There had to be at least three assailants,” said Simon Karam, the family’s lawyer. One of them beat him to death with a club, while the others held his shoulders. No prints, no signs of a break-in, no signal from an unknown phone in the vicinity. That specific day the neighbor was absent. It was a professional job.
The judge opted for a presumed burglary that went wrong. After turning the villa upside down, the attackers left with a flat screen. Lawyer Karam denounced a decoy: “They didn’t touch the safe containing money and jewelry.” So what was the motive? “Our police force is very efficient,” he said. “In the case of organized crime, they quickly arrest the guilty. If it’s political, they never find them.”
When Maguy found her husband’s lifeless body, her first call was to the widow of Joseph Skaf: “They have killed Mounir, like Joseph!” she cried. The two men were friends. They both worked at the port. Shocked by the brutal death of his colleague, Mounir Abou Rjeily went into retirement five months later. Aged only 50. Did he know Joseph’s letter existed? “Of course,” said a friend. He brought his fingers together, pretended to write, staring in front of him, as if making imaginary signs in the air. “They wrote it together,” he murmured.
A cycle of violence began that recalled the wave of killings perpetrated in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The victims were personalities on the political or media scene. This time it was about ordinary people.
On Dec. 21, 2020 at 7 a.m. precisely, Joe Bejjani leaves his house. Every morning the same ritual: he turns on the heating in his GMC and waits for it to warm up to fetch his two daughters, then he drops them off at the kindergarten and drives to his office. He is 36 and works for the telecoms company Alfa. Built on the mountainside on the fringe of the Kahaleh township, his house overlooks Beirut. As is often the case in Lebanon, it is equipped with a video surveillance system. Just after the crime, the police viewed the images on site. Someone recorded the sequence with a mobile and posted it on Facebook. We see Joe get into his car. Ten seconds later, a man in a black woolen cap runs to catch up with the car, holding a pistol with a silencer. He opens the car door and fires four shots. An accomplice wearing a motorcycle helmet comes behind him carrying a sort of toolbox. He dives into the car, searches the body, snatches the victim’s mobile and slams the door. The two killers take off down rugged terrain, usually covered by scrub, which has since conveniently burned on two occasions. A motorcycle is waiting for them fifty meters below.
They barely take the trouble to disguise themselves. The first man is wearing an anti-Covid mask over his mouth, the second a helmet without a visor. Yet they know they are operating in the most scrutinized zone in the country. When they get down from the village, they go past the presidential palace, the ministry of defense, military barracks. “The police know their faces, their itinerary yet couldn’t identify them or find any details that would explain things. How is this possible?” asks Youssef Lahoud, the Bejjanis’ lawyer. The cameras lose all trace at the edge of the southern suburb.
“Who is Joe?” Amal, his mother, fights back her tears as she repeats the question, as if sharing it. Why take up against her son? He had no enemies. He was not in politics. One thing makes him stand out: “Since he was a boy, he loved everything to do with the army.” He spent his spare time photographing soldiers and tanks. He was on good terms with the Lebanese army who issued him a press card. In exchange, he gave them prints free of charge. Did he see something he shouldn’t have? On Aug. 14, 2020 he posted an image on his Twitter account that was widely shared: “In the background you can see the grain silos and Hangar 12 where the explosion occurred,” he wrote.
“When he posted that photo it got a lot of attention,” remembers Bejjani’s wife Nayla. “He took it in 2017, during a delivery of American tanks to the Lebanese army.” Were there other photos in the archive? “He often went to the port during military events. When he was in a zone that was closed to the public, he often took the opportunity to photograph other things.” That is all she knows. The police took away his cameras, computers, his USB key and the surveillance cameras. “They gave them back to us two weeks later. They were all empty.”
After a year of fruitless inquiry, Nayla Bejjani broke her silence and started giving interviews. “I was accusing everyone.”
The minister of the interior summoned her: “Take care,” he warned her. “Your daughters have already lost their father. I can’t protect you.” She now lives in France with her children and has refugee status. After the explosion, she recalls her husband’s fury. “He was very angry. He would say to me: ‘Lebanon is finished. We have to leave’.” On August 18 he posted a quotation from George Orwell: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” A bit later, he announced he was no longer going to work with the army. Several countries, including France and the United States, were at the time conducting investigations on site. “He wanted to help them.” How? Did he even do it? She does not know.
Will Judge Bitar manage to solve the mystery of what happened at the port? He has just a computer and two clerks at his disposal to unravel one of the most complex affairs in the country’s history. Those who stand to lose from his investigation are waging a full-blown war against him. He is the target of hate campaigns and there have been more than 40 demands that he recuse himself. Each time he resumes his investigation, yet another appeal stops it dead. If he looks to his peers for support, they find procedural obstacles springing up in their way. If he issues an arrest warrant, the police refuse to execute it. Having indicted the attorney general, Ghassan Oueidat, Oueidat sued him in turn for “abuse of power” and in the process, ordered the release of the 17 people still being held in prison.
“It’s maddening!” complains Paul Naggear. He and his wife Tracy have just attended a demonstration outside the courthouse as they do every month, alongside the parents of other victims. “There were around 30 of us. Why so few? People have given up hope.” They live at the top of a glass-fronted building opposite the silos. They lost their three-year-old daughter, Alexandra, on August 4 when the plate glass window in their lounge shattered. They didn’t expect much from the inquiry. “We knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.” They are calling for an inquiry led by the United Nations Human Rights Council. “What we want is to establish the facts.” So many of their questions have gone unanswered. Like many of Beirut’s inhabitants, Tracy is convinced she heard a plane before their world was turned upside down. She suspects a missile strike. “That’s the Israeli hypothesis,” says Paul.
“The fact that the explosions were preceded by a fire means that a missile or explosive device can be ruled out as the cause of the detonation: either would have resulted in an immediate explosion rather than a fire.”
French experts have discounted this line of inquiry. On Aug. 6, 2020 15 police forensics officers were dispatched to Beirut in connection with a manslaughter investigation opened in Paris (there were three French nationals among the deceased). They spent a week taking samples in and around the crater. Their report states that they were “working on the basis that a fire broke out at about 5.30 p.m. in the northern part of warehouse 12.” They tend to think it was an accident, but do not rule out criminal conduct. “We cannot make any assumptions about how the fire started.” They cite welding, an electrical fault, a cigarette butt or a malicious act (splashing flammable fluids around or setting fire to rubbish) as possible triggers. By contrast, “the fact that the explosions were preceded by a fire means that a missile or explosive device can be ruled out as the cause of the detonation: either would have resulted in an immediate explosion rather than a fire.”
The FBI also sent specialists from the US. They concluded that just 550 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4. So what happened to the other 2,200 tons? It is possible that they burned up. French divers recovered ammonium nitrate blocks from the depths of the harbor. “When you have a deflagration rather than a detonation, the burning material disintegrates more quickly than it explodes. Particles are widely dispersed,” explains Brian Castner, an explosives expert with Amnesty International. Another possibility is that it was stolen. Part of the cargo could have been misappropriated either before or after it arrived in hangar no. 12.
“There are several things that lead me to think that some of it was missing,” says journalist Riad al-Qobeissi. We were told that the goods were unloaded in one night. I did the calculation and that’s impossible! It would have taken at least 48 hours to unload the ship. And you can’t store 2,750 one-ton sacks on this dockside, it’s just not wide enough.”
One of Lebanon’s neighbors used to make ample use of ammonium nitrate but is unable to import it as a result of international sanctions. From 2013 onwards, Syria has had a new weapon at its disposal: the barrel bomb, a rudimentary device developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Center, a Syrian regime ‘laboratory of horrors,’ and made from diesel, scrap metal and a few scoops of ammonium nitrate. Barrel bombs were used the following year, dropped from helicopters to wipe out rebel towns and cities.
While there is no hard proof of Syria’s involvement, there is a body of circumstantial evidence. In August 2020, the OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), a consortium of journalists, revealed that the Rhosus belonged to Cypriot arms dealer Charalambos Manoli and not Grechushkin — he was simply the carrier and his contract had just expired when the ship was diverted to Beirut. At the time of the sailing, Manoli owed $1 million, pledged against his ship, to the Federal Bank of the Middle East (FBME), which was subject to US Treasury sanctions in 2014 for money laundering on behalf of Hezbollah and the Scientific Research and Studies Centre in Damascus.
Was the Rhosus simply bound for Southern Africa? Given the state it was in, it is unlikely that this floating dump would have been permitted to cross the Suez canal, where strict safety regulations apply. According to Megaphone, a Lebanese online information site, when Grechushkin’s lease expired, the ship could not cross the Mediterranean. As a result, on Nov. 1, 2012 it turned up in Tartous, a Syrian port that is home to a Russian naval base. “It sailed out, empty, five hours later, says Megaphone journalist Jonathan Dagher. What was it carrying? We don’t know.”
The Mozambicans never purchased the ammonium nitrate offloaded in Beirut. The buyer turned out to be a trading company, Savaro, an empty shell company with no assets and a straw (wo)man manager. “When we saw that this company was listed with Companies House in London, we referred the matter to the English courts,” says Nasri Diab, one of the lawyers for the port victims. On Feb. 1 the High Court in London found Savaro liable for damages over the explosion. The plaintiffs are still trying to identify its real owners. In another coincidence, Savaro shares its address at 10 Great Russell Street with engineering companies Hesco and IK Petroleum Industrial; all three companies have been at this location since the same date, June 25, 2011. Hesco and IK Petroleum Industrial belong to Georges Haswani and Imad Khoury respectively, businessmen with dual Syrian-Russian nationality. Both are subject to US sanctions for providing support to Bashar al-Assad’s war machine.
Lokman Slim was one of the first to point a finger at the Syrian regime and its Lebanese ally. On the evening of the blast, he jumped on a motorbike and rushed down to the harbor. He wanted to see, understand and report on what was going on. In the weeks that followed, he conducted an investigation, as he always did. He kept records of the country’s crimes for decades, to try and prevent people from forgetting. During these troubled times, Monika suggested they leave for Germany. He refused. “He wanted to stay here,” she says. “He thought there was a political opportunity to be seized.” He knew he was in danger. In 2019, Hezbollah activists plastered their home with death threats.
On Jan. 15, 2021 during an interview with Saudi’s al-Hadath television, he went even further in his accusations. On Jan. 31 the attacks began on the web. The same messages were posted over and over, calling him an agent in the pay of Israel. “The number of fake profiles and retweets was indicative of a highly orchestrated campaign,” says Nasri Messarra, a social media sociologist. On Feb. 3, Slim went for dinner at a friend’s house in Niha, in southern Lebanon. He was captured on a number of security cameras, which showed five cars tailing him. He was abducted that evening on the outskirts of the village and found at dawn, riddled with bullets, 40km away.
As with the other cases, there were no efforts to protect the crime scene. Onlookers mingled with police officers. Nobody wore gloves. And the investigation ground to a halt. “They only asked me personal questions — whether Lokman had had any clashes at work, if he was homosexual or suicidal — and not one about the threats he’d received,” says Borgman. When his death was announced, Jawad Nasrallah, the son of the leader of Hezbollah, published a tweet that was promptly deleted: “The loss of some is in reality an unexpected gain and kindness to others.” In an open letter written in December 2019 following the attack on his home, Lokman Slim had held the leaders of the two Shi’ite factions, Hassan Nasrallah and Nabi Berri, “fully responsible” for whatever might happen to him.
This investigation was written in French for La Chronique Magazine, an Amnesty International publication.

Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 03-04/2023
Russia says downed six drones less than 200 km from Moscow
Agence France Presse/August 03/2023
Russia on Thursday said it had downed six drones in the Kaluga region, less than 200 kilometres from Moscow, amid a surge in such attacks targeting the capital city. The defence ministry said it had foiled "a terrorist attack with drones" in Kaluga. "This night, six drones trying to cross the Kaluga region, were shot down with anti-air defence systems," said regional governor Vyacheslav Shapsha said on Telegram. There were no casualties, he said. Russia on Tuesday said it had foiled drone attacks in Moscow but one of them hit a building in the city, which witnessed a similar strike last weekend.

Blinken accuses Russia of "abusing" the world food system
LBCI/August 03/2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of "blackmail" before the United Nations Security Council on Thursday due to its recent withdrawal from the main grain initiative. The American minister, who chaired a meeting on food insecurity before the 15-member Security Council, stated that "hunger should not be turned into a weapon." Russia claimed that its invasion of Ukraine last year led to an "assault" on the global food system. Blinken affirmed, "Every member of this Council and every member of the United Nations should tell Moscow enough is enough. Stop using the Black Sea as an instrument of coercion." He continued, "Enough treating the most vulnerable people in the world as pawns. Enough of this unwarranted and irrational war." Last month, Russia refused to extend an agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported via the Black Sea, resulting in a sharp increase in grain prices that significantly affected impoverished countries. The agreement, signed in July 2022 between Ukraine and Russia, with Turkey and the United Nations' sponsorship, aimed to mitigate the risk of famine in the world by ensuring the access of Ukrainian grain to the markets despite the ongoing war. On the other hand, Russia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, emphasized that Western sanctions were affecting Russian food and fertilizer exports. During the discussion, he stated, "As long as the artificial obstacles set up by the West, which affect the ability of Russian economic actors to supply agricultural products, have not been eliminated, it will not be possible to restore the normal functioning of supply chains and address other global food security issues." Russian drones caused damage to facilities in the Ukrainian port of Odesa on the Danube River on Wednesday, targeting vital infrastructure for grain shipments from Ukraine after the collapse of the Black Sea agreement. Blinken presided over the meeting after the United States assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council on Tuesday. Blinken told ABC News, "We are going to issue a joint statement condemning the use of food as a weapon of war" adopted on the sidelines of the meeting and already signed by 91 countries. He announced $362 million in new funding for food insecurity and malnutrition programs in 12 African countries and Haiti. US officials reported that about 345 million people in 79 countries are experiencing acute food insecurity. Climate change consequences are among the many reasons for hunger in the world, along with armed conflicts.

EU tightens sanctions against Belarus and targets marching industry
AFP/August 03/2023
The European Union announced on Thursday that it has tightened sanctions on Belarus due to its support for Moscow in the Ukrainian war, expanding its blacklist and imposing restrictions on exports, especially drone technology. The European Commission clarified that these new sanctions, unanimously approved by the 27 member states, aim to "ensure that the sanctions against Russia cannot be circumvented through Belarus" by targeting goods and "highly sensitive" technologies. As a result, the ban on exporting firearms and ammunition to Belarus has been reinforced, as well as components and technology that can be used for aviation and aerospace, including drone manufacturing. In these areas, the European Union seeks to align the sanctions imposed on Belarus with the EU's sanctions against Russia. Furthermore, the European Union will also restrict exports to Belarus of dual-use goods and technologies (civilian and military) and components used by Russia in its war efforts. This includes semiconductor devices, integrated circuits, manufacturing, testing equipment, and optical components. However, these new sanctions are still without recommendations from the EU's Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, whose "proposals are still on the table" for further tightening at a later time, as confirmed by the European Commission. According to the official gazette, 38 individuals have been added to the EU's blacklist, considered "responsible for serious human rights violations" for their involvement in "suppressing civil society and democratic forces" or benefiting from President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. Among them are judges, propaganda promoters, employees of government media, as well as officials of prisons facing accusations of "torture and ill-treatment of detainees," especially political prisoners.Listing in this blacklist results in asset freezes and travel bans within the EU territory. In addition, three Belarusian government companies were targeted, including a manufacturer of electrical equipment, a mining group, and a petrochemical group, accused of suppressing their employees who participated in protests and strikes against the regime. The 27 member states strengthened their sanctions on the Belarusian regime following the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022, accusing Belarus of allowing Russia to use its territory, especially as Russian forces headed towards Kyiv. Belarus had already been subjected to sanctions due to its repression of opposition against President Alexander Lukashenko following his controversial re-election in 2020 and for hijacking a European plane in June 2021, as well as for organizing the flow of migrants from the Middle East to the EU borders. In total, the European Union's sanctions against Belarus now target 233 individuals and 37 entities.

Russian shelling hits landmark church in Ukrainian city of Kherson

Associated Press/August 03/2023
Russian shelling on Thursday damaged a landmark church in the southern city of Kherson that once held the remains of a renowned 18th-century Russian commander. Ukraine's emergency service said four of its workers were wounded in a second round of shelling as they fought the fire at St. Catherine's Cathedral. Four other people were wounded in the first shelling attack, which also hit a trolleybus, the prosecutor general's office said. The shelling followed the severe damage sustained by a beloved Orthodox cathedral in a missile strike last week in Odesa and underlined the war's risk to the country's cultural monuments. Fighting has intensified in multiple regions as Ukraine's military steps up a counteroffensive to reclaim Russian-occupied territory. The Kherson church, dating from 1781, is one of the city's most notable buildings. It once was the burial spot for Prince Grigory Potemkin, a favorite of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Potemkin exerted Russian control through the southeast parts of modern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. His remains were removed last year while the city was still under Russian occupation. Russian forces withdrew from Kherson last November in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Potemkin engineered the 1784 annexation of Crimea from the Crimean Khanate. His name entered popular speech because of stories, now widely doubted, that he erected fake settlements called "Potemkin villages" to impress Catherine during her long journey through Crimea and the southern territories. The Ukrainian president's office said two people were killed over the past day in Russian attacks — one in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province and one in Zaporizhzhia province. The Ukrainian air force said Russia launched a wave of 15 Shahed drones against the Kyiv region but all were shot down. The governor of the capital region, Ruslan Kravchenko, said there were no injuries or damage. Ukraine's military also continued to launch attack drones deep into Russia. The Russian Defense Ministry said six Ukrainian drones were downed in the Kaluga region, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Moscow, the latest incident following attacks that twice hit buildings in the Russian capital that house some government ministries. Kaluga Gov. Vladislav Shapsha reported another drone was shot down later Thursday. After enduring nearly nine months of Russian occupation, Kherson was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November of last year, marking a momentous victory for Ukraine and a humiliating defeat for the Kremlin. The Ukrainian recapture of Kherson instantly made the city the front line in the country's south and a target of daily Russian attacks, mostly artillery and drone attacks mostly artillery and drones coming from Russian-held territory across the Dnieper River. The relentless strikes often result in reports of civilan casualties. In early June, Kherson was shattered by the war-related collapse of Kakhovka dam, which flooded areas near the riverbank and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.

Israel's Supreme Court hears case against law protecting Netanyahu
Associated Press/August 03/2023
Israel's Supreme Court heard a petition on Thursday against a law that protects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from being removed from office over claims of a conflict of interest due to his ongoing corruption trial. Netanyahu's governing coalition passed a law in March that limits removing a prime minister from office to cases of medical and mental incapacitation. It would protect Netanyahu from being deemed unfit for office because of his ongoing corruption trial and claims of a conflict of interest. Critics say the law is tailor-made for Netanyahu and encourages corruption. A few dozen people protested outside Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem as judges heard the petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. The law passed earlier this year stipulates that a prime minister can only be deemed unfit to rule for health or mental reasons and that only the premier or the government can make that decision, not the attorney general. Netanyahu is on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. The hearing came as Netanyahu and his allies are trying to pass a series of judicial overhaul bills that aim to curtail the power of the Supreme Court and give the ruling coalition control over the appointment of judges. It remained unclear when the court would issue a decision in the matter. The judicial overhaul plan has triggered months of mass protests in an increasingly divided Israel as opponents say the measures would concentrate power in the hands of the executive and erode the limited checks and balances. Netanyahu and his allies, who took power in December after the country's fifth election in under four years, say that these changes are necessary to curb what they see as an overly activist court made up of unelected judges.

Israelis protesting for democracy, what about the occupation of Palestinians?
Associated Press/August 03/2023
Israel is being rocked by a wave of mass protests calling for the country's democracy to be upheld. But the pro-democracy movement lacks any clear message of opposition to Israel's open-ended military rule over millions of Palestinians. This contradiction reflects a widely held belief among Jewish Israelis that the conflict with the Palestinians is both intractable and somehow separate from Israel's internal strife. Critics of the protest movement, including Palestinians, say this is a significant blind spot and that such selective advocacy of democratic ideals shows how disconnected Israelis are from the harsh reality of those living under Israel's occupation. "It's so ironic that they're talking and protesting for democracy while at the same time it's been a dictatorship for Palestinians for 75 years," said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian commentator. "They're afraid that their own privileges and rights are going to somehow be affected, but they won't make the connection" with the occupation. The protesters are demonstrating against the drive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to weaken the judiciary by limiting judicial oversight on official decision-making and legislation. The protest movement says its limited message against the judicial overhaul is holding together one of the largest and most sustained protest movements Israel has ever seen, bringing tens of thousands of people to the streets for the last 30 weeks. Netanyahu's government, made up of ultranationalist and ultra-religious parties with close ties to the West Bank settler movement, says the overhaul will restore power to elected lawmakers and rein in what it says is an overly interventionist judicial system. Critics see the legislative push, especially because it's driven by far-right and conservative religious parties, as an assault on Israel's democratic fundamentals and its weak system of checks and balances. They say it will open the door to serious infringements on personal liberties and the rights of women, the LGBTQ+ community and minorities that will set Israel on a path toward autocracy.
The protesters come from a wide swath of Israeli society. They chant "democracy or rebellion!" carry signs reading "Israel will remain a democracy," and have unfurled a giant copy of the country's declaration of independence, which serves as an unofficial bill of rights, at various events.
But largely missing from the raucous protests is any meaningful reference to Israel's 56-year occupation of lands the Palestinians seek for their future state. A small contingent of activists waving Palestinian flags have taken part, but remain mostly on the fringe. In some cases, they have even been ostracized by organizers who feared that mentioning the occupation would somehow undercut the protest movement. Israel's Palestinian citizens, who make up a fifth of the population, have sat out the protests in part because the demonstrations are ignoring the occupation. "The protest is against the reduction of the democratic space for Jews. Most Jews in Israel don't have a problem with Israel enforcing an apartheid regime in the West Bank," said Dror Etkes, a veteran anti-occupation activist. Despite his concerns, Etkes has made a point of participating in the protests. He sees the absence of occupation-related themes as a strategy meant to unite disparate groups against a more imminent threat. He said that if the government has its way, "people like me won't be able to protest" against the occupation.
The Associated Press contacted several protest leaders who either declined to comment or did not respond to questions about the contradictions. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians seek for their hoped-for independent state, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and, along with Egypt, enforces a blockade on the territory. More than 700,000 settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians in the West Bank live under limited autonomous self-rule, but Israel controls major parts of their lives, including movement and travel, construction permits in certain areas and significant parts of the economy. Israel's military also frequently targets Palestinian areas in what it says is a bid to thwart militancy. A two-tier legal system is also in place in the West Bank, where large parts of Israeli law apply to Jewish settlers and Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Palestinians cannot vote in Israeli elections. Their own leadership, established as part of interim peace agreements in the 1990s, has repeatedly delayed Palestinian elections.
While Palestinians in east Jerusalem hold Israeli residency and have access to certain social benefits, they face widespread discrimination. They can apply for citizenship but many choose not to, either on ideological grounds or because the process is too bureaucratic. Those contrasting realities have prompted rights groups to say an apartheid system has taken root. Israel vehemently denies such claims. It says the West Bank is disputed territory whose fate should be determined through negotiations, which are long moribund. After years of deadly conflict with the Palestinians, many Jewish Israelis see the occupation as the inevitable by-product of a hopeless security situation. Others accuse the Palestinians of rejecting generous peace offers — a claim the Palestinians reject. That frame of mind has prevented many Israeli demonstrators from grasping the contradiction in their struggle, said Amichai Cohen, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank. But he and others say the occupation is seeping into the protests, presenting a potential opening for an awakening. For one, the main backers of the legal overhaul are firebrand West Bank settlers who seek to expand and solidify Israel's domination over the Palestinian territories in part by weakening the court's oversight over its moves. The protests have also coincided with a spike in Israeli-Palestinian fighting, during which radical settlers have attacked Palestinian towns, most notably Hawara, setting cars and homes ablaze with a paltry response from Israeli security forces. The prominent protest chant "Where were you in Hawara?" emerged as a cry against perceived police brutality against protesters. Avner Gvaryahu, who heads Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group of former soldiers, is a constant presence at the protests.
He has watched in frustration as military reservists have refused to continue serving to protest what they say is the disintegration of Israel's democracy, but kept silent over the occupation. Still, the reservist protest has shattered a taboo against military refusal, a tool he said might be used in the future by soldiers against the occupation. "The mainstream is waking up," he said. Palestinians remain skeptical. Shawan Jabarin, head of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq, said he considers the protests an internal Israeli struggle to maintain a status quo that has only cemented the occupation. "What democracy are you speaking about?'" he said. "Democracy doesn't go in the same time with occupation."

Majority of submissions to UN body on Israeli occupation support Palestinians view
Associated Press/August 03/2023
The vast majority of over 55 countries that made submissions to the U.N.'s highest judicial body which will give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories supported the Palestinians view that Israel is taking over land they seek for an independent state, their U.N. ambassador said. The Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, told a group of reporters the number of submissions to the International Court of Justice exceeded Palestinian expectations and came from every continent and included all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The U.N. General Assembly last Dec. 30 adopted a Palestinian-backed resolution asking the court's opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories. It also seeks an opinion on the legal consequences of Israeli measures it said are "aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem." And it asks for an opinion on how all Israeli policies affect the legal status of its occupation, "and what are the legal consequences that arise for all states and the United Nations from this status."Israel vehemently opposed the resolution. Its ambassador, Gilad Erdan, called the measure "outrageous," the U.N. "morally bankrupt and politicized," and said any potential decision from the court will be "completely illegitimate."Mansour didn't provide further details on the submissions except to say the vast majority supported the Palestinians.
He said the next step is for the countries that made submissions to the court to rebut what other countries said if they desire, and to make additional submissions by Oct. 25. The court will then set oral arguments, deliberate, and render an opinion. "When should we expect the opinion to be submitted?" Mansour said. "To be cautious, I think maybe sometime in the spring of next year. But, of course, the court is the master of its destiny." While the court's rulings are not binding, they influence international opinion. It last addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2004, when the Assembly asked it to consider the legality of an Israeli-built separation barrier. The court, located in The Hague, said the barrier was "contrary to international law" and called on Israel to immediately halt construction. Israel has said the barrier is a security measure meant to prevent Palestinian attackers from reaching Israeli cities and has ignored the ruling.
The December General Assembly resolution demands that Israel comply with the court's ruling, dismantle the wall and pay reparations for all damage caused by its construction. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for an independent state. Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers. It also has annexed east Jerusalem and considers the entire city to be its capital. The United Nations and the international community overwhelmingly consider the settlements and Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem, home to the city's most sensitive holy sites, to be illegal.

Iraq Stresses Commitment to Demarcate Borders with Kuwait
Baghdad: Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that the government is committed to the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution on the demarcation of the borders with Kuwait, denying claims of “relinquishing Iraq’s land or sea sovereignty, especially with regard to the city of Umm Qasr.”
In a press statement, the ministry said that the land border demarcation with the Kuwaiti side came in accordance with Security Council Resolution 833, stressing that the government “expresses its full commitment to it, and its fulfillment of relevant international obligations.”Local media and social media platforms circulated news claiming that the Iraqi-Kuwaiti negotiations on border demarcation involved ceding territory from the Um Qasr district in Basra Governorate to Kuwait. Widespread controversy emerged after allegations that Kuwait cut off a residential complex near the Um Qasr naval base, with the installation of border columns. The central and local governments in Basra denied the claims. The governor of Basra, Asaad Al-Eidani, said in a televised statement that the residences were located in an area where the border strip passes through, and they had to be moved deep into Iraqi territory. On the other hand, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, Bassem Al-Awadi, said that the demarcation of the borders was settled since 1994. “There is no change in the procedures, and the crisis that has arisen recently is being used for political blackmail,” he added.

Saudi, Kuwait reject Iran claims to disputed gas field

Agence France Presse/August 03/2023
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait said Thursday they have sole ownership of a disputed gas field also claimed by Iran, in an escalating feud after Tehran threatened to pursue exploration. The offshore field, known as Arash in Iran and Dorra in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, has long been focal point of contention between the three countries. The Kuwaiti and Saudi authorities said in a joint statement published on Thursday that "they alone have full sovereign rights to exploit the wealth in that area". The two Arab Gulf states renewed "their previous and repeated calls to the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiate" the demarcation of their maritime borders to settle the issue, according to the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Iran and Kuwait have held unsuccessful talks for many years over their disputed maritime border area, which is rich in natural gas. Recent attempts to revive negotiations have failed, and Iran's oil minister on Sunday said Tehran may pursue work at the field even without an agreement. "Iran will pursue its rights and interests regarding exploitation and exploration" of the field "if there is no desire for understanding and cooperation", Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji was quoted as saying by the official Shana news agency. Last month, Kuwait had invited Iran for another round of maritime border talks after Tehran said it was ready to start drilling in the field. A few weeks later, Sky News Arabia quoted Kuwait's Oil Minister Saad Al-Barrak as saying his country would also begin "drilling and production" at the gas field without waiting for a demarcation deal with Iran. The row over the field stretches back to the 1960s, when Iran and Kuwait each awarded an offshore concession, one to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the forerunner to BP, and one to Royal Dutch Shell. The two concessions overlapped in the northern part of the field, whose recoverable reserves are estimated at some 220 billion cubic metres (nearly eight trillion cubic feet). Last year, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to jointly develop the field, despite objections from Iran which branded the deal as "illegal".

India to participate in KSA summit over ways to start Ukraine war negotiations
Associated Press
India will participate in a weekend meeting that Saudi Arabia is hosting to find a way to start negotiations to end Russia's war in Ukraine. Saudi Arabia invited India to the two-day meeting in Jeddah and its "participation is in consonance with our long-standing position that dialogue and diplomacy is the way forward," Arindam Bagchi, the spokesman for India's External Affairs Ministry, told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday. Bagchi did not say who would represent the country at the summit. "We will let you know when I am in a position to do so," the spokesman said. The head of Ukraine's presidential office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed Sunday that a Ukrainian-organized peace summit would take place in Saudi Arabia. Ukraine, the United States, Brazil, India, South Africa and several other countries were expected to take part. Ukraine has in the past described its 10-point peace plan as including the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.

Hundreds rally in support of Niger's ruling junta

Associated Press/August 03/2023
Hundreds of people rallied in support of Niger's ruling junta in the capital on Thursday, denouncing France and others who have criticized a recent coup — as the country's military leaders sought to exploit anti-Western sentiment to shore up their takeover. As numbers began to swell at a demonstration organized by the junta and civil society groups on Niger's independence day, protesters in Niamey pumped their fists in the air and chanted out support for neighboring countries that have also seen military takeovers in recent years. Some waved Russian flags, and one man brandished a Russian and Nigerien flag sewn together.Last week's coup toppled President Mohamed Bazoum — whose ascendency marked Niger's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France. It has been accompanied by strident anti-French sentiment and raised questions about the future of the fight against extremism in Africa's Sahel region, where Russia and Western countries have vied for influence. The coup has been strongly condemned by Western countries and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which has threatened to use force to remove the junta if they don't hand back power to Bazoum. As tensions have grown in the capital and the region, many European countries have moved to evacuate their citizens. At Thursday's protest, many expressed support for the coup leaders and denounced interference from others. "For more than 13 years, the Nigerien people have suffered injustices," said protester Moctar Abdou Issa. The junta "will get us out of this, God willing … they will free the Nigerien people." "We're sick of the French," he added. It remains unclear whether the majority of the population supports the coup — and in many parts of the capital, people went about their lives on Thursday as normal. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, the new military ruler, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, lashed out at those who have condemned the coup and called on the population to be ready to defend the nation. Tchiani said Niger will face difficult times ahead and that the "hostile and radical" attitudes of those who oppose his rule provide no added value. He called harsh sanctions imposed last week by ECOWAS illegal, unfair, inhuman and unprecedented. The bloc has set a deadline of Aug. 6 for the junta to reinstate Bazoum, who remains under house arrest. Its sanctions include halting energy transactions with Niger, which gets up to 90% of its power from neighboring Nigeria, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
In a closed door meeting on Wednesday, dozens of people from civil society organizations, professional groups and trade unions spoke with the coup leaders about their vision for the country. "We are talking about the immediate departure of all foreign forces," Mahaman Sanoussi, interim coordinator for M62, an anti-French political alliance that organized Thursday's protest, told The Associated Press. "The dignity of the Nigerien people will be respected by all without exception." But another civil society member at the gathering who refused to be named for security reasons told the AP they left feeling concerned. They had a strong impression that the French military was going to be ousted soon and that members of civil society groups would help the junta do it. France has 1,500 soldiers in Niger who conduct joint operations with its military against jihadis linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and the United States and other European countries have helped train the nation's troops. Niger was seen as the West's last reliable partner in the region, but some in the country see Russia and its Wagner mercenary group, which operates in a handful of African countries, as a powerful alternative.
The new junta has not said whether it intends to ally with Moscow or stick with Niger's Western partners, but that question has become central to the unfolding political crisis. Neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both ruled by juntas — have turned toward Moscow. Even if Niger's military rulers demand the withdrawal of French troops — as happened in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — it wouldn't make a difference, said Anne-Claire Legendre, a spokesperson for the French foreign minister during a press briefing on Wednesday. "We don't answer to the putschists. We recognize one constitutional order and one legitimacy only, that of President Bazoum," she said. Ahead of Thursday's demonstration, the French Embassy in Niamey asked Niger's government to take all measures to ensure the security and protection of its premises after it was attacked by protesters a door was set on fire.
The French military said that five flights using its planes had evacuated more than 1,000 people this week, and France's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that its evacuation operation has ended. The State Department on Wednesday ordered what it said was the temporary departure of nonessential embassy staff and some family members from Niger as a precaution. It said its embassy would remain open. Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that the State Department had not requested U.S. military assistance for the departure.
U.S. President Joe Biden used the occasion of Niger's independence day to call for Bazoum to be released and democracy restored.
"The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders. They have expressed their will through free and fair elections — and that must be respected," he said in a statement Thursday. Earlier this week, Nigeria cut off power transmission to Niger, an official at one of Nigeria's main electricity companies said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the issue. The official did not clarify how much of Niger's power the cut represented, but any reduction would further squeeze citizens in the impoverished country of more than 25 million people where the electricity supply is already unreliable. On Wednesday, the president's party accused the junta of cutting off electricity to his residence since that morning. "As a result, the president of the republic and his family no longer benefit from the rotating supply of energy," said Kalla Ankourao, the ruling party's general secretary.

Trump to face judge in DC over overturning 2020 presidential election results
Associated Press/August 03/2023
Donald Trump is due in federal court Thursday to answer to charges that he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, facing a judge near the U.S. Capitol building that his supporters stormed to try to block the peaceful transfer of power. In what's become a familiar but nonetheless stunning ritual, Trump is expected to be processed by law enforcement, be taken into custody and enter a not guilty plea in front of a judge before being released, so he can rejoin the campaign trail as he seeks to reclaim the White House in 2024. An indictment Tuesday from Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith charges Trump with four felony counts related to his efforts to undo his presidential election loss in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The charges could lead to a yearslong prison sentence in the event of a conviction. The Republican former president was the only person charged in the case, though prosecutors referenced six co-conspirators, mostly lawyers, they say he plotted with, including in a scheme to enlist fake electors in seven battleground states won by Democrat Joe Biden to submit false certificates to the federal government. The indictment chronicles how Trump and his Republican allies, in what Smith described as an attack on a "bedrock function of the U.S. government," repeatedly lied about the results in the two months after he lost the election and pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power. This is the third criminal case brought against Trump in the last six months. He was charged in New York with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actor during the 2016 presidential campaign. Smith's office also has charged him with 40 felony counts in Florida, accusing him of illegally retaining classified documents at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, and refusing government demands to give them back. He has pleaded not guilty in both those cases, which are set for trial next year. And prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are expected in coming weeks to announce charging decisions in an investigation into efforts to subvert election results in that state. Trump's lawyer John Lauro has asserted in television interviews that Trump's actions were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and that he relied on the advice of lawyers. Trump has claimed without evidence that Smith's team is trying to interfere with the 2024 presidential election, in which Trump is the early front-runner to claim the Republican nomination. Smith said in a rare public statement that he was seeking a speedy trial, though Lauro has said he intends to slow the case down so that the defense team can conduct its own investigation. The arraignment will be handled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadyaha, who joined the bench last year. But going forward, the case will be presided over by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an appointee of President Barack Obama who has stood out as one of the toughest punishers of the Capitol rioters. Chutkan has also ruled against Trump before, refusing in November 2021 to block the release of documents to the U.S. House's Jan. 6 committee by asserting executive privilege.

Sudan: Conflicting Statements over the Jeddah Negotiations
Wad Madani : Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
The Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) issued conflicting statements over the talks in Jeddah, while the Saudi and American mediators are running the process very discreetly. The army denied reaching any new truce, describing the statements about progress made in this regard as inaccurate.
Reports by sources, who are informed of the course of negotiations, had confirmed that the two sides reached understandings that could lead to the cessation of hostilities and a lasting truce in Sudan. Sudanese Armed Forces Spokesman Brigadier General Nabil Abdallah said that reports about an “alleged truce” were incorrect, pointing that the Army negotiating team was still in Sudan and that the talks were still halted. His comments came in response to statements by the Freedom and Change coalition, about an imminent ceasefire between the two sides, which would last for 60 days. Last week, the Sudanese Army announced that its delegation has returned from Jeddah on July 26, and that it was ready to resume the talks when obstacles are removed, pointing to ongoing disputes over essential points, including the evacuation of citizens’ homes, services facilities, hospitals and roads. For its part, the RSF stressed that its delegation would stay in Jeddah, attributing the faltering of the agreement to the army delegation’s condition to open a safe passage for the exit of its commanders besieged in military headquarters in Khartoum. The city of Jeddah has been hosting for three months direct and indirect talks between Sudan’s warring parties, with Saudi-American mediation. The negotiations led to the signing of a number of agreements, including a humanitarian declaration, which the parties failed to implement. The conflict has seen more than 3 million people uprooted, including more than 700,000 who have fled to neighboring countries.

Amnesty: Extensive War Crimes In Sudan's 'Unimaginable Horror'
Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
Extensive war crimes are being committed by both sides in the conflict that has been raging in Sudan since April, Amnesty International said on Thursday. The Britain-based human rights group said in a report that the crimes committed by the warring parties, led by two feuding generals, included sexual violence against girls as young as 12 and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. Since April 15, regular army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been locked in a war with his former deputy, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. "Civilians throughout Sudan are suffering unimaginable horror every single day as the Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese Armed Forces recklessly vie for control of territory," said Amnesty secretary general Agnes Callamard. "The RSF and SAF, as well as their affiliated armed groups, must end their targeting of civilians and guarantee safe passage for those seeking safety," she added, AFP reported. Burhan came to power, with Daglo as his number two, in an October 2021 coup that derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule after the military's ouster of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following a popular uprising. But the two men then fell out in a bitter feud. The fighting -- concentrated in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur -- has killed more than 3,900 people, according to the NGO ACLED and displaced more than 3.3 million, according to the UN. "Extensive war crimes are being committed in Sudan as the conflict... ravages the country," Amnesty said, adding there were "mass civilian casualties in both deliberate and indiscriminate attacks by the warring parties". It said men, women and children have been caught in the crossfire as both sides launch frequent attacks in densely populated residential neighbourhoods, often using explosive weapons with wide area effects. Amnesty said scores of women and girls, some as young as 12, have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, with some held for days in conditions of sexual slavery. In most of the cases documented by Amnesty International, survivors said the perpetrators were fighters of the RSF or its Arab militia allies. For its report, Amnesty said it had interviewed more than 180 people, primarily in eastern Chad where refugees from Darfur have fled, or remotely via secure calls. The group said it had put its allegations to the army and the RSF, who had both responded "claiming adherence to international law and accusing the other side of violations".

Jordanian authorities arrest drug trafficker with international gang links

The National/Aug 03, 2023
Jordanian security troops have arrested a "dangerous criminal" linked with international drug gangs in the northern city of Irbid, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. The authorities are intensifying a campaign against narcotics dealers in the kingdom, who mainly traffic the amphetamine known as Captagon, which is smuggled across the border from Syria. The spokesman said the man, "who is classified as dangerous and who is linked to international drug gangs", was arrested in recently in an apartment in Irbid "after a long reconnaissance effort". He said 287 pouches of hashish and 17,000 tablets were found in the apartment. The man's name and nationality were not released. Irbid is 15km from the border with Syria. The spokesman said that nine other traffickers were also arrested over the past days in Amman, the city of Ruseifeh, which is on the eastern outskirts of the capital, and in the central governorate of Balkaa. Last month, Syrian Defence Minister Ali Mahmoud met Jordanian officials in Amman and discussed ways to curb narcotics smuggling from Syria, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said. The meeting in Amman was the first for a joint security committee that the two sides agreed to set up at the start of this month to deal with the issue. Jordan has accused the Syrian military and pro-Iran militias in southern Syria of overseeing the smuggling. The kingdom has been part of an Arab rapprochement with President Bashar Al Assad, and supported the readmission of Damascus to the Arab League in May.

Barghouti’s Wife Leads Movement to Support Him as Possible Successor to Abbas
Ramallah: Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is detained in Israeli prisons, has been renewing attempts to support her husband as a possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In recent weeks, she held extensive meetings with senior officials in Arab countries, and diplomats in the United States, Russia and Europe, asking them to work for her husband’s release from Israeli prison. Israeli Haaretz newspaper said that the meetings also aimed at rallying international support for her husband, as the right person to head the Palestinian Authority, after the end of the term of President Mahmoud Abbas. Among the many officials Barghouti has recently met were Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, to whom she conveyed a letter from her husband to King Abdullah II, the Secretary-General of Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. During her meeting with Safadi, Barghouti discussed the launch of a wide international campaign in Europe, South Africa, Latin America and Ireland, entitled “Freedom for Marwan Barghouti, the Mandela of Palestine.” Barghouti sees her husband as “a savior for the Palestinian cause”, and stresses that he is “an urgent national need, as a symbol of national consensus, who is capable of ending division, and achieving and restoring the unity of the Palestinian people, the cause, and the land.” Marwan Barghouti, 65, has been detained in Israel since 2002. He was condemned to five life sentences and forty years in prison on charges of leading the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military arm of the Fatah movement, which is responsible for the killing of Israelis during the second Al-Aqsa Intifada that erupted in 2000. His name appears in every talk about the successor to Abbas, as he has maintained a significant lead over other candidates in all opinion polls. Sources close to Barghouti’s circles said that he would not hesitate to run for office in the upcoming presidential elections, and would not give up this right.

ISIS Says its Leader Was Killed in Syria and Names his Successor
Asharq Al Awsat/03 August 2023
ISIS announced on Thursday the death in Syria of its little-known leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi, who headed the extremist organization since November, and named his successor. The group did not say when al-Qurayshi was killed but added that he died in fighting with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. ISIS spokesman Abu Huthaifa al-Ansari said that Abu Hafs al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi was named as the group's new leader. Al-Qurayshi was the fourth ISIS leader to be killed since the group was founded by Iraqi militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared a so-called “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014 before its defeat years later. The spokesman, al-Ansari, said in an audio message that al-Qurayshi “was martyred” in opposition-held northwestern Syria by members of HTS when they tried to detain him in the province of Idlib.
“He fought them until he succumbed to his wounds,” al-Ansari said of al-Qurayshi, adding that the al-Qaeda-linked group detained some ISIS members who were with the late leader, including Abu Omar al-Muhajir, another spokesman, and that they are still being held.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on August 03-04/2023
Israel's protest movement - and the battle for its soul - really is a tale of two cities
Anshel Pfeffer/The National/August 03/2023
Few Israelis remember who Eliezer Kaplan was. The country’s first finance minister – the man whose job it was to find the money to build a state – died in 1952 at the age of 61, with his job far from finished. But the timing of Mr Kaplan’s death, and the important position he had occupied in the country’s early years, meant his name was commemorated in some central locations, even though it means nothing to nearly everyone who passes there today.
In West Jerusalem, Kaplan Street goes through the central government quarter. At one end is Israel’s Supreme Court, then the Foreign Ministry, the Bank of Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry. At the other end is the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
There’s a Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv as well. It’s one of the main entrances to the city and on it is another of the main government compounds – the Defence Ministry and the headquarters of the Israeli army.
Over the past eight months, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets protesting the plans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to drastically weaken the Supreme Court, both Kaplan streets have been venues for massive anti-government rallies. The name has become so synonymous with the protests that one of the main organising groups has even named itself “Kaplan Force”. But when they call, through a thousand WhatsApp messages saying, “tonight everyone is on Kaplan”, there’s no need to specify which Kaplan they’re referring to.
The protests are happening around Israel, at over a hundred locations, but it’s been clear all along that their focal point is Tel Aviv. That is where they began 30 weeks ago, in the square outside the Ha’Bimah national theatre, gradually spreading to Kaplan Street and ending most nights blocking the Ayalon Highway. It’s where the biggest numbers have gathered and the battles with police have been the fiercest.
Thousands have joined a weekly rally on Saturday nights outside the President’s residence in Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital but the international community does not recognise. And a few massive rallies have been held outside the Knesset and the Supreme Court. But Tel Aviv remains the capital of Israel as far as the protest movement is concerned.
Five days before the Knesset was due to vote on abolishing the Supreme Court’s use of the “Reasonableness Standard”, which allowed the Court to strike down laws it deemed particularly objectionable, the protesters began marching to Jerusalem. By the time they arrived, over 70,000 had joined the final stage of the march, walking up the steep approaches to the city in the sweltering sun on a Saturday afternoon.
For many, the long snaking chain of men, women and children, lining Highway One with their Israeli flags and protest banners, was a stirring sight, but it also made clear that for the broad protest movement, Jerusalem was an away match, while in Tel Aviv they are on home turf.
This is not just about the numbers or where people actually live. Even before Israel’s foundation in 1948, there was a tension within the Zionist movement between members in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The official headquarters of the movement, the Jewish Agency, had its main offices in Jerusalem. But much of the organisational muscle, the Histadrut trade union federation, was down on the coast in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem was an ancient “mixed” city. In addition to its Muslims, Christians and great mix of nationalities, many of the Jews living in Jerusalem were ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists. And while Zionism claimed Jerusalem as its capital, Tel Aviv, the new, so-called “First Hebrew City” was rapidly becoming its main centre of commerce and culture.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv. Eighteen months later, when he decreed that the Knesset and the rest of the government’s offices would move to Jerusalem, though only a tiny of handful nations recognise it as the capital, there was a general outcry among the officials. Few of them wanted to move from the comfort of Tel Aviv to what was then a poor border town, the eastern part of which, along with a section of the main highway to the coast, was under Jordanian control. Commuting along the other narrow winding road would take three hours each way. Ben-Gurion got his way, but the Defence Ministry and the Histadrut stuck in their heels and stayed in Tel Aviv.
Despite the declarations of Israeli politicians, few of whom actually lived in Jerusalem, over the decades that Jerusalem has been called “Israel’s eternal undivided capital” it was and remains a divided city. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967 didn’t accept that. And the growing Jewish ultra-Orthodox community had ideas of its own as well. Today’s Jerusalem is three different cities, with the Palestinians in the east, the ultra-Orthodox in the north and the rest of the Israelis in the south and west.
While few in the protest movement are willing to admit it, the ongoing conflict within Israel over the powers of the Supreme Court and the future of Israel’s limited and fragile democracy is very much a battle between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv represents Israel as the secular and middle-class place Israelis want to believe their country is – liberal, high-tech, and western cosmopolitan. Jerusalem is the reality they have tried to ignore for so many years: a divided city, riven by nationalism and religion, where the Knesset and City Hall are controlled by right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties and the Palestine-Israel conflict and the occupation are a daily reality. They don’t feel at home there and would prefer not having to go and protest outside the Knesset if they had a choice. But as much as they wish it could be, the State of Tel Aviv is not autonomous, and Israel’s government, which they didn’t vote for, still controls them, and it represents West Jerusalem.
Even if the protesters and Israel’s opposition succeed in rolling back the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plans, Jerusalem and all the unresolved issues it stands for will still be there. They can no longer ignore it.

Syrians' Deportation from Türkiye: Murky Process of Disastrous Consequences
Fayez Sara/Asharq Al Awsat/August 03/2023
Türkiye continues to deport Syrians to the Turkish-controlled regions in Northwestern Syria. These areas are governed by groups affiliated with Türkiye, the most prominent of which include the Syrian Interim Government formed by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and Syrian National Army factions. Alongside them are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (which is led by Al-Qaeda's Abu Mohammad al-Jolani) and its Syrian Salvation Government.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have been deported over the past three months. Turkish government sources put the number at around 36,000, the majority of whom are young people who had been seized by police patrols on the street, in public squares, or during raids on Syrians’ homes and Turkish or Syrian owned establishments that employ Syrians. The authorities justify these deportations with claims that the individuals forced out of the country had violated residency regulations, either because they did not have proper documentation or did not have these documents on hand. The arrests are usually terrifying, with intense duress and intimidation commonplace, particularly if the detained individual does not speak Turkish.
Moreover, the process is fraught with uncontestable misconduct. First and foremost, these deportations violate international law, which prohibits the repatriation of refugees (regardless how they had entered) to anywhere other than the place they came from or to unsafe locations. The Turkish authorities are well aware that most of the deported individuals had not fled from regions in Northwestern Syria that they are being sent to, and that Northwestern Syria is far from safe. Indeed, it is brimming with corrupt warlords and militias affiliated with Al-Qaeda like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is led by Jolani. With assassinations, bombings, and forced disappearances rampant, residents cannot meet their basic needs, let alone those who are forcibly relocated.
The second grave failing of the deportation process is its disregard for legal procedures despite Türkiye generally adhering to the rule of law. The law should be applied equally to everyone within its borders, be they citizens, residents, visitors, or residents without legal status. Deportation, particularly when it is abrupt and discretionary, demands a keen examination of requisites and implications, including an assessment of the destination’s appropriateness. The judiciary should be tasked with determining the legality of such operations and whether the measures harm the individual, others, or the Turkish state itself. These procedures should not be left, as they currently are, solely to the discretion of the police, yet this is precisely what is happening.
The most consequential problem engendered by these deportations harms Syrians and Turks alike. Indeed, the way these deportations are carried out has created a climate of fear among the Syrian community, undermining the sense of security and stability they had painstakingly built during their years in Türkiye. Many started from nothing after arriving as refugees, and have since built homes, gained meaningful employment, learned Turkish, and sent their children into schools and universities. The abrupt and arbitrary deportations, particularly when the family's breadwinner and children are forcibly expelled from the country, put everything they had meticulously built with their blood, sweat, and tears in jeopardy, pushing many Syrians to reconsider their future in Türkiye and to contemplate limited and challenging alternatives.
The repercussions that this misconduct creates are far less dangerous than the social media posts depicting them, which are often accompanied by images and narratives that fuel bitterness, animosity, and even racism against Turks. Indeed, this is deeply concerning at a time when both Syrians and Turks should be nurturing sentiments of goodwill, kinship, and collaboration. The fact that these are deeply connected neighboring nations makes this all the more pressing. Furthermore, 3.5 million Syrians currently reside in Türkiye, making the need for empathy and understanding between the two communities an urgent priority.
The manner in which the deportations are being conducted thus genuinely adversely impact Turks as well as Syrians, as it reflects negatively on Türkiye's image. It exposes Türkiye’s violation of its obligations to international law and shed doubt on its status as a just country of laws. These actions have no acceptable justification, even as Turkish authorities constantly reiterate their commitment to ensuring that Syrian refugees can live normally.
There is another way in which these actions negatively affect the Turks. They fuel racist attitudes against Syrians and Arabs in general, which have gotten worse in recent years; besides damaging the Turks' image, then, these actions undermine Türkiye's ties to Arab countries. This comes at a time when the Turkish government is striving to resolve its problems and restore its relationships with the Arabs, including the countries with which it has had fraught relations for years.
To sum up, there is an urgent need to address this issue. It must be placed in a framework that goes beyond the current circumstances in Syria. The deportations must be informed by the broader perspective of neighborly relations and the fraternal ties between these two peoples, as well the opportunities for the two countries to cooperate in the future. Greater scrutiny is needed to understand the context, and the deportations must be carried out within a legal framework that accounts for both humanitarian and Turkish law. Taking these measures would help contain the negative repercussions on both Arabs and Turks, and it would stop Turkish-Syrian relations from declining further, both now and in the future.