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Hezbollah says its ‘arm won’t be twisted’ as Lebanon crisis deepens

WASHINGTON: US troop levels in northern Syria will probably stabilize around 500, a top American military leader said Sunday, weeks after President Donald Trump had announced a complete withdrawal.“There will be less than 1,000, for sure,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Probably in the 500ish…

Hezbollah says its ‘arm won’t be twisted’ as Lebanon crisis deepens

WASHINGTON: US troop levels in northern Syria will probably stabilize around 500, a top American military leader said Sunday, weeks after President Donald Trump had announced a complete withdrawal.“There will be less than 1,000, for sure,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Probably in the 500ish frame, maybe six.”Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he had ordered a full troop withdrawal drew angry rebukes at home and abroad, with critics saying it could allow a resurgence of Daesh, while leaving US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria vulnerable to a Turkish invasion.The US president later relented in part, saying he would leave some troops in the region to protect valuable oil fields.Milley, who has commanded troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, told ABC that it was important for US troops to remain in Syria so long as Daesh has a presence there.“There are still Daesh fighters in the region,” he said, using an alternate term for Daesh. “Unless pressure is maintained, unless attention is maintained on that group, there’s a very real possibility there could be a re-emergence of Daesh.”Asked about the killing Oct. 26 of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi by a US special forces unit, Milley said it would have a “significant disruptive effect on the organization.” He said the US had “a considerable amount of information on his successor,” Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Quraishi.“Where opportunities arise,” Milley said, “we’ll go after him.”Trump has said he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible, but Milley predicted that American troops, already in Afghanistan for 18 years, would remain there “for several more years.”He was also asked whether he knew Alexander Vindman, the army lieutenant colonel and White House Ukraine expert who has testified about his concerns over a controversial phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.Milley declined to comment “on a witness to an active investigation” — the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into Trump.

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Middle East News

Blast in northern Sinai kills 3 Egyptian troops

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil. Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late…

Blast in northern Sinai kills 3 Egyptian troops

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi’s bid in order to keep the job for himself.

“Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour,” said a source familiar with the FPM’s view.

A statement by Hariri’s office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to “score points” despite Lebanon’s “major national crisis”.

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

“We are in a deadlock now. I don’t know when it will move again. It is not easy,” said a senior political source. “The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.”

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one.”

Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.

Lebanon’s bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.

 

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Middle East News

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil. Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political…

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate’s withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi’s bid in order to keep the job for himself.

“Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour,” said a source familiar with the FPM’s view.

A statement by Hariri’s office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to “score points” despite Lebanon’s “major national crisis”.

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

“We are in a deadlock now. I don’t know when it will move again. It is not easy,” said a senior political source. “The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.”

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one.”

Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.

Lebanon’s bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.

 

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Middle East News

Egypt to reduce subsidised staple food prices

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security and medical officials say protesters have pushed closer to the Green Zone, Baghdad’s fortified seat of government, after security forces pulled back following a night of violent altercations.The officials said Saturday that protesters took control of the strategic Khilani Square and part of Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone, which houses…

Egypt to reduce subsidised staple food prices

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security and medical officials say protesters have pushed closer to the Green Zone, Baghdad’s fortified seat of government, after security forces pulled back following a night of violent altercations.The officials said Saturday that protesters took control of the strategic Khilani Square and part of Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone, which houses Parliament and several foreign embassies.Security forces are still deployed on part of the bridge in order to block the protesters from pushing into the Green Zone.

Meanwhile, Iraq closed its southern Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran to travellers from both countries on Saturday, an Iraqi security source and an Iranian diplomat said.The security source said Tehran had demanded the closure because of ongoing public protests in both Iran and Iraq. The border would remain shut until further notice but would not affect goods or trade, the security source and the diplomat said.Officials say a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded 18 late Friday near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement. Another roadside blast in the southern city of Nassiriya wounded 18 that same evening.The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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