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Lebanon seizes 142 kg of illicit drugs in major bust with help from Saudi authorities

BEIRUT: As Lebanon marks 44 years since the start of its civil war on Saturday, families whose loved ones disappeared during the conflict hope they might finally get some answers.The small multi-confessional country passed a landmark law in November to determine the fate of thousands of Lebanese who went missing in the 1975-1990 war.But political…

Lebanon seizes 142 kg of illicit drugs in major bust with help from Saudi authorities

BEIRUT: As Lebanon marks 44 years since the start of its civil war on Saturday, families whose loved ones disappeared during the conflict hope they might finally get some answers.The small multi-confessional country passed a landmark law in November to determine the fate of thousands of Lebanese who went missing in the 1975-1990 war.But political parties once involved in the fighting must now encourage followers with key data such as the location of mass graves to come forward to help.Wadad Halwani, who heads the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing, says the new legislation has given grieving relatives a glimmer of hope.“It’s the first time we commemorate the war with a law to enshrine the right to know… the fate of all the missing, dead or alive,” she said.More than 150,000 people were killed during Lebanon’s civil war and some 17,000 people went missing, according to official figures.Halwani’s husband was among them, abducted, never to return.For more than a decade, she and a dozen other women have regularly protested in the garden outside the UN headquarters in Beirut, clutching faded photographs of their long-gone loved ones.The new law is “crucial to allow relatives of the missing to move on with their lives like everyone else, instead of wasting them waiting,” she said.Law 105 gives families the right to know the place of abduction or detention of their loved one, as well as the whereabouts of their remains and the right to retrieve them.To do this, the Cabinet must set up an official commission of inquiry to gather testimonies and investigate mass graves. But five months on, nothing has been done.Former lawmaker Ghassan Moukheiber, who co-drafted the law, said political will was key to moving forward.The “decision to pass this law now needs to be translated into appointing a commission and facilitating its work,” he said.The probing body is to include, among others, family representatives, lawyers, an academic and a forensic doctor.Once formed, its first task should be to draw up a unified list of all those missing, Moukheiber said.They will have to “track down… those still alive and work toward their return, as well as retrieving the remains of those killed or dead,” he said.The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it is willing to hand over all information and DNA samples it has collected into a database on the missing since 2012.But what Moukheiber describes as the commission’s “purely humanitarian” mission is also a highly sensitive one.After Lebanon’s war ended, Parliament in 1991 passed a general amnesty law that saw former warlords breathe a sigh of relief and move on to politics.Almost three decades later, their parties are still going strong, and persisting differences have repeatedly sparked government deadlocks.“A number of parties that were once militias and have… a past of war crimes have started to at least tentatively fear this commission’s future work,” Moukheiber said.With numerous groups implicated, choosing where to start will also be delicate.“In what mass grave should the inquiry begin?” asked the former lawmaker.“There are burial grounds all over Lebanon, in every area once under control of” an armed group, he said.“Choosing where and how to exhume these graves will require wisdom and courage.”All previous calls to investigate the fate of Lebanon’s missing have come up against uncooperative political parties and inactive governments.Researcher Lokman Slim, who has spent years gathering data on the missing, says there was little chance the commission would produce tangible results.“That a political authority with blood-drenched hands actually voted on this law just means that it doesn’t fear its consequences,” said the head of the Umam Documentation and Research center.“It knows very well that, as with so many issues in Lebanon, the law will simply remain ink on paper.”“In Parliament, in government, in the circles of Lebanese leaders, there are dozens… who have the detailed information we need about the fate of the missing or locations of mass graves,” Slim said.But he says he doubts the law’s ability to spark collective introspection into “what led them into a bloody war” in the first place.Relatives of the missing, however, are determined.“Successive governments have accused us of pouring salt into old wounds,” said Halwani. But “the whole of society needs to know the truth because it’s the only way forward toward real reconciliation,” she added.

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US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes…

US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes in both — the Muslim Brotherhood.“Part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan is to control vital targets, and they have long eyed energy resources in this region, and attempted to take control,” said Hajjaj Bou Khaddour, a Kuwaiti energy expert.“Bouteflika is down, but the demonstrations persist. The plan is to cause a complete overhaul of the system and that means they want to change everything, not only in politics, but also in terms of vital departments in the government and its related entities, especially in the oil and gas sector.”Should that happen, it would destabilize the most profitable sector in the country.Algeria produces more than a million barrels of oil a day, making it the ninth-largest OPEC producer and the 17th worldwide. It is also a major gas producer, and exports over 50 percent of its crude (90 percent of it to Western Europe) and 60 percent of its gas. Hydrocarbons account for 60 percent of national revenue, 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of export earnings.What a prize — and all of it under threat. The International Energy Agency gave assurances last month that Algeria’s oil production was not affected by the political tension, but Bou Khaddour believes that could all quickly change. “The current situation in Algeria is vague and unclear. I do believe there may be further escalation,” he said.Meanwhile, it appears to be business as usual at the state-run oil and gas company Sonatrach, which last week signed two multimillion-dollar onshore contracts with a rig contractor. There are, however, signs that not all is well. Two major deals involving Sonatrach have recently fallen through, one of them a majority shareholding in Greece’s biggest refiner. The Greek government blamed “recent developments in the international environment” and reasons related to shortlisted parties, one of which was Sonatrach.The company is rarely far from controversy. It has been mired in a series of corruption scandals and prosecutions since 2010, and several of its former executives are serving prison sentences.And it is here, expert sources have told Arab News, that the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood may emanate. The group wants to use the current political upheaval to install its own affiliates as new leading figures in the oil and gas sector. Several names have been discussed in private.They include individuals involved in previous Sonatrach corruption cases, who managed to escape judicial penalty and have been living comfortable lives abroad until they are ready to make a comeback.One former Sonatrach executive in the crude-oil trading department, who was dismissed in 2018 in a post-corruption clearout, is thought to have ties with Lord Energy, a Swiss company closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood — and even, through its founder’s family, with Al-Qaeda.Algeria’s current political leadership understands the gravity of the situation very well, especially when it comes to supporting the stability of the lucrative oil and gas sector to ensure a smoothly run business locally and internationally.The interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, insisted last week that the government would “ensure the proper functioning of the administration and public services.”The new government also wants to reassure Algerians that public money is a better way to start than by fighting corruption, following the money trail; and naturally the oil and gas sector would be on the hit list.The military Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah has promised that the “judiciary will reopen all corruption cases,” targeting the “entire gang involved in the embezzlement and squandering of public funds.” These past cases, he said, will include Sonatrach.The accusations being reinvestigated date back to 2010 and reached as high as the energy minister at the time, Chakib Khelil. He was dismissed shortly after the scandal erupted, as were several others, until the case was dropped by the Algerian judiciary in 2016.Officials were accused of taking bribes from international energy companies, including SNC Lavalin of Canada and ENI of Italy, in return for access to Algeria’s oil and gas sector. A former vice president of Sonatrach, Chawki Rahal, whose son worked for ENI, was among those named in the case.Sources say other former officials from Sonatrach may well be summoned by the judiciary and interrogated, including former Chief Executive Amine Mazouzi. He was axed in 2017 and replaced by Abdulmomen Ould Kaddour, who then led a clean-up campaign within the company.Omar Maaliou, the former vice president of Sonatrach in charge of commercialization and trading, could also be summoned for questioning in the case should all files be opened, according to the sources.Maaliou was let go by Sonatrach in 2018, a year after Mazouzi was fired, and now lives in Canada.Should all the old files be opened by the judiciary, Algerian sources say this may constitute the largest corruption case in the history of Algeria in terms of the size of losses that Sonatrach had caused the country, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Leila Hatoum is a Lebanese journalist who has covered geopolitics and macroeconomics across the Middle East and North African regions for the past 18 years.

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In Algeria, the Brotherhood sets its sights on the country’s black gold

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes…

In Algeria, the Brotherhood sets its sights on the country’s black gold

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes in both — the Muslim Brotherhood.“Part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan is to control vital targets, and they have long eyed energy resources in this region, and attempted to take control,” said Hajjaj Bou Khaddour, a Kuwaiti energy expert.“Bouteflika is down, but the demonstrations persist. The plan is to cause a complete overhaul of the system and that means they want to change everything, not only in politics, but also in terms of vital departments in the government and its related entities, especially in the oil and gas sector.”Should that happen, it would destabilize the most profitable sector in the country.Algeria produces more than a million barrels of oil a day, making it the ninth-largest OPEC producer and the 17th worldwide. It is also a major gas producer, and exports over 50 percent of its crude (90 percent of it to Western Europe) and 60 percent of its gas. Hydrocarbons account for 60 percent of national revenue, 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of export earnings.What a prize — and all of it under threat. The International Energy Agency gave assurances last month that Algeria’s oil production was not affected by the political tension, but Bou Khaddour believes that could all quickly change. “The current situation in Algeria is vague and unclear. I do believe there may be further escalation,” he said.Meanwhile, it appears to be business as usual at the state-run oil and gas company Sonatrach, which last week signed two multimillion-dollar onshore contracts with a rig contractor. There are, however, signs that not all is well. Two major deals involving Sonatrach have recently fallen through, one of them a majority shareholding in Greece’s biggest refiner. The Greek government blamed “recent developments in the international environment” and reasons related to shortlisted parties, one of which was Sonatrach.The company is rarely far from controversy. It has been mired in a series of corruption scandals and prosecutions since 2010, and several of its former executives are serving prison sentences.And it is here, expert sources have told Arab News, that the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood may emanate. The group wants to use the current political upheaval to install its own affiliates as new leading figures in the oil and gas sector. Several names have been discussed in private.They include individuals involved in previous Sonatrach corruption cases, who managed to escape judicial penalty and have been living comfortable lives abroad until they are ready to make a comeback.One former Sonatrach executive in the crude-oil trading department, who was dismissed in 2018 in a post-corruption clearout, is thought to have ties with Lord Energy, a Swiss company closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood — and even, through its founder’s family, with Al-Qaeda.Algeria’s current political leadership understands the gravity of the situation very well, especially when it comes to supporting the stability of the lucrative oil and gas sector to ensure a smoothly run business locally and internationally.The interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, insisted last week that the government would “ensure the proper functioning of the administration and public services.”The new government also wants to reassure Algerians that public money is a better way to start than by fighting corruption, following the money trail; and naturally the oil and gas sector would be on the hit list.The military Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah has promised that the “judiciary will reopen all corruption cases,” targeting the “entire gang involved in the embezzlement and squandering of public funds.” These past cases, he said, will include Sonatrach.The accusations being reinvestigated date back to 2010 and reached as high as the energy minister at the time, Chakib Khelil. He was dismissed shortly after the scandal erupted, as were several others, until the case was dropped by the Algerian judiciary in 2016.Officials were accused of taking bribes from international energy companies, including SNC Lavalin of Canada and ENI of Italy, in return for access to Algeria’s oil and gas sector. A former vice president of Sonatrach, Chawki Rahal, whose son worked for ENI, was among those named in the case.Sources say other former officials from Sonatrach may well be summoned by the judiciary and interrogated, including former Chief Executive Amine Mazouzi. He was axed in 2017 and replaced by Abdulmomen Ould Kaddour, who then led a clean-up campaign within the company.Omar Maaliou, the former vice president of Sonatrach in charge of commercialization and trading, could also be summoned for questioning in the case should all files be opened, according to the sources.Maaliou was let go by Sonatrach in 2018, a year after Mazouzi was fired, and now lives in Canada.Should all the old files be opened by the judiciary, Algerian sources say this may constitute the largest corruption case in the history of Algeria in terms of the size of losses that Sonatrach had caused the country, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Leila Hatoum is a Lebanese journalist who has covered geopolitics and macroeconomics across the Middle East and North African regions for the past 18 years.

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Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history. Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years. “The shape of the…

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”

 

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