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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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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said. The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based…

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.

 

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Middle East News

Iranian opposition groups protest in Brussels

  BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said. The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based…

Iranian opposition groups protest in Brussels

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.

 

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Sudan says military council suspends decree on UN sites

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah reacts angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a US deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians. Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice…

Sudan says military council suspends decree on UN sites

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah reacts angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a US deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians.

Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?”

Already facing economic discontent at home, Abdullah must navigate diplomatic moves by his US allies that are upturning a regional status-quo.

After Israel’s creation in 1948 Jordan absorbed more Palestinians than any other country, with some estimates that they now account for more than half the population.

Any changes to the international consensus on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, long buttressed by US policy, therefore reverberate harder in Jordan than anywhere else.

HIGhLIGHTS

• ‘Deal of the Century’ challenges Jordan’s internal balance.

• Many Jordanians reject leaked details of plan.

• Some Jordanians hope deal could bring prosperity.

US President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict is still secret, though leaked details suggest it dumps the idea of a full Palestinian state in favor of limited self-rule in part of the Occupied Territories, which would undermine Palestinians’ right to return.

It envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, with Palestinians also having a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders, the leaks say.

Jordanian fears about what the plan portends for the region, for their Palestinian citizens, and for the politics of their own country, have been aggravated by Trump’s readiness to upturn US policy.

American officials deny contemplating making Jordan a Palestinian homeland, pushing it to take a role in governing parts of the West Bank or challenging the right of King Abdullah’s dynasty to custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Disturbing signals

But Trump’s approach to the issue, and recent statements by his ambassador to Israel that it had a right to annex some of the West Bank have done little to assuage Jordanian concerns.

Few subjects in Jordan are more politically charged than the role, presence and future there of Palestinians. The issue is so sensitive that the government publishes no data on how many of its 8 million citizens are also of Palestinian descent, though a recent US congressional report put it at more than half.

Despite the US denials, Jordanians fear that Trump is returning to an old Israeli theme: That Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go.

It could not have come at a worse time for the 57-year-old Abdullah, whose country is facing economic challenges that led to protests and a change of government last year.

While many Palestinians are integrated in Jordan, and many descendants of refugees have never set foot in their original homeland, some native Jordanians have never acknowledged that they will stay permanently.

They fear Trump’s plan could alter the demography and politics of a nation shaped by the presence of Palestinians, who hold full citizenship but are marginalized and seen as a political threat by some people of Jordanian descent.

But Abdullah’s decision that Jordan should attend an economic conference showed that despite mounting alarm at home, Amman cannot ignore pressure from richer, more powerful allies in the West and the Gulf.

Internal worries

Maintaining unity between citizens of Jordanian and Palestinian descent has been critical to the ruling family’s role as a unifying force in a country where tribal and clan loyalties hold sway.

The king is already facing anger from the “Herak” opposition, drawn from Jordanians of native descent, who say Trump’s plans will tear apart a state patronage system that has cemented their own loyalty to the monarchy.

Retired army officers have held small weekly protests in opposition to a deal.

“No to eroding our national identity and dismantling the state,” said Saad Alaween, a prominent Herak dissident, referring to the deal.

Some warn the monarch not to accept a plan that could give their compatriots of Palestinian origin more political rights in an electoral system tilted in favor of native Jordanians.

Rumours that the plan could lead to Jordan taking in Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, or that it would merge with a rump of Palestinian territory in bits of the West Bank, have also led to alarm.

In a sign of his concerns, the king has even met lawmakers from the once outcast movement in an attempt, say officials, to win the backing of the largest opposition grouping with support in large cities and Palestinian camps.

“Trump wants to buy and sell Jordan and create a new regime. We are behind the king in opposing this,” said Muraed Al-Adaylah, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdullah also inspired a shake-up in the intelligence establishment — long seen as a guardian of Jordan’s stability — to solidify the internal front and mitigate any fallout from the deal in the months to come, insiders say.

In the army — whose loyalty to the crown is deeply meshed with Jordanian national identity — there are also signs of concern.

“Jordan is a country that has sovereignty and history, and will say its word at the right moment,” said General Mahmoud Al-Friehat, the army’s chief of staff.

Foreign pressure

Jordan’s long-term strategic and economic policy is based on close relations with the West and the Gulf — an approach that underlay its decision to make peace with Israel in 1994.

Abdullah has made repeated visits to Washington, where officials say he was not told details of the White House plan.

That has only accentuated the sense of alarm among a political establishment that sees a day of reckoning coming with Trump’s deal, two officials and a politician said.

The royal palace has pointed to demonstrations in dozens of rural towns and cities as a message to Washington that it cannot impose a solution that permanently settles Palestinians in Jordan against its will.

Jordan has traditionally turned to monarchies in the Gulf to shore up its economy. However, their focus has shifted to their rivalry with Iran, cutting financial support and leaving Jordan more exposed than ever.

“Our Gulf allies are too beholden to Washington … to extend the level of support that can help us withstand the growing pressures,” said a senior official.

Although Jordan will join the conference to roll out the economic parts of Trump’s plan, it will deliver a message there that no cash offers can replace a political solution to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, officials say.

Still, some think economically challenged Jordan could profit from any plan that promises billions in aid and project finance.

Some businessmen have already positioned themselves to benefit and this month a prominent MP, Fawaz Al-Zubi, said Jordanians should be open-minded about anything they could gain from it.

In the camps where 2.2 million of Jordan’s registered refugees live, bitter realism seems to prevail.

Ibrahim Anabtawi, a second-generation refugee with six children, said that like others in the camp he had dug up old United Nations ration cards to prove their rights in case any new deal offered compensation.

“I won’t forget I am a Palestinian or give up the right of return,” said Anabtawi. But he added: “I have been persecuted all this time and no one stood by us. I now want anything that this deal and Trump offers.”

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