Lebanese must solve presidential crisis themselves, says French envoy

Special Lebanese must solve presidential crisis themselves, says French envoy
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Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati meets with former French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Beirut, Lebanon, June 22, 2023. (Reuters)
Special Lebanese must solve presidential crisis themselves, says French envoy
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Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al-Rai meets with France’s new special envoy for Lebanon Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Bkerke on June 22, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 22 June 2023

Lebanese must solve presidential crisis themselves, says French envoy

Lebanese must solve presidential crisis themselves, says French envoy
  • Jean-Yves Le Drian says he will not interfere, but will ‘always be there to support’ after meetings with Lebanese leaders
  • Lebanese opposition leader Samir Geagea says country needs sovereign solutions, not international intervention

BEIRUT: France’s presidential envoy has told politicians in Lebanon that he will strive to help the country out of its presidential crisis but that solutions must “come from the Lebanese themselves.”

Jean-Yves Le Drian said during his two-day trip to Beirut that France did “not have any proposals” on how to get a president elected but that France would “always be there to support.”

His visit comes a week after parliament failed for the 12th time to elect a new head of state. It is now nearly eight months since Michel Aoun left the job with no replacement.

Hezbollah and the Amal movement support Sleiman Frangieh, while blocs representing Christians in parliament support former minister Jihad Azour. Neither side has been able to secure the majority to elect their candidate.

Le Drian’s second day in the country included meetings with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, opposition leader Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces, and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros Al-Rahi.

Mikati’s office issued a stock statement after his meeting, stating that Lebanon’s government had completed the “required reform projects and signed a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and the approval of these projects in parliament gives impetus to the desired economic and social solutions.”

After meeting the Patriarch, Le Drian said: “I will communicate with all Lebanese parties to find a way out of the crisis, and I will strive to establish an agenda of reforms that provides hope for Lebanon to overcome its crisis.

“I will listen to everyone, and this visit will be followed by another to find a way out of the impasse.”

Le Drian arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to warnings by some Lebanese politicians, including Geagea, not to interfere in the country’s affairs and amid Hezbollah’s claims that France wanted its preferred candidate in the presidential palace. 

Geagea described his meeting on Thursday with the envoy as “exploratory.” 

“With all due respect for France, we do not want its intervention, nor do we want Iran’s intervention,” he said. “We want a sovereign internal decision. We only want to elect a president.”

The issue of the presidential vacuum requires 128 MPs, and not international intervention, Geagea said after the talks.

Reformist MP Melhem Khalaf  said that Lebanese officials needed to think rationally and solve the impasse before foreign parties started interfering in Lebanese affairs again.

Protest strike after Israel uses drone to kill Palestinian fighters

Protest strike after Israel uses drone to kill Palestinian fighters
Updated 23 June 2023

Protest strike after Israel uses drone to kill Palestinian fighters

Protest strike after Israel uses drone to kill Palestinian fighters

RAMALLAH: A general strike was declared in the flashpoint city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Thursday in protest against the killing of three Palestinians by an Israeli drone 24 hours earlier.

The attack came amid a surge in violence over recent days.

The Israeli military said a squad of militants was identified in a vehicle after they carried out a shooting attack near the town of Jalamah.

A statement by the Islamic Jihad militant group said two of the men were its fighters, while the third was from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement.

Although the use of surveillance drones is commonplace, the strike by an Elbit Hermes drone was the first by the Israeli military in the West Bank since 2006, the IDF said.

Helicopter gunships were also used in the Jenin operation.

Israeli military expert Eyal Alima told Arab News that gunmen pose the primary threat to the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank, so the military decided to use drones to remove the danger.

Alima added that the Israeli security services oppose any large-scale military operation in the northern West Bank as they fear that the fallout may outweigh any benefit.

However, according to Israeli political expert Yoni Ben Menachem, Israel is resorting to assassinations because the US is preventing it from carrying out a military operation in the northern West Bank.

Saudi Arabia strongly condemned on Thursday the attacks by Israeli settlers on several Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed a Palestinian town on Wednesday, setting fire to dozens of cars and homes.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s categorical rejection of acts of intimidation of Palestinian civilians.

It renewed its unwavering support for all international efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue based on international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Meanwhile, Israeli data revealed on Thursday that the far-right Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the construction of 13,000 units in the West Bank settlements during the past six months, double the number approved in 2020.

Netanyahu announced on Wednesday the expansion of the Eli settlement, north of Ramallah, with about 1,000 units.

During the final year of former US President Donald Trump’s term, work began on about 7,000 settlement units in the West Bank. It was considered a particularly successful year for settlement construction in the West Bank as the number of approved units crossed the 10,000 mark.

Despite President Joe Biden’s opposition, the current Israeli government has reached 13,000 approved units in just six months.

The government continues to implement its settlement campaigns despite international warnings, the latest of which was a statement by the UN head Antonio Guterres on Monday calling on Israel to stop its “disturbing decisions” related to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

In a recent US-brokered agreement with the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government agreed to avoid legalizing outposts in the West Bank for six months. 

Current Israeli ministers and former military commanders are calling on the Netanyahu government to launch a large-scale military operation in northern West Bank cities.

Avigdor Lieberman, former defense minister, said on Thursday: “Qassam (the military arm of Hamas) rockets will be launched toward settlements in the northern West Bank and Gush Dan from Jenin soon.

“Every sane person understands that the Palestinian organizations in the northern West Bank are working to obtain a missile capability, and it is only a matter of time before they will have dozens or perhaps hundreds of Qassam rockets at their disposal, as it started in the Gaza Strip.”

Lieberman demanded that the strikes be directed at the Gaza Strip, saying: “Those who want to eliminate the resistance in the West Bank should start from the Gaza Strip, and this means start targeting Hamas leaders.”

Hunger, disease stalk Sudan town crowded with displaced

Hunger, disease stalk Sudan town crowded with displaced
Updated 22 June 2023

Hunger, disease stalk Sudan town crowded with displaced

Hunger, disease stalk Sudan town crowded with displaced

WAD MADANI, Sudan: In war-torn Sudan, a Blue Nile river town has become a relative sanctuary from the fighting, but survivors living there endure overcrowding, widespread disease and creeping hunger.

One of the internally displaced people who made it to Wad Madani, a 200-km drive southeast of the embattled capital Khartoum, was mother-of-three Fatima Mohammed.

Then, 10 days ago, she succumbed to illness, leaving behind three children — Ithar, 11, Dalal, nine, and Ibrahim, seven — who now largely fend for themselves in the courtyard of the Al-Jeili Salah school.

They are among hundreds of thousands who have run for their lives since the war erupted in mid-April between two rival generals in the northeast African country.

More than 2,000 people have died in the conflict between the forces of army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his former deputy Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Many people have found refuge in makeshift camps set up in schools, university dormitories and other buildings in Wad Madani, nestled on a bend of the Blue Nile in a cotton farming region of Al-Jazirah state.

Another survivor, Soukaina Abdel Rahim, now lives with six of her family members in a room in the girls’ dormitory at Al-Jazirah University in the east of Wad Madani.

“For a family, the accommodation is uncomfortable, there is a lack of space and privacy,” she said. 

“We share the showers and toilets with 20 other rooms on the floor, each of which accommodates an entire family.”

Basic services are scarce in the region which is now sweltering in summer heat and frequent rainy season downpours.

“Often, there are long water and electricity cuts,” said Hanan Adam, who has been displaced with her husband and their four children.

“With the high temperatures and the proliferation of mosquitoes, all my children have contracted malaria,” she added about the disease that was a major killer in the country even before the war.

However, managing to see a doctor in Wad Madani today amounts to a minor miracle.

In one of the town’s camps, the aid group Doctors Without Borders has been able to dispatch just one medical doctor and four nurses for about 2,000 displaced people.

Humanitarian aid groups long active in Sudan have been overwhelmed, and at times targeted, in the war. Many of their Sudanese staff are exhausted or holed up in their homes, while foreign staff wait for visas.

For years millions of Sudanese relied on aid, and now food shortages are becoming ever more dire.

“We have received food parcels but there is no infant milk in them,” said Soumaya Omar, a mother of five children aged six months to 10 years.

However, she said, amid Sudan’s runaway inflation and massive shortages, “we do not have the means to buy it.”

Sometimes it is neighbors who jump in and provide meals for those in desperate need, including at the Abdallah Moussa school in the west of Wad Madani.

A small team of young volunteers was distributing plates to families who are unable to cook because the building lacks kitchen facilities.

But such initiatives are not enough in a country where, even before the war, one in three people suffered from hunger.

A doctor who works across the town’s 13 displacement camps said that “malnutrition is beginning to affect children.”

He added: “We are already seeing worrying cases arrive in the clinics of the camps for the displaced.”

Sudan’s own capacity to produce food has deteriorated further, having already been impacted by water scarcity and decades of sanctions under former President Omar Bashir, who was toppled in 2019.

UNICEF said one of Sudan’s many buildings destroyed in the war was Khartoum’s Samil factory which had previously met 60 percent of the nutritional needs for children in need.

According to the UN children’s agency, some 620,000 Sudanese children now suffer from acute malnutrition, and half of them could die if they do not receive help soon.

However, UN and non-government aid agencies are short of funds and, above all, unable to transport what relief goods they have as fighting rages in multiple hotspots across the country.

Qatar prime minister, Russian FM discuss bilateral relations, international issues

Qatar prime minister, Russian FM discuss bilateral relations, international issues
Updated 22 June 2023

Qatar prime minister, Russian FM discuss bilateral relations, international issues

Qatar prime minister, Russian FM discuss bilateral relations, international issues
  • Al-Thani and Lavrov discuss developments in Palestine, Yemen and Syria
  • The prime minister reiterated Qatar’s position in support of all international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis

MOSCOW: Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani met with Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, and discussed bilateral relations and international issues.
During the Qatari official’s visit to Moscow, both parties discussed major issues, especially the latest developments in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the Iranian nuclear file, and developments in Palestine, Yemen and Syria.
Qatar News Agency reported that during the meeting the prime minister reiterated his country’s position in support of all international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis through dialogue and diplomatic means, and avoid further escalation.
Al-Thani also stressed the importance of respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, emphasizing in this context the necessity of adhering to the UN Charter and the well-established principles of international law, including the obligations, under the charter, to settle international disputes by peaceful means, refrain from use or threat to use of force, and abide by the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of states.
The prime minister attended a luncheon hosted by Labrov in his honor with the accompanying delegation.

Egypt launches major study on shark behavior

Egypt launches major study on shark behavior
Updated 22 June 2023

Egypt launches major study on shark behavior

Egypt launches major study on shark behavior
  • Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad said that the program aims to train team members on the installation of monitoring devices and sensors to analyze shark behavior
  • On June 8, a Russian tourist was killed by a shark while swimming off the coast of Hurghada

Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad on Thursday witnessed a practical training session in the city of Hurghada to study the behavior of sharks on the country’s Red Sea coast.

The Nature Protection Sector team was taking part in a two-day session, described as the first of its kind in the entire Red Sea region.

Julia Spaet, an international expert specializing in the field, is supervising the program.

Fouad said that the course aims to train the team on installing monitoring devices and sensors to monitor shark behavior.

The training covers three types of sharks responsible for all recorded incidents in the Red Sea in recent years, according to local and international statistics.

The risk factor and precautionary measures required during this period of the year as well as the numbers and sizes of sharks in the vicinity of Hurghada are also being assessed.

On Wednesday, the Environment Ministry anounced the start of the preparatory phase for the study.

The total study will extend for a period of up to 18 months in three phases.

The first phase is considered a preparatory stage for collecting data on previous incidents, analyzing the current situation, and manufacturing sensors.

Workers in nature reserves will also be trained to install these sensors to monitor shark behavior, all of which will be installed in the second phase.

The third phase includes analyzing the data collected by the sensors at different time intervals.

According to the Environment Ministry, the procedures for installing the sensors will include determining the type, size, and the general condition of the sharks.

On June 8, a Russian tourist was killed by a shark while swimming off the coast of Hurghada.

The footage of the attack went viral on social media.

The Environment Ministry formed a committee of specialists immediately afterwards to investigate the circumstances of the inccident.

Tourist destinations on the Red Sea among Egypt’s largest, with hundreds of tourist and hotel facilities, in addition to dozens of infrastructure facilities serving the industry.

Egypt’s Red Sea resorts host some of the country’s most renowned beach destinations and are popular with European travelers.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the governorates of the Red Sea and South Sinai contained 511 hotels in 2022, in addition to 439 centers for marine activities and diving.

Mideast gender-parity progress slows, claims WEF report

Mideast gender-parity progress slows, claims WEF report
Updated 22 June 2023

Mideast gender-parity progress slows, claims WEF report

Mideast gender-parity progress slows, claims WEF report
  • World equality likely to be achieved in year 2154
  • Iceland most equal for the 14th consecutive year

DUBAI: The rate of achieving gender equality has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but the pace of progress has slowed, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global Gender Gap Report.

The report found that the overall gender gap has closed by 0.3 percentage points compared to last year. It is expected that parity would only be achieved in the year 2154, the same forecast made by the WEF in its 2022 report.

The progress was partly due to improved education, with 117 out of 146 indexed countries now having closed at least 95 percent of the gap.

The economic participation and opportunity gap has closed by 60.1 percent; however, the political empowerment gap closed by a mere 22.1 percent.

“While there have been encouraging signs of recovery to pre-pandemic levels, women continue to bear the brunt of the current cost-of-living crisis and labor market disruptions,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum.

She added: “An economic rebound requires the full power of creativity and diverse ideas and skills. We cannot afford to lose momentum on women’s economic participation and opportunity.”

Iceland remains the most gender-equal country for the 14th consecutive year, followed by Norway, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden.

The Middle East and North Africa region remains the furthest from parity, with 62.6 percent of the gender gap closed representing a 0.9 percent point decline in parity since the last WEF report.

The UAE (71.2 percent), Israel (70 percent) and Bahrain (66.6 percent) have achieved the highest parity in the region, while five countries, led by Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, have increased their parity by 0.5 percent or more.

The UAE’s economic participation and opportunity score has improved from last year, with 53 percent of the gender gap closed.

Saudi Arabia has 52 percent of the global gender gap closed and has improved substantially in educational attainment for women and girls.

The Global Gender Gap Report, now in its 17th edition, benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

It is the longest-standing index that tracks progress on closing these gaps since its inception in 2006.