Protesters in South Lebanon Stand Up to Attack, Threats

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Protesters in South Lebanon Stand Up to Attack, Threats

Tuesday, 10 December, 2019 – 10:45
Demonstrators wave Lebanese flags during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
Beirut- Hanan Hamdan
Five years ago, the former Moukhtar [local head, selected for simple administrative tasks] of the town of Qulaila in South Lebanon, Mahmoud Saleh, could not find anyone to pay for his treatment when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. This forced him to incur the cost of removing one of his kidneys, which amounted to 18,000 US dollars at the time, although he could not afford it.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saleh said: “We took to public squares because of the difficult economic situation. Our politicians are responsible for this situation, and we are still here because they refuse to meet a single one of our demands. Those in power have clung to it for many years without even considering giving us our basic rights. We do not even have healthcare or pensions; instead, they have drowned us with debt.”

Protesters in Tyre, a city in south Lebanon, have been a vital part of the protest movement since it first erupted in October. They were met with repression, and the most prominent of which was when they were assaulted by partisans and had their tents destroyed at the Al-Alam Square. However, the scene hasn’t changed in the past few days, save the erection of new tents to the square, and the addition of a large tent meant to protect protesters from the rain, allowing them to continue to hold their debates and lectures. The square is also equipped with plastic chairs, mobile mattresses, and stoves to make tea and coffee.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hassan Darwish, one of the young people who maintain a constant presence in the square, says: “The uprising in Tyre has not changed, and people’s determination has not been shaken. The people of Tyre will not leave the squares just like that, and we will persist until our demands are met”.

He points to the fact that internal debates are still being held at the square daily and that civil society initiatives are also ongoing. He also says that a new tent will soon be installed near the square “to support anyone in need by providing them with clothes and food. The basic idea behind it is that it will be accessible to every household and person. We have launched this symbolic initiative because of the difficult living conditions some of us in Tyre arrived at, with the minimum wage standing around 600,000 Lebanese pounds (400$ at the official rate but effectively much less). This isn’t enough for people to secure their basic needs”.

Lebanon´s Journalists Suffer Abuse, Threats in Covering Unrest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SAUDI ARABIA’S ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Lebanon´s Journalists Suffer Abuse, Threats in Covering Unrest

Saturday, 7 December, 2019 – 12:30
In this Friday Oct. 18, 2019 photo, Lebanese reporter Joyce Akiki, left, runs from tear gas during an anti-government protest, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat
Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work – including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats – while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon´s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.

Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon´s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets – some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow – are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.

The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press. Amid Lebanon´s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions.

The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.

“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry told The Associated Press.

Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters´ demands that Lebanon´s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest – which led to the Cabinet´s resignation over a month ago – as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun´s Free Patriotic Movement, and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”

For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.

“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.

Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.

“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian, and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyber-bullying for the past four years.

“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.

Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun´s FPM.

“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station´s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”

Television reporters with Hezbollah´s Al-Manar and Amal´s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.

“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.

“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.

Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon´s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria, and Venezuela.

Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily´s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.

Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”

“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.

Lebanon’s anti-austerity protests enter fourth day

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Lebanon’s anti-austerity protests enter fourth day

Demonstrators are protesting against dire economic conditions in the heavily indebted country.

Lebanon's anti-austerity protests enter fourth day
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Lebanon since Thursday to protest against tax increases and political corruption [Andalou]

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Lebanon‘s streets on Sunday for a fourth day of anti-government protests that have led to the resignation of a Christian party from the government.

Demonstrators, who have been on the streets since Thursday, have pledged to continue marching despite the resignations late on Saturday of four government members from the key political party, Lebanese Forces.

Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman, one of the four to quit the government, told Al Jazeera shortly after the decision that they had “lost faith in the government’s ability to effect change and address the problem”.

READ MORE

Lebanon protests: Five things you need to know

Lebanese citizens have been suffering from tax hikes and dire economic conditions in the heavily indebted country.

Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 bn – more than 150 percent of gross domestic product, according to the finance ministry.

The grievances and anger at the government’s lack of solutions erupted into protests on Thursday, sparked by hikes in taxes including a proposed $0.2 tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.

“It is day four and protesters are back on the street. It’s not just in the capital Beirut, but across the country. The message they [protesters] are giving is of defiance and that they will continue to demand the resignation of the government,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut.

“While there are tens of thousands on the street protesting, there are still people who are backing the political parties, so it is not going to be easy to bring a change. These people out there want a nationalist leader whose loyalty is to Lebanon and not a political party.”

In an attempt to appease demonstrators, Lebanon’s finance minister, following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced that they had agreed on a final budget that did not include any additional taxes or fees.

READ MORE

Lebanon reforms ‘must start from politicians’ bank accounts’

“We want everybody to join us on Sunday and also Monday to topple the government,” one protester said.

On Friday, Hariri gave a 72-hour deadline to his partners in government to agree on a solution to the country’s economic woes without imposing new taxes.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, whose movement is part of the government, warned on Saturday that a change in government would only worsen the situation.

The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property”.

What is the solution to Lebanon’s economic and political crisis?

On Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh al-Solh square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannon to disperse similar crowds a day before.

Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.

“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering – in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.

Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tyres and other obstacles.

The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made on Friday on accusations of theft and arson.

But all of those held at the main police barracks were released on Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Trump is hanging Israel and Netanyahu out to dry

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump is hanging Israel and Netanyahu out to dry

David A. Andelman, executive director of The RedLines Project, is a contributor to CNN, where his columns won the Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” he was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)With a single stroke, President Donald Trump has effectively brought a newly resurgent and potent triad—Syria, Russia and Iran—to the very doorstep of their declared enemy, Israel, and given aid and comfort to Israel’s longtime and persistent foe, Hezbollah, in Lebanon.

David Andelman

The ceasefire and agreement with Turkey that Trump vaunted Thursday as “a great day for civilization,” had already been demonstrated to be a potentially epic challenge to one corner of the world—Israel. It was a reality only highlighted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo breaking off from Vice President Pence’s group in Ankara and taking a plane directly to Jerusalem to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday morning.
Suddenly, with not even a token American force remaining to monitor or check military activities of Russia, Iran or the Syrian army main force of President Bashar al-Assad, the entire map of the Middle East was being redrawn, and Israel left with few viable defenders. When the United States had even a minimal military presence in Syria, it was able to act as some restraint on aid that Iran was seeking to channel to this terrorist forcewhich continues to operate out of Lebanon, targeting Israel at every opportunity.
In late August, anti-tank rocket attacks launched from Lebanon into northern Israel by Hezbollah led to the Israeli army responding with attacks on targets in southern Lebanon. Such effective shadow-boxing had been held in check by the apparent ability of Israel to interdict Iranian efforts to supply Hezbollah with arms and munitions through Syria. Now, with Syria reclaiming a large swath of the northeastern stretch of its country that had been held by the Kurds and their American allies, and with Russian forces moving as a backstop into the vacuum left by the US departure, Israeli efforts could become exponentially more complicated.
At the same time, there is ever more leeway now for Syria, Russia and Iran to work their malevolence on a Lebanese government that is striving desperately to carve a middle road in the region. Hezbollah and Iran share a common religion—Shiite Islam—which has only opened up a host of problems for Hezbollah’s principal host, Lebanon, as it tries to remain reasonably neutral in the Middle East and avoid a return to the decades of bloodshed during its civil wars of the 1980s. Hezbollah would like nothing better than a destabilized Lebanon bordering Israel’s northern frontier.
“Americans can’t be trusted at all since they break promise with anyone who depends on them,” said Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, in a speech to his followers in Beirut on Wednesday, adding that the Kurds’ “fate awaits anyone who trusts Washington.”
Trump’s new bond with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—”a tough guy who deserves respect” and “my friend” as Trump described him after Wednesday’s truce talks in Ankara, is also likely to have done little to reassure Israel.
Turkey, which has moved into northern Syria with some impunity has demonstrated that it is no friend of Israel. Erdogan, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, has called it “a terrorist state.” Until now, it has been possible for Israel largely to ignore Turkey’s impact on the Middle East, and its efforts of rapprochement with both Russia and Iran. But that may no longer be possible. On Tuesday, Erdogan is planning to travel to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The American withdrawal and Wednesday’s ceasefire can have few positive results for Israel, where Trump’s actions “have stirred discomfort within Netanyahu’s conservative cabinet,” according to Israeli media reports. Amos Harel, military correspondent for the liberal Haaretz daily, said Trump’s moves have “forced Israel to rethink its Middle East strategy.” After his session with Pompeo, Netanyahu was only somewhat more circumspect. “We hope things will turn out for the best,” he told reporters. Indeed, Netanyahu is facing a Wednesday deadline to cobble together a new coalition government after the recent national elections and has still not managed to do so.
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In short, any number of nations in the region are beginning a frantic reassessment of just what this new map of the Middle East promises—beyond the immediate prospects of a new round of chaos and destruction, with the United States on the sidelines. Somehow Washington must find a way to channel to players like Israel and Lebanon military aid and diplomatic reassurance that can help neutralize an increasingly dangerous situation.

Lebanon: Hariri: France Satisfied with Investment Plan Progress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Hariri: France Satisfied with Investment Plan Progress

Friday, 6 September, 2019 – 11:30
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits Beirut Port on Friday September 6, 2019. Dalati and Nohra photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
French President Emmanuel Macron is satisfied with Beirut’s progress on starting an infrastructure investment program, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s press office said on Friday, a day after a French envoy criticized the speed at which Lebanon is reforming its economy.

Foreign governments and donor institutions last year pledged $11 billion in financing to Lebanon for a 12-year infrastructure investment program at the CEDRE conference in Paris, on condition that it carries out reforms.

Hariri’s office said in a statement Friday that the PM received a telephone call from Macron, who “expressed his satisfaction with the progress made towards launching the CEDRE investment projects.”

Macron called Hariri after French diplomat Pierre Duquesne concluded a four-day visit to Lebanon to assess Beirut’s progress on starting work on the infrastructure projects and other reforms.

Duquesne himself said that the donors’ funding offers still stand, but stressed that Lebanese authorities need to speed up reforms, pass a state budget for 2020 this year and decide which of the 250 infrastructure projects will take priority.

“Donors are still ready to help, provided that things happen in the required and right way,” he said.

Funding has not yet begun to flow, he said, because Lebanon was without a government for nine months following elections last year.

“And even after (government) formation, donors continue to question the Lebanese government. This view is shared by all donors,” Duquesne said.

He was also critical of how some Lebanese politicians were approaching the urgency of the economic problems in the country.

“Some people still believe that there is a miracle solution, a magical solution to solve all the problems. This does not exist.”

“Time is running out and we cannot continue with the endless debates,” he added.

On Monday Lebanese politicians declared a “state of economic emergency” and Hariri said the government would take emergency measures to speed up reforms, including holding more meetings.

With one of the world’s highest debt burdens, low growth and crumbling infrastructure, Lebanon’s economy is struggling and authorities are seeking to implement reforms to ward off a crisis.

During Thursday’s phone call, “Macron also stressed France’s commitment to Lebanon’s stability and security, the strengthening of its state and institutions and the importance of preserving calm on the southern border,” Hariri’s office said.

The frontier between the two countries has remained calm since Israel and Hezbollah traded fire on Sunday.

UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission, urges full access to Blue Line

Security Council warns rising tensions can lead to war neither side can afford, orders review of UNIFIL amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah rendering Blue Helmets ineffective

Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

The UN Security Council on Thursday voted to renew its long-running peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for a year, warning of a “new conflict” with neighboring Israel as tensions with the Hezbollah terror group spike.

The draft resolution, written by France and approved unanimously, would allow for the approximately 10,000 members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, to stay in place. It also calls for a review of the peacekeeping mission, amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah and Lebanon “continue to significantly hinder the full and effective implementation” of the Blue Helmets’ mandate.

“Should these restrictions remain, UNIFIL’s relevance is questioned,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said

According to the draft text, the Security Council warned that “violations of the cessation of hostilities could lead to a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford.”

Military vehicles belonging to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) drive past posters of the Lebanese Shiiite Hezbollah movement leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on a road near the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun, on August 26, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

It “condemns all violations of the Blue Line” between Lebanon and Israel, “both by air and ground, and strongly calls upon all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities.”

IDF soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, and an armed drone attack on Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, which has been blamed on Israel.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun said the Beirut incident amounted to a “declaration of war,” and on Wednesday the Lebanese army fired on an Israeli drone in the southern part of the country.

“Urging all parties to make every effort to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is sustained,” the Security Council called on all sides to “exercise maximum calm and restraint.”

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, whose term at the world body was recently extended, praised the Security Council decision, which he said “sends a clear message to the Lebanese government: restrain Hezbollah.”

“The terrorist organization’s grip on southern Lebanon is intended to only harm the State of Israel and endanger the entire region. Israel will not accept such a reality,” he said.

A picture taken on August 26, 2019, near the northern Israeli moshav of Avivim shows a Hezbollah flag in the Lebanon village of Aitaroun. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The resolution includes a requirement — on the insistence of the United States, diplomats said — for the UN secretary-general to perform an evaluation on the UNIFIL mission and its staff before June 1, 2020.

Also at the US’s request, the Security Council resolution calls for UNIFIL to have full access to the Blue Line, where Israel recently said it discovered a network of cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows Israeli soldiers watching as United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers speak with Lebanese soldiers in front of a Hezbollah flag. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

The resolution expresses “concern that UNIFIL still has not been able to access all relevant locations north of the Blue Line related to the discovery of tunnels crossing the Blue Line.”

Washington was unable, however, to reduce the maximum allowed number of peacekeepers deployed to 9,000.

Israel had been seeking to expand the mandate of the mission, giving it more access to areas in Lebanon and allowing it to report infractions in real time, according to a Hebrew-language report Wednesday.

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COMMENTS

Israel: ‘Watch out’ IDF reveals details of Iran-Hezbollah missile plot

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

‘Watch out’: In tacit threat, IDF reveals details of Iran-Hezbollah missile plot

Military names Iranian, Lebanese officers working for years to give Shiite terror group advanced munitions; wants Lebanon, international community to act to halt the program

This frame grab from video released on July 22, 2017, and provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows Hezbollah fighters firing a missile at positions of al-Qaeda-linked militants in an area on the Lebanon-Syria border. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

Illustrative. This frame grab from video released on July 22, 2017, shows Hezbollah fighters firing a missile at positions of al-Qaeda-linked militants in an area on the Lebanon-Syria border. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday revealed the identities of four senior Iranian and Hezbollah officials involved in a joint project to manufacture precision-guided missiles for the Lebanese terror group, in a dramatic move apparently intended as a tacit threat to the officers.

The program is being led on the Iranian side by Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operating under the direct command of Qassem Soleimani, a general who heads the IRGC’s Quds Force, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

According to Conricus, Iran has intensified its efforts to establish facilities capable of producing precision-guided missiles in Lebanon in recent weeks.

The Israeli military said it was taking the highly irregular step of releasing information about active members of a terrorist plot in order to push the Lebanese government and international community to take action to halt the project.  Conricus said the IDF would likely reveal additional intelligence about the plot within the coming hours and days.

“Iran is endangering Lebanese by trying to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil, using the Lebanese people as human shields,” Conricus said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said exposing the details of the program was meant to send a signal to Israel’s enemies.

“We will not stand to the side and allow our enemies to acquire deadly weapons to use against us. This week, I already told our enemies to be careful with their actions. Now I am telling them: Dir balak,” Netanyahu said, using an Arabic phrase meaning, “Watch out.”

A graphic released by the Israeli military showing IRGC Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, who is allegedly responsible for the Iranian military’s activities in Lebanon, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been particularly high this week following Israeli airstrikes on Saturday night on an Iranian position in Syria that killed two Hezbollah members. Israel named the two as Lebanese nationals and said they were involved in a IRGC Quds Force plot to use armed unmanned aerial vehicles against the Jewish state.

Further stoking tensions was as a drone attack in Beirut early Sunday morning attributed to Israel that reportedly targeted key components of the joint Hezbollah-Iranian precision missile project.

Conricus said he would not comment on the matter.

The precision missile project

According to the IDF, Iran began trying to transport advanced precision missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria in 2013 and 2014. But airstrikes attributed to Israel prevented the Islamic Republic from providing the terror group with large numbers of these projectiles.

Israeli Military Intelligence believes that in 2016 Iran and Hezbollah decided to change tack and convert the terror group’s existing simple rockets into precision-guided missiles in factories inside Lebanon, but had yet to acquire the ability to do so, despite significant investments of time, money and resources.

A graphic by the Israeli military providing a general explanation of the production methods used in a joint Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“According to our assessments, Hezbollah does not yet have an industrial capability to manufacture precision-guided munitions — not for lack of trying,” Conricus said.

He said the terror group does possess several precision-guided missiles, but does not have “significant amounts” of them.

The Israeli army said IRGC Col. Majid Nuab is responsible for the technical aspects of the program, which began in 2016.

The complicated logistics of transporting the machinery necessary to create such precision-guided missiles from Iran, through Syria and into Lebanon is managed by IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi, according to the IDF.

A graphic by the Israeli military showing Hezbollah commander Fuad Shukr, who is allegedly responsible for Hezbollah’s role in a joint Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

This joint project is being led for Hezbollah by Fuad Shukr, a senior member of the Lebanese group who acts as a close adviser to its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and is wanted by the United States for his role in the 1983 bombing of a US Marines barracks in Beirut, Conricus said.

“He is responsible for everything related to this precision missile project, the development of the missiles as well as preparations to use them. If they’ll be used by Hezbollah, he’s the guy who’ll [actually] be using them,” the IDF spokesman said.

In addition to their names, the Israeli military also released photographs of the officials.

Asked if the revelation of their identities was meant to serve as a threat of assassination to the three IRGC officers and Hezbollah official, Conricus said, “If I were any of these terrorists, I probably wouldn’t be too happy to be named and shamed.”

A graphic by the Israeli military showing IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi, who is allegedly responsible for the logistical aspects of an Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Israeli military, Iran has used three main ways to transfer the technical equipment necessary both to convert simple rockets into precision missiles and to indigenously manufacture long-range precision missiles from Iran to Lebanon: through the ground, air and sea.

The army spokesman said Military Intelligence believes some of these components were transferred from Syria, where Iran has a large presence and significant influence, to Lebanon through official Lebanese ground crossings, including through the Masnaa Crossing. Other pieces of equipment are suspected of being flown into Lebanon using civilian transport flights into Beirut’s Hariri International Airport. And some machinery was sent to Lebanon by ship through Beirut’s international port, according to the Israeli military.

Conricus said Hezbollah has established multiple facilities involved in the precision missile project in various areas of Lebanon, including in Beirut.

During the strike in Beirut early Sunday morning, a drone carrying explosives reportedly detonated near two crates containing equipment central to the project, destroying them and setting back Hezbollah’s efforts by approximately a year.

A graphic by the Israeli military showing IRGC Col. Majid Nuab, who is allegedly responsible for the technical aspects of an Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Conricus said Israel has attempted to use diplomatic methods to block the joint Iranian-Hezbollah effort.

Last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the locations of three alleged precision missile facilities inside Beirut during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

Since then, Israel has provided information on the plot to Lebanon through the UN and through large countries that have diplomatic ties with both Israel and Beirut, but to no avail, Conricus said.

“It is happening inside Lebanon, despite the fact that Israel through official and covert channels has warned the state of Lebanon and tried to [alert] the state of Lebanon to the dangers of producing these weapons on Lebanese soil near Lebanese civilians,” Conricus said.

He said Israel believes that in light of the Lebanese government’s lack of action on the matter, it has made itself complicit in the Iranian-led endeavor.

“In our point of view, the Lebanese government is completely responsible for what is happening on Lebanese soil,” Conricus said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018, and holds up a placard detailing alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut. (AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

However, the spokesman added that at this time Israel does not see the Lebanese Armed Forces as an “active enemy,” as it does consider Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is our main enemy, the LAF is a potential enemy,” he said.

Soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah following the strikes on Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

The Lebanese frontier was especially tense Thursday morning, following an incident the night before in which Lebanese troops fired on Israeli drones that reportedly entered their airspace.

The IDF believes Hezbollah intends to attack its soldiers or a military installation on the border, and not civilians.

In light of these concerns, the army on Tuesday restricted the movement of military vehicles along roads close to the Lebanese border. The limitations were not imposed on civilians in border communities.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border on August 27, 2019 shows Lebanese army and United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicles patrolling in the Lebanese village of Aitaroun along the border with Lebanon. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israeli officials have threatened a harsh response to any reprisals by Hezbollah, both against the group and against the state of Lebanon, which Jerusalem sees as complicit in the terrorist militia’s activities.

“The Israeli response to an attack will be disproportionate,” an unnamed senior officer told Israel’s Channel 12 news on Monday night.

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5 Oldest Cities in Asia (Middle-East)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

5 Oldest Cities in Asia

Humans have been building communities for a long time. A really long time. There are people living in places that have seen millennia of human settlement, particularly on the Asian continent, widely considered to be the place where civilization started. Ranking the age of some of these cities is going to be mind-boggling, to say the least, so we’d recommend trying to think about time less as a human would and switch more to a geological scale. It might make it easier. These are the five oldest cities in Asia.

Erbil, Iraq

Erbil, Iraq

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~7,000 Years

You may remember learning in elementary school that the earliest civilized people in the Fertile Crescent built their homes out of mud bricks. We do, anyway. We also remember thinking bricks like that can’t be as permanent as ours. Well, they aren’t, which is how the city of Erbil got its start. Roughly located in the center of the city is the Erbil Citadel, a massive fortified dirt mound on an otherwise flat plain. The mound is man-made and the result of thousands of years of settlements built on top of settlements built on top of settlements. The reason people were able to build on top of settlements is the wearing down of those mud bricks we mentioned earlier. Over time, the bricks disintegrate in place, adding a thin layer of dirt to the growing mound. Multiply that by a few thousand years and thousands of residents and Erbil grows from the result.

Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, Lebanon

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~7,000 Years

In Phoenician mythology, Byblos was founded by the god El at the beginning of time. While that might not be completely factual, the mythological truth of the statement can’t be denied. It’s a city so old it’s at least partially responsible for naming the Bible, thanks to its booming papyrus trade (the main thing the Bible was printed on at the time) and the Greek word for book, biblos. Before it accidentally named the second largest religion’s main publication, it was famous for its shipbuilding industry and enabled the Phoenicians to solidify their reputation as world-class sailors. Even before that it was an important port for Mediterranean trade, exporting prized Lebanese cedar to the powerful Egyptian empire. The city’s declined somewhat since its ancient glory, though Ernest Renan, a prominent French historian, contributed to its rejuvenation when he published the mostly forgotten history of Byblos in 1860.

Ray, Iran

Ray, Iran

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~7,500 Years

The true age of Ray is difficult, maybe impossible, to determine. A lot of the “archaeology” that went on in the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s amounted to little more than destructive treasure hunting, meaning the trace evidence that could prove the city’s true edge may have been permanently destroyed. But the city’s resilience proved more than treasure hunters could completely destroy. Excavations in the 1990s and 2000s turned up what would be classified as “horizon pottery of Češmeh Ali” and puts Ray’s founders among the very first settlers of the Iranian plateau around 5,500 B.C.

Today, Ray’s been incorporated into the larger metropolitan area of Tehran, no slouch of a city itself. But Ray still has the Iranian capital beaten by a few centuries at least.

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Jericho

Jericho

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~11,000 Years

Jericho’s roots grow so deep that the term “settlers” is more accurate than it is for other places. The earliest traces of human habitation around Jericho point to Mesolithic hunters who just decided to stay put one day. Like the hunters simply got tired and literally settled down. A thousand years after that, the hunters’ descendants started work on a huge stone wall around the town, with evidence of at least one huge tower incorporated into the wall. That’s 10,000 years of walled defense. So while Jericho might not be the oldest settlement in human history, its famous wall certainly is.

Damascus, Syria

Damascus, Syria

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~10,000 — 12,000 Years

Twelve thousand years is a ridiculously long time, almost too long to conceptualize. To put it in some kind of perspective, Damascus possibly being 12,000 years old would put its founding during the Ice Age. During. Humans were settling down in Damascus at the same time half the Northern Hemisphere was buried under 4 kilometers of ice.

To make an even more of a dramatic statement of humanity’s ability to build cities, Damascus retains excellent examples from each of the major civilizations to contribute to its construction. Examples of Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic architecture are all on full display in the city, with the major examples being the Roman Temple of Jupiter, Roman walls and gates, and the Great Mosque built by Umayyad Caliphate. Essentially, what the city is today is a living, breathing Arabic city built on a hybrid Greek and Roman city plan in a location that’s seen human habitation since most of the Earth’s surface was made of glaciers.

5 Countries With The Most Debt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

5

Countries With the Most Debt

If you live in the United States, you have surely heard a lot about the billions of dollars that America owes to other countries. This is not an uncommon thing, though, as countries loan money to and accept money from each other all the time. Just like with individual loans, accepting a lot of financial help from other countries can add up to a lot of debt. In 2017, global debt rose to an incredible 225% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) according to Focus Economics, which means that many countries owe a lot more money than they earn each year. Here is a look at the five countries that have the most debt, according to Focus Economics.

Italy

Italy

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As you walk the cobbled streets of Italy, taking in all the enormous, ornate cathedrals and looking at all the fashionable people, the last thing on your mind is that this country might have money problems. Like any country, though, Italy has its share of debts — and it has some pretty big ones. According to GraphicMaps, Italy has an external debt of $2,444,000,000,000 (USD), which, when put in terms of GDP, will be 131 percent of its earnings in 2019. Fortunately, though, this number is expected to fall to 128 percent by 2023, which is still high, but much more favorable.

Venezuela

Venezuela

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This is where things get a bit tricky. If you just look at the amount of money owed to other countries, Venezuela doesn’t even crack the top ten. But if you compare this debt to the country’s GDP, things look a lot worse — and the country comes in at number four on the list of countries with the most debt. Venezuela’s public debt is 152 percent of its GDP in 2019, which is more than one and a half times as much money as it brings in each year. According to World Population Review, this country is currently going through a very rough patch in terms of finances, so it is not clear at this time whether the debt will increase or decrease over the next few years.

Lebanon

Lebanon

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The winner of the bronze medal for highest external debt is Lebanon. This country has been struggling for some time, and its debt is expected to increase from 153 percent to 156 percent between 2019 and 2023. This is only barely more than Venezuela, so there could be a competition for this third place spot in the coming years.

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Greece

Greece

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Greece was one of the most successful empires in the ancient world, contributing everything from myths to democracy to our modern culture. Today, however, the country is mired in debt. Greece was required to take multiple bailouts. Its external debt currently stands at 175 percent. This debt has been steadily decreasing over the years, however, and is projected to be almost 10 points lower by 2023.

Japan

Japan

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If you were expecting the United States to be number one on this list, you aren’t alone. And technically, America does owe the highest debt in the world: 29.27 trillion dollars. But when you take into account how much money the country brings in per year, Japan takes the top spot, with a debt of $3,240,000,000,000, which is a whopping 236 percent of its GDP (the United States “only” owes 108 percent of its GDP). This number might seem incredibly high, but one must remember that Japan has one of the world’s largest economies, and has a population of over 127 million people.

Ongoing Lebanon Street Protests Affect Many Sectors

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Ongoing Lebanon Street Protests Affect Many Sectors

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 – 10:45
Police confront retired Lebanese security personnel during a demonstration over feared pension cuts near the government’s headquarters in the capital Beirut on May 20, 2019 (AFP Photo/Marwan TAHTAH)
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat
Sit-ins and popular movements reached an unprecedented level on Monday, against austerity measures to be adopted by the government in its 2019 budget to limit state expenditures.

Public sector employees and veterans took to the streets protesting an expected cut in wages and pensions.

News circulated on Monday about a veteran committing suicide over accumulating his debts. Another retired soldier attempted to set himself on fire during a demonstration.

A strike by customs employees had ramifications more than one sector. Motorists rushed to gas stations across the country over fears of a possible shortage of fuel. Public administration officials maintained a general strike in various areas since Friday and most schools were closed on Monday.

Despite a confirmation by the Chairman of Brax Petroleum, George Brax, that the fuel quantities in stations would last for days if customs employees continued their strike, he told the Central News Agency that it was crucial to address the banks’ supply of the oil sector in dollars, because oil importing companies refused to receive the price of goods purchased by station owners in Lebanese pounds.

Following weeks of sit-ins – held to protest against government measures – veterans on Monday stepped up their movements, and tried to storm the Grand Serail, before being faced by military personnel who were on duty during a cabinet session.

However, they succeeded in reaching the Serail’s entrance, and after negotiations, a number of protesters were allowed to to go in to meet with several cabinet ministers.

In a reassuring step, Defense Minister Elias Bou Saad met with the retired officers and promised an increase of LBP35 billion in social and medical assistance to the military.

The cabinet is currently discussing the 2019 draft budget, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri maintaining Monday that “the discussions regarding possible cuts to wages have yet to take place.”