2019-02-27 18:15:00

The countdown has begun for the resumption of parliamentary sessions in Iraq amid ongoing divisions between the rival political powers that has left key portfolios vacant in Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s cabinet.

The disputes have hampered parliament work and lawmakers have only been able to ratify one law since being elected to office in May.

Ahead of the resumption of parliament’s regular sessions, the Sairoun coalition, of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and al-Fateh alliance, of Hadi al-Ameri, are set to meet to confirm the agreements they had reached last year in wake of the polls.

An informed Iraqi source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the leaderships are expected to meet later this week.

He revealed that the meetings they had held recently did not enjoy the consensus of their partners, especially the Shiite ones in each of the Reform and Reconstruction bloc, which includes Hikma movement leader Ammar al-Hakim and former Premier Haidar al-Abadi, and the al-Binaa bloc, which includes former PM Nouri al-Maliki.

“The senior Shiite partners, such as Maliki, Abadi and Hakim believe that the Sairoun and Fateh coalitions cannot take unilateral decisions in Iraq,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

Former Minister Wael Abdul Latif told Asharq Al-Awsat that parliament does not boast a constitutional bloc that can name a candidate for the position of prime minister.

Instead, lawmakers completely ignored the constitution when they nominated Abdul Mahdi to his post. He was chosen through consensus, “which is a gimmick that does not exist in the constitution,” he remarked.

Resorting to consensus has effectively obstructed the filling of the vacant government positions and it is impeding government work, he said, noting: “More than 100 days have passed since the cabinet has been formed and nothing tangible has been achieved.”

Fateh MP Naim al-Aboudi rejected Abdul Latif’s claims, saying that the “understanding between his bloc and Sairoun has led to the formation of parliamentary committees that are tasked with completing the cabinet lineup.

He stressed: “The Fateh and Sairoun blocs will shoulder the responsibility of the government’s failure given that it was formed due to the consensus reached between them.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini (R) draw the curtain on a placard during the opening ceremony of the new building of the European Union delegation to Lebanon in the capital Beirut, on February 26, 2019. WAEL HAMZEH / POOL / AFP

Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat

EU Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini on Tuesday stressed that the Union will continue to provide assistance to Lebanon, mainly in security and economic affairs.

Mogherini was in Beirut for the official opening of the new headquarters of the European Union delegation in Lebanon, which was sponsored by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“Lebanon has a special touch in the Arab world when it comes to the role of women in society and politics,” she said at the ceremony.

“We are working together to build a Lebanon that is not only greener, but also safer. We cooperate with your police - with the Lebanese armed forces - in a number of fields, from border control to airport security and trainings.”

“The work we do in the defense and security sector is key, not only for the Lebanese security, but also for the European security. Today we have regular political, economic and social dialogues. Our bilateral trade has increased steadily each year and investing more and more in Lebanon is for us a priority," said Mogherini.

She also mentioned the CEDRE Conference that was held in April last year.

“We announced a package that could generate up to €1.5 billion in loans for Lebanon until 2020, which is next year, if accompanied by the agreed reforms. And I know the new government is keen on advancing that agenda and I will be spending the rest of the day with Prime Minister Hariri, discussing exactly how we move forward on that side,” said Mogherini.

During her visit to Beirut, the EU official met with top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, who told her that Beirut will continue to work for the return of Syrian refugees to safe areas in their war-torn country without waiting for a political solution.

Aoun added in remarks released by his office that Lebanon will try to ensure that Syrian returnees are not in danger.

The EU had stated in the past that the return of refugees in large numbers should take place after the war in the neighboring country comes to an end.

Aoun suggested that international assistance to refugees be given to them after they return home in order to encourage them to do so, adding that their presence in Lebanon is making them compete with Lebanese for jobs and increasing emigration among Lebanese citizens.

Thousands of Syrian refugees returned home from Lebanon last year after regime troops captured wide parts of the country.

The convoy of a team from the UN and WFP crosses from Houthi-controlled areas to a government-controlled areas to reach grain mills in Hodeidah, Yemen February 26, 2019. (Reuters)

Geneva - Asharq Al-Awsat

The United Nations garnered on Tuesday $2.6 billion for humanitarian relief in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates topping the donors’ list.

The Kingdom and UAE pledged $500 million each, while Kuwait pledged $250 million at a UN donors conference in Geneva.

Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber stressed that the Kingdom had sought for decades to support Yemen’s economy, noting that it has been the greatest donor to its neighbor from 2006 until 2014. He estimated that Saudi aid has made up 43 percent of international support to the war-torn country.

UN chief Antonio Guterres stated that the Yemeni people need $4.2 billion in aid for 2019.

Opening the conference, he lamented "an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe" in Yemen, where some 24 million people, or four-fifths of Yemen's total population, require aid and protection.

"Twenty million people cannot reliably feed themselves or their families," he said. "Almost 10 million are just one step away from famine."

Jaber stressed that the support Saudi Arabia presented to Yemen was not limited to food and humanitarian relief, but it has launched a number of projects and initiatives that are being implemented by the Saudi Program for the Development and Reconstruction of Yemen.

The support is directed to the health, education, energy, transportation, water, agriculture and fishing sectors.

Moreover, he highlighted Riyadh’s oil derivatives grant to Yemen’s power plants, which helped restore power to several provinces, benefiting 18 million people.

Yemeni Prime Minister Moeen Abdelmalek said that the nature of his country’s humanitarian crisis means that his government alone cannot shoulder its burden, forcing it to turn to the international community and donor countries.

He accused the Iran-backed Houthi militias of looting food aid and selling them in the markets.

The UN had recently acknowledged these violations.

The Houthi practices are exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, leaving vast numbers of the population in poverty and in need of aid, continued the premier, while pointing to the militias’ barring of access to the Red Sea silos that store enough grain to feed nearly 4 million people.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reshuffled his senior military staff on Tuesday as anti-regime protesters defied his new ban on gatherings and rallies.

Several members of Sudan’s eight-strong military staff council switched positions and General Essam al-Din Mubarak, the former deputy head of the council, was given a new position as minister of state in the defense ministry.

“These are normal, routine changes that happen from time to time,” the military spokesman said.

Bashir announced a nationwide state of emergency on Friday and issued a raft of edicts on Monday banning unlicensed public gatherings and awarding sweeping new powers to police.

Security forces were given the power to search any building, restrict movement of people and public transport, arrest individuals suspected of a crime related to the state of emergency and seize assets or property during investigations.

The public prosecutor on Tuesday said that emergency prosecutorial bodies would be set up across Sudan to investigate any crimes taking place under the new status.

On Friday Bashir sacked the governors of Sudan’s regions and replaced them with officials from the military and security services.

The moves have not deterred the protesters with hundreds rallying across the country to call for Bashir’s resignation.

Tuesday's rallies were called by the Sudanese Professional Association, an umbrella of independent professional unions that has spearheaded two-and-a-half months of protests.

Video footage shows demonstrators, mostly women, marching in the streets of Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman. Demonstrations were also reported in the city of Atbara and the country's troubled Darfur region.

Activists said Tuesday that authorities lifted a block on popular social media platforms that have been used to organize and broadcast the protests.

They said users of the three main telecommunications operators in the country - Zain, MTN and Sudani - now have access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp after nearly two months of restrictions during which users could only access the internet through a virtual private network, or VPN.

Meanwhile, the US, Britain, Norway and Canada voiced their “deep” concerns over Bashir’s decisions to declare the state of emergency, impose a ban on unauthorized public gatherings and appoint military and security members to senior government positions.

"The return to military rule does not create a conducive environment for a renewed political dialogue or credible elections," they said in a joint statement.

Protesters have staged almost daily demonstrations since December, demanding that Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, step down. The protests were initially inspired by high prices for bread but have turned into a sustained campaign against Bashir and his government.

The Syrian regime has intensified its airstrikes against the northwestern Idlib province in the past ten days, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Tuesday.

The “White Helmets” rescue organization that operates in opposition areas of Syria said five people were killed by shelling and airstrikes on Tuesday, including three children.

According to a senior data analyst at Hala Systems, which operates an early warning system for aerial bombardment called Sentry, 13 strikes had been observed in Idlib and northern Hama on Tuesday.

“This is the third straight day in which a significant increase in airstrikes has been observed. The pace of attacks seems high — and certainly unusual compared to the last few months,” the analyst, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

“The bombing is focused mainly on towns along the Damascus-Aleppo international road,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman.

The strikes against the last opposition bastion has forced thousands to flee the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

“Khan Sheikhoun has turned into a ghost town,” said Abdulrahman.

The area near the Turkish frontier is under a ceasefire brokered last year by regime ally Russia, and Turkey, one of the main supporters of opposition factions that have fought to topple him for eight years.

Hundreds of thousands of people who fled other parts of Syria are sheltering in the enclave, protected by the truce which was aimed at averting an all-out regime assault. Any suggestion that the ceasefire is under new strain is closely watched by the warring parties and their allies.

Under the agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey, the enclave in the northwest includes a demilitarized zone that must be kept free of all heavy weapons and extremist fighters.

Moscow has complained about escalating violence in Idlib and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front, Syria’s former chapter of al-Qaeda, are in control of large swathes of territory.

Twenty regime troops and allied fighters were killed in attacks by an extremist group on the edge of Idlib since Sunday, the Observatory said.

The latest casualties were five regime and allied fighters killed Tuesday near the planned buffer zone.

The Observatory said the attack was led by Hurras al-Deen, an alliance formally linked to al-Qaeda that includes Syrian and foreign extremists.

At least nine militants were killed in the clashes, among the deadliest since the ceasefire deal was reached in September.

Syria’s conflict began in 2011 after Bashar Assad’s security forces used force to crush mass demonstrations against his rule. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, which has drawn in world powers.