Baghdad, Oct. 4 (Xinhua/UNB) -- The death toll in three days of protests in Iraq climbed to 38 and more than 1,648 people were wounded, a member of the Iraqi human rights body said on Friday.
Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), told reporters that the death toll of violence that accompanied the protests during the three days in Baghdad and some provinces rose to 38 people, including two members of the security forces.
He said that up to 1,648 people were wounded, including 360 security members, pointing out that most of them have left the hospital after receiving treatment.
On Thursday, al-Bayati put the number at 26 killed, including two security members, and 1,509 people were wounded, including 401 security members, according to the figures registered by the IHCHR's watching teams.
The IHCHR is an independent commission which is linked to the Iraqi parliament. It was established by UN agencies in Iraq in cooperation with the Iraqi government to promote and protect the rights of all Iraq's people according to international standards.
The demonstrations erupted in the capital Baghdad and several provinces across Iraq over unemployment, government corruption and the lack of basic services.
The demonstration turned violent in Baghdad as clashes erupted with the police.
The protests also spread to other Iraqi provinces when hundreds of protesters attacked and burned several provincial government buildings and offices of leading political parties.
On Thursday, sporadic protests continued during the day despite the curfew that was imposed in Baghdad starting from 5:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) Thursday morning.
The Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari said in a statement on Wednesday that he has decided to raise the state of alert for the Iraqi armed forces "to preserve state sovereignty and protect all foreign embassies and diplomatic missions operating in Iraq."
Beirut, Oct. 4 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Lebanese Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman called upon Syrian refugees on Friday to register their children who were born in Lebanon, a statement by his ministry said.
"Not registering children of Syrian refugees born in Lebanon will have negative effects on Syrians and the Lebanese," he said.
The minister assured that he will follow up on the issue with the interior ministry, municipalities and the general security department.
Local newspaper Al-Akhbar reported statistics by Lebanese Interior Ministry, showing that the number of unregistered Syrian children in Lebanon exceeded 120,000 in 2018.
The lack of formal documentation for children can cause serious problems such as impacting a child's chances of enrolling in school and accessing healthcare services as well as preventing them from travelling.
Normally, a newborn child in Lebanon must be registered within one year of birth.
Otherwise, parents should go through a court process which is costly and unaffordable by many impoverished refugee families.
However, the Lebanese government has disregarded last year the one-year timeframe for Syrian children born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018, allowing their parents to register without going to court.
Beirut, Oct 4 (AP/UNB) — The conflict between Iran and the U.S. that has created tensions throughout much of the Middle East is now also being felt in Lebanon, where Washington has slapped sanctions on the Iran-backed Hezbollah and warned they could soon expand to its allies, further deepening the tiny Arab country’s economic crisis.
The Trump administration has intensified sanctions on the Lebanese militant group and institutions linked to it to unprecedented levels, targeting lawmakers for the first time as well as a local bank that Washington claims has ties to the group.
Two U.S. officials visited Beirut in September and warned the sanctions will increase to deprive Hezbollah of its sources of income. The push is further adding to Lebanon's severe financial and economic crisis, with Lebanese officials warning the country's economy and banking sector can’t take the pressure.
"We have taken more actions recently against Hezbollah than in the history of our counterterrorism program," Sigal P. Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury, said in the United Arab Emirates last month.
Mandelker said Washington is confident the Lebanese government and the central bank will “do the right thing here in making sure that Hezbollah can no longer have access to funds at the bank.”
Hezbollah, whose Arabic name translates into "Party of God," was established by Iran's Revolutionary Guard after Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The group, which enjoys wide support among Lebanon's Shiite community, runs institutions such as hospitals, clinics and schools.
Today, it is among the most effective armed groups in the Middle East with an arsenal more powerful than that of the Lebanese army, and has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to back President Bashar Assad's forces in that country’s civil war. Hezbollah and its allies have more power than ever in parliament and government and President Michel Aoun is a strong ally of the group.
Hezbollah has acknowledged the sanctions are affecting them, but it says it has been able to cope with sanctions imposed by the U.S. for years. The group, however, warned that it is the job of the Lebanese state to defend its citizens when they come under sanctions simply because they belong to the group, are Shiite Muslims, or are Hezbollah sympathizers.
In July, the Treasury Department targeted two Hezbollah legislators, Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, in the first such move against lawmakers currently seated in Lebanon's parliament. A month later, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank for what it called “knowingly facilitating banking activities.” The bank, which denied the charges, was forced to close afterward.
Neither Sherri nor Raad responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
So far, all the figures who have come under sanctions have been either Hezbollah officials or Shiite Muslim individuals who Washington says are aiding the group.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group will “study well our alternatives” now that the U.S. is targeting banks that Hezbollah does not own or deal with, as well as rich individuals and merchants simply because of their religious affiliation.
“We said it in the past that when we are subjected to injustice we can be patient, but when our people are subjected to injustice we should behave in a different way,” he said.
Nasrallah said the state and the government should defend Lebanese citizens. In an apparent reference to the Lebanese central bank that implements U.S. sanctions, Nasrallah said: “Some state institutions should not rush to implement the American desires and orders this way.”
Walid Marrouch, an associate professor of economics at the Lebanese American University, says Lebanon’s economy is 70% dollarized and since Lebanon is using this currency, Beirut has to abide by (U.S.) laws.
“We’re already living in a crisis and it will only make it worse,” he said of sanctions and if Lebanon decides to stop abiding by U.S. Treasury Department orders.
Antoine Farah, who heads the business section of the daily Al-Joumhouria newspaper, wrote that if Hezbollah's desires turn out to be orders, "we will be facing a confrontation such that no one would want to be in our shoes."
"If Hezbollah decides to fight America with the money of the Lebanese we guarantee a quick collapse and staying at the bottom for a long time, like Venezuela," he wrote.
During a visit to Beirut, David Schenker, the U.S.’s assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said Washington will designate in the future "individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of their sect or religion."
Schenker did not elaborate in his interview with local LBC TV but local TV stations said Washington could start targeting Christian allies of the militant group, which has 14 members in parliament and three Cabinet ministers, including the Health Ministry.
Health Minister Jamil Jabbak, who is not a member of Hezbollah but is believed to be close to the group's leader, was not granted a U.S. visa to attend the U.N. General Assembly in late September.
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea visited Lebanon last week and a U.S. Embassy statement said he would "encourage Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance from Hezbollah and other malign actors attempting to destabilize Lebanon and its institutions."
At the end of his visit, Billingslea met a group of journalists representing local media and told them that the U.S. Treasury was posting a $10 million reward for anyone who provides "valuable information on Hezbollah's finances," according to the Daily Star.
He said the main goal of the U.S. Treasury "was to deprive Hezbollah of all financial support, whether from Iran or through any other means." Billingslea said Iran used to send the group $700 million a year, adding that U.S. sanctions on Iran have "diminished considerably" the cash inflow.
Imad Marmal, a journalist close to Hezbollah who has a talk show on the group's Al-Manar TV, wrote that the group wants the Lebanese state to put forward a national plan to face the "American siege" that will end up affecting not only Shiites but the country's economy generally. He added that those who are being targeted by the sanctions are Lebanese citizens, whom the state should protect.
Hezbollah "is not going to scream in pain as the United States is betting, neither today nor tomorrow and not even in a hundred years."
Baghdad, Oct 4 (AP/UNB) — Iraq’s premier on Friday urged anti-government protesters to go home, saying their “legitimate demands” have been heard while also comparing security measures imposed in the wake of this week’s violence, including a curfew, to “bitter medicine” that needs to be swallowed.
But dozens of protesters defied his message, gathering shortly before noon near the central Tahrir Square. Many had camped out on the streets overnight.
Security forces responded by firing live bullets to disperse the crowd near Tahrir.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi spoke in a televised address to the nation following three days of demonstrations that have spread across many provinces in the country. Since Tuesday, security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse the protesters, leaving 33 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Authorities have also cut internet access in much of Iraq since late Wednesday, in a desperate move to curb the rallies.
The rallies have erupted spontaneously, mostly spurred by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country
“We will not make empty promises ... or promise what we cannot achieve,” Abdul-Mahdi said in his televised speech, broadcast at 2:30 a.m.
He said there is “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems but pledged to work on laws granting poor families a basic income, provide alternative housing to violators and fight corruption.
“The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable,” he said. “We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.”
The prime minister also defended the nation’s security forces, saying they abide by strict rules against use of “excessive violence.” He said the escalation of the protests leads to violence.
He also said, without elaborating, that he “regrets some have successfully derailed some of the protests from their peaceful path” in order to “exploit” them for political reasons.
The unrest is the most serious challenge for Abdul-Mahdi’s year-old government, which also has been caught in the middle of increasing U.S.-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of U.S. troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
The mostly leaderless protests have been concentrated in Baghdad and in predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq, bringing out jobless youths and university graduates who are suffering under an economy reeling from graft and mismanagement.
After Abdul-Mahdi’s speech, Iraqis awaited what Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s top Shiite cleric, would say about the protests in his Friday sermon.
The city of Nasiriyah, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad, has witnessed the most violence in the protests, with at least 16 people, including a policeman, killed.
Nasiriyah protester Haidar Hamid dismissed the speech of the prime minister, who also hails from the city. Instead, Hamid said he was looking to the Shiite religious authority for a resolution.
“We wait until Friday prayers,” said Hamid, an unemployed 32-year-old. “If the government is not dissolved, we will avenge our martyrs.”
A group that monitors internet and cybersecurity, NetBlocks, said internet was briefly restored before al-Mahdi’s speech but by the time he was on screen access was again shut as new videos emerged of the protests. The internet in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region has not been affected.
On Thursday, Iraq closed a border crossing with Iran in the eastern province of Diyala, saying it will remain closed until further notice. Protesters who had blocked sections of the road to Baghdad’s International Airport late Thursday had dispersed before daylight.
New York, Sep 30 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a television interview that he takes "full responsibility" for the grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but denied allegations that he ordered it.
"This was a heinous crime," Prince Mohammed, 34, told "60 Minutes" in an interview that aired Sunday. "But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government."
Asked if he ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had criticized him in columns for The Washington Post, Prince Mohammed replied: "Absolutely not."
The slaying was "a mistake," he said.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2, 2018, to collect a document that he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee. Agents of the Saudi government killed Khashoggi inside the consulate and apparently dismembered his body, which has never been found. Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people in the slaying and put them on trial, which has been held in secret. As of yet, no one has been convicted.
A U.N. report asserted that Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the killing and said Prince Mohammed's possible role in it should be investigated. In Washington, Congress has said it believes Prince Mohammed is "responsible for the murder." Saudi Arabia has long insisted the crown prince had no involvement in an operation that included agents who reported directly to him.
"Some think that I should know what 3 million people working for the Saudi government do daily," the powerful heir told "60 Minutes." ''It's impossible that the 3 million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second-highest person in the Saudi government."
In an interview Thursday in New York, Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, told The Associated Press that responsibility for Khashoggi's slaying "was not limited to the perpetrators" and said she wanted Prince Mohammed to tell her: "Why was Jamal killed? Where is his body? What was the motive for this murder?"
Prince Mohammed also addressed the Sept. 14 missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities. While Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed the assault, Saudi Arabia has said it was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran."
"There is no strategic goal," Prince Mohammed said of the attack. "Only a fool would attack 5% of global supplies. The only strategic goal is to prove that they are stupid and that is what they did."
He urged "strong and firm action to deter Iran."