The casualty toll in protests since early October in Iraq has risen to 485 dead and some 27,000 wounded, an official from the human rights watchdog said Friday.
"The number of victims since the beginning of the protests in October until today has reached 485 dead and 27,000 injured in all Iraqi provinces that witnessed demonstrations and sit-ins," Ali al-Baiyati, a member of the Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights, told Xinhua.
Al-Baiyati said the total number of detainees from the demonstrators reached 2,807, 107 of whom are still in detention.
In addition, up to 48 demonstrators and civil society activists were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen, he added.
Assassinations and kidnappings have increased recently in Iraq, especially among civil society activists who are participating in the anti-government demonstrations that started more than two months ago.
Earlier, the Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights warned of the growing assassinations of civil activists in the capital Baghdad and other cities.
The commission highlighted the need for efforts by the security services to stop the assassinations targeting unarmed citizens, arrest criminals and bring them to justice.
Mass demonstrations have continued in Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq since early October, demanding comprehensive reform, fight against corruption, better public services and more job opportunities.
The second session of the Syrian constitutional committee failed to get off the ground due to lack of consensus over the agenda, the UN envoy for Syria told the Security Council Friday.
Geir Pedersen, the secretary-general's special representative for Syria, assured the council, however, that there are lessons to be learned from the meeting of the "small body" of the committee, held in Geneva in late November.
While the full committee is made up of around 150, the small body consists of 45 representatives from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society.
Pedersen had asked the two co-chairs of the committee to submit their agenda proposals ahead of the second session, which began on Nov. 25.
The opposition's workplan, sent on Nov. 21, featured 10 constitutional headings and focused on the preamble to the constitution, as well as basic principles.
The government proposed an agenda on Nov. 25, which called for discussion of "national pillars" of concern to the Syrian people. "Constitutional matters would only be taken up afterwards."
Pedersen worked to facilitate consensus between the sides, which was not possible. "As things stand, and absent an agreed agenda, I see no reason to convene another session of the small body."
Pedersen said what happened at the second session only underscores the need for a broader and comprehensive political process for Syria, which has been embroiled in a brutal civil conflict since 2011.
"While a constitutional committee cannot solve the crisis, it can help foster the trust and confidence between the parties, and that can open the door to a broader process, and, equally, such a broader process can feed positively into the work on the constitutional issues," the envoy noted.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday hailed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open the way for the Palestinians to sue Israel.
He made the remarks at an ongoing session attended by members of the revolutionary council of his Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"This is a historic day, and now any Palestinian who gets injured by the occupier (Israel) can file a case to the criminal court," said Abbas, according to the Palestinian WAFA news agency.
"After four years of hard work and providing everything necessary about the occupation crimes committed against our people in the occupied territories, the decision was issued because the court was following and studying the findings, laws, and issues," he added.
Earlier in the day, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda submitted an application to the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC for a judgment regarding the jurisdiction of the Palestinian territories.
Lebanon's newly designated prime minister said Friday he plans to form a government of experts and independents to deal with the country's crippling economic crisis. Hours after he spoke, riots by his opponents broke out in Beirut, leaving at least seven soldiers injured.
Hassan Diab spoke to reporters following a meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a day after he was asked by the president to form the country's next government. Diab, who is backed by the militant Hezbollah group and its allies, begins his task with the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests against Lebanon's ruling elite. The country is grappling with its worst economic and financial crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
On Friday night, scuffles on a major avenue in Beirut intensified after Sunnis who apparently support Hariri closed it to protest Diab's nomination. When the army worked on opening the road in Beirut's western Mazraa neighborhood, the protesters hurled stones and fire crackers at troops and riot policemen, injuring at least seven soldiers, the Lebanese army said.
The scuffles had begun Friday morning when protesters first closed the avenue in Mazraa where Hariri enjoys wide support. Hours after the avenue was reopened, protesters closed it again leading to the intense scuffles that lasted until shortly before midnight.
Outgoing Interior Minister Raya El Hassan, a member of Hariri's Future Movement, issued a statement urging protesters to leave the streets "to avoid dangers and strife."
The protesters had earlier blocked the main highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon with burning tires, causing a miles-long traffic jam. The army opened the road briefly in the town of Naameh before protesters closed it again with flaming tires.
The road closures in Beirut and Naameh were carried out by protesters angered by what they said was Hezbollah and its allies deciding who takes the country's top Sunni post. Hezbollah has backed Hariri for prime minister from the start, but they differed over the shape of the new government.
"I ask (protesters) to give us a chance to form an exceptional government" that can work on resolving the country's many problems, accumulated over the past 30 years, Diab said.
It was not immediately clear if the riots that broke out in Beirut will affect Diab's consultations with members of parliament scheduled for Saturday in preparation for the formation of the Cabinet.
Diab, a university professor and former education minister, won a majority of lawmakers' votes after receiving backing from the powerful Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its allies. However, he lacks the support of major Sunni figures, including the largest Sunni party headed by Hariri.
That is particularly problematic for Diab, who as a Sunni, lacks support from his own community. And under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing agreement, the prime minister must be Sunni.
Diab, however, emerged from Friday's meeting with Hariri saying the atmosphere was "positive."
"As an expert and an independent, my inclination is to form a government that is truly made up of experts and independents," he said.
Diab faces huge challenges in trying to form a consensual government that would also satisfy protesters. Demonstrators have been on the streets since mid-October, seeking to sweep away an entire political class they deem as corrupt. Diab also faces the mammoth task of dealing with the country's economic and financial crisis in one of the most indebted countries in the world.
Support from the Iran-backed Hezbollah guarantees Diab a thorny path, potentially inviting criticism from Western and Gulf nations that had supported Hariri. The Shiite group is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., some Gulf Arab countries and a few Latin American nations.
In the first U.S. comments after Diab's appointment as prime minister, a senior U.S. official said Washington is ready to help Lebanon "but can do so only when Lebanon's leaders undertake a credible, visible and demonstrable commitment to reform." U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale spoke during a visit in Beirut where he met with the president, parliament speaker and caretaker prime minister Hariri.
Western countries have been holding $11 billion in loans and grants made by international donors at a conference in Paris last year until reforms are carried out in Lebanon, where corruption and mismanagement are widespread.
Hale, on his visit Friday to Beirut, did not directly comment on Diab's appointment, saying only that the United States "has no role in saying who should lead" a Cabinet in Lebanon or anywhere else.
"I'm here to encourage Lebanon's political leaders to commit to, and undertake, meaningful, sustained reforms that can lead to a stable, prosperous and secure Lebanon," he said after meeting President Michel Aoun.
Hale is the most senior foreign diplomat to visit the country since mass protests erupted in mid-October. The sustained, leaderless protests forced Hariri's resignation within days but politicians were later unable to agree on a new prime minister. The ongoing protests and paralysis, meanwhile, worsened the economic crisis.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court took a major step Friday toward opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, asking judges to outline the geographic scope of a future investigation.
The announcement ended years of preliminary investigations into alleged crimes by both Israeli forces and Palestinians and signaled that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is preparing to open a formal probe.
But in asking a panel of judges to determine the territorial jurisdiction of the investigation, she acknowledged the land dispute at the heart of the decades-old conflict, which has never been resolved and could further delay the launch of any criminal probe.
The move drew swift condemnation from Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it "a dark day for truth and justice."
The Palestinians welcomed the decision, with Saeb Erekat, a senior official, calling it a "positive and encouraging step" toward "putting an end to the impunity of the perpetrators and contributing to the achievement of justice."
"This represents a message of hope to our people, the victims of those crimes, that justice is indeed possible," he added.
Israel is not a member of the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction, but Israeli officials could be subject to international arrest warrants if indicted. The state of Palestine requested the investigation as a member of the ICC.
"I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine," Bensouda said in a statement.
She said there was a "reasonable basis" to believe Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups committed war crimes during the 2014 Gaza war. She also said Israeli authorities may have committed war crimes related to the "transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank," a reference to Jewish settlements in the occupied territory.
Bensouda said she has now asked judges to outline the territorial jurisdiction of a full investigation.
"Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the 'territory' over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza," she said.
Netanyahu said Bensouda's decision "has turned the International Criminal Court into a political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel. The prosecutor has completely ignored the legal arguments we presented to her."
At the Palestinians' request, Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation in 2015 into alleged violations of international law following the Gaza war.
With the peace process at a standstill for more than a decade, the Palestinians have in recent years sought to hold Israel accountable for alleged violations of international law, including the construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel seized those territories along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians want all three to be part of their future state. Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.
In a legal opinion released Friday, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said the Palestinians do not meet the criteria of statehood because they do not have sovereignty over defined borders. Citing past peace agreements, Israel said the two sides had agreed to resolve their territorial dispute in negotiations.
"By approaching the ICC, the Palestinians are seeking to breach the framework agreed to by the parties and to push the Court to determine political issues that should be resolved by negotiations, and not by criminal proceedings," the legal opinion said.
The Palestinians insisted they are a fully fledged member of the court and that the court has jurisdiction.
Human Rights Watch, which has documented alleged violations by all sides in the conflict, said the court should have moved more quickly to a full investigation.
"Bensouda's decision to seek guidance from the court's judges nearly five years into her preliminary inquiry means that perpetrators of serious crimes will not face justice at the ICC anytime soon," Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
"Palestinian and Israeli victims have faced a wall of impunity for serious violations committed against them for long enough. The prosecutor should have proceeded directly with a formal probe as was within her power to do."
The territorial dispute at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back nearly a century and has bedeviled peace negotiators for decades. Bensouda herself acknowledged that the question of territorial jurisdiction could be difficult to resolve.
"It is no understatement to say that determination of the Court's jurisdiction may, in this respect, touch on complex legal and factual issues," the court filing said.
"The question of Palestine's Statehood under international law does not appear to have been definitively resolved."