Week of January 20

Fighters loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) gesture as they keep a look out on the roof of a building in an area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli on January 12, 2020. Credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

With increasing instability and violence in neighboring Libya, Tunisian President Kais Saied in a national security meeting on January 7th noted the possibility of an influx in Libyan refugees. President Saied urged international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees for humanitarian aid in responding to the influx of refugees. The impending crisis comes at a time of great political instability in Tunisia, as the country’s leaders struggle to form a government. Tunisia has called on all Libyan, regional and international parties to work for the immediate cessation of military operations and to abide by international legitimacy and the outputs of the Libyan Political Agreement. 

A UNICEF official stated prior to the start of the Berlin Conference on Libya that children there are suffering greatly amid the violence and chaos resulting from the country’s long civil war, which has been aggravated by eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to gain control of capital city Tripoli. The organization’s director shared that “more than 150,000 people, including 90,000 children, have been forced to flee their homes and are now internally displaced. Furthermore, the infrastructure on which children depend for their well-being and survival has been targeted, resulting in damage to nearly 30 health facilities, and the full suspension of 13 of them.” The conference was attended by Turkey, Russia, the UAE and Egypt, and included representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Congo, Algeria, United Nations, African Union and United Nations. Fayez al-Sarraj, who leads the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and his rival, military commander Khalifa Haftar, attended but did not participate. All participating parties signed a 55-point communique, in which they also pledged to respect a UN-imposed arms embargo, which has so far failed to stop an influx of troops, cash and weapons into the oil-rich north African state.

On Tuesday, Lebanon announced a new government coalition led by a Hezbollah-backed candidate and establishment figures. Moments after the lineup was read out at the presidential palace in Beirut, new prime minister, little-known, 60-year-old technocrat Hassan Diab, said, “I’ve been appointed in the face of many accusations. I wanted to work, not to argue. I have abided by the law informing me to form a government. I followed the rules and regulations to form a new team of ministers.” The Hezbollah–backed prime minister is unlikely to gain the needed support of Gulf allies, the U.S. and other Western partners for economic assistance. The recent mass protests against the government are also unlikely to stop because of the government’s continued ties to the political establishment that is blamed for Lebanon’s chronic economic and political problems. 

On Wednesday, the UN human rights office released a statement on the alleged Saudi Arabia hack of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’ phone, calling for an “immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents.” A WhatsApp account belonging to the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2018 deployed digital spyware enabling surveillance of Bezos. The UNOCHR expressed grave concern over the developments, noting that the actions are in contravention of fundamental international human rights standards. The surveillance was conducted “in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” which had included coverage of the murder of Post correspondent Jamal Kashoggi. Saudi Arabia denied that it was behind the hacking and also called for an investigation.

World leaders converged in Jerusalem on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Dozens of world leaders attended the event and, in speeches, stressed the need to combat a growing global trend of antisemitism. Isreal’s Prime Minister Netanyahu used the opportunity to urge the world to unite to confront Iran. He warned that, today, Iran “openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state.” He also thanked President Trump and his deputy, Mike Pence, for their commitment to “confronting the tyrants of Tehran, who subjugate their own people, who threaten the peace and security of the entire world.” Iran has repeatedly called for the eradication of the State of Israel, but says that it is not anti-Semitic. It has also denied that it wants nuclear weapons.

On Friday, eight U.S. troops injured in the January 8th missile attack by Iran on the al Asad airbase in Iraq – and subsequently diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) – arrived in the United States for further treatment, according to Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. Hoffman said those troops are among a total of 34 American service members diagnosed with TBI after the attack, which was in reprisal for a U.S. drone strike Jan. 3rd that killed top Iranian general Qassed Soleimani. The statement was at least the third time U.S. officials have had to revise President Trump’s January 8th claim that no Americans were injured by the Iranian missile barrage. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime,” Trump declared at the White House hours after the Iranian attack. “We suffered no casualties.”

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