HomePoliticsBriefingTwo anniversaries of failure

Two anniversaries of failure

Lebanese raise their national flags as they gather near the Martyrs Square in Beirut's downtown 14 March 2005. Some one million people poured into the heart of the city for an opposition demanding an end to nearly three decades of Syrian military domination and to mark the fourth week of the death Hariri. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH BARRAK (Photo by Joseph BARRAK / AFP)

Lebanon’s freedom of speech under threat after academic and journalist Makram Rabah was detained for criticising Hezbollah in a televised interview, Escalating attacks across Lebanon-Israel borders, UN investigation urges probe into killing of Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah in south Lebanon, Hamas envoys returned to Cairo to resume ongoing negotiations attempting to usher in a ceasefire after weeks of failed attempts, Ceasefire talks with mediators resumed in Qatar in direct response to a new proposal from Hamas, Authorities in the Gaza Strip deemed the arrival of aid from Cyprus to be insufficient in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis, Nasrallah sent a message to Netanyahu as Ramadan began, Hezbollah Secretary General held discussions with senior Hamas representative Khalil al-Hayeh in Beirut, With IDF draft law deadline approaching some ultra-Orthodox threaten to leave Israel, Houthis operations targeting vessels in the Red Sea to escalate, Three accidents bloodied the Mediterranean Sea amid ongoing migration attempts towards European coasts as spring season begins, European Union prepared a 7.4 billion euros aid package for Egypt amid fears that the conflicts in Gaza and Sudan will foster people fleeing to Europe, Lebanon’s Public Works Ministry presented French plan to renovate the Beirut port after August 4 blast, MP Melhem Khalaf physically assaulted during a sit-in held in front of the Justice Palace, Mount Lebanon Judge Abou Haidar scheduled a hearing with Jounieh school director and teachers accused of inciting homosexuality, Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud ordered a series of measures targeting Syrian refugees living in the capital

In the midst of two failed revolutionary cycles, the anniversaries of which were celebrated in this week of March – in Lebanon, for the end of the Syrian military occupation, and in Syria, for the end of the occupation of thought, expression, and political participation – exile was imposed on most: and far from the cities whose streets they trampled shouting ‘hurriya’, freedom, very little remained of that youth, the legacy of their idealism scattered by violence, political murders, corruption. By the fear – once survived – of being persecuted.

Nineteen and thirteen years ago, public squares had the time to desire things: once they had been claimed, obtained, guarded, passed from hand to hand among the participants in the crowded streets, the challenge became: determining what to do with them. Who would have said, nineteen and thirteen years ago, that owning them – realizing ideals – would be so disappointing. Exhausted in contemplation and use, continuing to expect from them – revolutions transformed into calendar dates, war anniversaries, names of yet another political party – who knows what. Trapped and suffocated in the same power structure that, nineteen and thirteen years ago, they, the once-revolutions, deluded themselves of overthrowing – and which instead has survived them, tightening the links of clientelism and confessionalism, in one case, and of repression, in the other.

In the decades that followed those two revolutionary attempts – the March 14 movement and the Syrian revolution -, if Lebanon had to deal with its fragmented and militant sectarian identity, Syria, on the other side, still has to face the bloody and authoritarian one of the Assad regime.


The epilogue of March 14

On March 14, 2005, protesters from diverse sectarian and political affiliations gathered in Beirut, united in their demand for the immediate cessation of Syrian occupation over Lebanon, standing as the largest gathering ever witnessed in Lebanese history, emboldened by the Lebanese flag, calling for freedom, independence and sovereignty.

The success of March 14, a po­litical alliance that assembled groups opposed to Syrian presence in the country, exceeded all expec­tations: two months after the movement’s in­ception, Syria pulled its troops out of Lebanon; exiled and imprisoned Christian leaders returned to the country or were released from pris­ons; an international tribunal was established to investigate assassi­nations of anti-Syrian dissidents, most famously the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – and the general elections held that year culminated in a March 14 electoral sweep, the formation of a national government and the enactment of laws at an unprecedented rate, backed by international loans to help Lebanon restore its civilian and security infrastructure. The verge of restoring its sovereignty, independence and freedom, seemed achieved for the country: but March 14’s early momentum was soon met with opposition.

Syrian and Iranian loyalists, who framed themselves as an axis of resistance opposing a perceived post-colonial Western- and Zionist-imposed regional order, mobilized to show popular support for the Syrian presence in Lebanon. On March 8, just days prior to the March 14th protest, they gath­ered behind Hezbollah flags in what was famously labelled the ‘Thank You Syria’ gathering, mark­ing the inauguration of the March 8 movement.

The past nineteen years of political quarrels between the Marches have proven sufficient to bleed off and corrode the March 14 alliance. The coalition’s attempt to promote national unity ultimately reinforced sectarian divides, with each political faction pursuing its own agenda: collusion with Hezbollah and attempts to restore ties with the Syrian regime deepened these divides and eroded trust within Lebanese society, with Maronite leader Michel Aoun demanding exclusivity to Christian leadership, before forming his own opposition and merging with March 8, and Druze chief Walid Jumblatt – inheriting leadership from his slain father, Kamal, soon breaking rank and restoring ties with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Failing to demonstrate national integration, the movement was unable to establish the Lebanese state’s exclusive right to arms – a decisive factor in expanding its vul­nerability to sabotage. Political clarity was sacrificed for unity, exemplified by a controversial ministerial statement acknowledging Hezbollah’s armed presence; targeted assassinations of key figures silenced dissent within the movement, while the Beirut takeover in 2008 underscored the erosion of democratic norms and heightened societal tensions.


Thirteen years of suppression

On March 15, the Syrian revolution entered its thirteenth year weighted down with tens of thousands of detainees, millions of displaced and refugees, the killing of 231,278 civilians, including 15,334 due to torture, arbitrary detention of 156,757 individuals, and about 14 million people displaced, by the conflicting parties and the ruling authorities in Syria from March 2011 until March 2024, according to the documentation by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR).

Thirteen years of  paradoxes, and claims for social rights precipitated in requests for bread and water. Today’s economic concern brings together Syrians of all political affiliations, and pushes a large segment of Assad supporters further and further away from the regime: their survival, which has always been linked to its survival, has become threatened by basic causes, with the lack of food and housing opportunities and the loss of life in demeaning work. The question that naturally arises is whether this is enough or not to create an opposition movement to the regime in other areas beyond Sweida, the predominantly Druze-majority province which has witnessed scattered and continuous protests throughout the previous years led by its intellectual elite – and, since last August, with demonstrations never being so widespread and inclusive. During the past seven months, Sweida’s protests have been joined by women’s movements, religious figures, employees, urban and rural residents, intellectuals, and opposition politicians.

Glimpses of 2011 are brought back by this movement, with protests spreading in other parts of Syria, including Daraa, Idlib, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, and Aleppo. Voices of opposition from the Syrian coast – the heart of the Syrian regime’s stronghold – are growing louder, openly calling for change and the departure of the head of the regime. Moreover, new revolutionary groups, like the Tenth of August Movement, are also forming.

But something has changed radically in thirteen years. As much joy as the Sweida demonstrations aroused last year, they also aroused in protesters fear at the amount of freedom that surrounded them, and the hopes they promised seemed to be dashed by the knowledge of the inability of other cities to do the same. This uprising met with media incitement by the regime, accusing the crowd of demonstrators of betrayal and profiteering. Using media incitement against the people of Sweida to create division between Syrians and create a reason to arrest and maybe attack them in the future, as he did in other areas, the government has been implementing its suppression machine. The Syrians who regained their voices, closing the headquarters of the Baath Party and removing pictures of Bashar al-Assad from the streets and buildings of the city; those who began to speak out publicly on social media platforms, in the comfort of private places, then to the streets, are weakened by the progress of time. Turned in their forties, the youth of 2011 have been left more vulnerable, fragmented, and less influential without connections, their friends killed, imprisoned, or exiled. 


Re-signifying transformation

An attempt to reorganize the Lebanese crowd of March 2005 was made in October 2019 – that of 2011, last summer, amidst the heat of the Syrian August, in Sweida. Progress, nineteen and thirteen years ago, was the horizon of existence. It meant well-being, children’s health, shiny houses and lighted streets, knowledge, everything that forever turned its back on the darkness of occupation, the violent repression of dissent, and war.

Today it means transforming the individual into the collective. Making do with dark streets, dirty and destroyed houses, sick children who leave school to support impoverished families; accepting a war of constant attrition, pervasive in its low intensity and constancy, drones overhead, sporadic bombings and sanctions; an economic war of halved meals and tripled rents; welcoming the uncertainty of tomorrow – but refusing the ‘aeroplane-grave’ binomial, to-leave-or-to-die, allowing ourselves to stay, to rebuild a country from small suburban neighborhoods, reclaiming the capital cities’ bombed centers, reclaiming their silenced and rebuilt centers, illuminated only after having been emptied. Using the street protests for what they are: not a political project, but a public space for meeting and exchanging new ideas, for dialogue which aims at being horizontal and transversal, at first, and then vertical: but from the bottom up; space to conquer specific requests, agendas full of points to be climbed one at a time, without being stopped, starting from this: that March may be a month of spring renewal, and no longer of reminder of suffocation, corruption, and anniversaries of mass death.


In Lebanon

In solidarity with Makram Rabah: On Sunday, academic and journalist Makram Rabah revealed in a post on his X account that he was notified that he needed to present himself at the General Security Security Investigation Department. The day after, caretaker government Commissioner to the Military Court, Fadi Akiki, through Public Security, placed Rabah in detention after he refused to hand over his phone – as the investigation was about a television interview, and had nothing to do with his personal communications.  He was later transferred to the General Security building in Beirut, preventing his transfer to the Military Court building and his immediate release. After being detained for more than an hour, Rabah’s lawyer, Louay Ghandour, announced that Judge Akiki issued a decision to release him. Upon his departure from the General Security headquarters, interviewed by AlHadath, Rabah confirmed that the investigating Judge at the Military Court was the one who issued the arrest warrant. “What happened today proves that the military court is a tool to pressure activists opposed to Hezbollah,” he stated, adding that “if I were a Captagon trader like Hezbollah, investigating judge Fadi Akiki would not have dared to arrest me.”

A wave of solidarity spread on social media when other journalists, academics and political activists learned of the news. “The accusation is his political opinion,” “Lebanon without freedoms negates the reason for its existence,” “Freedom of speech in Lebanon has become a joke,” “He is saying what we all say or think of,” “Against any security investigation into media professionals and academics. Differences in opinion are discussed, no matter how different we are, it’s over” several posts in solidarity with the academic read on X.

In a satirical tone, Rabah added on his post on X “Maybe you would like to know from me about the meeting of the Axis ‘Resistance’ that took place in Beirut last week,” referring to the meeting held by Hezbollah leaders in the capital. Not by chance, in the interview he was summoned for, as AlHadath reported, Rabah raised criticism against the Iran-backed party. His detention opens up serious questions on the country’s state of police and the protection of its citizens’ freedom of speech and thought, as well as their right to privacy. 


Killing journalists: A UN peacekeepers investigation found that “there was no exchange of fire across the Blue Line” when an Israeli tank round killed Reuters video journalist Issam Abdallah on October 13, 2023, adding that he had been part of a group of “clearly identifiable journalists,” and that “the reason for the strikes on the journalists is not known.” The investigation conducted by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), summarized in a report seen by Reuters, said its personnel did not record any exchange of fire across the border between Israel and Lebanon for more than 40 minutes before the Israeli Merkava tank opened fire, corroborating earlier findings on the strike which blamed Israel for the attack that killed Abdallah and six others. 

Last month, more than 120 individuals and groups called for a UN probe into Israeli attacks on journalists in south Lebanon, after in November Al Mayadeen’s journalists Farah Omar and Rabih Maamari were killed by Israeli strikes while working in southern Lebanon.

“The firing at civilians, in this instance clearly identifiable journalists, constitutes a violation of UNSCR 1701 and international law,” the UNIFIL report said, referring to the Security Council resolution of 2006. The seven-page report dated February 27 added that the Israeli army “should conduct an investigation into the incident and a full review of their procedures at the time to avoid a recurrence” and “should share their investigation’s findings with UNIFIL.” 

Asked about the UNIFIL report, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Nir Dinar said Hezbollah had attacked the IDF near the Israeli community of Hanita on October 13, to whom it responded with artillery and tank fire to remove the threat and subsequently received a report that journalists had been injured. “The IDF deplores any injury to uninvolved parties, and does not deliberately shoot at civilians, including journalists,” Dinar said. “The IDF considers the freedom of the press to be of utmost importance while clarifying that being in a war zone is dangerous.”

However, UNIFIL’s recent findings lend further support to a Reuters investigation published on December 7 that showed that seven journalists from Agence France-Presse, Al Jazeera, and Reuters, were clearly hit by two 120 mm rounds fired by a tank 1.34 km away in Israel. The group of reporters had been filming cross-border shelling from a distance in an open area on a hill near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab for nearly an hour before the attack. The day afterwards, the Israeli military said it already had visuals of the incident and it was being investigated: yet, they have not published a report of the findings to date.


A message to Netanyahu: Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivered another speech on Wednesday evening, amid increasingly hostile statements from Israeli officials and attempts to mediate an end to cross-border fighting, marked by a recent visit from US Envoy Amos Hochstein to Beirut. Usually honoring and commemorating party members killed on its front of support for Gaza, Hezbollah leader has rebalanced the scope of the resistance’s efforts – moving from strengthening Lebanon’s position in eventual negotiations over the land border dispute with Israel, to underlining the border clashes as defensive and deterring Israel’s desire for military expansion.

At the Sayyeda Zaynab complex in Haret Hreik, on the southern outskirts of the capital, a succession of personalities recited the Quran from the rostrum before Nasrallah began his speech. “This year, Ramadan will be marked by Gaza, its people and the support fronts in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. These support fronts will be present during this blessed month, and they must be strong,” he said in the opening of his speech, as the party continued its cross-border strikes against Israel. Nasrallah dedicated most of his speech to the start of Ramadan and religious issues, saying that discussion about the southern Lebanese front would have to wait for another speech during the Muslim holy month.

According to Nasrallah, Hamas is negotiating from a position of strength for a ceasefire. “Those who say that the ball is in Hamas’ court regarding the talks are lying. The United States is lying to exonerate Benjamin Netanyahu from the failure of the negotiations.” He later addressed the Israeli Prime Minister stating that “you have lost the war, whether you decide to enter Rafah or not.” With Israeli Defense Forces willing to carry out an offensive on Rafah, the city in the south of the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have taken refuge, after five months of intense fighting, Nasrallah continued, “Israel has not managed to win a single victory, has not achieved a single one of its objectives,” and “even the enemy’s experts recognize the losses inflicted by the resistance.” 

Commenting on the economic losses suffered in south Lebanon, a topic that would be tackled in a further speech, the Secretary General described them as “nothing compared to the enormous Israeli losses on the northern front,” where the Israeli army is short of manpower and is seeking to recruit 14,500 officers and soldiers, “even if it means recruiting from the ranks of ultra-Orthodox Jews,” he added referring to the recent discussion inside Israel on the opposition stances to military conscription raised by the conservative religious community of the country.


The Beirut meetings: Hezbollah Secretary General held discussions with Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas representative involved in ceasefire negotiations in Gaza, according to a statement from Hezbollah on Tuesday. The Beirut meeting between Nasrallah and Hayeh took place as Ramadan began, following the failure of Qatar and Egypt-mediated efforts to establish a truce prior to the holy month. 

Involving a comprehensive review of current field-level conditions and developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and various support fronts, during the meeting, discussions also centered around ongoing negotiations aimed at ending aggression against Gaza and establishing conditions conducive to Palestinian resistance efforts. Nearly six months since the start of military operations by the Iran-backed militias in Lebanon against the Israeli occupation in the southern region, in fact, the front is likely to remain open until the Israeli aggression against Gaza comes to an end. Meanwhile, the attention is turning to the outcome of the ongoing negotiations regarding a ceasefire in Gaza.

In addition, amid ongoing hostilities along the Lebanon-Israel border, international efforts to avert a full-scale conflict in Lebanon are intensifying. Amos Hochstein, an advisor to US President Joe Biden, has called on both sides to commit to a durable ceasefire to ease tensions in the region. While Hezbollah maintains that peace in Gaza is essential for tranquility along the Lebanon-Israel frontier, Israeli authorities contend that such measures alone would not suffice. Recent Israeli military actions have in fact extended deep into Lebanon, resulting in casualties and injuries near Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, claimed by the Israeli military’s Arabic spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, as a response to Hezbollah’s assaults on the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

Moreover, with regional proxies under attack, the head of Iran’s Quds Forces has repeatedly visited Beirut to discuss the risk posed if Israel next aims at Hezbollah, an offensive that could severely hurt Tehran’s main regional partner. In Beirut, Quds Forces chief Esmail Qaani met Hezbollah leader, different sources told Reuters, for at least the third time since October 7 attacks and Israel’s devastating retaliatory assault on Gaza, with the conversations turning to the possibility of a full Israeli offensive to its north, inside Lebanon. As well as damaging the Shi’ite Islamist group, such an escalation could pressure Iran to react more forcefully than it has so far since October 7.

However, at the previously unreported meeting, Nasrallah reassured Qaani he didn’t want Iran to get sucked into a war with Israel or the United States and that Hezbollah would fight on its own, the sources interviewed by Reuters said. Calibrated to avoid a major escalation, the skirmishes in Lebanon have nonetheless pushed tens of thousands of people from their homes either side of the border; Israeli strikes have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters and some 50 civilians in Lebanon, while attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and six civilians, according to IDF figures, although Hezbollah believes the number of casualties is much higher.


Escalating attacks: The meetings came as Hezbollah carried out several military operations against Israeli military sites beginning on Monday, March 11, including an aerial attack with four drones on the Israeli air and missile defense headquarters at Keila barracks. The Jal Al-Alam site and a gathering of Israeli soldiers in Al-Tayhat Hill have also been targeted. On Monday night, Israeli air forces bombed the Beqaa Valley region, which Hezbollah responded with over 100 rockets on Israeli sites in the occupied Golan Heights.

The day after, Tuesday, March 12, Israel targeted a number of areas near Baalbek in Lebanon’s eastern Beqaa Valley, marking a significant escalation. The enemy’s warplanes struck the towns of Sarin and Nabi Sheet, reportedly causing two deaths and at least 10 injuries, according to the Lebanese Civil Defense. “An unexploded missile was found under the main road in the town of Hrajel Al-Kesrawaniya, in Mount Lebanon. It is believed that it fell from one of the Israeli planes flying toward the Beqaa Valley to carry out raids. Security forces and a military expert came to the site and are working to dismantle the missile,” state-run NNA reported on Tuesday afternoon. Hezbollah carried out several attacks on Israeli sites later in the same afternoon, including Burkan missile attacks on the Birkat Risha site and the Zarit barracks. 

Further Israeli attacks on Wednesday killed Hamas official Hadi Mustafa – the third assassinated in Israeli strikes in Lebanon – and a bystander in Sour, near the Rashidieh Palestinian camp, strucking a car driving along the city’s main road. Later on the same day a seven-year-old child in Yater was seriously injured in a building airstrike, while two others were slightly wounded.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Abdallah Bou Habib issued a statement declaring that he has instructed the relevant departments within the ministry to file a complaint before the United Nations Security Council through Lebanon’s permanent mission to the UN in New York, “following a series of Israeli attacks deemed the most violent, on the 11 and 12 of the current month.” Targeting civilians in residential areas in the vicinity of Baalbek city and adjacent villages, resulting in casualties and injuries among innocent individuals, the statement further asserted that “what is particularly concerning is that this escalation occurs in areas far from the southern Lebanese borders, indicating Israel’s desire to widen the conflict and drag the entire region into a war that could ignite from such aggressive acts, potentially evolving into a regional conflict sought after by the Israeli government as a lifeline to escape its internal predicaments.”

Based on this, Bou Habib raised a call to the international community urging it to exert pressure on Israel to halt its ongoing escalating attacks, and reiterated the necessity of condemning, collectively, the Israeli aggressions against Lebanon by the members of the Security Council, working towards the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 of 2006.


Renovating Beirut port: On Wednesday, March 13, the Public Works Ministry presented a plan to renovate the Beirut port after the blast that on August 4, 2020 devastated the capital. During the previous week, caretaker Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh said that the rehabilitation aligns with a “strategic vision to develop the Lebanese port sector so it can fulfil its role in the Eastern Mediterranean region.” 

Funded by the French government, the project was designed by Artelia, a French construction engineering firm operating in the maritime infrastructure sector, and Egis, a road and airport operator, along with France’s national electricity company Électricité de France (EDF). However, the final choices were guided by experts with the Beirut Port Authority.

During a meeting with the press earlier this month, French Embassy Regional Economic Office chief François Sporrer presented the three-part plan as costing between 50 and 100 million dollars, set to be financed by the Beirut Port Authority, and necessitating three-to-four years for completion. During Wednesday’s meeting, the detailed master plan was presented, along with the model documents needed to enable authorities to launch the calls for tender required for work contacts, as well as the safety assessment report produced by a French expert who found that the port no longer meets international standards and recommended remedial action.

The plan would cover the entire port area, stretching over 1.2 million square meters, except for the container terminal operated by French shipping giant CMA CGM, and the section held by the Army, located towards downtown and the perimeter of the explosion. Divided into three sections, the plan’s first part covers rehabilitation and repair work; the second part, then, focuses on the layout of the port and internal traffic routes, aiming at improving the processing time for goods. Finally, the third part, which will be handled by EDF, mainly involves deploying as much photovoltaic capacity as possible on the roofs of the buildings, possibly by installing solar panels on the breakwater. The plan is expected to include the construction of a new area to house grain silos, a passenger terminal, the development of the existing basins and the reorganization of the various access gates to the port area.


Assaulted: Despite the plan for the port’s renovation having been disclosed, the call for accountability has not been achieved yet. Blast victims’ relatives called for the investigation to resume after nearly two years of paralysis during their monthly commemorative vigil on Monday, March 4, marking 1308 days since the disaster that killed more than 220 people, injured nearly 7,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Moreover, last Tuesday, March 12, MP Melhem Khalaf, also the former president of the Beirut Bar Association (BBA), was physically assaulted during a sit-in held in front of the Justice Palace in support of three lawyers and activists Wassef Harakeh, Ali Abbas and Pierre Gemayel, who are campaigning for the resumption of the investigations into the Beirut blast. In footage posted on social media, Khalaf was speaking to army soldiers and law enforcement officers. He was then pushed away by one of them, and others raised their batons and struck in his direction, banning him from entering the Justice Palace, before violently pushing him back.

In his capacity as former president of the Bar Association, and at the request of the three activist lawyers, Khalaf was due to take part in the hearing to which the BBA Council had summoned them. This came after Advocate General at the Court of Appeal Zaher Hamadeh requested the council to authorize their prosecution for “humiliation of justice, defamation and insults.” Before granting or denying him this authorization, the BBA Council had to inquire with the lawyers about the accusations which are based on Article 383 of the Criminal Code, which relates to directing expressions of contempt at a public employee in the form of words, motions or intimidation.

On Tuesday afternoon, Khalaf commented on the attack against him, saying that the use of “violence” is “the first sign of desperation.” “The message is delivered and your violence will not create fear,” he wrote on X. “We will continue to confront the coup d’état until the end.” Early in the evening, the BBA Council, chaired by Fadi Masri, issued a statement denouncing “the attack on his fellows, including a former president of the Bar Association who is well-known for his commitment to upholding the Constitution and enforcing the law.” “We insist that the necessary investigations be carried out and that judicial and disciplinary measures be taken against the perpetrators of the attack and those they account for,” the statement added, calling for “the toughest sanctions,” to be taken.

The President of the Beirut Bar Association reached out to the acting Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Jamal Hajjar, conveying the demands of the BBA Council, as reported by the National News Agency. Any decision made, however, can be appealed before the Beirut chamber at the Court of Appeal, presided over by Ayman Oueidat, which holds jurisdiction over cases concerning trade unions and syndicates.


Targeting Syrian refugees: On Wednesday, Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud issued regulations forcing displaced Syrians to register their papers with the municipality, prohibiting them from freelance work without a municipal licence and demanding data from their lessors and employers, Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour reported. The Governor ordered a series of measures targeting Syrian refugees living in the Lebanese capital, ordering them, notably, to register their residency and vehicle papers at the Beirut municipality building within 15 days, amid widespread public anger towards the neighboring country’s refugees as municipalities across Lebanon issue strict measures against them.

Beirut MP Wadah Sadek, expressing support for the decision, shifted the focus on “the Interior Ministry and the Internal Security Forces who are directly responsible for implementing the decision of the governor and punishing those who violate” Abboud’s orders. The new regulations demand that employers issue displaced Syrians with documents certifying the relationship – emphasizing the directives’ application to “delivery workers.” Lessors, meanwhile, have been asked to refrain from concluding contracts with displaced Syrian tenants before obtaining municipality approval. 

Last year, Lebanese authorities issued a series of restrictions targeting displaced Syrians, including demands for their registration with local authorities along with restrictions on labour and access to rental contracts. At the beginning of October, moreover, Lebanon’s Minister of Interior and Municipalities Bassam Mawlawi formally requested the Internal Security Forces to initiate a campaign against Syrian individuals driving motorcycles without Lebanese residency, directing Governor Abboud to instruct the Municipal Guard to ramp up security patrols. Since last spring, the government also undertook mass deportations, drawing concern from rights organizations considering Syria unsafe for return.


Investigated: Mount Lebanon Judge Joelle Abou Haidar scheduled a hearing last Friday with five teachers and the director of the Central School of the Lebanese Maronite Order in Jounieh accused of “inciting homosexuality” by distributing a worksheet showing families with same-sex parents, media channel Al Modon reported.

The Lebanese Maronite Order said the teacher behind the distribution and the coordinator who approved it have been suspended for one month from the Collège Central des Moines Libanais. The Order’s statement claimed the teachers who approved the second grade class’ worksheet illustration, adapted from Quebecois author Élise Gravel, intended to use it to show that extended family members can support orphaned children and denied any link to homosexuality. 

However, the judge – who oversees juvenile cases in Mount Lebanon – based her decision on the fact that what was stated “is considered an encouragement to sexual deviance that is inconsistent with moral values,” and that it falls “within the framework of promoting homosexuality that is prevalent recently and that is contrary to moral and educational values ​​and the provisions of nature itself,” as stated in the text of the summons. 

In a statement published on its website, the school administration, which was quick to open an investigation into the matter, confirmed that after reviewing the document distributed to some second-grade students, and the controversy that arose around it, it has taken control of the matter with all its details and is conducting the necessary investigation. As for the parents’ committee at the school, it sided with the administration and confirmed in a statement that the central school is committed to the teachings of the church, denouncing the campaign launched against this school.

The Central School of the Lebanese Maronite Order in Jounieh is affiliated with the Kaslik Order, well-known for being strict on the family issue and rejecting homosexuality: however, at the same time, the school follows the French curriculum in education.


In The Region 

Meanwhile, in the West Bank: 68 orphaned children and 11 caregivers and their families were evacuated from an orphanage in the southern Gaza town of Rafah and taken to the West Bank on Monday, according to a statement issued by the German embassy in Tel Aviv. The embassy described the transfer as a “temporary measure during the war, sheltering the children from acute danger, and not an attempt to move them permanently.”

Palestinian Minister of Social Development, Ahmad Majdalani, claimed that “the Ministries of Social Development and Interior in Ramallah, in cooperation and coordination with the German Government, helped transfer seventy orphan children from Rafah to the SOS Children’s Villages International in Bethlehem, temporarily, until the end of the current war,” ensuring that “we will be able to return them to the institution in the city of Rafah,” as quoted by the Palestinian news agency WAFA. Majdalani explained during a meeting held in the city of Ramallah with the head of the mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the State of Palestine, Ambassador Oliver Ovtscha, that Israel tried to employ this step positively to its advantage in light of its killing of children and civilians. He added that had it not been for German and international pressure on the occupation government, it would not have agreed to transfer these orphans to the West Bank, calling on the German government to exert more pressure on the occupation government to stop the war of genocide and starvation against our people.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Biden administration announced new sanctions against two illegal outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory that have been used as bases for attacks on Palestinian civilians by extremist Israeli settlers, three US officials told the Axios website. “This would be the first time US sanctions have been imposed against entire outposts and not just individuals,” the site said. The decision comes as the Biden administration increases pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over a range of issues, including settler violence against Palestinians and the war in Gaza.

More than 500 attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians took place between October 7 and January 31 this year, according to the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA): as of January, settlers have killed at least eight Palestinians and injured 111, per OCHA’s database; repeated waves of violence by settlers, often backed by the army, have led to the displacement of 1,208 Palestinians, including 586 children, across 198 households. Part of what human rights defenders are describing as ‘economic warfare by settlers which leads to displacement,’ these violent acts constitute systematic brutality unleashed by extremist settlers onto the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank in parallel to the genocidal acts carried out by the Israeli army in Gaza.

Supported by the Israeli security forces and aided and abetted by the government, settler violence is a central part of the Israeli state’s policy and plan to ethnically cleanse the occupied Palestinian territory in order to establish full sovereignty over it and enable settlement expansion – despite settlements being illegal under international law, as they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has ratified. Furthermore, settlement expansion plans are often used as a way to consolidate Israel’s de facto annexation of occupied territory, in contravention of the prohibition of territorial conquest through force set out in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Despite the clarity of international law on the matter, supported by the 2016 UN Security Council resolution not vetoed by the United States, Israel has provided the political conditions and economic incentives, as well as infrastructural support, for the growth of 279 settlements in the West Bank in which some 700,000 settlers reside.


Mutual recrimination: Last week, Hamas envoys returned to Cairo to resume ongoing negotiations attempting to usher in a ceasefire after weeks of failed attempts to reconcile the group’s demand for a total halt of assaults with Israel’s insistence on an immediate hostage release. On the other side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his objective of eradicating Hamas, which he claimed necessitates the Israeli army’s expansion into Rafah – against which international actors have repeatedly warned, citing the risk to the more than one million civilians displaced to Gaza’s southernmost city. 

Nevertheless, the Israeli army has already shelled Rafah several times, killing dozens of civilians, and hitting on Wednesday a warehouse used by the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), causing several injuries and deaths. On Thursday morning, the Gazan Health Ministry reported that 70 people were killed overnight by Israeli airstrikes, and denounced ongoing airstrikes and artillery shelling in the south of the Strip. 

Despite ceasefire talks being ongoing in Cairo, scant information has come out regarding their progress. Mediators Qatar, Egypt and the US had hoped to secure a deal by the start of Ramadan, which began last Monday and Tuesday for different groups. On his side, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, placed blame on the Israeli occupation for the failure to reach a ceasefire agreement in Gaza, despite the militant group showing great positivity and flexibility in negotiations. 

In a speech detailing Hamas’ stance on ceasefire talks and Gaza developments, Haniyeh emphasized that the occupation is avoiding the logical resolution of the prisoner exchange issue. Reiterating Hamas’ willingness to reach an agreement that upholds its principles, Haniyeh stated that “if we receive a clear commitment to halt the aggression and repatriate the displaced, we will be flexible on the issue of prisoners,” the National News Agency (NNA) reported him as saying, highlighting the party’s constructive approach and commitment to a comprehensive agreement in three stages, contingent on international guarantees. This would include, namely, a ceasefire, blocking all suspicious plans targeting Gaza, and a commitment to a prisoner exchange.

This stance aligns with a report in the Israeli newspaper Maariv,  as reported by Al Mayadeen, which contradicted claims by the Mossad that Hamas was uninterested in a prisoner exchange deal. According to a senior Israeli security source cited in the newspaper, it is the Israeli side that is stubborn on the issue of prisoner exchange, with disagreements between political and professional levels of the government hindering negotiations.

This comes as the death toll in Gaza has almost reached a devastating 32,000, with a staggering 72% of the victims being women and children, according to a report by the Ministry of Health, and more children having been killed in the last five months than in an entire four years of worldwide conflict, UNRWA’s chief said. On Wednesday alone, the occupation forces committed seven massacres against families in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death of 67 Palestinians and the injury of 106 others.


Resumed talks: The head of Israeli intelligence is expected to lead ceasefire talks with mediators which resume in Qatar on Monday, March 18, in direct response to a new proposal from Hamas. The talks between Mossad head David Barnea, Qatar’s prime minister and Egyptian officials will focus on remaining gaps between Israel and Hamas including over prisoner releases and humanitarian aid. Aiming at securing a six-week truce in Gaza, under which the Palestinian militants are expected to release 40 hostages, an Israeli official quoted by Reuters announced, this stage of the negotiations could take at least two weeks.

Barnea was involved in previous significant pushes for a deal: a short-lived truce in November was in fact agreed and came into effect after his participation in talks in Doha, while his last meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister in January led to a proposal for a temporary ceasefire that Hamas ultimately rejected.

Earlier on Friday, Israel announced it would be sending a delegation to Doha, but did not spell out when it would do so or who would take part, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to convene the security cabinet before the talks. Before that, Hamas presented a new ceasefire proposal to mediators and the United States that includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences. Hamas said the initial release of Israelis would comprise women – including female recruits -, children, elderly and ill hostages in return for the release of 700-1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the proposal. However, Netanyahu’s office said on Thursday that Hamas’ proposal was still based on “unrealistic demands.”

Repeated efforts to agree a ceasefire and exchange hostages for prisoners have fallen apart this year, despite mounting international pressure over the human cost of Israel’s ground and air assault in Gaza.


Crumbs: A first boat, belonging to the Spanish NGO Open Arms and towing a barge, loaded with 200 tons of food supplies left Cyprus for Gaza on Tuesday. Four US army ships also left the United States on Tuesday with around 100 soldiers and the equipment needed to build a jetty and quay in Gaza to unload humanitarian aid “within 60 days,” according to the US authorities.

A second ship destined for Gaza through the tentative Cypriot maritime aid corridor set sail on Wednesday, while Palestinian and international actors have warned that the quantities transported are meagre compared to the enclave’s needs, as famine looms nearly inevitable. In fact, the authorities in the Gaza Strip deemed the arrival of aid in a ship that left Cyprus on Tuesday to be insufficient in the face of the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory after more than five months of war. “Given what has been announced, the boat’s cargo does not exceed that of one or two trucks and will take days to arrive,” said Salama Marouf, spokesman for the Gazan government press service, in a statement. 

Furthermore, Amnesty International head Agnes Callamard said it was a sign of the international community’s weakness to attempt seafaring aid for Gaza, an inexpensive and inefficient workaround to Israeli regulations and difficulties to transport amid the war, while it continues to transfer arms to Israel.


Policing borders: At the same time, the European Union is preparing a 7.4 billion euros aid package for Egypt with the purpose of helping boost its economy amid fears that the conflicts in Gaza and Sudan will increase the likelihood of people fleeing to Europe, the Financial Times reported.

European Commission president Ursual von der Leyen travelled to Cairo on Sunday with Greek, Italian, and Belgian prime ministers to finalize and announce the agreement. According to Reuters, the agreement is designed to enhance cooperation in areas including renewable energy, trade, and security while delivering grants, loans and other funding over the next three years to support Egypt’s faltering economy.

The proposed package is the latest in a series of EU deals with northern African countries established to avoid the kind of economic instability that might further exacerbate the flow of migrants into Europe. European governments have in fact long been worried about the risk of instability in Egypt, a country of 106 million people that has been struggling to raise foreign currency and where economic adversity has pushed increasing numbers to migrate in recent years – with inflation running close to record highs, although over the past month the financial pressure on the government has eased as Egypt has struck a record deal for Emirati investment. Moreover, Egypt’s Finance Minister has said the government has lined up a total of 20 billion dollars in multilateral support after increasing its loan and economic reform programme with the IMF. Of that, funding from the European Union is expected to total 5-6 billion dollars, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait told Asharq Business.

The EU has similar deals with Tunisia and Mauritania, the Financial Times reported, in which it has pledged money and other incentives in return for the north African countries policing their borders and preventing migrants crossing over into Europe. These deals, however, have been criticized for being ineffective and willfully avoiding the root causes.


The threat of the Haredim: Earlier in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his government would find a way to end exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israeli military service in the face of political pressures that threaten his narrow coalition’s future. “We will determine goals for conscripting ultra-Orthodox people to the IDF and national civil service,” Netanyahu said at a press conference as quoted by Reuters, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. “We will also determine the ways to implement those goals.”

Known as Haredim, ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 13% of Israel’s population, a figure expected to reach 19% by 2035 due to their high birth rates. The exemptions from military conscription granted to Haredim have been a longstanding source of friction with more secular citizens now stoked by the country’s costly mobilization for the Gaza war. “We recognize and support those who dedicate their life to studying Jewish holy scripture but, with that, without physical existence there is no spiritual existence,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.

Israel’s Supreme Court in 2018 voided a law waiving the draft for ultra-Orthodox men, citing a need for the burden of military service to be shared across Israeli society. However, parliament failed to come up with a new arrangement, and the current government-issued stay on mandatory conscription of ultra-Orthodox, passed in June 2023, will expire at the end of March – at which time the government will enforce the draft law for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. On their side, the Haredim claim the right to study in seminaries instead of serving in uniform for the standard three years. Some say their lifestyles would clash with military mores, while others voice ideological opposition to the liberal state: however, economists argue that the draft exemption keeps some of them unnecessarily in seminaries and out of the workforce.

In this regard, last week, Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef warned that compulsory drafting into the Israeli military would lead to mass emigration of ultra-Orthodox Jews. “If they force us to join the army, we will all move abroad,” Yosef claimed, threatening “we will buy tickets, there is no such thing as forcing us into the army,” and that “the state stands on this.” “All these secular people don’t understand that without kollels and yeshivas,” full-time institutes for advanced study of rabbinic literature, “the army would not be successful,” Yosef said. “The soldiers only succeed thanks to those learning Torah.” Several ultra-Orthodox students spoke out in support of Rabbi Yosef’s statement. 

Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party, attacked the chief Sephardic rabbi for his remarks. “After 2,000 years of exile, we have returned to our land. We will fight for it and we will never abandon it,” said Gantz, who served as the IDF chief of staff from 2011-2015. “Rabbi Yosef’s remarks are a moral blow to the state and Israeli society. Everyone should partake in the sacred right to serve and fight for our country, especially at this difficult time. Our ultra-Orthodox brothers too,” Gantz continued. Moreover, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Wednesday he opposes extending blanket exemptions, adding that manpower strains on the army during fighting in Gaza and on the northern border require the contribution of all sectors of society, making the exemption that ultra-Orthodox men receive in order to study in yeshivas impractical.


The Yemeni front: The leader of Yemen’s Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said on Thursday the group’s operations targeting vessels will escalate to prevent Israel-linked ships from passing through the Indian Ocean towards the Cape of Good Hope. “Our main battle is to prevent ships linked to the Israeli enemy from passing through not only the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but also the Indian Ocean towards the Cape of Good Hope. This is a major step and we have begun to implement our operations related to it,” al-Houthi said in a televised speech, as quoted by Reuters.

Late on Thursday, the US military said Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from Yemen toward the Gulf of Aden, and to the north, two missiles toward the Red Sea, but there were no injuries or damage reported to US or coalition ships. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said early on Friday it destroyed nine anti-ship missiles and two drones in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

Since November, the Iran-aligned group has been conducting attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, claiming to do so in solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel’s genocidal onslaught on Gaza, and consequently causing the disrupt of global shipping, leading companies to reroute vessels on longer and more costly journeys around southern Africa. In response, the United States and Britain have conducted strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and reclassified the militia as a terrorist organization: according to al-Houthi, around 34 Houthi members have been killed since the attacks began.


Our deadly sea: At least 22 people drowned, including seven children, when a rubber boat carrying migrants sank off Turkey’s northwest province of Canakkale, the local governor’s office said on Friday, adding that search and rescue efforts continued. In a statement quoted by Reuters, the Canakkale governor’s office said that two people had been rescued by the coast guard and two others had survived “by their own means” after the boat capsized, adding that a plane, two helicopters, and a total of 18 vessels from the coast guard and other rescue authorities were involved in the search and rescue efforts, along with 502 personnel. 

On the same day, at least 34 migrants were missing and two died after their boat sank off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the Tunisian national guard said as reported by Reuters. The boat which sailed from Libya coast was carrying 70 people, and 34 people were rescued off the southern town of Zarzis. Earlier this week, Tunisian coast guard also recovered five bodies of migrants.

With improving weather in the last weeks, the flow of African migrants, including Tunisians, in boats heading for Europe has increased. A record 1,313 migrants were reported to have died or went missing off the Tunisian coast last year, a rights group said last month, highlighting the unending migrant crisis in the North African country. Meanwhile, Italy and other European Union governments are trying to curb the number of sea migrants making the crossing from North Africa, and have offered money or equipment to Libya and Tunisia to stop departures from their shores. Data from the Italian Interior Ministry record that 5,968 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, down from 19,937 at the same stage in 2023.

Moreover, a charity rescue group reported on Thursday that as many as 60 individuals drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to the European southern coast of Italy or Malta, after SOS Mediterranee disclosed that it rescued 25 people in a severely weakened state in collaboration with the Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday. Additionally, two unconscious individuals were airlifted to Sicily via helicopter.  SOS Mediterranee revealed on the social media platform X that the survivors embarked from Zawiya, Libya, a week prior to their rescue. Their engine malfunctioned after three days, leaving the boat adrift without water and food for several days. Additionally, the charity conducted rescue operations on Wednesday and Thursday, rescuing 113 people from a wooden boat, including two children, and 88 individuals from a crowded rubber dinghy.

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) expressed deep concern over the report, emphasizing the urgent need for enhanced maritime patrols to prevent further tragedies. 

The central Mediterranean route stands as one of the most perilous migration paths globally. According to the IOM, nearly 2,500 migrants lost their lives or went missing while attempting the journey last year, with 226 fatalities recorded since the beginning of 2024.


What We’re Reading

Inflationary pressures: In the shadow of systematic corruption and escalating inflation, Lebanon’s government approved significant public sector salary adjustments, retroactive to December 2023. Sparking debates on economic sustainability and the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures amidst a backdrop of financial crisis and public unrest, NOW’s Maan Barazy noted how unsatisfactory results have fostered a cautious atmosphere regarding the future, especially as the recent adjustments hold little real value for employees and retirees.


Psychological siege: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail explored the invisible scars of the ongoing psychological battlefield in Gaza, where occupation has endured for decades, characterized by cyclical violence, political upheaval, and deep-seated grievances. Amidst this turmoil, a less visible but equally pernicious transformation occurs within the hearts and minds of those caught in the crossfire: the people of Gaza, as he wrote for NOW, face a daily reality where violence has become a normalised backdrop to their lives, carrying profound implications, not only for the present turmoil but for the future trajectory of the region.


Breaking the cycle of political failure: Revolutionary fièvre, with its promise of liberation and transformation, has captivated the hearts and minds of countless generations, with popular insurrections calling for change and inspiring movements shaking the foundations of their contemporary societies. Yet, too often, these noble aspirations have been derailed by internal discord, external interference, and the weight of historical precedent. Elissa Bou Nader dived into the lessons from Lebanon’s March 14 movement, the challenges of sectarian politics, and the imperative of inclusivity and structural reform for a brighter future.


Solar energy transformation: Power cuts have been a persistent issue in Lebanon for decades due to a dysfunctional energy sector, while energy experts point out that for those who can install solar power, it is ten times cheaper than relying on private generators, as state-run electricity is barely available. Rodayna Raydan analyzed for NOW how Lebanon’s electricity crisis is embracing sustainable and clean energy with the solar power boom.


Lebanon +

With Wael Taleb, journalist at L’Orient Today and co-host of The Beirut Banyan, Ronnie Chatah’s podcast’s last episode looked back on the March 14, 2005 demonstration – that nearly two decades ago paved the way for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Tackling the political movement that arose that spring and the coalition that entered parliament in the summer, as well as the inevitable end of majority rule in 2008 through forced national unity governance, the discussion reflected on how movements shape respective identity, how convictions can both harden and evolve, and what role March 14 played – if any – as a springboard for October 17.