Netanyahu rejects calls for early election in Israel

Israel’s prime minister has said he will also take over as defence minister and is rejecting calls to hold early elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu announced on national TV on Sunday that he would take over the defence post following the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman.

Mr Lieberman stepped down last week to protest a ceasefire with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

He had demanded tougher action against the militants.

Mr Lieberman’s resignation has left Mr Netanyahu with a narrow majority in parliament, and his remaining partners have demanded he hold early elections.

In his address, Mr Netanyahu said now is not the time for new elections and he is committed to protecting his country’s security.

Another coalition partner, the Jewish Home, has scheduled a press conference for Monday.

If it leaves the coalition, Mr Netanyahu will lose his parliamentary majority.

Earlier, Mr Netanyahu said he would try to convince finance minister Moshe Kahlon and his centrist Kulanu party to stay in the coalition.

“It would be both unnecessary and incorrect to go to elections.

“We remember well what happened when elements inside the coalitions took down Likud governments in 1992 and in 1999,” Mr Netanyahu said, noting the past two elections in which the Labour Party came to power.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent repeating these mistakes,” he added.

The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of Mr Lieberman, who had demanded a far stronger response last week to the most massive wave of rocket attacks on Israel since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

He alleges the truce will put southern Israel under a growing threat from Hamas, similar to that posed to northern Israel by Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah group.

The departure of Mr Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party leaves the coalition with a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament.

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Netanyahu meeting on coalition crisis ends ‘without results’: Finance ministry

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday (Nov 18) aimed at resolving a coalition crisis ended “without results” and they will meet again this week, Kahlon’s spokesman said. 

“The meeting between the finance minister and the prime minister ended without results,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“The two agreed to meet later in the week.”

Netanyahu was to give a public statement at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT). 

Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition was thrown into crisis Wednesday after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal, leading to speculation over whether early elections have become inevitable. 

After Lieberman’s withdrawal along with his Yisrael Beitenu party, Netanyahu’s government was left clinging to a one-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament.  Key coalition partners say that is unworkable even though elections are not due until November 2019. 

Netanyahu has sought to delay calling elections.

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Netanyahu in political showdown to avoid early Israeli election

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would make a last-ditch effort on Sunday (Nov 18) to avoid the collapse of a coalition government weakened by the resignation of his defence minister.

With political pundits predicting an early election in March, Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, was to meet later in the day with his finance minister, who is leading a charge within the coalition towards a snap poll.

The minister, Moshe Kahlon of the centre-right Kulanu party, will urge Netanyahu to set an election date promptly, Kulanu officials said.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation, announced on Wednesday (Nov 14) over what he described as the government’s lenient policy towards an upsurge of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, left the government with a majority of only one seat in parliament.

That put the fate of Netanyahu’s coalition at the mercy of any of its partners, who have seen the four-term prime minister’s popularity take a rare hit in an opinion poll that showed Israelis were unhappy with him over Gaza.

Netanyahu described his planned meeting with Kahlon as “a last attempt to prevent the collapse of the government”.

Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said it would be “unnecessary and wrong to go to an election during this sensitive period for our security”.

ROCKETS, AIR RAIDS

Kahlon said on Hadashot TV news on Saturday that it was impossible to run a coalition with control of just 61 of parliament’s 120 seats.

Kahlon’s call was echoed by members of the nationalist Jewish Home whose head, Naftali Bennett, asked to succeed Lieberman as defence chief but was turned down by Netanyahu on Friday.

On Sunday, Israeli media reports said Netanyahu was now prepared to offer Bennett the post in a bid to keep Jewish Home in the coalition.

Such a move, the unconfirmed reports said, would also be aimed at forcing Kahlon to consider the risks to his own party, which also courts nationalist voters, in being portrayed as the main factor behind the collapse of a rightist government.

A poll published on Wednesday by Hadashot showed Likud falling from 30 to 29 parliamentary seats after months of polls that have shown it gaining power.

Only 17 per cent of respondents were happy with Netanyahu’s policy toward Gaza, where he agreed to a ceasefire – dubbed by Lieberman as “surrender” – after militants from its ruling Hamas group launched almost 500 rockets into Israel on Monday and Tuesday and Israel carried out dozens of air raids.

Netanyahu’s re-election chances could also be affected by a series of corruption cases against him in which Israel’s attorney-general is weighing his indictment.

An election would complicate promised moves by the United States towards reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that collapsed in 2014. The Trump administration has said it would unveil a peace plan soon.

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Despite Iran sanctions, China stays loyal

Trade between China and Iran predates most modern nations and despite the resumption of US sanctions on Iran, Chinese businesses still see Iran as a resource-rich country with a large population.

    Business might have slowed in Iran due to the US-imposed sanctions, but many Chinese businesses are taking the long view and are determined to weather the storm.

    With commercial ties dating back to the ancient Silk Road, many Chinese companies have said that they will still find a way to do business in Iran, despite the threat of US punitive actions.

    Aggressive US actions may actually be strengthening Sino-Persian relations; the two ancient civilisations seem set to endure the hardships together.

    Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi reports from Tehran.

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    Fresh sanctions on Iran are already choking off medicine imports, economists say

    ISTANBUL (WASHINGTON POST)- New US sanctions on Iranian financial firms, including a bank that until recently handled most payments for Iran’s imports of humanitarian goods, are having a chilling effect on foreign companies that help supply medicine and other medical products,economic analysts say.

    The trade of humanitarian goods is allowed under U.S. sanctions, according to Treasury Department guidelines, permitting Iran to import food, medicine and medical devices without punishment.

    But the far-reaching sanctions on Iranian financial firms reimposed two weeks ago could endanger the flow of humanitarian goods as foreign banks and outside suppliers abandon business ties with their partners in Iran, analysts and experts warn.

    In recent months, some European banks have refused to process payments even from Iranian firms that are exempt from sanctions out of fear of US penalties, according to people familiar with the transactions.

    The number of European and Iranian banks conducting such transactions has dwindled, observers say. The refusal to process payments has alarmed Iranian importers. Some say they fear transactions with outside banks could cease altogether, prompting shortages of vital goods, including medicine.

    “You just don’t know when other parties are going to be added or targeted. What was true yesterday may not be true this afternoon,” said Alan Enslen, an international trade lawyer at Baker Donelson in Washington, explaining how companies are weighing the risks.

    The Trump administration imposed a near-total embargo on the Iranian economy this month as part of a “maximum pressure campaign” to force Iran to give up its ballistic missile programme and curtail its support for militant groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

    The sanctions – which were lifted in 2016 after Iran signed a nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers – target things from oil sales to shipbuilding to multinational firms that violate the provisions.

    Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, says it has blacklisted a number of Iranian banks that met criteria, laid out in executive orders, linking the firms to terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    The administration last month imposed sanctions on Parsian Bank, one of Iran’s most reputable private-sector institutions, for what OFAC said was support for an investment company it says is linked, through yet another company, to Iran’s paramilitary Basij Resistance Force.

    The investment company had profited from shares it purchased in Parsian Bank, OFAC said, and those profits in turn were funnelled to leaders of the Basij network.

    Policy analysts and sanctions experts, however, say Parsian processed much of Iran’s humanitarian trade transactions and was trusted by European firms.

    It was one of the few Iranian banks whose anti-money-laundering procedures were up to international standards, said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, an expert on business relations between Iran and Western countries.

    “It was like going after Citibank. It was that significant,” said Batmanghelidj, co-founder of the Europe-Iran Forum, an annual conference promoting trade between Iran and Europe.

    “The way Parsian was designated suggests that other banks could also be targeted at some stage, so you suddenly have a risk,” he said. “Companies that know they can trade with Iran now face challenges in finding a bank, affording that bank’s services and sustaining their trade knowing that at any point, that channel can be shut.”

    The Trump administration insists that it is not targeting or prohibiting humanitarian trade with Iran and that US actions are instead aimed at persuading the Iranian government to “change its behaviour” and return to the negotiating table for a more comprehensive deal.

    President Donald Trump announced in May that the United States was ending its participation in the 2015 nuclear deal, which curbed Iran’s atomic energy program in exchange for major sanctions relief.

    The administration says the agreement did not go far enough toward Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, despite Iran’s continued compliance with the deal’s restrictions, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    “The burden is not on the United States to identify the safe channels” for humanitarian trade, Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, said in a briefing with reporters this month.

    “The burden is on the Iranian regime to create a financial system that complies with international banking standards to facilitate the provision of humanitarian goods and assistance.”

    “The regime’s attempts to mischaracterize these humanitarian exemptions are a pathetic effort to distract from its own corruption and mismanagement,” he said at a later briefing, as the harshest US sanctions went back into effect.

    “The regime has enough money to invest in its own people.” Among the concerns facing Iranians is whether they will be able to continue importing advanced medicine and equipment used to treat chronic illnesses.

    On Twitter in the past week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted letters he indicated were from four European pharmaceutical companies announcing the end of their business activities in Iran.

    Iran has a large pharmaceutical industry of its own but imports some of the raw materials needed to produce medication.

    Employees in Iran’s pharmaceutical industry said in interviews that companies have already been forced to switch banks to pay for drug imports and that some have to cut back on staff and paying salaries.

    “Many companies have started limiting their activities and laying off employees,” said an Iranian employee at the local affiliate of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG. She added that her company faced difficulties transferring money to pay for imported drugs.

    “We were working with Parsian Bank, but we have not made any payments since Nov 4,” she said, adding that Bayer Iran planned to move its business to the much smaller Hekmat Iranian Bank. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

    “The problem is that foreign banks must accept the risk” of working with lesser-known financial firms in Iran, she said.

    According to Enslen, the international trade lawyer, general licenses for food and medicine are still available under sanctions and Iranian banks that help facilitate such transactions.

    “The U.S. government doesn’t want to target humanitarian trade, but in order to achieve their objectives, which are pretty strong and bold objectives, they’re not going to sacrifice their true target,” he said.

    “I don’t believe that it’s a diabolical plot to drive out humanitarian trade. But that’s not going to prevail at all costs.”

    Even before US sanctions were reimposed, inflation and a declining currency caused prices of goods such as food and medicine to rise in Iran.

    Sarah, 30, lives in Tehran and buys prescription medication for her elderly father, who she says suffers from age-related macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease. She declined to give her full name to more candidly discuss her family’s situation.

    Her father took PreserVision eye supplements manufactured by Bausch & Lomb in Canada, and they used to cost about US$7 in Iran.

    Earlier this year, Sarah said, they disappeared from the market, and when she found them again, they were being sold for the equivalent of US$70.

    “All of the prices have gone up, and we can’t find many products anymore,” she said. “Sometimes the medication can only be found on the black market, which is getting bigger and bigger every day.”

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    Egyptian Sentenced to Death in Killing of Christian Doctor

    CAIRO — An Egyptian man accused of supporting the Islamic State was sentenced to death on Saturday in the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in Cairo.

    Prosecutors said the killing in September 2017 happened when the 40-year-old defendant requested to see the doctor, pretending to be a patient.

    The man, who was not identified, started stabbing the doctor when he was shown into the clinic’s examination room, and then stabbed the physician’s assistant as she intervened to try to stop the attack, officials said.

    Prosecutors said the defendant had embraced the extremist ideology of the Islamic State. The local affiliate of the group has targeted Egypt’s minority Christian population as punishment for its support of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on Muslim groups since taking power after the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

    The Islamic State in Egypt has expanded an insurgency that started in the Sinai Peninsula in recent years to include attacks on Christians in churches and major cities and outside monasteries.

    Earlier this month, the militant group said it was behind an ambush on two buses in which gunmen fatally shot dead at least seven Coptic Christian pilgrims and wounded at least 16 others. The attack came after a nearly yearlong lull in major attacks on Copts in Egypt.

    The two buses were carrying pilgrims left the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, in Egypt’s Western Desert.

    In November 2017, dozens of militants opened fire on a mosque in Sinai affiliated with the Sufi strain of Islam — which extremists view as heretical — killing at least 311 people, in the deadliest act of terrorism in Egypt’s modern history.

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    CIA ‘blames bin Salman for Khashoggi death’

    The CIA believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to US media reports.

    Sources close to the agency said it had made a detailed assessment of the evidence.

    It is understood there is no “smoking gun” but US officials think such an operation would need his approval.

    Saudi Arabia has called the claim false and insisted that the crown prince knew nothing of plans for the killing.

    It says Khashoggi was killed as a result of a “rogue operation”.

    The journalist was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. His body has not been found.

    Turkey insists the order came from the highest levels.

    The latest claims came as funeral prayers took place for the murdered writer in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

    The Washington Post, which Khashoggi worked for, says the CIA assessment was based partly on a phone call made by the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khaled bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US.

    Prince Khaled allegedly called Khashoggi at the direction of his brother and gave him assurances that he would be safe to go to the consulate.

    However, the Saudi embassy has denied that Prince Khaled ever discussed a possible trip to Turkey with Khashoggi.

    Neither the White House nor the US State Department have commented on the reports, but sources say they have been informed of the CIA’s conclusions.

    It is understood agents have also examined a call made to a senior aide of Crown Prince bin Salman by the team that carried out the killing.

    Sources quoted in the US media stressed that there was no single piece of evidence linking the crown prince directly to the murder, but officials believe such an operation would have needed his approval.

    “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” the Washington Post quoted a source as saying.

    What do the Saudis say happened to Khashoggi?

    At a news conference in Riyadh on Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan said Khashoggi was given a lethal injection and his body was dismembered inside the consulate after his death.

    The body parts were then handed over to a local “collaborator” outside the grounds, he added. A composite sketch of the collaborator has been produced and investigations are continuing to locate the remains.

    Eleven people have been charged over the journalist’s death and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of them.

    Mr Shalaan did not identify any of those charged with the murder.

    Khashoggi, who wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post, disappeared after entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage document.

    Turkish officials say his murder was premeditated and carried out by a team of Saudi agents.

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    Saudi women mount 'inside-out' abaya protest

    RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi women have mounted a rare protest against the abaya, posting pictures on social media wearing the obligatory body-shrouding robe inside out.

    The conservative petro-state has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, who are required to wear the typically all-black garment in public.

    Powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March said wearing the robe was not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing changed and no formal edict to that effect was issued.

    Using the hashtag “inside-out abaya”, dozens of women have posted pictures of flipped robes in a rare protest against the strict dress code.

    “Because #Saudi feminists are endlessly creative, they’ve come up with new form of protest,” activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted this week.

    “They are posting pictures of (themselves) wearing their abayas inside-out in public as a silent objection to being pressured to wear it.”

    Another woman on Twitter said the online campaign, which appears to be gaining traction after it surfaced this week, was an act of “civil protest”.

    In an interview to CBS Television in March, the crown prince said: “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Syariah: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.”

    But, he added, this “does not particularly specify a black abaya. (It) is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.”

    After his comment, prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi added a new wrinkle to the debate when he dismissed the long-held view that black was the only colour for abayas permissible in Islam.

    Prince Mohammed, currently facing global criticism over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi, has spearheaded a liberalisation drive in the conservative kingdom.

    In June, women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades as the kingdom overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists.

    The kingdom has also allowed women to enter sports stadiums, previously a male-only arena, and is pushing for greater participation of women in the workforce as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

    But in tandem with the reforms, the kingdom has seen a wave of arrests of women activists in recent months as it steps up a crack down on dissent.

    The country also faces criticism over its male guardianship system, which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

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    With Small Steps, Palestinians and Israelis Try to Tackle Gaza’s Ills

    JERUSALEM — Last year, when the Trump administration was still trying to entice the Palestinians into peace talks with Israel through cooperation rather than coercion, it encouraged the two sides to team up on small-scale infrastructure projects as a way to rebuild trust while improving conditions in the here-and-now.

    Deep in the Negev Desert, a group of Israeli and Palestinian civilians did just that. They hammered out creative ways to bring solar power, sewage treatment and clean water to the impoverished Gaza Strip, where the lights are out more than they are on, the aquifers are befouled, and raw sewage has been pouring into the Mediterranean — sometimes overwhelming a nearby Israeli desalination plant with pollution.

    Their plans were aimed at creating jobs, improving public health and, above all, sustaining hope in a place where that is in short supply. But in the time it took them to see to the nuts and bolts — business plans, site selection, Israeli military approvals, and the hiring of engineers and workers in Gaza — the political context changed radically.

    The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Angry Palestinians began regularly denouncing the White House, and the administration’s approach to them became no-carrot, all-stick.

    A series of punitive American diplomatic moves followed, including cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Among the casualties: $10 million in start-up grants that the Israeli-Palestinian partnership had been counting on for its package of small-bore Gaza initiatives.

    Clashes between Israel and Gaza, in months of protests and in repeated rounds of rocket attacks and airstrikes like the ones earlier this week, only added to the obstacles.

    Now, an on-again, off-again cease-fire is once more being embraced by both Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. And the people behind the small-scale energy and environmental initiatives are trying to find an alternative source of seed capital and hoping that the latest brush with war this week will persuade nations that could supply the money to act quickly.

    “We are ready, and our proposals are ready. What is needed is donations,” said Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs who is a key partner in the Gaza projects.

    In a sense, the timing couldn’t be worse.

    The violence that began with a botched intelligence operation and gunfight in Khan Younis and wound up with hundreds of rockets raining down on Israeli cities led on Wednesday to the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose aides had indicated their willingness to let the Gaza projects proceed. And early elections in Israel, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of Gaza is expected to be a central issue, would put any progress on hold.

    Still, the diplomats, academics and eco-entrepreneurs who met this week at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, based at the tiny kibbutz Ketura in the Negev desert, said they wanted their projects to be shovel-ready whenever the time is ripe.

    To be sure, proposals for Gaza infrastructure projects are commonplace: In February, Israel called on international donors to fund a billion-dollar rebuilding plan, including big-ticket items like two desalination plants, a natural gas pipeline and a new electrical transmission line into Gaza from Israel.

    But major projects can take years to complete, leaving Gaza’s ills to fester.

    Moreover, Israel and international donors, loath to do business with Hamas, have insisted that the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, oversee any projects. But between the Palestinian Authority’s feud with Hamas, and the Trump administration’s feud with the authority, the result has been a Catch-22. And nothing is getting done.

    What sets the Arava group’s projects apart, officials say, is that they could get underway immediately, with projects up and running in a few months and with most financed in large part by private investment.

    Another risk of ambitious infrastructure projects is that, once completed, they become tempting targets for Israeli airstrikes in wartime. So the Arava group’s strategy is to stay small and spread out.

    One of the projects would put 40-kilowatt solar panel arrays on the roofs of 100 Gaza schools and hospitals. That would provide them with much-needed electricity while diverting a fraction of the power to run water-generation kiosks that suck the humidity out of the coastal air and turn it into marketable drinking water. Local franchisees would sell it for a third of the price of bottled water.

    Another would build a small, solar-powered sewage-treatment plant for about 5,000 homes near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, selling the treated but unpotable end product to nearby farmers, whose groundwater has become too salty to irrigate their crops.

    Other projects envision installing solar panels atop the homes of poverty-stricken families or larger solar panel fields to power sewage-treatment plants so they are not dependent on Gaza’s unreliable electrical grid.

    If successful, these could be replicated widely enough to benefit many of Gaza’s approximately two million residents, backers said. Crucially, the projects rely on municipal-level approvals, not the involvement of Hamas or its ministries, they said.

    Dennis Ross, the veteran United States negotiator who is advising the Arava partners, said they were benefiting from his own self-critique after repeated failures at peacemaking. His strategy had always been to try to reach a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement on all issues, he said. But energy and water problems, which cross borders, need to be solved more immediately.

    “One of the lessons I learned was that we never focused enough on the ground up,” Mr. Ross said. “Any approach to peace that’s trying to create a horizon has no credibility if the day-to-day realities continue to deteriorate. We didn’t do enough from the ground up, and people-to-people, to show there’s a model of success when you work together.”

    Like Mr. Ross, the Arava partners are all supporters of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which itself looks increasingly like a lost cause.

    David Lehrer, the institute’s director, said that after decades merely advocating cross-border environmental cooperation in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan — “Nature knows no borders,” he said — Arava saw little progress. So it decided a few years ago to bring together people who “have to deal with these problems day to day,” he said.

    One is Tahani Abu Daqqa, another former Palestinian Authority minister who, like Mr. Ajrami, grew up in Gaza and spent years in an Israeli prison. There, she said, she forged cordial relationships with Palestinians on all sides of the conflict.

    She said they have assured her they would not stand in the way of her plans.

    “They trust me,” she said. “And when we show Gaza people that we’re working with Israeli people who want peace like us, it will show that we can live together and be good neighbors. It’s a foothold for peace building.”

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    Lebanon aims to resolve pain over 17,000 missing since civil war

    Thousands of families hope landmark law to probe the fate of those missing will provide some closure.

      Beirut, Lebanon – “Do you see the empty chair with a guitar next to it? Only the musician is missing.”

      In the middle of her living room surrounded by dozens of paintings in her apartment in Haret Hreik, a suburb in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, Mariam Saidi describes her art, which is dedicated to her son.

      “This one shows the Last Supper, but everything is broken,” she says. 

      On June 17, 1982, her 15-year-old son Maher Kassir left the house to go to school but never came back. It was the day Israeli troops reached Beirut, where a massive student protest was under way.

      “I knew he was a communist sympathiser, but I was not aware he was also fighting with them,” Saidi says.

      “When I asked the communist fighters where he was, they asked me to look for him. It’s been 36 years and I am still looking for my son.”

      Landmark law

      On Monday, following a divisive debate, the Lebanese parliament passed a landmark law to investigate the fate of thousands of people who have been missing since its 1975-1990 civil war, in which some 150,000 people died, and to hold those responsible to account.

      The law sets up a national commission to find out what happened to those who were never found – an estimated 17,000 people, including collecting DNA samples from living family members and exhuming mass graves.

      There are no public databases or exact numbers of people who went missing during the war, in which Muslims and Christians, who had lived side by side for centuries, retreated into separate enclaves controlled by sectarian militias.

      Justine Di Mayo, co-president of the Act for the Disappeared NGO, called the law “a real turning point”.

      Her organisation documents testimonies from former fighters and witnesses to the war to identify where mass graves could be located.

      “For decades, politicians said we should not disturb the peace, or [said] bringing up the past would be a mistake. They were only convenient excuses for them,” she told Al Jazeera.

      An amnesty law was issued by the government in 1991 for crimes perpetrated before March 28, 1991.

      “Several mass graves were destroyed because they were located on construction sites and there was no legal framework available on the issue,” said Di Mayo.

      Another group, Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and the Disappeared, was launched in 1982 by activist Wadad Halawani.

      “We asked the families of those disappeared to meet and organise in order to put pressure on the politicians,” said Saidi, who is vice president of the group. 

      The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called the passage of the latest law “a positive step for thousands of families to find closure”.

      “So far, we have documented nearly 3,000 disappeared people,” said Jerome Thuet, who works for the Missing Project at the ICRC.

      The ICRC is also collecting DNA samples of families with missing relatives.

      “Once the commission will prove its transparency and show it is not discriminatory towards any particular group, we will share the samples with it,” Thuet told Al Jazeera.

      Political rifts

      There was no indication of when the commission would be formed, but Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister, said the country was entering a “genuine reconciliation phase” that would heal the families’ wounds.

      Lebanon voted in May for its first new parliament in nine years.

      With a long-entrenched political elite including local dynasties and former warlords, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has yet to form a national unity government.

      For families of the disappeared, there is still a long wait for closure.

      “It is necessary to build a stable society which does not fall back to a cycle of violence,” said Di Mayo.


      People & Power

      The State of Lebanon

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