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Rescue workers still digging for missing people after devastating Beirut blast

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(Last Updated On: August 6, 2020)

As foreign countries prepared to send in search teams and medical supplies, Lebanese rescue teams pulled out bodies and continued to dig for missing people through the night and into Thursday after Tuesday’s massive explosion sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 135.

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from Thursday as early investigations blamed negligence for the explosion at Beirut port, which has left a large number of people missing and more than 5,000 injured. 

Officials have also said that up to a quarter of a million people were without homes fit to live in, after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.

In addition, hospitals were inundated and health officials were on Thursday appealing to the public to donate blood. 

Tuesday’s explosion was the most powerful ever in Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. 

But countries around the world have rushed to help and so far Lebanon has received four field hospitals from Qatar, Iraq and Jordan, in addition to urgent medical assistance to help deal with the aftermath of the explosion. 

Anadolu Agency reported Qatar sent two field hospitals with a capacity of 500 beds for each, as well as Iraq and Jordan sending one field hospital each.

An Amiri Air Force aircraft carrying two field hospitals and other medical supplies reached the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut arriving from Qatar on Wednesday. 

Lebanese media reported that the country had received oil supplies to continue until the country recovers from the tragedy.

The Iraqi oil minister informed Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab that Baghdad will provide fuel assistance to Beirut and shipments of wheat will arrive on Friday – also from Iraq.

Local Lebanese media indicated that France had also sent assistance to Lebanon, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that his country would dispatch urgent assistance to Lebanon.

A Turkish military plane carrying aid and a search and rescue team arrived in Beirut early Thursday carrying medical aid and search and rescue teams. 

The aircraft was sent on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s orders.

The aircraft was carrying 21 National Medical Rescue personnel, two emergency units, three tents, medicine and medical equipment, 10 Disaster and Emergency Management (AFAD) personnel, equipment, a search and rescue vehicle, three Kizilay personnel, a search and rescue team and medical and humanitarian aid. 

Speaking to the press right before the aircraft took off, AFAD President Mehmet Gulluoglu told Anadolu Agency that Turkey is preparing to send the required support for Beirut following the blast.

He said 20 more National Medical Rescue personnel including trauma experts, surgeons, orthopedics experts and emergency medical doctors will be on their way to Beirut.

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Abdullah outlines future scenarios that are down to ‘the will of the people’

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

Both sides need to come to a shared agreement on Afghanistan’s future – one where the will of the people can be exercised freely, said Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Abdullah said Afghanistan’s future would include one that can sustain itself and one that leads to durable peace and stability. 

As intra-Afghan negotiations continue, between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban, Abdullah said both sides need to come to a shared agreement on how to move forward. 

“Both sides should see the need and come to the realization that we must put people first,” he said and on whether the country’s future was a Republic or an Emirate system, he stated it would come “down to the will of the people”. 

However, he stated it was important that the will of the people should be exercised in a free way “one person, one vote is important.”

Asked about the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s constitution, and any possible changes to it, he said there were provisions incorporated in the guiding document which allowed for changes to be made. 

He said the provisions were designed for the interests of the country to get the people in the country together in a unified manner but a change to the constitution was not impossible. 

Should a peace deal be sealed and structural changes be needed, he stated: “The country needs national institutions, national army, national police or any other security sector.” 

Abdullah said that one aspect of the hard work that lay ahead of the peace talks teams was how to integrate the Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters.

“The blueprint has to be decided by both sides”, and there shouldn’t be preconditions attached to it, he said. 

Adding his voice to countless of other officials, both local and foreign, Abdullah said a reduction in violence was critical at this point so that the process could move towards a ceasefire. 

“When I talk about casualties, it’s not just on one side. It’s on both sides,” he said adding that this was unfortunate and a “burden on the next generation.”

He said there is no winner in a war and no loser in an inclusive, peaceful settlement. 

“While they are not recognizing us [Afghan government] or we don’t recognize them as the Islamic Emirate, but we recognize the need to get together, to sit together, to present our views which are different from one another – but to find ways how to reconcile those differences, how to find ways to live together while still maintaining some differences and fighting for it politically rather than through violence.”

He said there could be groups within the Taliban that want to continue with the talks and also to continue with the fighting but that he assumes there are others that are “thinking much more maturely” – based on experience. 

He said the fact that the United States is looking at Afghanistan reaching a peace deal “with urgency” was a “bonus. It’s a plus.” 

But for the Afghan negotiating team, the “ticking clock,” the urgency was more about stopping the suffering of the Afghan people. 

“A unified Islamic Republic will be in a much better position to negotiate … and represent the views of the people”. 

“The continuation of the war and suffering, endless, in an endless way, will not put anybody in a dignified position and it’s not a service to the people,” he said. 

 

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Difficult decisions had to be made to get to talks tables: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation said in order for the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban to get to this point some very difficult, even heart-wrenching decisions had to be made. 

He said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that not only did the United States have to make difficult decisions but so did Afghanistan. 

This was in reference to concerns raised over whether the US government has given the Taliban “too much weight” in the intra-Afghan negotiation process – especially in light of the release of 5,000 prisoners. 

Recently foreign countries, specifically France and Australia objected to the release of some hardcore prisoners who had been responsible for killing their nationals over the past few years. 

But Khalilzad said the US itself had not been too happy about this but that “we [the US] appreciate their expression of unhappiness and empathize with them but we think the goal of making Afghanistan to be more peaceful, for Afghans to come together to end the war, for Afghanistan not to be a threat to the international community and for the burden of Afghanistan to be reduced on the international community,” sacrifices needed to be made. 

“Nothing important is easy to achieve, unfortunately. We had to do those tough things, difficult things, heart-wrenching things to get where we are.”

He also said the US was satisfied that the objectives ahead were worth the sacrifices that have been made. 

During the interview, he said not only are the current peace talks a historic moment and an opportunity for peace but also a moment of hope and he continually emphasized the fact that Afghans are tired of war – a war that has been ongoing for 40 years. 

But questioned on whether the continued attacks by the Taliban – who attribute such information as Afghan government propaganda – “sounded like two parties willing to negotiate”, Khalilzad said he did. 

According to him, negotiations are underway in a bid to build trust, to reduce violence and for the two sides to overcome their differences which have led to the conflict. 

He stated the negotiations are underway to “find a formula for resolving those differences,” and noted that both sides had different ideologies but that the aim was for them not to change these but rather to find a way to agree on a political formula that’s workable. 

“It will be difficult, I don’t anticipate …. that it will be easy and that they will quickly come to an agreement. But the door to intra-Afghan negotiations has been opened.” 

He said the United States was very pleased with the role it had played in getting the parties to the talks table but asked whether the basis of the talks was being forced on the Afghan government and whether these talks were truly Afghan-led, Khalilzad stated that until recently it had been US-led but talks were now entirely Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. 

He also said: “They [Afghan negotiating team] are not working on a US timeline but I think they are under pressure from their people who want the war to end.”

He said the US will withdraw from the country if all conditions, in accordance with the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban, are met. 

The framework agreed upon with the Taliban has four elements, terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan negotiations, a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of international forces, he said adding: “We have agreed that if all of these conditions are met within 14 months we will withdraw.” 

He said that if the Taliban does not adhere to the commitments it made to the US “then we are free from our obligation we have made with them.”

He emphasized the agreement was not something made on trust – but instead it was a deal. “You do this, we will do this,” and vice versa, he said without going into any further detail.

But he said he was counting on the Taliban to adhere to their commitment. 

According to him, the Taliban negotiating team is a “very empowered” team and one that takes the negotiations seriously and they came prepared for the talks. 

The Afghan delegation meanwhile was very broad-based and represented a cross-sector of the population, he said adding that both sides were taking the talks seriously “although there are spoilers inside and out”. 

Without naming the “spoilers” Khalilzad said there are people who prefer the status quo as it is – people who profit from the war politically and financially. This he said, was putting “small interests ahead of the broader national interests and that is obviously not acceptable. ” 

He also said there are groups that are against the peace process, against Afghans coming together and groups who want to keep the US entangled in the war. 

One example he gave was that of Daesh in Afghanistan, which, he said, “is trying to polarize the situation” and in some cases have “tried to pretend” the Taliban carried out some of the worst attacks in the country in a bid to undermine the peace process. 

He noted the Afghanistan conflict is quite complex in terms of the number of players but that the US has tried to be active not only with the Afghan sides but also within the region and internationally “to build a consensus for peace in Afghanistan.”

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Afghan Airforce takes delivery of four new A-29 Super Tucano aircraft

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

The United States handed over four A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft to the Ministry of Defense on Thursday. 

Speaking at the event, acting Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid said the Afghan air force is capable of facing its enemies. 

He said the reason for the ongoing conflict was to defend two decades worth of achievements. 

He confirmed however that the Taliban has ramped up violence across the country. 

Designed to operate in high temperatures and in extremely rugged terrain, the A-29 is a highly maneuverable fourth-generation weapons system capable of delivering precision-guided munitions.

It can fly at low speeds and low altitudes is easy to fly and provides exceptionally accurate weapons delivery.

 

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