Safety fears have been raised at Beirut Airport following an inspection that has brought to the forefront urgent shortcomings in safety measures.

The inspection report draws attention to the shortcomings in air navigation services (ANS) that must be urgently tackled. This encompasses air-traffic control, communication, navigation, surveillance, and meteorological services.

Undertaken by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as a pre-audit, the report’s findings emerged from a support mission to Lebanon this June. This mission aimed to offer guidance for the upcoming Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), slated for the subsequent year. The purpose of such missions is to pinpoint and rectify areas of weakness.

ICAO, recognised as the global standard for aviation safety, consistently undertakes audits of its member states to ensure their competence in upholding rigorous safety oversight systems.

As a signatory to the Chicago Convention, Lebanon is bound to meet the standards and best practices recommended by ICAO. After its maiden audit in 2008, Lebanon underwent four more audits, the latest one being in 2017. Presently, Lebanon’s score stands at 58.5, trailing behind the global average of 69.8.

Should a grave safety concern be recognised during an audit, ICAO has the authority to red-flag any country in violation of global aviation regulations. While these red flags don’t carry any legal mandate, they play a crucial role in alerting other nations, which then independently choose the subsequent course of action, including the potential suspension of flights.

The report pointed out multiple “systemic deficiencies” related to ANS, primarily focused on air-traffic control. The pivotal role of air-traffic controllers in guiding flights safely from take-off to landing can’t be understated. One of the glaring issues highlighted in the report is the staff shortage in ATC, a matter that poses significant risks for Lebanese aviation. As one aviation specialist aptly put it, an overwhelmed controller might inadvertently make errors with potentially devastating outcomes.

The report further emphasised the pressing need for the Lebanese civil aviation authorities to recruit and retain experienced and qualified staff for air traffic services. Another glaring issue is the lack of updated obstacle registries and functionality checks for navigation aids. An expert, after analysing the report, highlighted the crucial role these navigation tools play in aiding pilots.

The report also drew attention to the blurred lines between the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), and ANS service providers, a situation that raises concerns about conflicts of interest. To potentially alleviate some of the staffing concerns, an expert proposed running the airport for limited hours, a departure from its current round-the-clock operation.

While the deficiency in air-traffic controllers has been a longstanding concern, the current economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the problem. The plummeting value of the national currency and the subsequent socio-economic repercussions have intensified the staffing crisis at Beirut airport.

A source revealed the alarming statistic that currently only 15 air-traffic controllers are certified against a standard requirement of 87. The economic downturn, which saw salaries drastically cut, has spurred many to leave the country. This exodus has resulted in arduously long shifts for the remaining controllers, often stretching 24 hours at a go.

The urgent situation is further complicated by the aging workforce, with an average age of 45. Recruitment locally hasn’t picked up pace, while hiring internationally would strain finances. Furthermore, those in junior positions, such as ground staff or assistants, lack the essential training and certification.

Efforts to address this staffing concern have been made. During a recent interaction with the Public Works Committee, the Caretaker Public Works Minister, Ali Hamie, considered roping in air-traffic controllers from ICAO to mitigate the staff shortfall. However, questions remain on why those who successfully cleared the 2018 air-traffic controller exam haven’t been considered for these positions. Reports suggest that the approvals weren’t granted owing to concerns of a sectarian imbalance in recruitment.

The urgency of the situation is palpable, and the onus is now on Lebanese authorities to act swiftly.

In the run-up to a significant assembly of Palestinian factions in Cairo this Sunday, leaders of Fatah and Hamas are said to have convened in Turkey, according to multiple sources.

This alleged gathering aligns with the visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Turkey. Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh Al Arouri, leading the Hamas delegation, are rumoured to have engaged in discussions with Mr Abbas in Ankara this Tuesday, based on information provided to Al Araby Al Jadeed.

Public acknowledgment of such a meeting remains absent from both Fatah and Hamas. Requests for comment to a Hamas official have remained unanswered at the time of print.

Post meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abbas acknowledged ongoing endeavours to consolidate unity within the Palestinian population and territory.

Abbas confirmed that Fatah has extended invitations to heads of Palestinian factions for a crucial meeting in Cairo on Sunday, the objective being “to restore national unity and develop a national programme to address the challenges facing the Palestinian people and land”.

However, Ziyad Al Nakhalah, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, declared their intention to withdraw from the Sunday gathering in the Egyptian capital.

A public encounter between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas last transpired in Algeria in June 2022, marking the first occasion in over five years.

For more than a decade and a half, Palestinian politics have remained in a state of impasse. The militant group Hamas, ruling Gaza, and Fatah, were embroiled in an internal struggle for control of the Palestinian Authority, resulting in Abbas’ party being ejected from the Gaza Strip. Previous reunification attempts have proven unsuccessful, and Palestinians have been denied the opportunity to vote for their leadership since 2006.

President Erdogan and President Abbas conducted in-depth discussions at the presidential complex in Ankara on Tuesday, focussing on relations, the Palestine-Israel conflict, and other international and regional developments.

Erdogan emphasised post-meeting that “we cannot tolerate any acts attempting to change the historical status quo of holy places, particularly the Al Aqsa Mosque. The unity and reconciliation of the Palestinians are key elements in this process.”

A scheduled visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey this week has been postponed due to the Israeli Prime Minister undergoing an unplanned surgery over the weekend.

Image Credit: European External Action Service

In a significant diplomatic development, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to host Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in Ankara next week. This visit marks the first by an Israeli premier to the Turkish capital in 15 years.

Mr Netanyahu’s journey to Ankara, scheduled for July 28, anticipates high-level discussions with President Erdogan on a broad spectrum of regional and international issues.

Adding to the diplomatic momentum, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be in Ankara a few days prior to Mr Netanyahu’s arrival.

The Turkish presidency confirmed, “President Erdogan will extend a warm welcome to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same week.”

The dialogue will primarily focus on “the evolution of Turkey-Palestine relations, the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other pertinent international issues,” according to the presidency’s statement.

Mr Netanyahu’s office confirmed this historic visit, the first for an Israeli Prime Minister since Ehud Olmert‘s trip to Turkey in 2008.

This diplomatic initiative by Turkey comes amid an impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, compounded by the worst outbreak of violence in recent years in the occupied West Bank.

In April, the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a highly sensitive religious site, became the epicentre of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. President Erdogan responded by stating that Israel had overstepped a “red line”.

Furthermore, Israeli President Isaac Herzog held talks with Mr Erdogan in Turkey, and a few months later, former prime minister Yair Lapid also met with the Turkish leader in New York. These interactions set the stage for what is hoped to be a further easing of tensions and progress in diplomatic relations.

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n a shocking incident that unfurled on live Lebanese television, a fierce debate between two well-known figures escalated into a brawl, necessitating army intervention.

Wiam Wahhab, a politician and former minister affiliated with the Hezbollah-led March 8 movement, and Simon Abou Fadel, a journalist linked with the March 14 anti-Hezbollah movement, clashed on the popular political chat show, Sar el Waqt.

The altercation was sparked during a discussion on the contentious issue of US sanctions on Lebanese individuals alleged to be involved in corruption and connected with Hezbollah.

The exchange grew tense as Mr Wahhab dismissed the sanctions as “worth as much as my shoes”. Mr Abou Fadel retorted sharply, “You can do whatever you want with your shoes later. That’s a problem between you and your shoes”.

Mr Wahhab’s reply was inaudible, and the argument swiftly devolved into a shouting match, with both men demanding the other to “shut up”.

The situation spiralled out of control when Mr Wahhab hurled his water glass at Mr Abou Fadel, who retaliated with a punch that sent Mr Wahhab’s glasses flying.

The studio descended into chaos as the duo exchanged a barrage of slaps and thumps, prompting the crew to intervene to stop the brawl and separate the feuding pair.

A video shared widely on social media later revealed the confrontation had moved outside to the studio car park. Mr Abou Fadel was shown being restrained by onlookers while the army stepped in to quell the scuffle.

Subsequently, Mr Abou Fadel re-emerged on the programme sporting a bruised eye and a bleeding forehead. “My face is a reflection of my conscience,” he declared to the show’s host, Marcel Ghanem.

Interestingly, this is not the first instance of violence erupting on Mr Ghanem’s programme. Last year, live on air, an altercation took place between members of the audience and supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement political party.

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In an uncommon occurrence in the embattled nation, Syria on Saturday rescinded the accreditation of the BBC‘s journalists, citing purported “misleading reports”.

The Syrian information ministry, in a formal statement, censured the British broadcaster for its purported deviation from professional standards and alleged propagation of biased reports. Consequently, it annulled the permission of the BBC’s correspondent and cameraman to operate in Syria.

The BBC Radio representative in Syria has also been stripped of their accreditation, according to additional information from the ministry.

When contacted for a comment, a spokesperson for the BBC, without directly addressing the Syrian government’s decision, underscored that “BBC News Arabic offers impartial independent journalism”. They stressed the broadcaster’s commitment to engage with a range of political voices to establish factual narratives.

The spokesperson added that the broadcaster would persist in providing impartial news and information to its audiences throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

The Syrian information ministry also criticised the BBC’s coverage of the country’s decade-long conflict, accusing it of propagating “subjective and fake information and reports about the reality” in Syria since the outbreak of the war in 2011.

Syria’s prolonged conflict, which has drawn in foreign powers and global jihadists, has led to the death of over half a million people, displaced countless others, and wrought severe damage to the country’s infrastructure and industry.

Despite being cautioned “more than once”, the BBC persisted in broadcasting “misleading reports based on statements… from terrorist entities and those hostile to Syria,” the ministry continued.

The rescinding of accreditation from international media is a relatively rare event for Damascus, where a handful of foreign media outlets continue to operate with locally based journalists. The escalation of the conflict resulted in a significant exodus of foreign journalists from the nation.

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