Morning brief

5 killed in south Lebanon, calls for release of Lebanese in Cyprus, ICC seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu: Everything you need to know to start your Tuesday

Here is what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Tuesday, May 21.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz.

Some key things to watch today:

- Reaction to ICC request to seek arrest warrants for Israeli PM and Hamas's leaders

- 9:30 a.m.: Meeting of the Administration and Justice Committee subcommittee studying media law proposals. Later at 11:00 a.m. they will study four proposed laws to amend military judiciary law, and fighting corruption in the private sector.

- Iran enters its second day of national mourning after the death of President Raisi 

The Israeli attack on Adaisseh in the Marjayoun district on 20 May 2024 which targeted a house in the town. (Photo sent to L'Orient Today by a local resident.)

 SOUTHERN LEBANON: Israeli strikes killed six people in Lebanon and Syria

Hezbollah cross-border strikes persist while casualties mount: Two Hezbollah members died in Israel’s mid-day bombardments on Naqoura (Sour) where three homes were reduced to rubble, as artillery shells pounded the outskirts and drones hovered ceaselessly and exacerbated road repairs. An evening drone strike by Israel on the Sour-Naqoura road killed a motorcyclist and seriously injured another. After incendiary shelling and deadly airstrikes over the weekend, Israel targeted Mais al-Jabal again yesterday, killing two people. Following two separate strikes near the Lebanese-Syrian border over the weekend, Israeli strikes yesterday killed six members of pro-Iranian groups in Syria – including one Hezbollah member.

 Israel escalates attacks on Syria with motives pre-dating Oct. 7: An Israeli-Iranian stand-off left the region last month bracing for impact, after Iran fired hundreds of drones and missiles directly at Israel, in response to Israel’s killing of top commanders in its Damascus embassy. Since Oct. 7, Israel has shifted its longstanding strike campaigns on Syria – typically targeting freight and military outposts, while also repeatedly hitting the Damascus airport – to “deadlier, more frequent airstrikes,” a regional pro-Syrian alliance military commander told Reuters in January.

Context: Before then, Israel had routinely portrayed Syria as an essential node in Hezbollah’s military supply chain while seeking to curb an allegedly growing Iranian presence. Among other things, such attacks seek to prevent Hezbollah’s “entrenchment on the Syrian front,” the Israeli army said last month. A month earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to strike Hezbollah “wherever it operates … in Lebanon, Syria and beyond.” Israel killed six Hezbollah members and 36 members of the Syrian army in strikes on Syria in March.

A mother holds up a passport photo of her 36-year-old son Ahmad Awed, sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in Cyprus, May 20, 2024. (Credit: Mohammad Yassine/L'Orient Today)

 MIGRATION: Informal migrants’ families seek their release from Cyprus

Protest outside the Cypriot embassy: Bebnine (Akkar) women and children separated for three months from their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons gathered outside the Cypriot embassy in Louaizeh (Baabda), pleading for their release. The mother of a 17-year-old detainee said they would “come back” if their family members weren’t released.

From desperation to detention, relatives tell L’Orient Today: “They went out to look for food and healthcare for their sick children; they were desperate — these are the people they put behind bars,” Akkar Mukhtar Association chief Zaher Kassar said. An eight-months-pregnant mother of two said she only learned of her husband’s departure moments before he boarded. A 17-year-old girl explained her father was driven to make the trip by the loss of his mother and his father’s cancer.

Ambassador’s response: Cyprus’ Ambassador to Lebanon Maria Hadjithedosiou reportedly “expressed appreciation for [the families] coming in person” while assuring that the Cypriot government was handling the matter following an official Lebanese request, the embassy’s spokesperson told L’Orient Today.

Cyprus, Lebanon and the perilous sea in between: Cyprus has led the European Union’s calls for tighter maritime border controls in Lebanon after facing an influx of informal migrant arrivals reportedly from Lebanese shores. Shortly after an earlier solo visit, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides accompanied European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Beirut for her announcement of €1 billion in aid for Lebanon — continuing unconditional commitments to education, health and economic stability, caretaker Premier Najib Mikati said, nonetheless making commitments to strengthen border security.

Lamenting the limits faced by security forces – who routinely announce smuggler arrests and foiled departures – Lebanese authorities have also refused to accept the return of non-Lebanese migrants who left its shores. Facing dire living conditions, informal migrants continue to risk being arrested, killed, kidnapped and stranded in their attempts to cross over the Mediterranean – ferried by smugglers who usually exact thousands of dollars. United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that irregular migration attempts departing from Lebanon made up nearly half of the 378 deaths on the Eastern Mediterranean route in 2022. 

Palestinians flee Rafah to safer areas in the central Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024. An Israeli incursion into eastern Rafah has deepened an already perilous humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. (Credit: AFP)

 GAZA: At least 35,456 people killed in the enclave since Oct. 7

Israeli PM and Hamas leaders to face International Criminal Court (ICC): ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan applied for arrest warrants charging Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for “crimes against humanity” in the “widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population.” Khan also sought to arrest Hamas chiefs Yehya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, on the same charge, referring specifically to a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel.”

Israel also facing ICJ: In another international trial, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is set to rule on South Africa’s request last Thursday to issue additional provisional measures ordering Israel to pull its forces from Rafah, the southern Gaza city where much of the population has sought refuge from the war. It's part of an ongoing case where Israel stands accused of genocide in a case brought by South Africa. Israel has described it the case as "wholly unfounded" and "morally repugnant."

 In other news

- Three days of official mourning in Lebanon, and with five days of mourning in Iran were announced in the wake of the deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah (second R) meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian (second L), Assistant Foreign Minister Mehdi Shoushtari (L) and the deputy of Iran's ambassador to Beirut (R), at an undisclosed location in Lebanon. Nov. 23, 2023 (Credit: Hezbollah media handout/AFP)

 Here is our must-read story from yesterday: 'How will the death of Iran's President and Foreign Minister impact Lebanon?' L'Orient Today's editor, Olivia Le Poidevin explains why it may be more limited than you think.

 Your daily 'light read'

“It is in the tepidness of breasts that caterpillars hatch.” This is the sentence that inspired the Keserwany sisters, shortly after they arrived in France, to embark on their first short film. 'Les Chenilles' tells the story of Sarah and Asma, two young women from the Levant, now living in exile, who come to see and understand the centuries-long oppression that has shaped them.

'Les chenilles': Stories of women and exile. (Screenshot from the film)

In developing the film, the sisters learned about how, in the 19th century, the women of Mount Lebanon were exploited by European silk factories, particularly the Lyon ones. “The women harvested, spun and wove silk, without ever being able to wear it. That’s where the problems started.”

The film won 'Best Short Film' Golden Bear at Berlinale. Now, the Keserwanys are preparing a feature-length documentary together and other separate films, each an animated fiction.

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Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Tuesday, May 21, 2024Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz.Some key things to watch today:- Reaction to ICC request to seek arrest warrants for Israeli PM and Hamas's leaders- 9:30 a.m.: Meeting of the Administration and Justice Committee subcommittee studying media law proposals. Later at 11:00 a.m. they will study four proposed laws to amend...