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Lebanon prosecutor orders arrest next year of politician charged over Beirut blast

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Lebanon’s public prosecutor on Tuesday instructed the security forces to arrest a top politician over the Beirut port blast, a senior judicial source said, setting the stage for a possible confrontation with the lawmaker and his powerful ally Hezbollah.

Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating last year’s catastrophic port explosion, first issued a warrant for the arrest of Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, on Oct. 12 after he did not attend a scheduled interrogation.

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He is a right-hand man of House Speaker Nabih Berri and one of several current and former senior politicians and security officials charged in connection with the blast that killed more than 215 people. All have refused to be interrogated by Bitar, saying he lacks the authority to do so and is biased.

The arrest warrant referred by Bitar to the security forces on Tuesday called for Khalil, who is also an MP, to be detained once parliament is out of session, which according to the constitution will be the case from Jan. 1.

The constitution bars the arrest of parliament members while the legislature is in session unless they are caught in the act of a crime or a vote is held to allow for their prosecution.

Bitar had originally issued the warrant when parliament was out of session but security forces held off implementing it, leading Bitar on Friday to call on them to execute it or risk facing prosecution themselves.

On Monday, the Amal Movement, of which Khalil is a senior member, warned in a statement that the judiciary was being used in the case “to strike internal stability.”

An October protest called for by Hezbollah and Amal against Bitar two days after he issued the warrant against Khalil descended into the worst street fighting in Beirut in more than a decade.

Read more: Explainer: Why are Lebanon’s politicians fighting the Beirut blast investigation?

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Read more:

Germany ‘encouraging Putin’ by refusing to supply weapons: Ukraine

US, Russia work to lower friction in Ukraine issue as invasion fears loom

Russia to hold huge naval drill with 140 warships, 60 aircraft as tensions heighten

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

Read more:

Afghan NGO women ‘threatened with shooting’ by Taliban for not wearing burqa

Taliban, other Afghan delegations to meet in Oslo on Jan. 23

Desperate Afghans queue for free bread as poverty crisis deepens

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

Read more:

Arab League to host extraordinary meeting to discuss Iran-backed Houthi attack on UAE

US commits to helping Saudi Arabia, Gulf partners defend against threats from Yemen

Libyan eastern parliament speaker calls for new government

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