American authorities return stolen Phoenician statues to Lebanon

Three ancient statues stolen during Lebanon’s civil war have returned to Beirut Friday after New York authorities discovered the treasures and contacted Lebanese officials.

The ancient Phoenician treasures include a bull’s head, calf bearer and torso – all made from marble. Officials believe they were stolen, sold to an antiquities dealer and shipped to New York.

Angel Melendez, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security in New York, said the artifacts were seized and later forfeited by the private owners.

The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations seek to partake of to make a profit,” Melendez said. “The cultural significance and worth of these returned treasures is beyond any monetary value.”

According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, the antiquities are valued at millions of dollars:

Torso E1912

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Authorities recovered the marble torso in November from a private owner, and discovered it was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

The torso dates back to the 4th century B.C.E.

Calf Bearer

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The calf bearer was discovered and recovered in October from a private owner. Authorities also believe it came from the Temple of Eshmun.

It is believed to date back to 6th century B.C.E., and is valued at about $4.5 million.

Bull’s Head

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A curator discovered the ancient bull’s head in July at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and notified authorities.

The artifact was on loan for display by a private collector at the museum – the largest art museum in the United States.

It is believed to be worth about $1.2 million, and dates back to 360 B.C.E. Authorities said it was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl and stolen during the civil war.

“When you put a price tag on these artifacts, it is all too easy to forget that these are not just valuable collector’s items,” said U.S. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “These are rare, celebrated remnants of entire civilizations’ culture and history.”

Vance announced his office would create a Antiquities Trafficking Unit to stop the trade of stolen antiquities from sites around the world. He thanked Lebanese officials for their cooperation in the investigation and return of the artifacts.

“I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the district attorney and his office for their efforts to enforce the rule of law,” said Majdi Ramadan, Consul General of Lebanon in New York.

Many antiquities were stolen from Lebanon during its 15-year civil war.

The National Museum in Beirut will display the artifacts starting in February.

American University of Beirut bans smoking on campus

The American University of Beirut officially banned smoking on all campus grounds, effective Jan. 1, after several months of experimentation with a tobacco-free policy.

AUB President Fadlo Khuri announced a task force in March 2017 to explore the possibility of instituting a campus-wide ban. The campus first launched designated smoking areas before slowly creating a full ban.

Khuri said he met with officials from the World Health Organization and set an ambitious goal to transition the university into a smoke-free campus in a short time.

“I undertook to make AUB completely tobacco-free within 24 months,” Khuri said in 2017. “With a packed agenda of programs in the meantime, we have kept this tight timeline in view and last month I sent out instructions to form a Taskforce for a Tobacco-Free Campus.”

The first phase designated smoking areas and banned tobacco in certain buildings and locations on campus, Khuri said.

The second phase designated smoking in peripheral designated areas, and the third phase banned smoking on all AUB properties.

According to the university, students, staff and faculty caught using tobacco on AUB property will receive smoking cessation resources. However, a persistent breach of the policy would result in disciplinary action in accordance with the university code of conduct.

The work of the taskforce is to bring an end to this accommodating approach to tobacco use, to expand it to all forms of tobacco, smokeless and the water pipe included,” Khuri said. “(It is also) to transform the university space into one that supports the choice of not smoking.”

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Lebanese-American congressman Darrell Issa will not seek re-election

Lebanese-American Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will not run for re-election, his office announced Wednesday morning, setting up a likely-competitive 2018 campaign in one of California’s most important districts.

Issa, who served in Congress since 2001, is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His district covers areas of San Diego and Orange counties.

“Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve,” Issa said in a statement. “Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California’s 49th District.”

A Lebanese-American, Issa served as director of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a nonprofit organization that works to advance Lebanon and its ties with the U.S.

MORE: U.S. congressional leaders invite colleagues to join Lebanon caucus

MORE: Lebanese-American congressman pledges support for Lebanese Army

His paternal grandparents both immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon.

Issa, 64, was also the richest member of Congress. He holds wealth estimated to be in the $460 million range, which he made in part from his time as CEO of auto parts company Directed Electronics.

His retirement from Congress makes him the 31st House Republican not running for re-election.

FULL STATEMENT: Rep. Darrell Issa not seeking re-election:

Two decades ago, when I stepped away from the business I’d built to enter public service, I never could have imagined that a long-shot bid for U.S. Senate would lead to 18 years in the House of Representatives and endless opportunities to make a meaningful impact.

From the first successful recall of a sitting Governor in California history, to establishing new and stronger standards for government accountability, to protecting the Internet from harmful regulation, and enacting the nation’s first open data standards, we attempted and achieved much in the service of our nation.

Together, we put an end to abusive Congressional earmarks, strengthened the Violence Against Women Act, empowered better oversight of the executive branch, and cleared the course for better intellectual property protections to stop the piracy of American ingenuity.

Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve. Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California’s 49th District.

I am forever grateful to the people of San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties for their support and affording me the honor of serving them all these years. Most humbling for me — and for anyone who represents this area — has been the special privilege of representing the Marines and Sailors of Camp Pendleton and their families. On countless occasions, and in every corner of the world I met them, I was inspired by their bravery and humbled by their sacrifice to keep us all safe from harm.

Representing you has been the privilege of a lifetime.

While my service to California’s 49th District will be coming to an end, I will continue advocating on behalf of the causes that are most important to me, advancing public policy where I believe I can make a true and lasting difference, and continuing the fight to make our incredible nation an even better place to call home.

Lebanese clown group tours refugee camps to entertain children

A Lebanese clown group aims to entertain and inspire disadvantaged children through interactive workshops and performances at refugee camps.

Performers from Clown Me In, a Beirut-based organization, travel to refugee camps in a caravan and put on humorous showings that promote human rights and social justice issues.

The group launched a new effort called “Van 12,” which showcases principles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to education, health care and safety.

Sabine Choucair, co-founder of Clown Me In, said the mission is to spread laughter and provide relief to these communities.

“Even if we’re there for an hour, there is a whole atmosphere that changes,” Choucair said. “There’s a lot of joy that happens in this one hour.”

The road show has performed in Lebanon, Syria, India, Jordan, among others, according to the UN refugee agency.

“The show was good for children, and I hope we can apply its messages,” said Syrian refugee Lamaa Mahmoud, in Arabic. “(I learned that) that children must go to school, they should have their full rights.”

Choucair believes the efforts are making a difference and bringing joy to children.

“We try to record their stories, we try to let their voice be heard, because we think that this is one of the biggest crises happening in the world right now,” Choucair added.

Photo provided by the UN refugee agency.

Graphic video shows Lebanese municipal workers poisoning stray dogs

New graphic video released by a Lebanese animal rights group shows municipal workers allegedly poisoning stray dogs in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry.

According to the group Animals Lebanon, the workers are accused of luring dogs to poisoned meat and throwing the animals into the back of a municipal vehicle. It is unclear where the dogs are transported.

The animal rights group says they contacted the Ghobeiry municipality and were told the dogs are “aggressive and attacked many people,” according to a post on their Facebook page.

“All of this suffering was completely avoidable and unnecessary,” the group said in a statement. “It brought no benefit to people or animals, and actually harms national efforts to manage homeless dogs.”

President Michel Aoun posted a reminder to Facebook about an animal welfare law passed in August that imposed animal abuse fines of up to $13,000.

“Stray dogs may pose danger to people in several ways but the methods to resolve these cases are also numerous,” Aoun said in a statement. “These methods are definitely not what we have witnessed on television and social media channels especially after the new animal protection law was signed earlier this year.”

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the country’s Druze community, tweeted a photo of his dog and called the incident “absolute ignorance,” and a “crime.”

The animal rights group is calling on Lebanese citizens to contact the Ministry of Interior to urge the practice to be stopped by all municipalities.

Trump, Hariri pledge solidarity in fighting terrorism

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that supporting Syrian refugees as close to their home as possible is the best way to help them.

Trump commented during an appearance with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose country is burdened by an influx of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and who is counting on continued U.S. assistance to help manage that burden.

During Hariri’s first visit to the Trump White House, the leaders also pledged continued solidary against terrorism from the Islamic State group and other militant groups.

“Our approach supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible is the best way to help most people,” said Trump, standing alongside Hariri in the Rose Garden after their talks.

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to help supply displaced and other Syrians with clean water, food, shelter and health care since the civil war broke out in early 2011.

Hariri said Syrian refugees account for about 1.5 million, or one quarter, of Lebanon’s population of about 6 million people. The prime minister was expected to seek additional U.S. assistance to cope with the refugee influx.

RELATED: Trump budget slashes aid to Lebanon by 80 percent

In brief remarks to open one of their meetings, Hariri said he hoped the anti-terrorism partnership between the U.S. and Lebanon would continue until all terrorists are defeated.

“We will do that,” replied Trump, who also praised the Lebanese army for keeping IS and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold in the country. “Ultimately you will win … we have great confidence in you.”

Continued U.S. support for the Lebanese military, financial assistance for Syrian refugees and U.S. plans to tighten sanctions on the militant group Hezbollah were the key items on Hariri’s agenda going into the meeting with Trump.

The Lebanese army in recent years has been battling Islamic extremists near its border with Syria and the country has suffered recurrent bouts of insecurity and spillover from the civil war raging next door.

U.S. security assistance for the Lebanese army has exceeded $1 billion in the past decade, but concern is mounting that the aid could be cut under Trump’s plan to slash the State Department budget.

But Hariri has a tough balancing act. Potentially embarrassing for him is the current offensive to clear Sunni militants along the Lebanon-Syria border, which is being spearheaded by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, with the Lebanese military serving largely as a bystander.

Trump has slammed the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, and Congress recently introduced legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on the powerful group. Hariri, whose fragile governing coalition includes members of Hezbollah, is worried that U.S. efforts to widen sanctions on Hezbollah could negatively impact the banking industry in Lebanon.

At the same time, he has warned that Lebanon is close to a breaking point due to the strain of hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

When asked, Trump declined to offer a position on possible tighter sanctions against Hezbollah.

WATCH: TRUMP, HARIRI MEET IN THE OVAL OFFICE

Trump budget slashes aid to Lebanon by 80 percent

The Trump administration is seeking to slash military aid to Lebanon by 82 percent next year, according to the State Department’s 2018 budget plan.

Last year, the U.S. provided $103 million in military aid – weapons, equipment and training – to Beirut. The 2018 budget projects about $19 million in anticipated aid.

According to the State Department, the cuts would include the cessation of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which amounted to about $86 million in 2016.

The move signals a potentially stronger stance by the Trump administration against Lebanon, and a change of direction in the unofficial U.S-Lebanon partnership against ISIS.

The Lebanese military has been a key force against ISIS in northeastern Lebanon, and an ally to the U.S. in the fight against militants.

Lebanese Army officials are positioned strategically to closely monitor ISIS movements in the remote mountains of Arsal, where an estimated 500 militants are masked between the Lebanon-Syria border.

Much of Lebanon’s ability to confront ISIS, analysts say, is owed to the support of foreign countries, including the United States. Since 2005, the U.S. has provided more than $1.4 billion in military aid to the country.

But the assistance could soon be slashed, according to the Trump administration’s latest budget plan. Some Middle East analysts believe the Lebanese Army’s ties to Hezbollah may have played a role in 2018 funding plans.

President Trump has pledged to get tough on Iran and its proxies throughout the region.

Tony Badran, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, told the Christian Science Monitor that the U.S. has good reason “to worry about the army’s ties to Hezbollah.”

“There are still some people out there who buy the argument of Lebanon as a good partner – especially at [the Pentagon] – and some are still convinced by the obsolete notion of the Lebanese standing up to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” he told CS Monitor.

Besides military cuts, the Trump administration is also proposing about 23 percent of cuts to economic and developmental aid to Lebanon.

Last year, Lebanon received $110 million in economic assistance. The 2018 budget projects about $85 million.

The budget cuts would also hit several other vulnerable countries, including Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen.

President Trump and Prime Minister Saad Hariri are expected to discuss these proposed cuts during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

READ: Department of State Budget Plan.

Donald Trump to host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

President Donald Trump will host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Washington on Tuesday, the White House announced.

The leaders are expected to discuss the fight against terrorism, Lebanon’s national economy and the refugee crisis, according to a White House statement.

Analysts also believe the pair will discuss U.S. aid to the Lebanese military, which is expected to be slashed by more than 80 percent in the State Department’s 2018 fiscal budget.

“President Donald J. Trump will host Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House on July 25. The two leaders will discuss issues of mutual concern, including the fight against terrorism, the economy, and refugees. This meeting will serve as an important opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relationship and will encourage other international and regional partners to support Lebanon as it faces a wide range of challenges.”

RELATED: Hariri meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in DC (2015)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2015. (State Department Photo/Public Domain)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2015. (State Department Photo/Public Domain)

 

AUB professor denied entry into U.S. because of “extreme vetting”

An engineering professor at the American University of Beirut says he was wrongfully denied entry into the U.S. because of new “extreme vetting” measures.

George Saad, 35, an associate professor at the Beirut campus, was traveling to the U.S. for the Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference in San Diego.

He says the Department of Homeland Security turned him away at Los Angeles International Airport without explanation, and he missed his conference as a result.

According to The New York Post, Homeland Security officials detained him and interrogated him for four hours. He says his phone was confiscated, his laptop was seized and officials photographed him and took fingerprints.

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“I belong to the American University of Beirut — the leading academic institution in Lebanon and the Middle East, chartered in New York and considered an American territory in Lebanon,” Saad told The Post. “I felt so small, so unappreciated and consider being treated in demeaning and humiliating ways.”

Saad says his visa was revoked and he was sent back to Beirut without an opportunity to contact an attorney or his family.

According to The Post, Saad has traveled to the U.S. about 15 times without any issue. In 2015 and 2015, he attended similar engineering conferences in California.

Saad graduated from John Hopkins University, and holds his doctorate from the University of Southern California. He says his family is Christian, and he has no criminal record.

The alleged incident happened amid President Trump’s push to enhance screening measures at American points of entry. Although the courts have blocked the president’s travel ban, his administration has been pushing for stepped up questioning of visa applicants and more intense vetting.

Saad says he already filed a complaint with Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, but he still lost about $2,500 in travel costs.

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Officials at the American University of Beirut say they stand by their professor.

“While we understand and respect security measures, we are surprised and concerned at the treatment our faculty member received, including his long interrogation followed by denial of his entry into the US,” the university said in a statement to The Post.

Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

4 things you didn’t know about Beirut-born NBA coach Steve Kerr

Legendary NBA coach Steve Kerr has not had an easy life. He’ll be the first to tell you.

The Beirut-born six-time NBA champion spent most of his childhood in Lebanon until his father was shot and killed in 1984. He was devastated.

As millions watch Game 4 of the NBA finals, most fans will be thinking of Steve Kerr as the former professional basketball player and the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Little do they know, Kerr’s life story starts in Beirut.

He spent much of his childhood in Lebanon.

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Steve was born in Beirut “Stephen Douglas Kerr” to proud parents Dr. Malcolm and Ann Kerr. His father — also Beirut-born — was an American academic who specialized in the Middle East.

Steve attended Cairo American College in Egypt, the American Community School in Beirut and Palisades High School in Los Angeles.

His father was the former president of AUB.

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Dr. Malcolm Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut, where his parents taught for over 40 years.

Following his doctorate work at John Hopkins University in Washington D.C., Dr. Kerr returned to Beirut to teach at the American University of Beirut’s Department of Political Science.

He became president of the university in 1982. He served as president for 17 months.

His grandfather volunteered with the Near East Relief.

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Steve’s grandfather, Stanley Kerr, was a well-respected American humanitarian, who spent many years volunteering with the Near East Relief after the Armenian Genocide.

Stanley and his wife Elsa Reckman Kerr met while rescuing women and orphans in Marash.

They later joined the staff of a Near East Relief orphanage in Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon.

Stanley earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to Beirut where he became chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the American University of Beirut.

His father was killed in 1984.

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Steve’s father was shot and killed on January 18, 1984 by two gunmen outside of Beirut office. He was 52.

A possible motive regarding his assassin are still unclear, although The New York Times reports a male caller telephoned the Beirut office of Agence France-Presse shortly after his murder and said the slaying was the work of Islamic Holy War.

At the time, former President Ronald Reagan issued a statement saying in part, “Dr. Kerr’s untimely and tragic death at the hands of these despicable assassins must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists. Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of the lives, actions, or future of ourselves and our friends.”

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Steve said his father’s unlikely assassination left him speechless. The Kerr family later sued the Iranian government under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

While warming up for a game at Arizona State in 1988, Kerr had to deal with a number of fans in the crowd chanting “PLO” and “your father’s history.”

Kerr said his difficult life has made him a stronger person, and a stronger coach.

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