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China extends Hong Kong legislature for a year

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The top legislature in Beijing has extended the mandate for the current group of Hong Kong lawmakers for a year from its expiry date of September 30, after a scheduled election was delayed.

The decision by China’s legislature means Hong Kong’s 70-member Legislative Council, or LegCo, will continue to perform its duties for “no less than a year” and until the next LegCo starts its four-year term, the Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

Critics say the decision to postpone the election was political and came after China adopted new national security laws in late June that affect the city, Reuters said.

The standing committee of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, supported the Hong Kong government’s decision on July 31 to postpone a September 6 election for the next LegCo for a year, calling it “necessary and appropriate.”

France extends ban on mass gatherings to October 30 as ‘infection rate heads in wrong direction’

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PM Jean Castex said on Tuesday that the coronavirus infection rate in France was headed in the wrong direction, adding that a collective response was necessary.

The public was becoming careless, Castex warned, after official data recorded nearly 5,000 new coronavirus cases from Saturday to Monday. The epidemic has killed more than 30,300 people in France, Reuters said.

France is extending a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people until the end of October, Castex said. New restrictions will be drawn up in the 20 largest cities to curb the rising infection rate. Local officials wil be asked to encourage the wearing of masks in public spaces nationwide.

Britain & France working on new plan to shut down illegal migration across Channel

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London and Paris are working on a new plan to shut a Channel migration route from France, British immigration minister Chris Philp said on Tuesday. The minister was speaking to reporters at the British Embassy in Paris after holding talks with his French counterparts, Reuters said.

Hundreds of people, including some children, have been caught crossing to southern England from makeshift camps in northern France over the last week. Many were navigating one of the world’s busiest shipping routes in overloaded rubber dinghies.

Britain wants greater flexibility to return illegal migrants to France after they risk the journey across the English Channel in small boats, a junior health minister, Edward Argar, was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Israel reduces troop deployment on border with Syria & Lebanon

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Israel’s military has announced a reduction of forces on its northern border with Syria and Lebanon, after deploying reinforcements in recent weeks in response to a spike in tensions. “Troop reinforcements in the area are being reduced,” an army statement said on Monday.

Being technically at war with northern neighbors Lebanon and Syria, Israel maintains a military presence along the frontier.

Over the past three weeks, Israel has twice struck Syrian military targets in response to border unrest, AFP said. Israel also said that it had repelled an attempt by Hezbollah fighters to penetrate the border, but the Shiite group denied any involvement in the incident.

New Zealand’s 102-day ‘coronavirus-free’ status ends as Auckland back in lockdown after 4 new cases emerge

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Authorities in New Zealand said on Tuesday they were shutting down the largest city, Auckland, after four new coronavirus cases were discovered.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland would move to level-three restriction from noon on Wednesday as a “precautionary approach.” People should stay away from work and school, and gatherings of more than 10 people would again be restricted. The curbs would be applied for three days until Friday.

“This is something we have prepared for,” Ardern told reporters, adding that the source of the virus was unknown.

“We have had a 102 days and it was easy to feel New Zealand was out of the woods. No country has gone as far as we did without having a resurgence. And because we were the only ones, we had to plan. And we have planned,” she said.

3 Russian diplomats leave Bratislava as Slovakian PM confirms expulsion

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Three staff members of the Russian Embassy in Bratislava and their families have left Slovakia, RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday. Slovakia’s PM, Igor Matovic, says the decision to expel Russian diplomats has been made in connection with the murder of a Georgian national in Berlin, the TASS news agency reports.

“When a couple of days ago I was informed about the activities of some staff members of the Russian embassy [in Slovakia] and about confirmations of misuse of [Slovakian] visas in order to commit murder in Germany, I immediately, without hesitation, understood that such actions cannot remain without response,” he was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry said on August 10 that the authorities were expelling three staff members of the Russian Embassy in Bratislava over suspected espionage activity. Moscow said it would retaliate.

A Georgian national was killed in Tiergarten on August 23, 2019, and the Berlin prosecutor’s office said the arrested suspect was a Russian citizen. The Russian authorities have repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement in the Berlin incident.

‘Extremely worrying situation’: Greece seeks emergency EU meeting on Turkey

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Greece wants the EU to hold an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers, the prime minister’s office said on Tuesday. The statement comes amid a row with Turkey over the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions were stoked on Monday when Ankara sent the research ship Oruc Reis into waters off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, where Turkey disputes Greek maritime rights, the AFP news agency said.

The situation is “extremely worrying and needs to be solved in a dialogue,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Last week, Greece and Egypt signed an agreement to set up an exclusive economic zone in the region. Greece, Cyprus, and Israel sealed the contract in January for a huge pipeline project to go ahead that will transport gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, despite Turkey’s hostility to the deal. Ankara and the UN-recognized government in Libya signed a security agreement in 2019.

Egyptians vote for new Council of Senators with coronavirus restrictive measures in place

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Egypt’s citizens began voting on Tuesday for members of a newly created second chamber of parliament, with restrictive measures in place aimed at curbing a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

The Council of Senators – an advisory body without legislative powers – will include 200 elected members and 100 appointed by the president.

Nearly 63 million people out of a total population of more than 100 million are eligible to vote. As in Egypt’s main parliamentary chamber, supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are expected to dominate.

The Senate will enhance political participation, officials say. However, the buildup to the elections was low key, which commentators attributed to the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of awareness about the new chamber, Reuters said.

Turkey will license new E. Mediterranean areas this month – FM

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Ankara will issue seismic exploration and drilling licenses in new areas of the eastern Mediterranean by the end of August, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

NATO allies Turkey and Greece are at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean. On Monday, Turkey sent a vessel to conduct a seismic survey in a disputed area in the region, Reuters reported, and Greece said the move was illegal.

Cavusoglu said Turkey would issue new licenses for operations near the western borders of its continental shelf and continue “all sorts of seismic and drilling operations” in the area.

Japan supports G7 framework as Trump says he may still invite Russia

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Japan’s top government spokesman said on Tuesday it was extremely important to maintain the framework of the Group of Seven (G7) meetings. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s comment came after US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he has not decided whether to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to this year’s summit meeting, Reuters reports.

The G7 includes Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, and Canada in addition to the United States. Russia participated in the then G8 group until 2014.

Suga also said it is up to the United States, this year’s chair nation, to decide what form the forthcoming summit meeting will take.

Germany has rejected a proposal by Trump to invite Russia back into the group, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on July 27.

US health chief Azar says in Taiwan that China ‘had chance to warn world about coronavirus outbreak’

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US Health Secretary Alex Azar, who is visiting Taiwan, attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. China denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations, Reuters quoted the US official as saying. “I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the US, it might have been snuffed out easily,” Azar said.

The health secretary arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level US official to visit in four decades. The trip was condemned by China.

Gaza crossing closed after Palestinians send incendiary balloons into Israel

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On Tuesday, Israel closed one of its main border crossings with the Gaza Strip. The decision was made after Palestinians launched incendiary balloons that set fire to areas on the Israeli frontier, Reuters reports.

More than 30 fires were set around border communities by balloons carrying incendiary devices launched from Hamas-run Gaza, Israeli media said.

“The Kerem Shalom Crossing will be closed for the passage of all goods, with the exception of the entry of essential humanitarian equipment and fuel,” according to Israel’s Defense Ministry. Kerem Shalom is one of three main Gaza border crossings with Israel and Egypt, and it is where most goods pass through daily.

Palestinian officials say the closure will particularly affect the delivery of construction materials.

Slovakia expels 3 staff at Russian embassy, Moscow ‘will retaliate’

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Slovakia has expelled three staff at the Russian embassy in Bratislava, the Slovak Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

“According to information from the Slovak intelligence services, their activities were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations,” Reuters quoted a ministry spokesman as saying in an emailed statement.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday it will respond in kind to Slovakia’s expulsion of Russian diplomats, RIA Novosti reported.

The diplomatic workers were declared persona non grata on August 6, according to Slovak media.

Face masks become mandatory in Paris amid W. Europe heatwave

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Face masks became compulsory in tourist hotspots in Paris on Monday amid warnings of a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

The requirement came as France along with much of Western Europe sweltered in a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 35 degrees Celsius (95 F), AFP reports. The heat sent crowds flocking to beaches at the weekend despite health warnings about the risk of infection.

In the Paris region, people aged 11 and over are now required to wear masks in crowded areas and tourist hotspots. These include the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.

Several French towns and cities have already introduced similar measures, as well as parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain.

Greece to require coronavirus test for entry from Sweden, Spain & 3 other states

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Visitors to Greece arriving from Sweden, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic will need proof they have tested negative for the coronavirus to gain entry, the government has said.

Tightening controls after a recent spike in coronavirus infections, the government said on Monday the requirement will go into effect from August 17. The required test cannot be older than 72 hours prior to entry.

On Sunday, Greece reported its highest daily tally of coronavirus infections, 203 cases, since the start of the outbreak, Reuters reports.

The government in Athens also moved to suspend public gatherings, including shows and concerts, where audiences are not seated.

Poland & Czech Republic deny Lukashenko’s accusations that they organized protests in Belarus

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The EU must take steps in order to prevent the possibility of the use of force in Belarus, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Monday. He denied that Warsaw had inspired post-election protests in Belarus, and added that the Belarusian authorities had to understand that they had not been incited by actions from abroad but instead resulted from a lack of satisfaction on the part of the people, PAP reports.

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki earlier in the day called on EU’s leaders to convene an extraordinary summit to discuss the situation in Belarus.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko had said participants in post-election protests in Belarus were being steered from Poland, Great Britain, and the Czech Republic.

In Prague, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the elections in Belarus “cannot be said to be free and democratic.” The Czech Republic “fully respects and supports the independence and sovereignty of Belarus, but at the same time, will under all circumstances promote freedom of expression and assembly and equal political competition,” the ministry said.

Tikhanovskaya demands Belarus presidential election results be declared void

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Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in her complaint to the Central Election Commission (CEC) demanded on Monday that the published results of the vote be declared void. She also wants a recount of the votes at some polls or a repeat election to be conducted there, spokeswoman of her electoral headquarters Anna Krasulina told TASS.

“Due to the violations of the legislation that occurred during the vote count, a recount of votes is needed… In case the recount is impossible to conduct, the election at some polling stations should be considered void based on Article 79 of the electoral code,” she added.

According to the electoral authorities, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko is winning the election with 80.08 percent of the vote. Tikhanovskaya has 10.09 percent, according to the (CEC).

Law enforcement agencies detained about 3,000 people while dozens of protesters and policemen were injured in Minsk and other cities in clashes after the election.

Gulf council call for Iran arms embargo extension is ‘unrealistic’ – Tehran

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Tehran has rejected as “unrealistic” a call by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the UN to extend an international arms embargo on Iran that ends in October.

The GCC is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The group said Sunday that Iran’s continued interference in neighboring countries made an extension necessary.

“The GCC is currently at the apex of its incompetence and its unrealistic policies have rendered it ineffective,” Reuters quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying on Monday.

The arms embargo is currently set to end on October 18 as part of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US quit the pact in 2018.

Hamas fires at least 8 rockets into sea in ‘message’ to Israel – report

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Hamas fired rockets into the sea on Monday following repeated exchanges of fire with Israel in recent days, according to Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses. At least eight rockets were seen in the sky heading toward the Mediterranean Sea from the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

The Interior Ministry of the Palestinian enclave referred to “an act of resistance.” The rockets were a “message” to Israel to let it know that armed groups in Gaza will not “remain silent” in the face of an Israeli blockade and “aggression,” a source close to Hamas told AFP.

Monday’s rocket fire coincided with the recent launch of incendiary balloons into Israel. In the past week, such balloons have flown three times from Gaza into Israel, each time triggering retaliatory strikes against Hamas positions.

WHO trusts G7 to reach consensus on how to act on crises amid overhaul talk – official

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The World Health Organization trusts the Group of Seven countries to reach a consensus on how to approach health crises such as the coronavirus, according to Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program.

“We are all vulnerable to risks, we need to find global solutions,” Ryan said on Monday. “We trust the G7 will play a major part in that in the months and years to come.”

France and Germany have quit talks on reforming the WHO in frustration at attempts by the US to lead the negotiations, despite its decision to leave the WHO, Reuters reported, citing three officials.

The move is seen as a setback for President Donald Trump. Washington, which holds the rotating chair of the G7, had hoped to issue a joint roadmap for a sweeping overhaul of the WHO in September, two months before the US presidential election.

Taiwan says Chinese fighters ‘tracked by missiles’ after approaching island as US’ Azar continues visit

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Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Monday morning before being “driven out” by Taiwan’s air force, the island’s Defense Ministry said. The Chinese fighters were also tracked by Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles, the military said.

The incident took place on the first full day of a high-profile visit to Taiwan by US Health Secretary Alex Azar, which China has condemned.

Azar said on Monday that his visit to Taiwan represented an acknowledgment of deep mutual friendship and partnership. The official said in Taipei that Taiwan is a model of transparent, collaborative public health information-sharing, Reuters reports.

Germany’s Social Democrats nominate Finance Minister Scholz as party’s candidate for chancellor in 2021 election

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The Social Democrats in Germany have proposed Olaf Scholz, the vice chancellor and finance minister – and their most high-profile and popular politician – to run to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s elections.

The decision marks a comeback for the former Hamburg mayor, who was last year defeated in the race to lead his party by two left-wing outsiders. Now, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have nominated their erstwhile rival, Reuters reports.

“Now it’s official,” Scholz tweeted. “The party leadership have unanimously nominated me as chancellor candidate. I look forward to a fun, fair and successful campaign.”

The party, which for decades vied with Merkel’s Christian Democrats to dominate the political scene, has not won a national election since 2002. Merkel’s fourth and final term is expected to end next year.

Poland urges EU to hold extraordinary summit on Belarus after Minsk clashes

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Poland on Monday called for an emergency European Union summit on the situation in Belarus after a night of clashes in Minsk following a presidential election in the country.

“The authorities have used force against their citizens, who are demanding change in the country,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement. “We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom,” AFP quoted him as saying.

The Belarusian Central Election Commission said on Monday that President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide re-election victory. Following the voting on Sunday, bloody clashes began between riot police and thousands of protesters who said the poll was rigged.

Afghan President Ghani to sign order to release Taliban prisoners, peace talks expected ‘within a week’

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Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to start in Qatar within a week, once the final batch of Taliban prisoners is released, the US special envoy and sources in Kabul said on Monday.

The government accepted the advice of a loya jirga, a grand assembly of elders, on Sunday to release 400 “hardcore” Taliban prisoners. The move paves the way for talks aimed at ending a war that has ground on since US-backed Afghan forces ousted a Taliban government in late 2001.

“We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready,” Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Reuters on Monday.

President Ashraf Ghani would likely sign the decree to release the prisoners on Monday, according to a government source. “The original plan is to travel to Doha on Wednesday and the talks will begin on Sunday,” the source added.

Six French tourists killed by gunmen in Niger giraffe reserve

Follow RT on A group of French tourists along with their local tour guide and driver have been shot and killed by gunmen in Niger. French President Emmanuel Macron’s officer confirmed the deaths of the French citizens.

The shooting took place in the Koure region, which is home to the last herd of West African giraffes and a popular tourist destination.

The unidentified armed men were riding motorcycles and waited for the arrival of the tourists to the area, a source told AFP. “Most of the victims were shot… We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source explained, adding that the tourists’ vehicle belonged to the French aid organization ACTED.

“We are managing the situation, we will give more information later,” said Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella, the governor of the country’s southwestern Tillaberi Region.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants, against whom France waged a military campaign, have been in control of a large area in the northern part of neighboring Mali since 2012, while also carrying out attacks in Niger and Burkina Faso.

Macron has called Niger’s President, Mahamadou Issoufou, to discuss the tragedy. France’s foreign ministry warns on its website that the “terrorist threat is high” in Niger.

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US to cut troop presence in Afghanistan to ‘less than 5,000’ by November, Pentagon chief Esper says

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The number of US forces stationed in Afghanistan will be reduced to less than 5,000 in the coming months, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview with Fox News. The withdrawal, which would account for around half of the 8,600 personnel in the country, will be completed by November, he said.

“Right now we think that we can do all the core missions – first and foremost ensuring the United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan – we can do those at a lower level,” he told Fox News’ Judge Jeanine. US President Donald Trump said earlier this week that he wanted to cap US troop presence in Afghanistan at 4,000.

The US has begun pulling forces from the country as part of a phased deal with the Taliban. Esper remarked that the peace process in the war-torn nation has been a “windy road” but was nonetheless making progress.

Turkey to allow Lebanon use Mersin port until Port of Beirut recovers from deadly explosions – vice president

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“We have stated that our port of Mersin may be used by Lebanon until the reconstruction of the Port of Beirut is complete,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters. He said that Lebanon may use the country’s Mediterranean Sea port for customs clearance and storage space.

Oktay visited Beirut on Saturday and met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, as rescue teams continue to clear the rubble in search of victims of the two powerful blasts that devastated much of the capital. More than 150 people were killed and 60 more are believed to be missing.

Officials linked the explosions to a large stash of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port, but the exact cause of the blasts is yet to be determined. 

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Flight recorders recovered from Indian passenger plane crash site

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Investigators have retrieved the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the crash site at Calicut International Airport. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced the news on his Twitter.

Digital Flight Data Recorder & Cockpit Voice Recorder of the ill-fated aircraft have been retrieved. AAIB is conducting investigations.

— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) August 8, 2020

The recordings will help investigators determine the details of the crash. According to air traffic data, the pilots experienced difficulties due to the bad weather and had to make several approaches before attempting to land.

The Air India Express flight 1344 overshot the runway amid heavy rain on Friday and broke into two pieces.

The death toll from the crash rose to 18 on Saturday, with 16 others hospitalized and in serious condition.

Malta bans mass gatherings, makes masks mandatory as coronavirus cases surge

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Malta banned mass gatherings and made it mandatory to wear masks in public on Friday. The move came as new coronavirus infections surged after having been reduced to zero for a week early in July.

Health authorities reported 49 new infections on Friday, the second highest daily number since the first case was detected in early March. Nine patients have died, Reuters reported.

The decision to reimpose controls represents a sharp turnaround for Malta, which depends on tourism for a third of its GDP.

The Mediterranean country has conducted the third-highest level of testing in the EU and had lifted restrictions and re-opened some overseas travel last month as case numbers fell. It now joins a growing list of countries forced to reimpose controls after early successes in controlling the disease.

Hezbollah leader denies group had arms at Beirut port, calls for transparent probe into blast

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Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Friday denied statements made in Lebanon and abroad that the group had arms warehoused at Beirut port. He also called for a just and transparent investigation into blast that occurred there on Tuesday.

“We know more about the port of Haifa than the port of Beirut,” the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. “The port of Beirut is not our responsibility, whereas the port of Haifa is part of our defense strategy.”

In a televised speech, Nasrallah said that Tuesday’s huge explosion in the Lebanese capital was an exceptional event in the country’s modern history which required internal unity and calm, and that it should not be politicized.

He also praised the solidarity shown by countries around the world and said this presented an opportunity for Lebanon, Reuters reports. Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic crisis.