Lebanese hotline set up to handle surge in COVID-19 domestic violence cases

A street vendor pushes his cart in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in the Beirut suburbs. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Lebanese hotline set up to handle surge in COVID-19 domestic violence cases

  • The majority of reported attacks have been against women and girls.
  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Thursday rose by 15 to 494, with 16 deaths and 43 recoverie

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have set up a dedicated domestic violence hotline to deal with a surge in cases of physical, sexual and psychological abuse since the introduction of home quarantine over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the majority of reported attacks have been against women and girls.

An NCLW spokesperson said: “The psychological pressures caused by the home quarantine in these circumstances (the COVID-19 pandemic), in addition to the economic pressures, have contributed to an increase of physically, morally, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abusive practices inflicted by violent individuals on abused women and girls.”

The NCLW, in cooperation with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF), has established a special phoneline linked to the ISF’s operations room along with a website for abuse victims and witnesses to report incidents of domestic violence.

Lt. Col. Joseph Msallam, head of the ISF’s public relations division, told Arab News: “March has seen a rise in the number of domestic violence complaints, which reached 48 cases. We quickly move to stop the perpetrators by order of the judicial authorities.

“People are losing their temper, and we have seen an increase in quarrels that occur for ridiculous reasons such as car parking. There was a case recorded in a southern suburb of Beirut a few days ago that developed into a murder.”

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Thursday rose by 15 to 494, with 16 deaths and 43 recoveries. 

Three patients were reported to be in a critical condition and over a period of 24 hours, 539 lab tests were carried out on people suspected of having contracted the virus.

A Lebanese doctor, George Antar, was reported by the National News Agency to have died in Brazil after being infected while treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals in San Paolo. He was in his 60s and from the town of Dakwa town in western Bekaa.

The Lebanese Ministry of Health and infectious disease specialists, meanwhile, warned that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country could be twice the official count.

Reviewing measures taken by the government over the past two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said: “The data to date is good, but the situation remains precarious and fraught with caution.

“If our society follows the instructions and guidance, it will successfully prevent the worst, which is the quick spread of the disease, similar to what happened in different countries around the world. We saw that no health system was able to cope with the epidemic when it had invaded society.

“The local spreading rate is still low due to the commitment of the fearful and disciplined community. The number of cases was doubling every five days, but today and with the efforts of everyone, we are close to reaching the goal of the number doubling every 10 days.”

However, the minister added: “Lebanon is still at risk, and sliding would be very dangerous and fast if we do not know how to manage the battle.”

As reports continued to be made of people violating home quarantine and night curfew rules, the Lebanese Army Command took to social media to urge citizens to “stay home and refrain from wandering unless it is absolutely necessary (to leave the house).”

During a Cabinet session on Thursday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab was said to have hinted at taking “harsh measures in response to the violations that are happening.”

Meanwhile, the government was reconsidering its plan to fly home Lebanese expatriates trapped abroad by the COVID-19 outbreak after its proposed mechanism was rejected by a number of countries.

Director general of civil aviation at Rafic Hariri International Airport, Fadi Al-Hassan, said: “The number of people who wish to return to Lebanon and have registered their names in the Lebanese embassies ranges between 20,000 and 22,000 Lebanese expatriates, as per the figures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Addressing the Cabinet meeting on the issue, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: “The return of Lebanese expatriates from abroad requires careful organization because the steady increase in their number necessitates applying exceptional measures that guarantee the safety of the returnees and their surroundings.”

Diab said: “We are forced to make changes to the return mechanism, and the tests (for COVID-19) will be conducted at the airport in Beirut. This will require a great effort.”

Agreement was also reached on the return of Lebanese students from abroad, especially those struggling financially due to the Lebanese banks’ restrictions on the transfer of dollars to foreign countries.

The Amal Movement and Hezbollah were preparing to quarantine returnees, including their supporters from African countries, in dedicated hotels in the south of the country.

The two parties have tried to reassure residents in the areas that will host the returnees. During a visit to the Khiam border region on Thursday, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said: “Strict measures will be taken to prevent the situation from going out of control.”

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

Updated 26 May 2020

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

  • Syria records 20 new cases of coronavirus in largest single-day increase

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. 

The two towns are controlled by regime forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters captured parts of the highway known as M4 in October, when Ankara invaded northeastern Syria to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters. The M4 links Syria’s coastal region all the way east to the Iraqi border.

Four convoys will drive on the M4 every day with two leaving from Tal Tamr and two from Ein Issa, according to the Kurdish ANHA news agency. The report said a convoy will leave from each town at 8 a.m., and another set of convoys will do the same, three hours later.

The ANHA agency added that the opening of the highway will shorten the trip between the two towns as people previously had to take roundabout, side roads.

“This is the first time the road has been opened” since October, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia, a main power broker with Turkey in Syria, mediated the deal to reopen the highway, he said. Russia and Turkey back rival groups in Syria’s nine-year conflict.

Coronavirus cases

Syria reported 20 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the largest single-day increase to date.

The war-torn country has recorded 106 infections and four deaths so far, and new cases have increased in recent days with the return of Syrians from abroad.

Syria has kept an overnight curfew in place but has begun to open some of its economy after a lockdown. Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.