Lebanon to start repatriating nationals from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Africa from Sunday

A municipal worker cleans the Martyrs Square in front of Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut’s deserted downtown district during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Lebanon to start repatriating nationals from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Africa from Sunday

  • Lebanese security forces have so far issued 3,511 tickets to people violating the country’s general mobilization rules which include a nighttime curfew

BEIRUT: The repatriation of Lebanese nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast is expected to get underway on Sunday, the government has revealed.

Lebanon’s plans to fly home thousands of expats trapped abroad under travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), have hit delays due to concerns about virus testing procedures and the large number of returnees involved.  
Fears over health risks have also been raised by Lebanese residents in communities where isolation and quarantine centers have been earmarked to house returning expats.
Announcing the planned Sunday start of the repatriation program, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said: “Four Middle East Airlines (MEA) aircraft will be charged with the task of flying those wishing to return (from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast).
“If there is a delay in the procedures due to the challenges facing the concerned states as a result of the spread of the virus, the repatriation might be delayed until Tuesday.
“A medical team will be on board the aircraft to oversee procedures. All those wishing to board the planes will be tested to ensure that they are in good health. They will again be tested upon arrival at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.
“If their test comes back positive, they will be transferred to hospital, but if their test comes back negative, they will be transferred to an isolation facility to spend two weeks there,” Hitti added.
In a statement, MEA said: “All those wishing to come back to Lebanon, whose names are on the lists prepared by the Lebanese embassies abroad, should contact its offices in the concerned countries to book and receive their tickets.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Friday rose to 508 with the total number of deaths up by one to 17.

• The Lebanese Ministry of Health said 644 people tested for the virus in the past 24 hours were awaiting results.

To be allowed on board, the airline pointed out the need to complete the mandatory medical form and email it to the Lebanese Ministry of Health at [email protected].
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Lebanon have been working to provide buildings for the isolation of returnees but despite assurances about safety many communities remain concerned about the dangers of expats coming in from abroad and fueling the spread of the killer virus.
One resident in Nabatiyeh, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News: “They said that they are preparing an abandoned hotel in the area to isolate those who are brought back. This hotel cannot accommodate the large number of returnees they mentioned.
“In addition, we do not know the accuracy of the preventive measures to be taken. The general mobilization is not being respected in the region. How will the situation be when expatriates come back, keeping in mind that some of them have political protection?”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Friday rose to 508 with the total number of deaths up by one to 17. The Lebanese Ministry of Health said 644 people tested for the virus in the past 24 hours were awaiting results.
Friday prayers in mosques throughout the country were canceled by religious authorities with imams calling from minarets for worshippers to stay at home.
Lebanese security forces have so far issued 3,511 tickets to people violating the country’s general mobilization rules which include a nighttime curfew. The Lebanese Army used social media to again urge people to remain in their homes and not to breach measures brought in by the government aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in a bid to lift spirits, a video of 30 members of the national orchestra performing singer Fairuz’s song, “Lebanon, I Love You,” took the country’s social media by storm. The artists each played from their home using video conferencing to synchronize their performances. They were accompanied by a choir and led by the Maestro Andre Hajj.


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.