Lebanese foreign minister summons US envoy in growing row over her attack on Hezbollah

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Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal join a rally in the southern suburb of the capital Beirut on June 28, 2020 to protest a statement made by the US ambassador criticizing the group. (AFP / ANWAR AMRO)
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Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda in this photo released on June 11, 2020 by the Lebanese government. (Lebanese Government via AP)
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Updated 29 June 2020

Lebanese foreign minister summons US envoy in growing row over her attack on Hezbollah

  • Diplomat earlier criticized the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah
  • US ambassador Dorothy Shea described the ruling as a ‘really pathetic’ attempt to silence the media

BEIRUT: The US Ambassador to Lebanon has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Beirut on Monday amid a growing furor over the envoy’s criticism of Hezbollah.

The row began when the ambassador, Dorothy Shea, told the Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath that the US had “grave concerns about the role of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization.”

She added: “It has syphoned off billions of dollars that should have gone into government coffers so that the government can provide basic services to its people. It has obstructed some of the reforms the Lebanese economy so desperately needs.”

Mohamad Mazeh, a judge in the southern city of Tyre, was widely ridiculed on Saturday when he ruled that the envoy’s comments incited sectarian strife, and issued an order banning the media from reporting anything she said for a year.Judicial sources said the judge’s ruling had no legal force, the US State Department described it as “pathetic” and on Sunday Lebanese media ignored it.

Local TV stations broadcast new comments from the ambassador in which she described the judge’s decision as “unfortunate.” 

“I was contacted yesterday afternoon by a high-ranking and well-placed official in the Lebanese government who apologized, and said this ruling did not have proper standing,” Shea said. The official told her the government would “take the necessary steps to reverse it.”

Hezbollah is the main political force behind the Lebanese government. Washington considers the heavily armed pro-Iran movement to be a terrorist group.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad tweeted that while she understood the judge’s concerns about diplomats meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs “no one had the right to prevent the media from covering news, or to curb press freedoms.”

In one of several media appearances on Sunday, Shea told broadcaster MTV that a senior government official had assured her the court did not have the authority to order the ban, and that the government would take steps to reverse it.

She described the ruling as a “really pathetic” attempt to silence the media, and said the government should focus more on implementing economic reforms.

“I would suggest that we all try to put this chapter behind us,” she said.


Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

Updated 55 min 55 sec ago

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

  • Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight
  • Dubai is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts

DUBAI: With a “welcome” passport sticker and coronavirus tests on arrival, Dubai reopened its doors to international visitors Tuesday in the hope of reviving its tourism industry after a nearly four-month closure.
But businesses are mainly betting on those already living in the gleaming desert city to energise its ailing economy and serve as a test run before wary foreign holidaymakers return.
“A warm welcome to your second home,” said the sticker applied to passports at Dubai airport, where employees wore hazmat suits and vending machines offered personal protective equipment.
Italian tourist Francesca Conte said on arrival she was worried up until the last minute that her flight would be canceled.
“When I saw passengers queueing at the gate, I thought today we are not leaving, since the trip to Dubai had already been skipped three times,” Conte said.
She said she felt sad “seeing empty spaces” on the plane and stewards and hostesses “dressed like nurses and doctors,” in their lab coats.
The reopening Tuesday came as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates climbed to 52,600 included 326 deaths, with millions of foreign workers living in cramped accommodation particularly hard hit.
Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.
Tourism has long been the lifeline of the glitzy Gulf emirate, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE.
High season starts in October when the scorching heat of the Gulf summer starts to dissipate.
Dubai welcomed more than 16.7 million visitors last year, and before the pandemic crippled global travel, the aim had been to reach 20 million arrivals in 2020.
“We are ready to receive tourists while we take all necessary precautions,” said Talal Al-Shanqiti of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in a video message tweeted on Sunday.
With scant oil resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai has built the most diversified economy in the Gulf, boasting a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub despite an economic downturn in recent years.
The city-state is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts.
But all have taken a severe hit during the coronavirus outbreak, and Dubai’s GDP in the first quarter of 2020 contracted 3.5 percent following two years of modest growth.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has been forced to slash its sprawling network and is believed to have laid off thousands of staff.
Before reopening to international tourists, authorities launched social media campaigns and deployed hundreds of social media “influencers” to tout Dubai’s attractions.
As the hospitality business works out how to create an environment that follows strict hygiene rules but is still worth the hassle for potential foreign clients, hotels are offering Dubai residents “staycation” and “daycation” deals to offset the slump.
Restarting hospitality by “primarily targeting the domestic market is an important first step in our phased approach toward restoring normalcy in the tourism industry,” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
And key to the effort are health and safety measures at hotels to “reassure guests and travelers that Dubai is one of the world’s safest destinations,” he said in a statement last month.
Boosting domestic tourism is also part of the strategy of the UAE’s other main destination, the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, which welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors in 2019.
The UAE’s capital is home to top attractions including an F1 circuit and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which in late June opened its doors to masked, gloved visitors after a 100-day closure.
But the emirate does not share Dubai’s enthusiasm about opening doors to foreign tourists just yet, although those with negative test results are now allowed to enter.
“Plans have changed and we are not expecting to have the same numbers of 2019 this year definitely. It would take another two to three years,” said Ali Al-Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
“As of today, I can say domestic tourism is what is in our plan. We believe domestic tourism is key now and we don’t see us opening for international travelers very soon,” he told AFP on Monday.