How COVID-19 precautions may have averted a higher Beirut toll

How COVID-19 precautions may have averted a higher Beirut toll
Short Url
Updated 06 August 2020

How COVID-19 precautions may have averted a higher Beirut toll

How COVID-19 precautions may have averted a higher Beirut toll
  • Remote work and summer working hours may have saved many lives in Lebanon’s stricken capital
  • Employees of media companies and service sectors feel grateful to pandemic precautionary measures

BEIRUT: The new glass-fronted buildings in the Beirut port area housed the offices of many media and business enterprises. But all that remained after Tuesday night’s massive explosions were concrete mounds and twisted steel.

The final casualty figures are still unknown, with many missing and the wounded still not counted. The toll could have been much higher, but for two factors: Summer working hours and remote work.

Many employees finished work at 3 p.m. and many others were working from home as part of the precautionary and preventive measures against COVID-19. Those who were in the vicinity have harrowing tales.


In one of those modern buildings, the editorial and technical support team of An-Nahar newspaper had gathered to launch their newest project, An-Nahar Al-Arabi.

“We were in a hall in the upper floor about to end the celebrations and editors of the newspaper’s print edition had started to enter the building when we heard the first explosion,” said journalist Rana Najjar, who suffered minor head injuries.

“The port is opposite our offices and some of us had started to take pictures when we saw the fire. Then a huge explosion followed. Some of us ran under the desks or scrambled farther in search of safety. Others were stuck in their offices as the ceiling collapsed. Shards of broken glass injured many.”




Building fronts across Beirut were shattered by the force of the blast. (AN Photo/Najia Houssari)

The newspaper was still maintaining a limited-staff schedule because of the pandemic, according to Najjar.

“Casualties could have been much higher if all the employees were present in the building,” she told Arab News. “We could not head to the stairways and get out of the building right away because of the extensive damage. Once outside, we started helping the injured.”

Fifteen colleagues were seriously injured, with others suffering slight wounds, Najjar said.




The new glass-fronted buildings in the Beirut port area housed the offices of many media and business enterprises. (AN Photo/Najia Houssari)

“A security officer next to Al-Jurdiya building was seriously injured, while a Syrian man set out to search for his brother who was repairing the water tank on the rooftop. I stopped passing cars and motorcycles to send the wounded to the hospitals.”

Najjar found a colleague, Salwa Baalbaki, with a dislocated shoulder and serious hand injuries. “I stopped a motorcyclist and told him to take her to the hospital,” Najjar recalled. “I found an Ethiopian girl bleeding from the head and started helping her.”




A view shows the aftermath of yesterday's blast at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020. (AFP)

The journalist then drove to the hospital emergency room in her own car to seek treatment for her own injuries.

Journalist Ibrahim Haidar, also of An-Nahar, who suffered injuries to the head and face, said he was at his desk writing when he heard the first explosion.

“I got up and went to report to the local desk what I saw,” he told Arab News. “As I was returning to my desk, another massive explosion tore everything apart.”




Amjad Iskandar, head of the Beirut office of Independent Arabia, said remote work saved many lives and protected completed assignments on home computers. (AN Photo/Najia Houssari)

Once outside the building, a motorcyclist stopped to pick up Haidar. “I did not ride behind him because I started to get dizzy. Another man took me in his car to the AUB Medical Hospital, but it was full of injured people,” he said.

“I then went to CMC Hospital, which refused to treat my wounds. So I went to Khoury Hospital, where I found 200 people waiting for treatment. They stitched my head wounds and asked me to go home. Two hours later, I started bleeding again, so I went back to the hospital for more stitches.”

Haidar said the newspaper management decided in March to let employees work from home because of the pandemic. “Two months ago, we returned to the office, but the website employees kept working from home. Hence they avoided this disaster,”  he said.




The interior of a church is pictured in the aftermath of yesterday's blast that tore through Lebanon's capital and resulted from the ignition of a huge depot of ammonium nitrate at Beirut's port, on August 5, 2020. (AFP)

Amjad Iskandar, head of the Beirut office of Independent Arabia, said remote work saved many lives and protected completed assignments on home computers.

Ahmed Al-Maghrabi, also of Independent Arabia, was more emphatic: “Thank you, coronavirus.”

Employees at companies that keep Lebanon’s service economy ticking had similar experiences.

Medgulf Insurance Co., which employs 300 people, has offices in two buildings near the port. “We used to stay at work until 6 p.m. before the hours got reduced because of the pandemic,” Ashraf Bakkar, the company’s chief underwriter, told Arab News.

“Many of us work from home. Those in the office on Tuesday decided to leave work at 4 p.m., shutting down the server and keeping one employee on stand-by duty. Luckily for him, at the time of the explosion, he was in the bathroom. Had he been at his desk, he would be dead or at least seriously injured.”


Twitter: @najiahoussari


Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinian protesters at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned

Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa worshippers condemned
  • The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 considers all settlements, including those in Jerusalem, illegal

JERUSALEM: Israel braced for more protests on Saturday after clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound left more than 200 people injured.

The unrest followed Friday prayers when Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians as violence erupted outside Islam’s third holiest site.

At least three people were seriously injured when Israeli troops used rubber bullets to disperse worshippers at the UNESCO world heritage site.

Israeli forces stormed the mosque’s plaza and fired sound grenades inside the building, where throngs of worshippers, including women and children, were praying on the last Friday of Ramadan.

The clashes came amid soaring tensions over Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the old city during Ramadan and the threat of eviction hanging over four Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.

The Israeli violence drew worldwide condemnation.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Kingdom “rejects Israel’s plans and measures to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and impose Israeli sovereignty over them.”

The UAE “strongly condemned” the clashes and potential evictions, and a statement by Khalifa Al-Marar, the foreign affairs minister, urged Israeli authorities to reduce tensions.

The UAE stresses the need for Israeli authorities to assume their responsibilities in line with international law to provide protection to Palestinian citizens, a statement carried by state news agency WAM said.

Wasfi Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the reconstruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that there was no excuse for the Israeli action.

“What happened on Friday night is inexcusable. Violating the mosque’s sanctity during the last 10 holy days of Ramadan is illegal and a clear violation of the right to worship. Its status quo must be protected.”

Kailani, a member of the Jerusalem Waqf Council, said Israeli forces not only violated the peace of worshippers but also destroyed mosque property, including its clinic and gates.

Hijazi Risheq, head of the Jerusalem Merchants Committee, told Arab News that attacks by Israeli forces were meant to intimidate Palestinians following threats by Jewish extremists of a large-scale infiltration into Al-Aqsa on what they call Jerusalem Day.

“However, the people of Jerusalem have broken the barrier of fear and are no longer afraid of Israeli soldiers or Israeli prisons,” he said.

Risheq called on Arab and Islamic countries to help Palestinians defend the mosque.

The late-night clashes in the old city of Jerusalem followed days of tension in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Israelis are trying to evict an entire Palestinian community and hand over their properties to ultra-extreme Jewish settlers.

The Waqf Council, Jordan, the US, EU, and European and Arab countries issued statements denouncing the violence in the city.

The US called on all parties to avoid actions that could damage final status talks between Israel and Palestinians, including settlements.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 considers all settlements, including those in Jerusalem, illegal.

Israeli police issued a statement saying officers were attacked with stones and firecrackers and had to restore order.

A police statement claimed that 17 officers were injured, with at least half requiring further attention.

Palestinian citizens of Israel traveled in at least six buses to show their support for worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but were barred entry near the village of Abu Ghish.

After they disembarked and began to walk the remaining 20 km distance to the site, local residents came to pick them up in private cars.

 


US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia. (AP file phot)
Updated 08 May 2021

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive
  • The Yemeni government said it was willing to engage in direct talks with the Houthis on ending the war

AL-MUKALLA: The US has criticized the Iran-backed Houthis for refusing to meet UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths in the Omani capital and spurning calls to stop their deadly offensive against Yemen’s central city of Marib.

“The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN special envoy Griffiths in Muscat,” the US State Department said in a statement, adding that the Houthis contradicted their commitments to comply with the available “fair deal” to end the worsening humanitarian crisis by escalating their offensive on Marib.

The US government said that the internationally recognized government of Yemen had expressed willingness to find an agreement to end the war.

Last week, officials said that Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam refused to meet the UN envoy to discuss his ideas for ending the war, and he also demanded a halt to Arab coalition airstrikes, unregulated flights in and out of Sanaa airport and an end to restrictions on Hodeidah seaport before agreeing to put into place a nationwide truce.

The Yemeni government said it was willing to engage in direct talks with the Houthis on ending the war.

Abdullah Al-Alimi, the Yemeni president’s chief of staff, told a gathering of foreign reporters at an online press conference on Friday that the Yemeni government did not take part in the stalled round of negotiations in Muscat since Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government have already agreed to the terms of the UN-brokered Joint Declaration.

Regarding the Houthi offensive on the city of Marib, Al-Alimi said the battle is a matter of death and life for millions of Yemenis to prevent the country from becoming another model of Iran’s theocracy.

The Yemeni official told reporters that roughly 2,400 loyalists have been killed and 5,000 more wounded in the fighting in Marib since earlier this year and the Houthis have fired 93 missiles and 360 shells at government-controlled areas during the past five months.

In Marib, heavy fighting broke out on Friday night when government troops repelled two consecutive attacks by the Houthis in Al-Mashjah and Serwah near Marib city, a local army official told Arab News on Saturday.

The clashes ended on Saturday morning after the Houthis retreated after suffering heavy casualties and losing many military vehicles.

In the northern province of Jouf, Yemen’s army announced on Friday that it had liberated areas in Al-Alem after heavy clashes with the Houthis.

In the western province of Hodeidah, a mother and her two children were killed and five others were wounded when their vehicle hit an IED planted by the Houthis on the main road between Durihimi and Bayt Al-Faqih, local media said on Saturday.

 


Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March
Updated 08 May 2021

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March
  • Last week Erdogan announced "full lockdown" until May 17 to curb a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths
  • In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000

ANKARA: Turkey’s daily COVID-19 cases fell below 20,000 for the first time since March 17 on Saturday, with 18,052 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.
Last week, President Tayyip Erdogan announced what he called a “full lockdown” until May 17 to curb a surge in infections and deaths after the country eased restrictions in early March.
The data showed another 281 deaths from the coronavirus on Saturday, raising the total toll to 42,746. Total cases exceeded 5 million, although there has been a fall in infections since the lockdown.
In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000.
However, Erdogan said earlier on Saturday that he hoped a “new normalization” period would begin after May 17, adding that reopening schools would be included in steps to be announced after the lockdown.
“There is a serious fall in death numbers now. This shows the measures we took are paying off,” Erdogan said.
Despite the recent fall in infections, Turkey on Friday was placed on the UK government’s travel red list, a move that threw the status of the Champions League final on May 29 and the Formula One Turkish Grand Prix on June 11-13 — both to be held in Istanbul — into doubt.
The pandemic has also hurt Turkey’s tourism revenues, which plunged by two-thirds to $12 billion last year.


Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border
Updated 08 May 2021

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border
  • Four Lebanese smugglers stashed subsidized fuel in secret tanks hidden inside pick-up trucks
  • Police are working vigilantly to curtail smuggling to Syria but many smugglers are covered up by politicians or influential figures, Arab News told

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces have foiled a bid to smuggle 8,000 liters of fuel into Syria.   
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrested a four-member gang of Lebanese smugglers, who had stashed the subsidized fuel in two secret tanks that were hidden inside pick-up trucks.
ISF said an informant had tipped off intelligence and information teams about the smugglers’ intent to conceal the fuel and smuggle it through one of the Akkar-Hermel routes to Syria.
An ISF squad stopped and impounded three vehicles in a sting operation at Bayno-Al Oyoun highway, leading to Hermel, on Thursday.
The three impounded cars were the pick-up trucks and a white Mercedes, which was used to monitor the route.
“Unfortunately, while law enforcement bodies are working vigilantly to curtail smuggling of subsidized products by smugglers to Syria, many of those are covered up by politicians or influential figures,” an unnamed senior lieutenant said. “Smuggling subsidized goods (mainly petrol and diesel) has prospered recently, especially with smugglers purchasing fuel products here for around LBP40,000 ($26.53) per tank and selling them in Syria for three or four times that price.”
Fuel prices have soared in recent months due to shortages, which Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar blamed on smugglers exporting subsidized supplies to Syria.
If drivers are lucky enough to find petrol stations that are open they are forced to queue for hours. Stations have caps on the amounts of fuel permitted per person, with nobody allowed a full tank. Many stations remain closed.
Ghajar told the media recently that the need for petrol in Syria had encouraged Lebanese smugglers to illegally export subsidized materials for massive profits.
Media reports have said a 20-liter tank of subsidized Lebanese petrol costs nearly $4 dollars per liter according to the market rate, while smugglers were exporting smuggled fuel to Syria where people were willing to pay up to $25 rather than queue for hours.
The Lebanese Army said on Saturday that it had seized four cars, including a black hearse, that were being smuggled to Syria.
The black hearse had been stolen a week previously from the funeral services association in the Sad El Bouchrieh area.
“The stolen vehicles were being prepared to be smuggled to Syria,” said the army. 
Two Lebanese suspects were apprehended in Al-Hermel, 10 kilometers away from the Syrian border, for stealing the cars and arranging them to be smuggled.


Egypt, Arab League condemn Israel’s role in Al-Aqsa Mosque clashes

Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt, Arab League condemn Israel’s role in Al-Aqsa Mosque clashes

Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
  • More than 160 Palestinians and at least six Israeli police officers were injured in a series of confrontations at the mosque

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Ministry and the Arab League have condemned Israeli forces’ involvement in violent clashes outside Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

More than 160 Palestinians and at least six Israeli police officers were injured in a series of confrontations at the mosque late on Friday.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that it condemned Israeli forces’ “storming of the mosque and assault on worshippers there.”

A ministry statement called on Israeli authorities to “shoulder their responsibility in accordance with international law in providing the required protection for the Palestinian civilians and their right to perform their religious rituals.”

The ministry also highlighted the need to “halt any activities that violate the sanctity of the mosque, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Islamic and Christian Arab identity of Jerusalem city.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez reiterated Egypt’s rejection of any illegal activities that seek to undermine the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly the construction or expansion of settlements on Palestinian territory, as well as confiscation of lands and displacement of Palestinians. 

This “represents a violation of international law, undermines the chances of achieving the two-state solution, and represents a threat to the pillars of security and stability in the region,” said Hafez.

He denounced Israeli attempts to evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah district in east Jerusalem, saying that this “represents a violation of international humanitarian law and a continuation of the policy of forced displacement.”

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the violence at the mosque, and the targeting of unarmed Palestinians with sound and gas bombs as well as rubber bullets. 

Warning of the consequences of escalation, Aboul Gheit said that the assault “provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world and reflects the intended Israeli policy of escalation.”

The violence follows recent “provocations and irresponsible actions against the Palestinian people,” he said.

Aboul Gheit called for immediate international action to halt the assaults, warning of an irreversible escalation in the occupied territories. 

An official source in the Arab League Secretariat quoted Aboul Gheit as saying that the timing of the Israeli assault reveals “a premeditated intention to provoke the Palestinians.”

It “also demonstrates recklessness with the feelings of Muslims and their right to perform their rituals in Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan,” he said.

The Arab League chief held the Israeli government accountable for what he described as “dangerous, irresponsible escalation.”