Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases

Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases
A worker disinfects a room where patients undergo tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases

Lebanon registers sharp rise in number of COVID-19 cases
  • The Lebanese authorities said they would start a phased reopening of schools next Monday, admitting only senior students at this stage
  • UNRWA spokesperson Hoda Samra warned that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Palestinian refugee camps

BEIRUT: Lebanon recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases since February on Wednesday. The 1,459 new cases brought the total to more than 48,000, while the number of deaths has risen by nine to 433.
Among the cases registered on Wednesday was former Lebanese Justice Minister Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who announced a week ago that his son had contracted the virus.
Medical staff are concerned about a number of hospitals in Beirut reaching their maximum capacity, especially in intensive care units (ICUs).
UNRWA spokesperson Hoda Samra warned that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Palestinian refugee camps. She said that the camps were overcrowded, and people were not committing to staying at home or following preventive measures.
The Lebanese authorities said they would start a phased reopening of schools next Monday, admitting only senior students at this stage.
Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, said: “Initially, 60,000 students out of the 120,000 currently enrolled in intermediate and high schools will be returning to schools in stages. There are students, however, who will not return within the next two weeks because the areas where they live are in lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19.”
The Committee to Oversee the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response in Lebanon recommended the closure of all nightclubs, discotheques, and bars until further notice. The committee also required identifying the towns with a high daily infection rate on a weekly basis so as to include them in the closure decision.
The committee’s decisions have been criticized by the Policy Rationalization Center of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut (AUB). The center described the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak in Lebanon as “terrifying, with 10 percent of all PCR tests returning positive results.” Moreover, “80 percent of the ICU beds designated for Covid-19 cases are full, some towns have been quarantined, complying with the preventive measures is history, and there is no clear assessment of the readiness of schools in this context. This means that the current situation clearly does not allow for the reopening of schools.”
The center said: “The best option now is to pursue remote education,” stressing that “the timing for reopening schools cannot be determined by the number of days, but through a series of health conditions that must be met, such as monitoring the rate of the virus transmission in the community and implementing a strict monitoring system based on tests, tracing people in contact with the cases, isolating the cases, and the extent to which a school is willing and capable of implementing and maintaining the preventive measures.”
It said that 170 educational institutions in Beirut were damaged in the Aug. 4 port blast, and this has taken a toll on continuing the education of 70,000 students and the lives of 7,600 teachers.
While medical professionals are busy fighting this pandemic, the financial crisis facing Lebanon has caused the Banque du Liban to remove subsidies on sanitation materials, including those used in hospitals. Lebanon may also reduce subsidies on medicines, fuel, and wheat due to the shortage of foreign exchange reserves.
Suleiman Haroun, head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, warned against this move. He said: “Hospitals will have to make patients pay the difference in cost.”


Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
BEIRUT: The Lebanese army is in desperate need of donor assistance to survive one of the world’s worst financial crashes, it said Wednesday ahead of a UN-backed fundraising conference.
Unlike previous donor conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment, the virtual meeting France hosts Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.
“We are in need of food parcels, health care assistance, and support with soldiers’ pay,” a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough any more.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has eaten away at soldiers’ pay and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.
Already in July 2020, the army said it scrapped meat from the meals it gives for soldiers on duty, due to rising food prices.
“We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers,” army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.
“We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet.”
Thursday’s conference will see participation from Lebanon’s International Support Group, which includes Gulf states, European countries, the US, Russia and China.
It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris,where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support.
“The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted,” he said.
He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The army has been relying heavily on food donations from allied states since last summer’s monster port explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and damaged swathes of the capital.
France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the army’s main food donors.
Iraq and Spain have offered medical assistance.
The United States remains the biggest financial backer of the Lebanese military.
It has bumped up funding for the army by $15 million for this year to $120 million.

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
Updated 16 June 2021

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
  • Palestinian health ministry said the soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian woman was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday after attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with her car and attack them with a knife, the army and Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said “an assailant arrived in her car and attempted to ram into a number of IDF soldiers” near Hizma, south of Ramallah, before she “exited her vehicle with a knife drawn.”
“The soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her,” it said, with the Palestinian health ministry pronouncing her dead.


US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
Updated 16 June 2021

US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
  • Tim Lenderking will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen
  • He has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden

DUBAI: US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Yemen will meet with Saudi officials this week in the latest round of diplomatic talks to resolve the years-long war, the State Department said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, who has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden, will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen.

In a statement, the State Department said that “Lenderking will travel to Saudi Arabia on June 15-17 where he will meet with senior officials from the Governments of the Republic of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Throughout the trip, Special Envoy Lenderking will discuss the latest efforts to achieve a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, which is the only way to bring Yemenis the relief they so urgently need,” the statement added.

Since Biden took office, the US administration has increased mediation efforts between both countries while easing sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthis. Despite his efforts, the Houthis have maintained their attacks on Saudi Arabia, undermining peace talks.

On Sunday, a Houthi explosive drone destroyed part of a school in the kingdom’s southwestern region of Asir.

“The United States also recognizes Saudi Arabia’s efforts to advance implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which is essential to stability, security, and prosperity in the south of Yemen,” Washington said.
“Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking will continue to press for the free flow of essential commodities and humanitarian aid into and throughout Yemen.”


Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
Updated 16 June 2021

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
  • Mohsen Mehralizadeh resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry
  • Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati
TEHRAN: The only reformist candidate in Iran’s upcoming presidential election dropped out of the race Wednesday on the last day of campaigning, state media reported, likely trying to boost the chances of a moderate candidate.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh, 64, resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which runs elections in the Islamic Republic, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Such dropouts are common in Iranian presidential elections in order to boost the chances of similar candidates.
Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who has been running as a moderate and as a stand-in for President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from running again.
Hemmati on Wednesday said that he would select Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to join his administration as either his vice president or foreign minister, embracing the top diplomat who was an architect of Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“The economic development of Iran is not possible without strong diplomatic engagement abroad,” Hemmati wrote on Twitter to explain his choice of Zarif. “My administration is after the removal of sanctions and use of foreign policy to achieve political development.”
The move appeared aimed at consolidating the pro-reform vote just ahead of the poll. Zarif, among the best-known political figures in the Rouhani administration, has come under fire from the political establishment in recent weeks after the leak of a contentious audiotape in which he offered a blunt appraisal of power struggles in the Islamic Republic.
There was no immediate word from Zarif on Hemmati’s announcement, but the minister has previously indicated a willingness to join the incoming administration.
Mehralizadeh’s withdrawal Wednesday leaves six candidates in the race. Polling and analysts indicate Hemmati lags behind the country’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, the campaign’s front-runner long cultivated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other hard-line candidates may drop out Wednesday to lend their support to Raisi.
Mehralizadeh served as governor in two Iranian provinces, as the vice president in charge of physical education under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and as a deputy in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which runs the country’s civilian nuclear program. He came in last place in Iran’s 2005 election, but found himself barred from running in 2015.
Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program and confront the world, moderates who hold onto the status quo and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Although a range of prominent reformists and key Rouhani allies registered to run for president, Iran’s clerical vetting body allowed just several low-profile candidates, mostly hard-liners, to run against Raisi. Owing in part to the disqualifications as well as the raging coronavirus pandemic, voter apathy runs deep. The state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has most recently projected a 42 percent turnout from the country’s 59 million eligible voters, which would be a historic low amid mounting calls for a boycott.
In his weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Rouhani urged the public to vote, state TV reported.
“It does not do us any good if the election is cold, lacks people, and its ballots are sparsely populated,” said Rouhani.

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 
Updated 16 June 2021

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

DUBAI: Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein held talks on Tuesday with his Kuwaiti counterpart to develop joint cooperation between the two former-warring states.
Hussein met with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Doha, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
“The two sides discussed a number of issues related to bilateral relations in light of the steady growth that these relations are witnessing,” the agency added. 
Hussein indicated, according to the statement, Baghdad's keenness to continue working to advance their relations and develop them at all levels.