Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions
Lebanese Foreign Minister, Gibran Bassil, who is Lebanese president Michel Aoun's son-in-law and heads his Free Patriotic Movement party, speaks on his mobile phone on his arrival to the Lebanese presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, north Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (AP)
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Updated 07 November 2020

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions

Hezbollah ally Gebran Bassil says not scared by US sanctions
  • Lebanese politicians slam Bashar Assad for blaming Lebanon on Syria’s financial crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon's former foreign minister Gebran Bassil on Friday said he was unfazed by US sanctions.

“Neither the sanctions scared me nor the promises seduced me,” Bassil wrote in a message on Twitter in response to the sanctions. 

“I do not turn against any Lebanese nor save myself to destroy Lebanon. I became accustomed to injustice and learned from our history,” he added.

The US Treasury on Friday imposed sanctions on Bassil, a Christian politician, son-in-law of Lebanon's President Michel Aoun, and an ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, accusing him of corruption.

Announcing the sanctions, the US Department of State said: “Through his corrupt activities, Bassil has undermined good governance and contributed to the prevailing system of corruption and political patronage that plagues Lebanon, which has aided and abetted Hezbollah's destabilizing activities.

“Lebanese political leaders should be aware that the time has long passed for them to put aside their own narrow self-interests and instead work for the people of Lebanon.”

Bassil has been a major target of Lebanese protesters since they took to the streets last year to demonstrate against widespread state corruption and mismanagement. Some observers suggest the sanctions might in part be designed to send an indirect message to Aoun.

The sanctions on Bassil are a serious blow to Hezbollah’s leading Christian ally in Lebanon. They come just weeks after the US imposed sanctions on former ministers Youssef Fenianos and Ali Hassan Khalil, sending a clear message to the Marada and Amal Movements, also allies of Hezbollah.

Bassil leads the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian political party, which was founded by Aoun and had 21 MPs before two resigned from the party in August following renewed protests against the government in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.


Support for Bassil

Maronite MP Hekmat Dib said: “Sanctions on Bassil are a political matter. We consider this a national dossier, and Bassil has nothing to do with funding Hezbollah”.

Former Free Patriotic Movement minister Ghassan Atallah tweeted: “If they thought that through the sanctions we will compromise our country’s wealth, an inch of the land and our conviction to extend a hand to any element of the Lebanese elements, the one wanting to impose sanctions does not know us.”

There were concerns among the Lebanese people that the sanctions on Bassil will be a further obstacle to the long-delayed formation of a new government led by Saad Hariri, as was the case when sanctions were placed on Hassan Khalil and Fenianos.

There are also fears that the sanctions might weaken Hariri’s position, and that Bassil and his allies will become more strident in their demands to form a government of specialists, not politicians. In the meantime, a caretaker government, led by Hassan Diab, continues to deal with the economic and financial crisis in Lebanon.


Assad flayed for blaming Lebanon 

Meanwhile, an accusation by Syrian President Bashar Assad that “billions of dollars of Syrians’ deposits held in Lebanon’s financial sector are the main cause of Syria’s deepening economic crisis” sparked outrage in Lebanon.

In a message posted on Twitter, Lebanese former minister Richard Kouyoumjian responded by saying: “The foundation of your regime stole hundreds of billions of dollars of the Lebanese people’s money while Syria occupied Lebanon. By the way, allow your displaced countrymen to return, for they have cost Lebanon tens of billions of dollars and depleted its infrastructure.”

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), said: “After Assad looted, destroyed and abandoned most of Syria and benefited from all kinds of smuggled subsidized products from Lebanon, and after the Beirut port was destroyed as a result of the nitrate that he imported to use in barrel bombs against his people, it seems that he plans to knock the Lebanese banking system.”

The PSP issued a statement that said: “One of the main reasons for the aggravating economic crisis in Lebanon and the decline and depletion of its public finances is the corruption channels engineered by the Syrian Baath regime in Lebanon, even after the withdrawal of Syrian troops.”

It added: “Assad’s remarks prove a clear plan to knock the Lebanese banking sector, which had always been a safe and stable haven for brethren Arabs. This talk allows the justification, and even the encouragement, of smuggling from Lebanon in an eager desire for the hard currency that is supported in Lebanon.”

Fearing the possibility of international sanctions, Lebanese banks have been avoiding accepting deposits from Syrians. 

According to figures from Lebanese authorities, the amount of Syrian funds deposited in the country is much smaller than Assad claims. In May, the monthly bulletin from Banque Du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, reported that bank deposits by non-residents — including Syrians, people from the Gulf, and migrants from Lebanon and other countries — amount to less than 20 percent of total deposits.


 


Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
Updated 58 min 42 sec ago

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
  • The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over

FRANKFURT: Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday said clinical trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine was “safe, well tolerated” and produced a “robust” immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.
The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over, the companies said in a statement. They said they would submit their data to regulatory bodies in the European Union, the United States and around the world “as soon as possible.”


Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
Updated 20 September 2021

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
  • Lebanon’s worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers convened Monday to confirm the country’s new government following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the parliament session.
It took some 40 minutes before electricity came back on. The incident, which underscored the deep crisis roiling the small Mediterranean country amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, was derided on social media.
Lebanese have been suffering electricity blackouts and severe shortages in fuel, diesel and medicine for months, threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and schools. Lines stretching several kilometers (miles) of people waiting to fill up their tanks are a daily occurrence at gas stations across the country.
The economic crisis, unfolding since 2019, has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world in the last 150 years. Within months, it had impoverished more than half of the population and left the national currency in freefall, driving inflation and unemployment to previously unseen levels.
A new government headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was finally formed earlier this month after a 13-month delay, as politicians bickered about government portfolios at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
The new government is expected to undertake critically needed reforms, as well as manage public anger and tensions resulting from the planned lifting of fuel subsidies by the end of the month. Lebanon’s foreign reserves have been running dangerously low, and the central bank in the import-dependent country has said it was no longer able to support its $6 billion subsidy program.
The government is also expected to oversee a financial audit of the Central Bank and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package.
Few believe that can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties that the public blames for corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon’s resources.
Lawmakers are to debate the new government’s policy statement before a vote of confidence is held on Monday evening — a vote which Mikati's proposed Cabinet expects to win with the support from majority legislators.
Mikati, one of Lebanon’s richest businessmen who is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, pledged to get to work immediately to ease the day-to-day suffering of the Lebanese.
“What happened here today with the electricity outage pales in comparison to what the Lebanese people have been suffering for months,” Mikati told lawmakers after power returned and the session got underway.
The session is being held at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.
“What can I say, it’s a farce,” lawmaker Taymour Jumblatt, the son of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said when asked about the electricity outage.
“It is not a good sign,” said lawmaker Faisal Sayegh. “We need to light up this hall, to say to people that we can light up the country.”


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 20 September 2021

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread

DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”

 


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
Updated 20 September 2021

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 20 September 2021

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”