Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles

Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles
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A Lebanese medic takes the temperature of a suspected coronavirus case. (File/AFP)
Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles
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People walk and exercise at Beirut's seaside promenade, along the Mediterranean Sea during the coronavirus pandemic in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, May 3, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 10 November 2020

Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles

Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles
  • Fears that shutdown will finish off economy

BEIRUT: Lebanon is expected to head into a total lockdown again as the health sector buckles under the pressure of soaring coronavirus cases, with the head of a doctors’ syndicate warning that the spread of the disease among medical professionals meant there would be nobody left to treat infected patients.
The Supreme Defense Council meets on Tuesday, under the chairmanship of President Michel Aoun, to take decisive action about a lockdown in light of increasing complaints from doctors and hospital owners that their resources have been depleted.
On Monday, the total number of people infected with the virus was more than 95,000, with daily rates sometimes exceeding 2,000, while the number of deaths has reached 725.
The number of COVID-19 cases during the first week of November alone hit 13,000, while the total number of cases in October exceeded 42,000 cases, the highest number recorded since the virus was first detected in Lebanon in February.
Sharaf Abu Sharaf, who heads the Doctors’ Syndicate, warned: “Lebanon’s continued abandonment of taking strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus will mean that no one will remain to treat those infected with the virus in hospitals.”
He said 17 doctors were in intensive care units, three doctors had died, and that 100 doctors were under home quarantine.
Mirna Doumit, who is head of the Order of Nurses in Lebanon, said the number of people infected in the medical and nursing body had reached 1,500.
On Monday it was announced that the director of Tripoli Governmental Hospital was infected with coronavirus.
Hariri Governmental Hospital specializes in receiving coronavirus cases. Its general director, Dr. Firas Al-Abyad, said that one infection in every 125 in Lebanon led to death and that this figure rose to one in 10 among the elderly.
“Lebanon will enter a new phase of complete lockdown,” he predicted.
“Without a complete lockdown, the economic situation will worsen in light of the spread of the virus.”
But the idea of a complete lockdown for two weeks, or even a month, has provoked a negative reaction among the Lebanese public. The consensus is that a lockdown is useless without a clear strategy for the next steps.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council meets on Tuesday to take decisive action about a lockdown.

• On Monday, the total number of people infected with the coronavirus was more than 95,000.

• The number of COVID-19 cases during the first week of November alone hit 13,000. • The total number of cases in October exceeded 42,000.

Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, said that the trend on Tuesday was to lock down.
“But we do not know the duration or procedures that will accompany the closure, and the goal is to give the medical and nursing staff a chance to catch a breath,” he told Arab News.
“There are many reasons for the state’s inability to confront the virus in its second wave and not being prepared for it. The hospital sector is 80 percent private and 20 percent public.”
The private hospital sector during the first wave was just a bystander, he added.
“But now, with the reduction in the capacity of the public sector to receive patients in government hospitals, what is required of the private sector has become the performance of the public sector job. How can this be done in light of the state’s inability to pay its accumulated bills to private hospitals?”
He stressed that a complete lockdown, if it happened, would be of no benefit unless it was accompanied by a clear plan for the phased reopening of Lebanon.
“Otherwise, the randomness that the state practiced in the first stage and may practice at this stage may increase the disaster rather than mitigate it.”
The health minister, Hamad Hassan, told a news conference on Monday that a complete lockdown was an opportunity for the health sector to “gather its strength and raise the readiness that was long overdue.”
The partial closure that was followed during the previous period did not give the desired result, he said.
The president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, Suleiman Haroun, said that 30 hospitals were capable of receiving coronavirus patients, while 100 others were not ready.
“The internal design of about 60 percent of these hospitals does not allow for isolating a ward or floor and establishing a separate entrance for coronavirus patients, and then there is a shortage of nursing staff, in addition to the financial difficulties. Some hospitals can barely continue.”
Lebanon has in recent weeks isolated towns and villages that recorded an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, while educational institutions have adopted blended learning to reduce the spread of the virus.
Bechara Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, feared that the results of a complete lockdown would be catastrophic for workers and the economy.
“The devastating repercussions on the Lebanese economy must be discussed if the decision of a total lockdown is made. How are workers going to be compensated?”
Lebanon is suffering from a severe economic and financial crisis that has caused high unemployment rates and rising living costs due to the collapse of the Lebanese pound and low levels of infrastructure.
Economic bodies announced their “absolute rejection” of any possible government decision to shutter Lebanon for four weeks to confront the outbreak, warning of “enormous negative repercussions” for closing the private sector that could not be contained at social and economic levels.
They called for “a careful study” of the measures that would be taken to confront the pandemic in light of the “harsh conditions” that Lebanon and its national economy was going through.
Pierre Al-Achkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, said: “The complete lockdown decision in Lebanon is taken without a specific plan or study, while we see in other countries the concerned authorities provide a package of aid and implement several measures to reduce the negative aspects of the lockdown.”
He added that the tourism sector had been in “intensive care” since the Beirut Port explosion of Aug. 4.


UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
Updated 12 sec ago

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
  • The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

GENEVA: Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as outlawed “terrorist organizations” is an unjustified attack, the UN human rights chief said Tuesday.

The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

It accused the six of working covertly with the leftist militant group, which pioneered plane hijackings in the 1970s to highlight the Palestinian cause and is blacklisted by several Western governments.

Michelle Bachelet said the decision was an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation.

She called for the move to be immediately revoked.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said anti-terrorism legislation should not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian aid activities.

“The organizations ... face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund them and work with them,” said Bachelet.

“The crucial work they perform for thousands of Palestinians risks being halted or severely restricted,” she added.

She said the decision would have “a chilling effect” on human rights defenders.


Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
Updated 26 October 2021

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
  • "There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said
  • An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric on Tuesday said the country’s three leading politicians agreed to a “solution” to political tensions and government paralysis tied to high-profile judicial investigations.
“There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said during a news conference after a day spent shuttling between the prime minister, the parliament speaker and president.
An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges while allowing blast investigator Tarek Bitar to continue with the cases of lower-level officials.
The special court, formed by a parliamentary vote, has never held any official to account.
Bitar has sought to question top officials including former ministers affiliated with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal movement and the Marada Movement, both allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has responded with a smear campaign accusing Bitar of politicizing the probe.
Rai had earlier said after a meeting with Berri that issues had to be resolved “because Lebanon is dying, the people are dying and the state is disintegrating.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not convened a Cabinet meeting since Oct. 12, pending a solution to the standoff that has paralyzed government for over two weeks.
The dispute spilt over into the Cabinet when ministers allied to those parties called for Bitar’s removal in a heated discussion during the last session.
Rai also said he was “slightly upset” about the summoning of Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea by army intelligence for a hearing over fatal clashes in Beirut’s Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood this month.
On Oct. 14, seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and Amal, were shot dead during a Beirut protest the parties organized against Bitar, the worst street violence in more than a decade.
The parties said the seven were killed by supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party headed by Samir Geagea, who has backed the blast investigation. Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Geagea was summoned for a hearing on Wednesday by army intelligence. No other top politician has received such a summons.
On Tuesday, Geagea’s lawyers filed a motion claiming the summons was unlawful, while attorneys representing a number of detainees submitted a motion requesting that Judge Fadi Akiki recuse himself from the case.
A group of Ain Al-Remmaneh residents this week filed a lawsuit against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, claiming fighters under his command involved in the clashes had undermined “national unity” and committed terrorist acts.
President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said Bitar’s probe should continue, on Tuesday urged the government to resume Cabinet meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.
Rima Zahed, the sister of port blast victim Amin Zahed and a member of a committee representing the families of victims, warned against “any kind of settlement or deal” that infringed upon the reach of the investigation.
“No-one can threaten us with sectarian tensions or the difficult situation the Lebanese people are in. Politicians need to know this,” she said. “There will be no deals made over the blood of our martyrs.”


Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
Updated 26 October 2021

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
  • Mehrdad Abdarbashi defected when he was ordered to fight in Syria
  • He was recently targeted by 2 Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him

LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.

Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.

In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.

“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.

He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.

Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.

But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.

“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.

“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”

Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.

In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.

The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.

For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.

In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.

But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.

As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.

In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019. 


More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 26 October 2021

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 21 Houthi targets, also destroying nine military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 21 attacks targeting “mechanisms and elements” of the Houthi militia in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said more than 85 Houthi militants have been killed and nine military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
The coalition added in a statement that it will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations.
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers south of the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)


Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed
Updated 26 October 2021

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed
  • ‘Condemnations are expected as countries see our actions as a coup, it is not’

DUBAI: Sudan’s top military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan denied that the country’s armed forces staged a coup, but instead said they were trying to rectify the path of the transition.
“Condemnations are expected as countries see our actions as a coup, it is not,” Burhan said Tuesday in his televised address.
Burhan, who headed the transitional government through the Sovereign Council, earlier declared a state of emergency and announced the dissolution of the Sovereign Council following the takeover, which deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
“Hamdok is at my house carrying on a normal life,” Burhan said, but was being kept away for his own safety. The military leader later said Hamdok would be returned to his own home the same day.
“The state of emergency in Sudan will be scrapped as soon as institutions are formed,” Burhan said.
Burhan emphasized that the Constitutional Declaration 2019 had “not been scrapped, only the items pertaining to the civilian partners.”

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He said the declaration outlined the transition to the civilian government.
“We are aiming to see through a transition to a civilian government,” he said.
“The mistrust between transitional parties occurred after the signing of the peace agreement in Juba,” Burhan said in his address.
Sudan’s interim government and the Al-Hilu movement, the main rebel group in the country, agreed in March to re-start peace talks in an agreement signed in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Burhan said there had been incitement and hostility towards the armed forces, and that danger would had led to a civil war in the country.
He added that he earlier discussed with US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman how to resolve the stalemate between political forces and the army.
Feltman met with Sudanese military and civilian leaders over the weekend in efforts to resolve a growing dispute.
He promised that judicial bodies would be formed in the coming days.
“The armed forces cannot continue the transitional period on its own, we need participation of Sudanese people,” Burhan said.
The military general also said that the legislature that will be formed will include young participants from the revolution.