Lebanon set for muted NYE celebrations amid economic, health crises

Lebanon set for muted NYE celebrations amid economic, health crises
A sign reading "Beirut" is seen among Christmas decorations in downtown Beirut, Lebanon December 27, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 December 2020

Lebanon set for muted NYE celebrations amid economic, health crises

Lebanon set for muted NYE celebrations amid economic, health crises
  • The country’s Internal Security Forces on Wednesday announced that strict security measures would be in place on New Year’s Eve

BEIRUT: Lebanon has begun the countdown to what are expected to be muted New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Despite some hotels and nightclubs reporting healthy bookings for parties and events, the country’s dire economic situation and a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases is likely to result in most citizens seeing in 2021 at home.

Shops and catering stores have been relatively busy with people buying items to mark New Year’s Eve and pre-ordering home deliveries of food.

Hotels hosting parties said bookings had exceeded expectations, but restaurant owners’ syndicate head, Pierre Al-Achkar, pointed out that 167 hotels damaged by the Beirut port explosion still required repairs and were unable to open.

In the run-up to New Year’s Eve, tourist police and internal security forces permanently closed six nightclubs, bars, and restaurants and issued fines to 64 others for violating general mobilization rules and failing to comply with health and public safety measures.

Breaches included employees not wearing face masks or respecting social distancing, allowing premises to become overcrowded, and offering hookah.

The country’s Internal Security Forces on Wednesday announced that strict security measures would be in place on New Year’s Eve, “to maintain the security and safety of citizens, and to ensure the protection of tourist, commercial and economic facilities and places of worship, in addition to securing traffic in order to reduce congestion.”

Citizens have also been ordered not to celebrate by shooting guns into the air, and dancing in bars and restaurants has already been banned.

Lebanon has recently witnessed a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, with new daily recorded numbers hitting highs in excess of 2,800.

“The closure of nightclubs and restaurants that do not comply with the required procedures is necessary because hospitals are no longer able to admit new patients and the Christmas experience was not good,” said Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, head of the Lebanese Order of Physicians.

The spike in virus cases has led many Lebanese to choose to stay at home or organize private parties in rented halls, with invitees having to take a polymerase chain reaction test two days before attending events.

Due to the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the dollar, many are also struggling to make ends meet and pay toward the cost of New Year’s Eve food, drink, and entertainment.

Tony Bejjani, owner of a restaurant and bar in Beirut, said: “Customer traffic declined during the holidays and I will not receive customers on New Year’s Eve due to COVID-19 fears and because the cost will exceed profits.

“The quality of customers varies according to their financial capabilities. Many bars around me have closed their doors, but I want to continue with a small profit so that I do not become unemployed. But I do not have much confidence in the new year,” he added.

Meanwhile, authorities have highlighted a recent rise in the number of armed robberies taking place throughout Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa region, and there have also been reports of looting, most notably in the city of Zahle.

Lebanese Forces deputy, Cesar Al-Maalouf, said: “What is happening in Zahle is unacceptable. Because of the state’s failure to ensure the security and safety of the city, our young people are its guards.

“This is the final warning for what is left of this dilapidated system. We are no longer to be blamed for resorting to self-security,” he added.

MP Michel Daher said: “The security lapse that Zahle and its districts are witnessing is no longer acceptable and we call for an increase in the number of security forces and strict measures so that people do not have to resort to self-security, the last scene that foretells the fall of the state.”

Lebanon’s head of General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, on Wednesday met with Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. After the meeting, he said: “Security is well kept and under control. It is true that it is influenced by politics, but we as organs, on top of us the Lebanese Army, are working to control the security completely.

“But certainly, the stressful and difficult social situation must be reflected on security in terms of looting and security lapses, but I do not see that it will reach the stage of chaos.”


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lebanon’s new government said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel

BEIRUT: Iranian fuel shipments imported into Lebanon by Hezbollah constitute a breach of the country's sovereignty, Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated on Monday.

Lebanon’s new government, which was backed by a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel.

Hezbollah has stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al-Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to the Iranian-backed group.

It began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran last Thursday, a move it says would ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. 

A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.

“The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting last week.

He added: “But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area, populated mainly by Shiite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”


EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men

EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men
Updated 21 September 2021

EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men

EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men
  • Britain said the executions demonstrated “indifference to human dignity & blatant disregard for fair trial & due process.”
  • The Houthis’ Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism as “interference in domestic affairs” and accused the United Nations and the West of turning a blind eye to the “coalition’s crimes.”

ADEN: The European Union joined a chorus of international criticism on Monday over the execution of nine men by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen following their conviction for involvement in the killing of the group’s top civilian leader.
Saleh Al-Samad, who held the post of president in the Houthi-controlled administration which runs most of northern Yemen, was killed in April 2018 by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in the port city of Hodeidah on Yemen’s west coast.
A Houthi court found the nine men, including one who was a minor when he was arrested, guilty of spying and sharing sensitive information with the Saudi-led coalition. They were executed on Saturday by firing squad.
Pictures and videos of the executions have been widely shared on social media, which showed military officers shooting the nine men in the back in Sanaa’s central public square.
In a statement condemning the executions, an EU spokesperson said there had also been reports of irregularities in the judicial process and allegations of mistreatment.
“The European Union strongly opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. It is a cruel and inhumane punishment ...” said the statement.
Earlier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar statement in which he also called for a moratorium on use of the death penalty in Yemen and for a peaceful negotiated settlement of the conflict there.
The US Embassy in Yemen condemned what it called “a sham trial following years of torture and abuse” by the Houthis. Britain said the executions demonstrated “indifference to human dignity & blatant disregard for fair trial & due process.”
The Houthis’ Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism as “interference in domestic affairs” and accused the United Nations and the West of turning a blind eye to the “coalition’s crimes.”
Samad was the most senior official to be killed by the coalition in the years-long war in which the Houthis are fighting forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government based in the southern port city of Aden.


Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes

Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes
Updated 21 September 2021

Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes

Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes
  • The strikes targeted a vehicle on the road leading from Idlib city to Binnish further north

BEIRUT: Drone strikes Monday killed two militant commanders close to Al-Qaeda in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, a war monitor said.
The raids were carried out by the US-led international coalition battling militants in Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But the coalition told AFP it had not carried out any strikes in Idlib province on Monday.
The strikes targeted a vehicle on the road leading from Idlib city to Binnish further north, the observatory said.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that one of the commanders killed was Tunisian while the other was from Yemen or Saudi Arabia, without identifying the group they belonged to.
The Idlib region is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, but rebels and other militants are also present.
Militant factions have been the target of Syrian, Russian, US and international coalition strikes in the past. Nine militants were killed in October 2019 in Russian airstrikes on Idlib province, while a US strike a month earlier killed at least 40 militant leaders.
Syria’s war has killed around half a million people since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, spiralling into a complex battlefield involving foreign armies and militants.


Palestinian artist depicts the ‘ticking bomb’ of Gaza

Palestinian artist depicts the ‘ticking bomb’ of Gaza
Updated 20 September 2021

Palestinian artist depicts the ‘ticking bomb’ of Gaza

Palestinian artist depicts the ‘ticking bomb’ of Gaza
  • Abeer Jebril paints ballet dancers because ‘I see her as an icon of beauty and power’

GAZA CITY: Palestinian artist Abeer Jebril’s paintings show ballerinas chained in barbed wire, dancing on rocks, or facing barricades to mirror what she calls the “ticking bomb” reality of women in Gaza.
Jebril, 35, hopes her portraits will bring attention to the social and political problems women face in Gaza, home to two million people and devastated by wars and economic restrictions.
“The reason I chose the ballet dancer is that I see her as an icon of beauty and power,” said Jebril, who is inspired by Degas, the French Impressionist.
“It shows what the woman feels, lives, faces and how she is chained, it shows what she feels in Gaza to the audience.” she said.
One of her paintings depicts a dancer with her feet chained in barbed wire. Another is stepping on rocks while a third woman wraps her body around a grenade. “Men and women are both in chains under the occupation,” Jebril said.
She said her paintings also shed light on how “women suffer from the dominance of men and the inability to have a say on issues that matter.” Men and women, Jebril said, “live in a ticking bomb in Gaza,” not knowing what will happen next.
Jebril said she got ideas for her paintings from moves by international ballet dancers and those of her 11-year-old daughter Maya, who dances ballet.
Her portaits, created using painter’s knives, have been displayed in galleries in some European and Arab countries.
“I felt despair seeing paintings displayed outside Gaza when I couldn’t be there. I so much had hoped to have stood next to them,” she said.