Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring

A protester draped in the national flag faces off with the police during a demonstration outside the entrance of the American University of Beirut, in the Lebanese capital's Bliss street. (AFP)
A protester draped in the national flag faces off with the police during a demonstration outside the entrance of the American University of Beirut, in the Lebanese capital's Bliss street. (AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2020

Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring

 Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring
  • ‘What is left of Lebanon? The future is frightening’

BEIRUT: After a year of financial, political and social turmoil, few in Lebanon believe the crisis-wracked country’s situation will improve in the coming 12 months, while growing numbers fear their plight will worsen dramatically.  

“Our country is broken,” said Rima Al-Khatib, who works in the banking sector, describing a year in which her father died and the family was unable to pray for him in the mosque because of a nationwide lockdown at the time.

Al-Khatib told Arab News that she “is in a state of denial about everything that happened this year.”

“I don’t want to reflect on it because it is too painful,” she said.

With university and health studies in recent weeks showing alarming levels of depression and anxiety in young and old alike, it is clear few people have any expectations, let along dreams, for the new year.

One mental health survey concluded that up to 16 percent of people aged 18-24 suffer from severe depression, while 41 percent of women still suffer from post-traumatic stress in the wake of the Beirut port blast.

Meanwhile, lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus affected the mental health of 41 percent of the participants in another study, with a further survey claiming 9.5 percent of the population risk becoming depressed because of the country’s dire economic situation.

Al-Khatib said that she will never forget the day of the port explosion.

“I was in my car on the road and a balcony fell from a building in front of me,” she recalled. “I could not understand what happened. My friend narrowly escaped death and the explosion killed two of my work colleagues, leaving two children orphans.”

Al-Khatib said that many Lebanese believe the country “has been taken hostage by a terrorist organization.”

“Our salaries have lost their value. I no longer listen to the news and I do not want to after the government messed up everything by not paying the eurobonds. Now foodstuffs are priced according to the banks’ dollar exchange rate. If the central bank runs out of dollars, what will our life be like?” she said.

“Lebanon has lost its place in the region and I don’t know if it can regain it.”

Majed Baitmouni, a market trader, said that the past year “pulled me back 40 years, financially and morally.”

He said: “They government has brought us only calamities, and the coronavirus made things worse. I had to close my bag shop in Beirut because vendors want me to pay my rent in dollars, so I returned their goods and received the final blow. I have barely any money left and cannot do anything except sell vegetables and fruit in my local area. My wife and children helped me, but instead of making a profit, my debts increased.”

Baitmouni said he no longer trusts the politicians. “They are threatening our livelihoods. They have destroyed us.”

Abdullah Sultan, who owns an iron factory, said he believes the situation will worsen in the new year.

“My priority is for my children to leave this country. My grandmother used to tell us that things would get better soon. I do not want to say the same thing. The problem lies in the foundations of the country and the people — these cannot be changed,” he said.

Assima Ramadan, an office worker, said that 2020 had left her isolated, and she feared the new year would be worse.

“My husband and I lost our life savings in the banks when their value collapsed. We hoped to live with dignity when we grow old, but now we will have to fear illness and the future. Because of the pandemic I have become afraid to walk outside. It is a feeling of helplessness and frustration, and I do not know how to get rid of it.”

University professor Aref Al-Abd said the past year had dealt Lebanon “a fatal blow,” adding: “What can I do to have a dignified life with my family?“

Economic and political deterioration will lead to a deterioration in security, he said.

“What is left of Lebanon? They hit banks, hospitals, universities, and there is fear they will strike coexistence. What happened in the port of Beirut is frightening.”

Sarah Fakhry, a young lawyer specializing in corporate law, said that she had supported protests against the “corrupt ruling authority” in the country.

“But things became even worse. The explosion at the Beirut port added to my fears. The state did not take responsibility for the victims.”

Now the companies that hire Fakhry, including large corporations, are facing closure.

“People are filing lawsuits against the banks, but they do not trust the judiciary,” she said. “I am one of those who has prepared their immigration papers again. I used to live in France and returned to Lebanon five years ago because life abroad is difficult. Now I will not look back.

“The future in Lebanon is dark, and I do not want to be part of it.”

 
 


Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet
Updated 01 August 2021

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar al Assad has again tasked Prime Minister Hussein Arnous with forming a new government after he became a caretaker premier following polls last year that extended Assad's presidency.
Assad designated Arnous as prime minister last August to replace Imad Khamis as Syria grappled with a major economic crisis and a plunging currency.


Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules
Updated 12 min 16 sec ago

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules
  • Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con”
  • About one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible

TEL AVIV: Several hundred Israelis demonstrated Saturday in Tel Aviv against new coronavirus restrictions and vaccines as positive cases and hospitalizations rose to levels not seen in months.

The health ministry reported Saturday that 2,435 new Covid cases had been recorded the day before — the highest number since March — driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

There were 326 hospitalizations, the highest since April, although well below the January peak, when more than 2,000 people were being hospitalized daily.

Israel has in recent days rolled out a booster vaccine shot for older citizens, reimposed mask requirements indoors and restored “green pass” restrictions requiring vaccine certificates for entering enclosed spaces such as gyms, restaurants and hotels.

The rise in infections is a step back after Israel’s world-leading vaccine campaign drove down new COVID-19 cases from 10,000 a day to fewer than 100.

Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con.” They held up placards denouncing coronavirus vaccines, with one poster linking vaccines to the Nazis.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israeli Channel 12 TV Saturday that he intended to balance public health with livelihood.

“The economy must remain open,” he said.

“I don’t want to impose a lockdown and I will avoid a lockdown at all costs. Everything is open — but we need masks and we need vaccines.”

Nearly 60 percent of Israel’s 9.3 million people have gotten two shots, mostly with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

But about one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible.

From Sunday, some children between ages five and 11 at risk of health complications will become eligible for vaccines.


Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
  • Girl, 9, stung by scorpion, dies as vital medicines can only be found on black market at exorbitant prices

BEIRUT: A Lebanese child, Zahra Tleis, died on Friday, after being stung by a scorpion, and her family being unable to find an antidote to treat her, due to medicine shortages in the country.

Some vital medicines can only now be found on the black market, but are sold at exorbitant prices.
The director of Rafik Hariri Governmental Hospital, Dr. Firas Abiad, said “unfortunately, losing patients due to medicine shortages will become more common.”
The head of the National Health Authority, Ismail Sukkarieh, revealed to Arab News that even treatments for dog bites were missing from shelves.
“Such injections should be be available in large quantities in hospitals, and especially governmental hospitals, but have gone missing due to negligence and the medicine crisis.”
Sukkariyeh said the Lebanese people “are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.” He warned that the country will completely collapse if the situation persists.

Zahra Tleis

Lebanon has been facing an economic collapse since 2019, described by the World Bank as “one of the world’s worst crises since the 1850s.” More than half of the population now lives under the poverty line as the local currency, the lira, has lost over 90 percent of its value against the US dollar.
With the depletion of foreign currency reserves at the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban (BDL) and delays in opening lines of credits for imports, the health sector has been facing increasing pressure and fuel shortages.

HIGHLIGHT

Lebanese people ‘are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.’

The country’s electricity company, Electricité du Liban (EDL) has also been unable to provide power due to fuel shortages, and some regions have had to ration electricity for 22 hours a day. Owners of private generators have also been affected by the diesel and fuel crisis, and have resorted to rationing as well.
On Friday the BDL said it sold $293 million in July, in addition to approvals to sell $415 million to import gasoline and diesel and $120 million to import fuel for EDL, bringing the total number to $828 million.
The BDL said in a statement that “despite all the support it (the bank) has provided and its determination to preserve social security, the Lebanese are still facing shortages in diesel.
“The Lebanese have lost access to subsidized goods, which are now sold on the black market to humiliate and deprive the Lebanese of their most basic rights. This has had dangerous impacts on the health sector and food security, due to traders’ determination to smuggle goods or store them to be sold on the black market,” the statement added.
It added that importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon required BDL “to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.” It considered that “frivolous measures have led to the partial or total suspension of imports of 75 percent of companies.”
EDL warned “of the possibility of entering the danger zone and a total interruption of electricity, if the situation persisted.”
Economist Louis Hobeika told Arab News that “there is political and economic pressure on BDL to use the mandatory reserves. But this matter requires a constitutional amendment and such ‘sin’ shall not be committed twice.”
Hobeika recalled what Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in May that “the bank’s reserves in 2002 were drawn down to less than a billion dollars.”
Hobeika said that “removing subsidies would end the smuggling, but prices would increase a lot. A ration card was supposed to be issued as an alternative. What happened to this card? With the absence of a future economic vision, messing with the mandatory reserves can have a great risk on the fate of banks and deposits.”
He said that “the political and economic (Lebanese) mafias are stronger than the state; they fear no one, and Lebanese society is divided and fragmented and therefore, does not scare the mafias.”
Meanwhile, political leaders in Lebanon have congratulated the military ahead of Lebanese Army Day, which is celebrated every year on August 1.
President Michel Aoun said “the international community’s determination and commitment to support the Lebanese army reflects its confidence in the army’s role in protecting Lebanon and its constitutional institutions.”
The army on Saturday carried out a raid on a drug factory in Hortaala, Bekaa.
The army command announced that “a soldier was wounded during the raid, and a wanted man that had multiple warrants for his arrest, including robbing citizens, kidnapping, stealing cars, drug dealing, drug use and (firearms charges) was killed. Several other fugitives were arrested.”
Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun urged soldiers “not to allow anyone to take advantage of the poor living conditions to make you doubt your belief in your country and institution.”


UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
Updated 01 August 2021

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH: The UN was urged on Saturday to take action against “Iranian terrorism” after a tanker was attacked by explosives-laden drones in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the MT Mercer Street, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

The Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned vessel is operated by Zodiac Maritime, an Israeli company based in the UK. On Saturday the ship was being escorted into port by the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

The US military said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street. Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

Iranian state TV said the drone strike was retaliation to “a recent Israeli attack” on Iranian targets at an airport in central Syria.

Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.

A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.

By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP)


Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • he SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021

CAIRO: Yehia Zaki, head of the General Authority for the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), announced on Thursday the success of talks with Russia to expand Moscow’s industrial zone within the SCZone.

An agreement was signed by Zaki and Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of Vasiliy Osmakov in Moscow after two days of negotiations.

Zaki said the final agreement is expected to be signed before the end of 2021 after an anticipated visit in August by a high-level Russian delegation to tour the new sites in the SCZone.

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters, Zaki said.

The first phase of the project will include an extension of 1 million square meters in East Port Said and 500,000 square meters in Ain Sokhna, he added.

The SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021 after signing the final contract.

Osmakov said the Egyptian delegation’s visit to Russia gave impetus to the project.

He said the expansion of the Russian zone will allow the entry of more Russian companies, adding that the SCZone is a window to Africa and the wider world due to its strategic location.

In September visits from Russian companies, businessmen and investors — who have expressed their desire to invest in Ain Sukhna — will take place.

The SCZone delegation held meetings in Moscow with major Russian manufacturers of vehicles, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.