Lebanon declares state of emergency as military enforces lockdown

Lebanon declares state of emergency as military enforces lockdown
A customer pushes her trolley next to near empty shelves after people hoarded food as authorities are discussing the latest measures to implement to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beirut, Lebanon, January 11, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 January 2021

Lebanon declares state of emergency as military enforces lockdown

Lebanon declares state of emergency as military enforces lockdown
  • PM: Pandemic out of control due to people’s stubbornness
  • Baalbek governor: Italian scenario only a matter of time

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities declared a state of health emergency and imposed a curfew on Monday, to confront the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The curfew will run day and night between Jan. 14 and 25, subject to extension, and will be enforced by the Lebanese Armed Forces.  There will be exceptions granted to some professions and businesses, as part of the full lockdown declared in Lebanon since Jan. 7.

This decision was taken after hospitals lost their capacity to treat patients with the disease, with ambulances transporting patients moving from site to site in search of empty beds in emergency departments.

One Red Cross paramedic posted on his Facebook account a text which went viral, which said that his “cellphone has been ringing since 5 in the morning with people infected with the virus and their families asking for help.”

The paramedic called on “all those who are still violating the preventive and precautionary measures, to head to hospitals and watch the tragedy that they are causing.”

He said: “We bypassed the stage of non-availability of beds to the stage of inability to go to hospitals. Doctors are examining patients in their cars in front of emergency departments.”

The paramedic said that what is happening in front of hospitals is “similar to what happened after the explosion at the Beirut port on Aug. 4. However, with the pandemic, we are living everyday a new Aug. 4 tragedy.

“Medical staff are exhausted and orthopedic surgeons, obstetricians, and even retired doctors may have to engage in treating coronavirus patients, and we may reach a phase where we might need to choose who would be accepted to intensive care rooms,” he added. “So, please do not go out of your houses.”

Dr. Firass Abiad, director of Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH), estimated at 30,000 the number of patients who contracted the virus between Jan. 3 and 10, with 120 deaths.

During the Supreme Defense Council meeting, the country’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, said: “We have reached the stage of extreme danger.

“Some people in Lebanon think that COVID-19 is a lie. We are facing a horrific health situation,” he continued. “The disease has spiraled out of control because of people’s stubbornness and their insubordination to the precautionary and preventive measures.

“Our duty is to protect people from themselves. Either we control the situation with a full and strict lockdown, or we might be heading towards a Lebanese model worse than the Italian one.”

The decisions of the council included closing down banks and governmental institutions for 10 days, subject to renewal, whilst the airports remain open for now.

Eng. Fadi El-Hassan, manager of Rafik Hariri International Airport (RHIA), said that the percentage of infection cases among arrivals was no higher than three per 1,000 from the total infection cases in Lebanon.

The council’s decision caused some disquiet, with Minister of Health Hamad Hassan not attending a meeting of the ministerial committee concerned with fighting the disease in protest at the government’s failure to implement a full lockdown over the Christmas and New Year period.

He called on the committee to “endorse the decisions of the scientific committee at the Ministry of Health, due to its accurate approach of the situation, in order to reach safety.”

The country’s medical establishment is unanimous in believing the increase in infections is due to socializing during the New Year celebrations.

The American University of Beirut Crisis Observatory criticized the state’s  “failure in managing the COVID-19 crisis,” calling it “part of a pattern deeply rooted in the weak management of crises in Lebanon.”

Bachir Khodr, governor of Baalbek El-Hermel, which is witnessing a sharp increase in the number of infection cases, told Arab News: “I did my best and took the most extreme measures. However, there are people who were cooperative, and others who ridiculed me.”

The governor added: “We cannot dedicate a policeman for each citizen, and we cannot storm into houses to ensure that they are not having family gatherings. The Italian scenario would be a matter of time if people do not cooperate.

“I believe that people should be alarmed and be aware of the seriousness of the situation, by watching the television and seeing the hospitals full of patients, and noting that each citizen knows at least one person who either contracted the virus or died from it,” he added.

Agricultural and industrial export sectors, meanwhile, exerted pressure in an attempt to be exempted from full closure, while the threat of lockdown without exceptions caused panic among many people, who rushed to supermarkets, butchers and bakeries, leading to brief shortages of various goods.

A number of doctors expressed their fear that rushing to supermarkets in this way would further spread the disease.

The head of the Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon, Hani Bohsali, said: “Rushing to supermarkets is not right and would increase the spread of the virus. Foodstuffs are available in the importers’ stores with quantities enough for at least 2 months.”

He called on people to buy their needs for only one week at a time.


Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
Updated 45 min ago

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
  • “Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA.”

CHIACGO: Leaders of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) called on the international community at a press conference on Tuesday to re-enforce sanctions on Iran and not surrender to “Tehran’s blackmailing and posturing.”

NCRI officials revealed new information on how Iran’s Mullahs are carefully building a nuclear weapon while seeking to remove sanctions on its programs.

The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on Feb. 23 shows anthropogenic uranium particles at two sites in Iran. The Iranian regime had blocked access to these sites to IAEA inspectors for months.

“Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA. Neither Europe nor the US should give into Tehran’s blackmail and posturing,” Ali Safavi of the NCRI told the Arab News following the press conference.

“They should hold it to account for the systematic and flagrant breaches of its own commitments, even under the fatally flawed Iran nuclear deal. Sanctions should not be lifted unless and until the regime comes clean on its nuclear deceptions and stops its malign actions in the Middle East and its oppression of the Iranian people.”

Joining the NCRI at the press conference were US envoy and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and Struan Stevenson, former senior member of the European Parliament from Scotland.

“The discovery of uranium particles at two suspect sites demonstrate very clearly that the regime continues and has continued to violate the agreement,” Joseph said, emphasizing that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted.

“The regime openly violates the limits of the Iran deal today to coerce the US administration back into the agreement. The lesson here is not to be blackmailed by the regime because if you allow yourselves to be blackmailed you will only have more blackmail in the future, and another fatally flawed agreement.”

Joseph said that rejoining the deal will not achieve the goal of President Joe Biden’s administration to lay the groundwork for a broader and more comprehensive agreement with Iran.

Stevenson criticized the EU’s failure to address the problems and urged Biden to halt efforts to renegotiate with Iran.

“Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, hasn’t uttered a single word of criticism about an Iranian diplomat who was jailed last month for trying to kill hundreds of people in Europe with a bomb,” Stevenson said.

“I sincerely hope that the Biden administration will not follow Borrell’s example of bare-faced appeasement. To do so would, it would be a humiliating defeat to America and a propaganda coup for the theoretical regime. The US, the EU, and the UN must hold the Iranian regime to account for its acts of aggression. Any concessions to the theocratic dictatorship will be seen as an act of weakness by the West.”

The NCRI has been monitoring Iran’s secret nuclear arms development program and said new information released Tuesday was provided by the sources from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran inside the country.

The information includes details on the role and function of the site in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, the experts involved at the time, and their current activities.

The regime has not yet answered the IAEA’s questions regarding the possible presence of nuclear material at these locations, NCRI officials said.

In his introductory statement to the IAEA Board of Governors yesterday, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi expressed the agency's deep concerns on finding nuclear material in undeclared locations in Iran.

“The fact is that the mullahs’ regime is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon as a strategic means to guarantee its survival, and for this reason it has never abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This pursuit has continued unabated for the past three decades,” Safavi said.

One site, located north of Abadeh city in the Fars province, was built by companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the mid-1990s under the supervision of the then-minister of defense.

The site is part of a project managed by the main entity in charge of research and development of nuclear weapons, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym SPND.

This site was constructed for a project dubbed Marivan for the use of one of the SPND’s subdivisions, called the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies on Explosions and Impact.

The center is engaged in the research and construction of nuclear high-explosive detonators.

Saeed Borji, one of the regime’s top explosives and high-impact specialists who for years worked directly under the supervision of Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the key figure in Tehran’s nuclear weapons project, has been involved in the Marivan project.

Borji is currently in another role along with some of the most senior experts. It is alleged that he is still conducting research for the nuclear weapons program’s explosives and impact fields using a cover.
 


Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
Updated 02 March 2021

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
  • Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers has been on the radar for a long time
  • Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system

ANKARA: In a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, American lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey. 

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said.

Dated Feb. 26 but made public on March 1, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

“Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern,” the letter said, making a specific reference to the May 2017 assault on peaceful protesters and federal employees by Turkish security forces during Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

The letter’s timing coincides with the common declaration of Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project on Monday, criticizing the Turkish government’s failure to comply with a binding European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) order to release Turkish activist Osman Kavala.

The letter also came a day before Turkey announced a much-awaited reform plan that only included vague commitments to launch a “Human Rights Action Plan,” with no clarification about the situation of jailed activists and politicians. 

Washington previously urged Ankara to respect the ECHR’s rulings to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and Kavala. 

Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers, as well as the debates around the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have been on the radar for a long time. 

Indeed, just after the announcement of the “Human Rights Action Plan,” the Court of Cassation launched an investigation into the HDP and requested the summary of proceedings pertaining to its lawmakers — a strong sign that the government is in a rush to shut down the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament. 

Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington, especially through an expensive lobbying campaign to bypass the deadlock over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system that resulted in the removal of Turkey from the US F-35 fighter jet program. 

“Within the bigger picture, promotion of democracy and human rights, as well as freedoms in Turkey, will for the first time be on the agenda of the US administration,” Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News. 

“Previously, US administrations usually paid lip service, making statements but always separating strategic ties from the democracy and human rights portfolio. But now it is not really possible,” he said. 

According to Cagaptay, among American allies, together with Hungary, Turkey is the country suffering the most from democratic erosion and the curtailment of checks and balances, and for the Biden administration, strengthening democracy abroad has become a vital component for strengthening faith in the democratic process at home. 

While managing differences and expanding areas of cooperation will also be other legs of Turkish-American relations in the new period, democracy will occupy the largest part, experts note. 

“Congress is currently the most powerful focal point of anti-Turkish voices, especially after the purchase of the Russian missile defense system. CAATSA legislation, according to which Turkey was sanctioned for its S-400 acquisition, was written by Congress itself. Turkey is the first country to defy this legislation. Turkey is seen in Congress as the second most problematic country after Russia,” Cagaptay said. 

Therefore, he added, even if the Biden administration were to reset with Turkey, it will be very hard for US-Turkish relations to gain a semblance of normality because, however the White House reaches out to Ankara, Congress will constantly check and temper it.

Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, agrees. 

“While not the only challenges on the agenda, human rights and democratic backsliding will definitely be an area of high-level focus with Turkish officials for the Biden administration and US Congress,” he told Arab News. 

According to Katz, it is clear based on the two recent congressional letters in the Senate and House that there is a ramped-up effort to address what many see as Erdogan pushing Turkey closer toward being an autocracy, and away from being a stalwart NATO ally that shares a US and transatlantic security and political agenda. 

“Turkey’s government carrying out and implementing new reforms would be seen as positive in Washington but there is deep suspicion that these efforts are ‘window dressing’ only meant to strengthen Erdogan politically,” he said. 


Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan
Updated 02 March 2021

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

CAIRO: A land route for passengers linking Egypt, Jordan and Iraq will improve transport options for workers and students, according to Cairo and Amman.

Kamel El-Wazir, Egyptian minister of transport, and Amjad Adaileh, Jordan’s ambassador in Cairo, said that the land transport link between the three countries — starting from Cairo and continuing through Amman to Baghdad — will cost $130 per passenger, including the ferry price between the ports of Nuweiba and Aqaba.

During a meeting in Cairo, they discussed ways to support trade between Egypt and Jordan by overcoming hurdles faced at arrival ports, and facilitating the transfer of Egyptian products to Jordan and from there to other Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria.
 

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They also discussed the need to develop the Arab Bridge Maritime Company owned by Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, and open markets to serve the trade movement between the three nations and East African countries.

The land route aims to encourage the movement of Egyptian labor to these countries, and the movement of students and scholars from Iraq and Jordan to Egypt.

Reservations in Egypt can be made through the Arab Union Superjet Company.
 


Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact
Updated 02 March 2021

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

CAIRO: Mohamed Othman Al-Hussein, Sudan’s military chief of staff, and his Egyptian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid, signed a bilateral agreement at a meeting of the Egyptian-Sudanese military committee in Khartoum on Tuesday.

An Egyptian military delegation is visiting Sudan to hold key meetings as part of joint military cooperation.

Farid led a high-level military delegation to Khartoum to take part in the seventh meeting of the joint Egyptian-Sudanese military committee, headed by the chiefs of staff of both countries.

He will hold talks as part of military cooperation and strategic partnership between the two countries.

Egypt and Sudan have extended their joint relations on security since Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan became president of the transitional Sovereignty Council of Sudan following the ouster of former President Omar Bashir.

Last November, Sudanese air force units and Egyptian commando teams conducted a joint Egyptian-Sudanese air drill, Nile Eagles1, the first of its kind.

During a visit by Farid to Khartoum in November, Egyptian and Sudanese military leaders agreed to accelerate joint security and military cooperation.

They also agreed to carry out more drills for all armed forces branches, and step up cooperation in training, border security and combating terrorism, as well as technical insurance and military industries.
 


Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
Updated 44 min 6 sec ago

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
  • This papal trip ‘will be different from those made in the past due to the pandemic’

ROME: Pope Francis will probably use an armor-plated car during his first trip to Iraq on March 5-8, and he will be accompanied throughout by a Vatican nurse.

“An armor-plated car is always available for the pope’s trips, and in this trip it’s very likely to be used,” Vatican press spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The pope will use a closed car in all his visits to Iraqi cities, Bruni added, apart from Erbil stadium on Sunday, when he will use an open car and will celebrate Mass.

This papal trip “will be different from those made in the past due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bruni said.

No meetings with crowds are scheduled except for Mass in Erbil; only 10,000 faithful will be allowed there in order to respect social distancing.

This will be the pope’s first trip abroad in about 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions on movement. It is also the first-ever papal journey to Iraq.

He will be accompanied by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri; and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for relations with states.

Seventy-five embedded journalists will also travel aboard the special flight that will take the leader of the Catholic Church from Rome to Baghdad — almost double the number normally allowed on a papal flight.

Parolin described the pope’s visit as a sign of his “closeness to the Catholic Church” in Iraq and to the country’s dwindling Christian communities.

“We know that the Church (in Iraq) has suffered a lot,” Parolin said. “It has lost many Christians who have left Iraq for other countries.”

Therefore, the Church needs the pope’s presence “to be encouraged and to continue her mission of witnessing Jesus Christ and the Gospel in the difficult situation in which she finds herself,” Parolin added.

The pope’s visit will also “boost the efforts that have already started to reconstruct the country,” Parolin said, adding that it will be an occasion of “interreligious dialogue, collaboration, understanding and fraternity between Christians and Muslims for the good of the country and its brighter future.”

The pope will fly to Baghdad on Friday, and will be welcomed at the airport by Iraq’s prime minister.

On Saturday, the pope will go to the city of Najaf, where he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims.

Bruni said this will be the first face-to-face meeting between a Catholic pontiff and a Shiite ayatollah.

The pope will then visit the ancient city of Ur, considered by the Bible to be Abraham’s birthplace.

On Sunday he will fly by helicopter to Mosul, which from 2014 to 2017 was the de facto capital of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

There, Buni said, the pope will have “a moment of intimate prayer to honor the victims of this land.”

He will then fly to Qaraqosh, a Christian-majority city where in 2014, about 45,000 people were expelled by Daesh, before heading to Erbil for a mass at Franso Hariri stadium.