Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout

Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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Workers unload the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 on Saturday at the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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The first batch of the shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 is unloaded from a plane at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon February 13, 2021. (Reuters)
Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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An aircraft carrying the first batch of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) arrives at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon February 13, 2021. (Reuters)
Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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Members of staff unload boxes of the first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine upon arrival to the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 13, 2021. (AFP)
Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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A truck carrying the first batch of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) arrives at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon February 13, 2021. (Reuters)
Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
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Members of Lebanese security forces stand next to a truck transporting boxes of the first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, upon arrival to the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the capital Beirut, on February 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout

Lebanon launches urgent vaccine rollout
  • Medical, nursing staff and elderly first to be treated after first Pfizer batch arrives, top health official tells Arab News
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive in Lebanon in about two weeks will offer greater flexibility to cover all Lebanese regions

BEIRUT: Lebanon has launched an urgent coronavirus vaccination rollout following the arrival of the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.

The consignment of 28,500 vaccines arrived from Belgium and was transferred to the Ministry of Health for storage and distribution to approved medical centers and hospitals.
Medical and nursing staff as well as paramedics working in coronavirus departments in the country’s hospitals will be among the first to be treated when the rollout begins on Sunday.
About 150 people will be vaccinated in three hospitals in Beirut, with the number expected to increase to between 300 and 400 per day by next week in 17 centers across the country.
At least 57 vaccination centers are expected to be operating within three weeks.
Care homes for the elderly will also be included early in the vaccination program, Reda Al-Mousawi, media adviser at the Ministry of Health, said.
Lebanese hospitals have struggled in the past year amid the country’s acute financial crisis and some of the region’s highest coronavirus infection rates.
The total number of virus cases in Lebanon reached 334,086 and 2,462 deaths.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and head of the National Committee for the Administration of Corona Vaccine, told Arab News that the first people to receive the vaccine will be identified by the three hospitals, which will begin vaccinations on Sunday.
“I have not been informed that the president, parliamentary speaker and the prime minister will be first to receive the vaccine,” he added.
Bizri said that hospitals have rehearsed their vaccination procedures before opening their doors next week.
“We have learned from the mistakes of the Americans and French, and are trying to avoid the same issues,” he said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive in Lebanon in about two weeks will offer greater flexibility to cover all Lebanese regions, Bizri said.
He declined to set a ceiling for the duration of the vaccination process, saying: “It depends on the quantity of the vaccine provided and the behavior of the people. I think that with the start of the vaccination process, people will be more encouraged.”
More than half-a-million people out of a population of 4 million have registered to be inoculated via a health ministry platform.
Ministry hotlines are handling inquiries from those who are reluctant to take the vaccine.
Community health specialist Dr. Ahmad Mughrabi blamed so-called vaccine hesitancy on “distorted messages circulating on social media and the attitudes of some celebrities who say they will not be inoculated.”
Mughrabi said that people in the street and his neighbors “frequently ask questions about the disadvantages of the vaccine and the fear of it, especially unconventional vaccines.”
“The media and the social media in Lebanon bear a great responsibility for confusing people,” he said. “No one is trying to reassure people.”
Mughrabi said that he fears Lebanon will struggle to complete the vaccination campaign within two or three months, adding: “What is the benefit of vaccination in light of the social spread of the virus?.”


Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria
Updated 25 October 2021

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria
  • 'They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use'
  • Attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges

WASHINGTON: US officials say they believe Iran was behind the drone attack last week at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based.
Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran resourced and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran. They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public.
Officials said they believe the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges, and that they hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
There were no reported injuries or deaths as a result of the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter Daesh militants. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon and Israel.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to provide details when asked about the report during a news conference Monday. He called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack” and said the US has seen similar ones before from Shia militia groups that are backed by Iran. But he would not go into specifics and said he had no update on the munitions used in the attack.
Kirby also declined to say if troops were warned ahead of time or whether the US intends to make a military response.
“The protection and security of our troops overseas remains a paramount concern for the secretary,” Kirby said, referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “and that if there is to be a response, it will be at a time and a place and a manner of our choosing, and we certainly won’t get ahead of those kinds of decisions.”
Pro-Iran media outlets have been saying that the attack on Tanf was carried out by “Syria’s allies” — an apparent reference to Iran-backed groups — in retaliation for an attack days earlier near the historic Syrian town of Palmyra. Israel has been blamed for the attack, but US officials say America was not involved with it.
The Al-Tanf attack came in a period of rising tensions with Iran. The Biden administration this week said international diplomatic efforts to get Iran back into negotiations to return to a 2015 nuclear deal were at a “critical place” and that patience Is wearing thin.
The last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on Al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.
The Iran attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Two months after the Al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.


Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years
Updated 25 October 2021

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years

Egypt’s President El-Sisi ends state of emergency after more than four years
  • Since it was imposed in April 2017, it has been extended at three-month intervals

CAIRO: Egypt’s president said Monday he will not extend the state of emergency that had been imposed across the country for the first time in years.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced his decision in a Facebook post. He said the move came because “Egypt has become an oasis of security and stability in the region.”
Egypt first imposed a state of emergency in April 2017 and has extended it at three-month intervals since.
It was imposed following deadly church bombings and attacks on Coptic Christians that have killed more than 100 people and wounded scores. The government extended the order every three months after that.
The state of emergency allows for arrests without warrants, the swift prosecution of suspects and the establishment of special courts.
The emergency measure technically ended over the weekend.
(With AP and Reuters)


Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail

Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail
Updated 20 sec ago

Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail

Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail
  • Of the 4,200 tons of fish and seafood netted from Gaza’s waters last year, just 300 tons were exported to the West Bank

GAZA CITY: The Gaza Strip might be off-limits for foreign foodies but the coastal Palestinian enclave is brimming with seafood restaurants, many owned by one local family whose culinary hook is their matriarch’s spicy fish tajine.

Munir Abu Hasira arrives at the Gaza port’s fish market at daybreak, but holds back as traders snatch up sardines and other fish caught during the night.

He is angling for more discerning catches like grouper, sea bream and large shrimp, which can go for around 70 shekels ($22) a kilo — a small fortune in the impoverished enclave, under Israeli blockade since 2007.

“It’s expensive because of the economic situation, but we buy the fish to supply restaurants and to export” to the occupied West Bank, he says, as workers pile fresh fish into a van.

For decades, the Abu Hasira family were fishermen, but since opening their first restaurant in the 1970s, they have gradually traded their fishing kit for chef’s tools.

Gaza fishermen say they struggle to eke out a living, snared by Israeli restrictions on the enclave’s fishing zone and on importing equipment into the enclave, from boat motors to sonar devices for finding shoals.

Problems like overfishing and pollution blight the local industry.

Some 4,200 tons of fish and seafood were netted from Gaza’s waters last year, according to the Israeli authorities. Just 300 tons were exported to the West Bank.

Sitting on a chair in a Gaza courtyard, Eid Abu Hasira, in his 80s, said he was the last of the family’s fishermen.

“I sold everything in 2013,” said the head of the family, sporting a white moustache and wearing a traditional robe and headdress.

“Today, we are in the fish trade, and have 13 Abu Hasira restaurants,” he said, clutching Muslim prayer beads as he leaned on a wooden cane.

One of his ancestors was a prominent Jewish Moroccan rabbi, who died during a trip to Egypt in the 19th century.

A descendent in Egypt had a vision that “they had to go to Gaza,” Eid Abu Hasira said.

“So we came here. My grandfather chose to live off the sea,” he said, adding that a Jewish branch of the family lives in Israel, while those in Gaza are Muslim.

As a young boy, his mother would cook up a seafood tajine that has become the Abu Hasira family chain’s signature dish.

Moeen Abu Hasira, 56, paid homage to his family’s culinary heritage, from their signature shrimp and tomato tajine, known as “zibdiyit,” to a fish tajine made with tahini, herbs and pine nuts, to grilled grouper.

“The secret of Gaza cuisine is strong chili,” he said from the kitchen of his restaurant, which he opened earlier this year.

The Abu Hasira family’s clientele has changed over time.

“Until the start of the first intifada, our restaurants were packed. Israelis came to eat here and so did tourists,” Moeen Abu Hasira said, referring to the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.

Since the Israeli blockade began in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas took control of the enclave, few international tourists, foodies or gastronomic guide writers have visited.

Now, the family’s restaurants cater to a well-off Palestinian clientele, but Moeen Abu Hasira said times were hard as unemployment in Gaza hovers around 50 percent.

“Nobody will give you a star” in recognition of your restaurant, said the chef, who trained in French cuisine in a restaurant in the Israeli city of Jaffa.

“We did not learn in cooking schools or universities. There is none of that in Gaza,” he said. “We all learn from each other.”


Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Javaid Rehman said he is particularly disturbed that authorities continue to sentence children to death, in violation of international law
  • The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, he was briefing the General Assembly on the latest annual report on the issue

NEW YORK: A human rights expert described executions carried out in Iran as “an arbitrary deprivation of life,” as he called on Tehran to reform its laws and abolish the death penalty. He said the punishment is often used as a political tool.

Javaid Rehman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, told the General Assembly on Monday that the death sentence in the country is often imposed on “vague and arbitrary grounds.” He highlighted in particular three criminal charges used to target peaceful demonstrators and political opponents: waging war against God, corruption on earth, and armed rebellion.

“The entrenched flaws in law and in the administration of the death penalty in Iran mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life,” Rehman said.

“The structural flaws of the justice system are so deep and at odds with the notion of rule of law that one can barely speak of a justice system.”

As he briefed the assembly on the fourth annual report on human rights in Iran, the independent expert said that in particular he was “extremely disturbed” by the practice in Iran of sentencing children to death.

“Iran remains one of very countries that continues this practice despite the absolute prohibition under international law,” he said.

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran, including the repression of civic space, discrimination against religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and the dire conditions inside prisons.


EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
Updated 25 October 2021

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
  • IAEA says Tehran’s enrichment to high levels at Natanz plant is expanding
  • US backs EU-Iran discourse but calls Vienna ‘ultimate destination’

LONDON: The EU’s top negotiator will meet his counterpart from Tehran this week in Brussels for talks on restarting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal, a spokesman for the bloc said on Monday.
The EU and world powers are scrambling to try to get negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 accord back on track after the election of a hard-liner in Tehran.
Iran’s chief negotiator on the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, wrote on Twitter that he would be in Brussels on Wednesday “to continue our talks on result-oriented negotiations.”
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the meeting would involve the bloc’s lead negotiator Enrique Mora, who visited Tehran earlier this month to push Iran to restart full negotiations.
Stano said the EU’s diplomatic service was “sparing no efforts to resume talks of all parties in Vienna.”
The agreement between Iran and world powers to find a long-term solution to the now two-decade-old crisis over its controversial nuclear program has been moribund since former US president Donald Trump walked out of the deal in May 2018.
His successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to re-enter the agreement, so long as Iran meets key preconditions including full compliance with the deal whose terms it has repeatedly violated by ramping up nuclear activities since the US left the pact.
But the Vienna-based talks through intermediaries made little headway, before being interrupted by the election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president and suspended for the last four months.
The EU acts as coordinator for the deal that also involves Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
This comes as the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday that Iran is expanding its enrichment of uranium beyond the highly enriched threshold of 20 percent purity at a Natanz plant where it is already enriching to 60 percent, but the new activity does not involve keeping the product.
The move is likely to help Iran refine its knowledge of the enrichment process — something Western powers generally condemn because it is irreversible — but since this time the product is not being collected it will not immediately accelerate Iran’s production of uranium enriched to close to weapons-grade. It has, however, prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency to “increase the frequency and intensity of its safeguards activities” at the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz, the IAEA said in a report seen by Reuters. As of around 90 percent uranium is considered weapons-grade.
The IAEA said in a statement outlining the report that Iran informed it last week of changes to the setup of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, at the plant — Iran would feed uranium enriched to up to 20 percent into limited numbers of extra centrifuges without collecting the product.
“On 25 October 2021, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding (uranium hexafluoride gas) enriched up to 20 percent U-235 into a single IR-6 centrifuge in R&D line 2 at PFEP and that the resulting product and tails streams were being re-combined,” the IAEA report said, meaning that after separating the enriched product it was mixed with the centrifuge’s waste and not kept.
Iran had said it planned to also feed uranium enriched to up to 20 percent into other single centrifuges or small- to medium-sized cascades, or clusters, of machines on the same line, but those were not being fed at the time, the IAEA said.
Meanwhile, the US said on Monday that it supported the EU’s engagement with Iran as coordinator of the lapsed nuclear deal, but stressed that the “ultimate destination” to try to revive the accord was to resume talks in Vienna.
“The EU is the JCPOA coordinator. And we are very supportive of the EU’s engagement with Iran in that capacity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “That said ... the ultimate destination needs to be Vienna,” Price added. 
(With AFP and Reuters)