Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. Reuters
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Updated 23 February 2021

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping

Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccine drive hit by row over MPs’ queue-jumping
  • World Bank threatens to pull its vaccination financing
  • Rights campaigners say row will weaken public confidence

BEIRUT: A row over Lebanese lawmakers jumping the queue for COVID-19 vaccinations erupted on Tuesday with the World Bank threatening to pull its funding for the inoculation drive and human rights campaigners accusing authorities of mismanagement.
The spat broke out after a correspondent from the Thomson Reuters Foundation tweeted confirmation from parliament's secretary general that lawmakers aged over 75 would get their shots in the legislature in Beirut on Tuesday.
That led the World Bank's middle east regional head, Saroj Kumar Jha, to respond: "This is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination."
He added that the lender "may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!" if the violation was confirmed.
Last month, the bank agreed to provide Lebanon with a $34 million loan to fund vaccinations for roughly a third of the country's six million people, amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases that it said was exacerbating a deep economic crisis.
Lebanon kicked off vaccinations on Feb. 14, giving first priority to healthcare workers and the over-75s who registered on an online platform.
But in the first week of the roll-out, 40% of vaccination sites breached those regulations, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is monitoring the vaccine campaign along with the World Bank.
That raised fears of favouritism in a country that regularly ranks among the most corrupt in the world, and rights groups warned that Tuesday's incident would further damage public confidence in the vaccination programme and state institutions.
"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID crisis, Lebanese public confidence in government institutions has been exceedingly low," said Lama Fakih, a Beirut-based crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.
"This has only declined given the mismanagement of this crisis," she said.

'GRAVE INFRACTION'
A total of 16 MPs (members of parliament) and five parliamentary staff received their vaccines on Tuesday, said Secretary-General Adnan Daher.
He initially said there had been no violation of the programme's regulations, but later conceded that some of the group were in fact under 75 and therefore not in the top priority group.
The head of the country's COVID-19 vaccination committee, Abdel-Rahman Bizri, said earlier he would quit over the incident but later vowed to stay on to keep the inoculation programme from unravelling.
He told a news conference the MPs' queue-jumping was "a grave infraction that cannot be repeated".
The lawmakers' vaccinations also fueled concerns that vulnerable groups - such as thousands of migrant workers and a million refugees - might be left out.
"While (authorities) say they will cover everyone in Lebanon, plans in place will not make that happen," Fakih said, noting that a government mandate to bring ID for vaccination could result in the exclusion of undocumented people.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon died from COVID-19 at a rate more than four times the national average, some 4.5% compared to around 1% nationally, according to U.N. data obtained exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With nine out of 10 refugees living in extreme poverty, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon said fear of movement restrictions and other socio-economic considerations were likely to blame.
Lebanon has had one of the region's highest infection rates, and ordinary people took to social media to express their anger and frustration over the pace of the vaccination programme and Tuesday's events in parliament.
"My 92-year-old grandpa, who uses an oxygen machine, till date didn't receive an sms and they're getting theirs! Messed up!" Twitter user Jessica Kassab wrote. 


More countries condemn Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

More countries condemn Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia
Updated 48 sec ago

More countries condemn Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

More countries condemn Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia
LONDON: Jordan, the UK and Qatar joined the widespread global condemnation of attacks by an Iran-backed militia on Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis in Yemen launched six drones at the south of the Kingdom, all of which were shot down by the Arab coalition.
The coalition also intercepted a ballistic missile targeting Riyadh.
“The UK condemns the latest Houthi missile and drone attacks targeted at Saudi Arabia and Marib,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said. “These put innocent lives at risk, and show that those responsible are not serious about peace, let alone protecting the Yemeni people.”
Jordan also condemned the “continued targeting of cities in Saudi Arabia” by the Houthis.
Jordan condemns “these cowardly terrorist acts and the targeting of innocent civilians which constitute a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” a foreign ministry statement said.
The statement said that Jordan stands with the Kingdom in the face of anything that “threatens its safety or the safety of the Saudi people.”
Qatar strongly condemned the Houthi missile attack that targeted Riyadh and said it was “a dangerous act against civilians which contravenes all international norms and laws.”
In a statement, Qatar’s foreign ministry reiterated the state’s firm position on rejecting violence, criminal and subversive acts regardless of the motives behind them.
The EU’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman also condemned the attacks against the Kingdom.
“Such attacks which are endangering civilians, increasing regional instability and delaying the prospect of a solution to the Yemen conflict must stop,” Patrick Simonnet said.

Iran foreign ministry: time not 'suitable' for nuclear deal meeting

Iran foreign ministry: time not 'suitable' for nuclear deal meeting
Updated 38 min 50 sec ago

Iran foreign ministry: time not 'suitable' for nuclear deal meeting

Iran foreign ministry: time not 'suitable' for nuclear deal meeting

Iran says time is not appropriate for holding informal meeting with European powers, United States on 2015 nuclear deal.

Developing...
 


Saudi crown prince receives calls from Qatar emir, Kuwaiti counterpart

Saudi crown prince receives calls from Qatar emir, Kuwaiti counterpart
Updated 3 min 16 sec ago

Saudi crown prince receives calls from Qatar emir, Kuwaiti counterpart

Saudi crown prince receives calls from Qatar emir, Kuwaiti counterpart
  • Mohammed bin Salman reassured them of his health

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call from Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, Saudi Press Agency (SPA). reported on Sunday.
During the call, Mohammed bin Salman reassured Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad of his health, and the Qatari emir “wished him continued health and wellness.”
Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad also “affirmed Qatar’s support for all that would enhance the security, stability and sovereignty of the Kingdom,” the statement said.
The two sides discussed the latest regional and international developments, and underlined their keenness to promote joint Arab and Gulf action, Qatar News Agency reported, adding that Doha considers the Kingdom’s stability as an integral part of the stability of Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Mohammed bin Salman also received a similar phone call from his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Meshaal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Sunday, SPA said.
Mohammed bin Salman thanked Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad and Sheikh Meshaal for their sincere sentiments.


US accused of double standards over Khashoggi, urged to deploy same sanctions on killers of other Arab journalists

People gather to commemorate prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Luqman Slim at place de la Sorbonne in the French capital Paris, on February 11, 2021. (AFP)
People gather to commemorate prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Luqman Slim at place de la Sorbonne in the French capital Paris, on February 11, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 52 sec ago

US accused of double standards over Khashoggi, urged to deploy same sanctions on killers of other Arab journalists

People gather to commemorate prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Luqman Slim at place de la Sorbonne in the French capital Paris, on February 11, 2021. (AFP)
  • Critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region
  • As the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics

LONDON: After US President Joe Biden’s administration took measures to sanction Saudi officials that took part in 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, several Middle East experts have accused the US of deploying double standards.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, as well as several US State Department officials, have repeatedly said that Washington will no longer tolerate the targeting of journalists and dissidents. The case of Jamal Khashoggi has been at the center of these statements.

However, critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region.

“We should ask ourselves what is the purpose behind the publication of the report? It is very obvious that the revival of the issue after two years aims at putting pressure on Saudi Arabia,” US-Arab affairs expert Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib told Arab News.

Another commentator, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, tweeted: “Now that we have finished from the Khashoggi affair, can the US give any attention to the assassination of Hisham Al-Hashemi and Lokman Slim? Or is there no lobby behind them to demand the disclosure of their killers?” (Embed his tweet)

Indeed, while this month’s killing of Lebanese publisher and vocal Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim was condemned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that was as far as it went — and his statement even shied away from naming the known culprits, Hezbollah.

Another, Iraqi researcher, Hisham al-Hashimi, was shot dead outside his Baghdad home last year in a drive-by long-suspected to have been set up by Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah.

“We also should examine the timing. It is while the US is seeking to go back to the nuclear deal. This could be a tool to pressure Saudi Arabia to accept the decisions of the US regarding Iran, and to coerce the Kingdom into making concessions,” Khatib said, adding: “They don’t want to disturb the flow of communications with Iran.”

She said: “Even though the US is committed to human rights, how adamant and forceful they are in taking a position is taken in a political context.”

While more critics of Iran, its proxies and allies in the region are shot dead by “unknown groups,” much of what the US clearly focuses on is what benefits itself politically. President Biden’s pursuit to label Saudi Arabia as a pariah, as he previously argued for, comes at the cost of allowing Iran and its armed groups in the region to literally get away with murder.

Lebanese journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueini were vocal in their political criticism, and both were assassinated for their vocal critiques by perpetrators that have yet to serve justice.

Journalists killed with no consequences

 
Samir Kassir

Assassinated: 2 June 2005

 
Gebran Tueini

Assassinated: 12 December 2005
 

 
Atwar Bahjat

Assassinated: 22 February 2006
 

 
Hisham El-Hashemi

Assassinated: 6 July 2020

 
Luqman Slim

Assassinated: 4 February 2021

 

Arab countries and groups have expressed their support for Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the report, while stressing the pivotal role that the Kingdom plays in consolidating security in the region.

Political reporter and analyst Ray Hanania told Arab News: “The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a human tragedy, but the US and the media are determined to play a hypocritical game of political exploitation to balance their foreign agenda.”

He added: “The International Federation of Journalists reports that in 2020, 66 journalists were killed, and yet it seems like only one journalist matters. This in part has also to do with media bias.

“The media, US Congress and activists showcase only one tragedy out of hundreds of journalist killings, because Khashoggi’s death is related to an acceptable foreign policy attack.”

President Biden took little time to retract the terrorist designation that the Trump administration had slapped on the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi militia, and yet the group continues to lob ballistic missiles to Riyadh on a daily basis.

So as the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics.


Saudi and US air forces begin joint training exercise

The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force began the Dragon joint training exercise in western Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force began the Dragon joint training exercise in western Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 28 February 2021

Saudi and US air forces begin joint training exercise

The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force began the Dragon joint training exercise in western Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
  • The exercise is a continuation of the joint cooperation between the two air forces to maintain regional security and stability

LONDON: The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force on Sunday began a joint training exercise in the west of the Kingdom, the Ministry of Defense said.
The “Dragon” exercise focuses on tactical interception training, combat training, counterattack, and suppressing enemy air defenses.
It is considered a continuation of joint cooperation between both air forces to maintain regional security and stability, the ministry said, adding: “The exercise also contributes to achieving compatibility and operational integration.”