Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties
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A Lebanese protester sets up a burning barricade to block a road in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on Wednesday over a deepening economic crisis. (File/AFP)
Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties
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Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon March 6, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 March 2021

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties
  • Black market dollar exchange rate hits LBP10,450 as protesters take to the streets  
  • He spoke in a terse address to the nation as the currency continued its rapid collapse against the dollar

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Saturday threatened “to refrain” from exercising his duties in protest at politicians’ failure to form a new government.

The country’s lawmakers have failed to agree on a new administration since the last one resigned after the devastating Aug. 4 port explosion in Beirut.
There has also been a sharp increase in tension between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, as well as a currency collapse to contend with.
Angry protesters took to the streets in various regions after the dollar exchange rate on the black market jumped to LBP10,450, directing their anger at banks and supermarkets.
Diab, addressing the Lebanese in a televised speech, asked why people should “pay the price for political ambitions and maneuvers,” and warned that the country had “reached the brink of explosion” after the currency’s collapse.
“Is it required to dissolve the state after it has become the weakest link?” he asked. “The current crisis is likely to worsen, and the scene of the race for milk in the supermarket should be an incentive for transcendence and forming a government. The situation may force me to refrain (from exercising caretaker duties) and I may resort to it, although it contradicts my convictions. Who can deal with the next dangerous repercussions and more suffering of people?”
Analysts feared that Diab’s retreat may lead to a further collapse of the Lebanese pound, with lawyer and former minister Rachid Derbas explaining what could happen. next.

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Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, addressing the Lebanese in a televised speech, warned that the country had ‘reached the brink of explosion’ after the currency’s collapse. 

“Refraining means (the) complete paralysis of the caretaker government’s work,” he told Arab News. “The late Prime Minister Rashid Karami had previously refrained. But I think that Diab’s move is in response to the pressures exerted on him by the ruling authority to hold Cabinet sessions in violation of the constitution because they do not want to form a new government now.”
He added that if Diab decided to refrain there would be more pressure on Aoun and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil, who were “obstructing” the formation of the government.
“But I believe that Aoun and Bassil will not back down from imposing their conditions for the formation. Portraying the dispute as between Hariri and Aoun is absurd. Hariri will not give the ‘blocking third’ to Aoun or the FPM, as he is not ready to be another Hassan Diab.”
He also forecast the trouble that lay ahead if Hariri walked away from forming a government.
“This means that the exchange rate of the dollar will reach LBP20,000.”
Another former minister, Ziyad Baroud, said that Diab was simply raising the alarm because there was “no such thing” in the Lebanese constitution about the caretaker prime minister refraining.
“The government is resigned and business is running in a narrow sense,” he told Arab News. “If Diab decides to refrain, this will effectively paralyze the wheel of public administration completely. His position is political and not constitutional, as he says that he cannot be a caretaker indefinitely. He is raising the alarm and making a point for history.”
He also said that those who were blocking the government’s formation would not budge from their positions. “They are not affected by the people taking to the streets and their cries that they are hungry.”


Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 2 min 23 sec ago

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
  • The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program
  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

BAB AL-HAWA: A first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses was expected to arrive Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, where millions of people live in dire humanitarian conditions, a UN official said.

The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan
Updated 21 April 2021

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan

Mouth-watering snacks bring joy to Yemen during Ramadan
  • Ramadan brings out a zeal among Muslims everywhere for particular memory-laden foods

SANAA: At the thought of breaking his Ramadan fast with a snack of sambusa, a deep-fried savoury pastry triangle popular in Yemen, Issa Al-Shabi’s face lights up with joy.

On a street in the capital Sanaa, bustling with shoppers stocking up on tasty treats for iftar, the meal observant Muslims have after sunset during the Islamic month of fasting, Shabi grins and his eyes shine in anticipation.

“The sambusa is a beautiful food, and tastes delicious,” he says, jabbing the air with his hand for emphasis. “Especially so during this blessed month.”

Ramadan brings out a zeal among Muslims everywhere for particular memory-laden foods.

Sambusa stuffed with vegetables or meat are found across the Middle East and are a cousin of the South Asian samosa. In Yemen, they are a much-loved tradition and a business opportunity for those who know how to make the best ones.

“People compete to get the best sambusa,” Shabi says, adding that shops known for their cleanliness, the skill of their staff and the quality of their ingredients fill with jostling customers.

Yemen has endured six years of war that has left millions hungry and some parts of the country facing famine-like conditions. The country does have food supplies, but a deep economic crisis has sent prices skyrocketing out of the reach of many.

For Yemenis able to spend, the joy of a crispy sambusa, spongy rawani or syrupy baklava is at the heart of the Ramadan experience.

These traditional treats, enjoyed at iftar, keep people going through the night until they resume their fast at dawn, refraining from eating or drinking throughout the day.

“You can consider them as one of the main meals. People crave them after fasting, after the fatigue, exhaustion and thirst,” says Fuad Al-Kebsi, a popular singer, sitting down with family and friends to share sweets for iftar.

For those with a sweet tooth, Ali Abd whisks a bowl of eggs into a cloud before adding flour and vanilla. Tins of his yellow rawani cake are baked in a wood-fired furnace before being cut and drenched in aromatic syrup.

The draw of sweets from one particular shop he rates highly brought Muhammad Al-Bina from his house on the edge of town into central Sanaa.

“The sweets are awesome. Trust me!” he says, beaming.


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.


Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
Updated 21 April 2021

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
  • Arab League, African Union, EU and UN call for accelerated efforts to improve security and fully implement ceasefire
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres says urgent and immediate action is needed or window of opportunity might be lost

The international Libya Quartet on Tuesday urged authorities in the country to step up their efforts to improve the security situation and build confidence, to help bring peace to the country and fully implement the ceasefire agreement.
The members of the Quartet — the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the EU and the UN — said they are ready to help with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s plans for a “robust, credible and effective” ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously voted to send up to 60 international monitors to Libya to oversee the ceasefire, which was agreed in October between the two rival factions in the East and West of the country. Operational and logistical preparations for the mission are under way.
Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Libya Quartet, which was convened on Tuesday by the League of Arab States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the monitoring team will initially be a “nimble” presence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but expand over time.
He also made it clear that after years of violence and suffering there is a window of opportunity for peace “but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this narrow window.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet members called for the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country as a prerequisite for fully restoring Libyan sovereignty and preserving national unity.
They also condemned continual violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and the threat posed by armed groups and militias. They called for “the sustained implementation of measures to fully identify and dismantle these groups, and ensure the subsequent reintegration of those individuals meeting the requirements into national institutions as outlined in the ceasefire agreement … without delay.”
The meeting also included discussion of the possible deployment of AU, EU and Arab League observer missions, “at the request of Libya’s authorities, and if the requisite conditions on the ground permit,” to assist the National Elections Commission in its preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
The importance of the elections taking place in “a favorable political and security environment, so that they are held in an inclusive, transparent and credible manner and where all Libyans commit to respect their results and integrity” was emphasized.
Participants also encouraged Libya’s new Government of National Unity, and other relevant institutions, to uphold their commitment to appoint women to at least 30 percent of senior executive positions, and to promote a national, rights-based reconciliation across the country.