Lebanese president calls on army to prevent protesters blocking roads

A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2021

Lebanese president calls on army to prevent protesters blocking roads

A man stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in the Martyrs' Square in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on March 8, 2021. (AFP)
  • Army chief says people have right to protest peacefully over economic and political crisis and his forces will not suppress just demands

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Monday told security forces to prevent roads being blocked by protesters. It came as demonstrators declared a “day of rage” amid growing anger about more than a year of economic crisis and months of political paralysis, and blocked main routes across the country for a seventh day straight.

Gen. Joseph Aoun, commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, held a meeting on Monday with military commanders during which he stressed the right of people to engage in peaceful protest but not to damage public property. He also said that violations of the rights of the army would not be tolerated, and called on politicians to resolve the crisis.

In his first public critical comments, he said that “soldiers are hungry like the people, so what are the officials waiting for?” He added that “they launch political campaigns against us to distort our image” but said they will not succeed in doing so.

“It is forbidden to interfere with our affairs or with our promotions or formations. The army is compact and its dissolution means the end of the (Lebanese) entity. The experience of 1975 (the Lebanese Civil War) will not be repeated,” he said.

Gen. Aoun denied that there had been desertions from the military as a result of the economic crisis but added: “Do you want a potent army or not? The army budget is reduced every year, which negatively affects the morale of the military.”

The day of rage began to spread early on Monday to all parts of Lebanon as protesters once again blocked key roads in an attempt to prevent people from going to work.

The demonstrators spoke of their concerns about “the worries of daily life, the rise in the exchange rate of the dollar, and the need for early parliamentary elections.”

According to a report by the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut, obtained by Arab News: “The accelerating collapse of the Lebanese pound last week and the increase of the value of the dollar on the black market to more than (10,000 Lebanese pounds) was a shock to citizens, who lost more than 85 percent of their salaries.

“If the repercussions of the pound’s plunge in value are evident in the deterioration of Lebanese and other residents’ buying power, and in feverish, sometimes violent competition over subsidized goods in some shops, the worst is still to come.”

The report continued: “The support obtained by the Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) covers between 85 percent and 90 percent of the value of fuel and medicine purchases so far.”

The blocking of roads by protesters, which resulted in clashes with the security services attempting to reopen them, caused alarm among politicians.

During a security, financial and economic meeting on Monday morning at the presidential palace in Baabda, there were calls “not to allow roadblocks, taking into account the safety of citizens, demonstrators and public and private property.”

However, Gen. Aoun made it clear that the military would not prevent peaceful demonstrations or attack protesters to suppress just demands for a resolution of the crisis.

In his speech to officers, he said: “The solution to the crisis is political, and the political forces must assume their responsibilities and work toward finding a solution. They cannot blame the demonstrators nor the Lebanese army.”

A protesters in the Tyre area poured gasoline over himself and tried to set himself on fire on Monday but was prevented from doing so by Lebanese Civil Defense.

In Tripoli, there was a confrontation between the army and protesters calling for “the resignation and trial of all officials.”

During the meeting at the presidential palace, concerns were raised about who was responsible for the latest increase to the dollar exchange rate at the weekend, when businesses were closed. President Aoun asked the security services to investigate plots to harm the country.

Several measures to address the currency crisis were agreed during a meeting with security and government officials, according to an official statement, including a crackdown on anyone found to be violating monetary and credit laws, including foreign exchange bureaus.


Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report
Updated 12 April 2021

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

Iran says it identified person who caused power outage at Natanz — report

DUBAI: Iran said on Monday it had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying.
“The person has been identified ... Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person who caused the electricity outage in one of the halls at the Natanz site,” the website reported. It gave no details about the person.

Iran blamed Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Monday.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.
Iran and world powers held what they described as "constructive" talks last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that Washington abandoned three years ago.
"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions ... they have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists," Zarif was quoted as saying.


Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
Updated 12 April 2021

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
  • The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals’
  • Donations can be made across the globe to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae

DUBAI: The ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, launched by Dubai’s ruler, will provide food parcels for the needy across 20 countries during Ramadan.
The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals,’ which distributed food in communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
Individuals and companies across the globe can make donations to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae, which will then distribute food in countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Angola, Uganda and Egypt.
“Providing food during the holy month of Ramadan is the best we can give from the UAE to humanity,” Dubai’s Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) will work with the UN World Food Program, Food Banking Regional Network and local humanitarian organizations in receiving countries to distribute food for those in need.
“We will work with humanitarian organizations, companies, entities and humanitarians to join us in securing 100 million meals to bring a sense of safety to underserved homes across the world,” Al-Maktoum said.  
The campaign also supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger by 2030.


‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2021

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

TRIPOLI: Under a yellow tarpaulin stretched over an arched metal frame, Siraj Bechiya and his partner inspect their hydroponically grown lettuce, pioneers of the method in mostly desert Libya where conventional agriculture struggles.
Zip ties, punctured plastic cups as pots and PVC tubing bought in DIY shops hold the precious crops at “Green Paradise” — so dubbed by the two young Libyan entrepreneurs spearheading the project.
But the ad hoc nature of the materials hasn’t stopped the plants from thriving, their long white roots nourished by water rich with nutrients and oxygen.
Bechiya and his partner, Mounir, have been working tirelessly on their project for months in the small town of Qouwea, 40 km east of the capital Tripoli, erecting a tunnel-shaped greenhouse surrounded by breeze-block walls on a semi-arid site.
Their hope is to demystify hydroponic farming, which “guarantees a good yield in small spaces,” uses little water and doesn’t need pesticides, 20-year-old Bechiya told AFP.
Soilless farming has gained ground in many countries but is still in its infancy in Libya.
But in a country whose territory is 90 percent arid desert, the method could offer a path toward more food self-sufficiency, Bechiya believes.
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa.
Arable land barely makes up three percent of Libya’s territory and is under threat, as rapid urbanization eats up the fertile strip along the Mediterranean coast.
Another major challenge to farming in Libya is the lack of water where agriculture needs it most.
The Great Man-Made River — a pharaonic project realized by former ruler Muammar Qaddafi more than 30 years ago — carries drinking water pumped from groundwater tables in the south to the northern cities where most Libyans live.
But this resource is not infinite, and the GMMR’s network has been heavily damaged in the decade of conflict that has ravaged Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
In the face of these challenges, Bechiya and Mounir set out to train in hydroponics two years ago in neighboring Tunisia.
“When we came back, it was imperative that we move from theory to practice,” Bechiya said.
“We started with some vegetables in the house and we were surprised by people’s enthusiasm.”
In theory, hydroponics can guarantee higher yields and profits than conventional farming, which is at risk from weather, water shortages and pollution from unregulated pesticide use.
“With more space in the greenhouse, the idea was able to take off. We will continue to develop it ... and improve quality,” said Bechiya, as he measured the acidity of the water feeding his young lettuce.
“Libyan consumers don’t want produce full of pesticides anymore, but organic produce,” he added.


US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions
Experts believe that US defense secretary’s visit to Israel aims to facilitate Washington’s eventual rejoining of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. (Reuters/File)
Updated 12 April 2021

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions

US secretary of defense aims to deescalate Israel-Iran tensions
  • Experts claim Tel Aviv will seek to play up the threat of Iran, with US return to JCPOA looming
  • The visit is aimed at reassuring Israel by bolstering US-Israeli and Gulf-Israeli defense relations while dispelling Iranian perceptions of US complicity in recent Israeli attacks on Iranian targets

AMMAN: Middle East experts believe that the visit of the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Israel is largely aimed at deescalating Israeli-Iranian tensions, and facilitating Washington’s eventual rejoining of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

Austin said the US is committed to “Israeli military edge” and advancing “strategic partnership” efforts with Tel Aviv.
Lamis Andoni, a veteran analyst based in Amman, told Arab News that the visit is ultimately aimed at helping the US return to the JCPOA. “President Joe Biden is worried that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu would like to escalate the situation in the Gulf, with the aim of torpedoing the eventual return to the Iran nuclear deal,” she said.
Andoni added that Netanyahu was only concerned about his own future, and would therefore focus on exaggerating Iranian threats to ensure Gulf states remained united against Iran.
Ali Jarbawi, a professor at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News that Austin’s visit was nothing more than an attempt to placate Israel.
“They want Israel to be reassured on the fact that the new administration will be returning to the Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
Retired Jordanian air force general, Maamoun Abu Nawwar, said that the goal of the visit is to ensure that Israeli does not escalate the situation in the Gulf. “The fact that the first senior official from the Biden administration to visit Israel is a military man is a clear sign that they are hoping he will address the potential of a dangerous escalation … between Israel and Iran,” he told Arab News.
Ofer Zalzberg, Middle East Program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, said that the visit will be characterized by an internal contradiction in US objectives: “It aims at reassuring Israel by bolstering US-Israeli and Gulf-Israeli defense relations while dispelling Iranian perceptions of US complicity in recent Israeli attacks on Iranian targets, which harm establishing the trust required for successful nuclear negotiations,” he said.
Musa Shteiwi, former head of the University of Jordan’s Center of Strategic Studies, said that the visit would seek to resolve the Iran issue at a time that Israel is going in the opposite direction. “They will talk about pursuing the partnership issue in order to facilitate the return to the Iran deal,” he said. Barak Ravid, a Tel Aviv-based reporter for Axios, argued that both Austin’s position and the timing of the visit were important.

“This is the first trip of a senior Biden administration official to Israel. Austin will try to make sure that there is a no surprises policy between Israel and the US when it comes to Iran, and will try to reassure the Israelis about the nuclear talks with Iran. The Biden administration wants to make sure tensions in the region will not escalate in a way that sabotages the nuclear talks,” he said.
Regardless of the worries about military escalation, it is clear to observers that the real issue is the political one. Abu Nawwar believes that the Iran nuclear deal, initially signed by the administration of former President Barack Obama, will eventually prevail. “It is the only game in town,” he added.

On Monday, Iran said it blames Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.


Suez Canal shipping course could be expanded

Suez Canal shipping course could be expanded
A Hapag Lloyd container ship sails across the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal, in El Ain El Sokhna in Suez, east of Cairo, Egypt April 24, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 April 2021

Suez Canal shipping course could be expanded

Suez Canal shipping course could be expanded
  • Dry bulk carriers and containers made up the largest percentage of traffic in the Suez Canal

CAIRO: The shipping course of the Suez Canal could be expanded under plans being considered by the waterway’s authority. 
A shipping course of a vessel is the direction in which it is to be steered.
Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said that the canal’s continuous development operations had helped it to maintain its position as the first choice for major shipping lines.
Rabie also said that in 2021 the canal would attract shipping lines that had not previously crossed it, including LNG tankers from the US East Coast that were bound for Asia, thanks to the flexible marketing policies pursued by the authority.
He reviewed recent developments at the authority, saying there had been 4,581 vessel crossings during the first quarter of 2021 with a total net tonnage of 291 million.

FASTFACT

Eighty-five percent of the oil from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait was transported to the East but did not pass through the canal, while 61 percent of the world’s oil carriers passed through the waterway, says official.

He said 85 percent of the oil from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait was transported to the East but did not pass through the canal, while 61 percent of the world’s oil carriers passed through the waterway.
Dry bulk carriers and containers made up the largest percentage of traffic in the Suez Canal, he added and stressed there was no alternative way to the canal that was not being studied.
The incentives provided last year led to an 8 percent increase in ship traffic despite the pandemic, he said.