War was easier than this, says Lebanese entrepreneur hit by economic collapse

War was easier than this, says Lebanese entrepreneur hit by economic collapse
Suzanne Mouawad, a Lebanese entrepreneur, gestures as she speaks at a warehouse in Sin-el-fil, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
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Updated 21 April 2021

War was easier than this, says Lebanese entrepreneur hit by economic collapse

War was easier than this, says Lebanese entrepreneur hit by economic collapse
  • "I didn't let Lebanon down. It let me down and it hurt me," says entrepreneur
  • With retail clients cash-strapped her business has shrunk by three quarters in the economic crisis

BEIRUT: Suzanne Mouawad survived Lebanon’s civil war and built a successful advertising business in the hopeful days after the fighting ended.
Yet her country’s economic collapse, she says, is breaking her in a way that even missiles did not.
Mouawad, 56, comes from a well-to-do background and previously led a privileged life, running her agency as well as a family-owned paper manufacturing business, taking frequent holidays abroad and receiving rent from properties she owns.
Now, both the advertising and paper businesses have all but dried up, the tenants can no longer pay the rent, and she finds herself pondering the price of items in the supermarket during her weekly grocery shop.
“I didn’t let Lebanon down. It let me down and it hurt me,” she said.
With no end in sight to economic and financial paralysis, Mouawad feels a hopelessness that was not there during the war, which broke out when she was 12 and lasted 15 years.
“With war you get a couple of missiles falling one day and then the next day you pick up and you go back to school or back to work and you start producing and making money,” she said.
“Now the money is being held at the banks and there is no work.”
Stricken Lebanese banks, the biggest creditors to the bankrupt state, have locked customers out of their deposits under informal capital controls imposed without legislation since late 2019 when the country’s financial meltdown started.
Any savings people had in Lebanese pounds have lost most of their value, while dollar deposits are inaccessible.
The crisis is driving a brain drain, with professionals such as doctors, academics, designers and entrepreneurs emigrating in large numbers, which in turn has a knock-on effect on the local economy, further depressing investments and demand for services.
When Mouawad set up her advertising agency in 1992, the long war was drawing to a close and hopes were high for Lebanon’s future. A few years later, feeling optimistic, she sold a property she owned in Greece to re-invest back home.
But with her retail clients cash-strapped, her business has shrunk by about three quarters in the economic crisis. Mouawad herself is facing daily financial pressures.
“It’s become like an obsession with living conditions,” she said.
“All the time I’m thinking what will I do? Do I pay municipality fees or my mechanic fees or my electricity? I am under pressure and I never used to think like that before.”
Instead of a busy work schedule, she works barely an hour a day online. At the large warehouse where the paper business is based, activity has dwindled and deliveries of raw materials have spaced out.
“In the normal days we used to re-stock every four days, now this is all for three weeks,” she said, gesturing at some stacks of materials.
In spite of everything, she is not contemplating emigration. Having lived in the United States for six months in the 1990s and struggled to get used to it, she still wants to live in her home country.
“Everything I fought for is here and then I just leave it for someone else? No.”


Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast
Updated 16 min 26 sec ago

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

CAIRO: A small fire has occurred in one of the engines of a tanker off the coast of Syria's Mediterranean port of Banias, state media said.

More to follow ...


Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
Updated 09 May 2021

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
  • Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption
  • He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras

KARBALA: A leading Iraqi anti-government activist was killed early Sunday, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed.
Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran’s influence in Iraq.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Wazni narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against government corruption and incompetence in Iraq in October 2019.
Around 600 people were killed as a result of their association with that movement — many on the streets during rallies, others targeted on their doorsteps away from the rallies.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
In a video recording in the morgue where his body was initially held, a fellow activist made it clear who he and colleagues blamed for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unnamed activist. “They are going to kill all of us! They threaten us and the government remains silent.”
Police in Karbala said they “will spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the killing and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019.
Such targeted killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to identify the perpetrators of these political killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
Pro-Iran groups view the premier as being too close to Washington and protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
“Such crimes against activists in Iraq raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability for... (those) responsible for crimes” targeting protesters, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday.
Wazni had himself challenged Kadhemi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“


US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen from Iran

US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen from Iran
Updated 5 min 48 sec ago

US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen from Iran

US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen from Iran
  • Seizure includes thousands of assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship
  • US Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran

DUBAI: The US Navy announced Sunday it seized an arms shipment of thousands of assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea, apparently bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.
An American defense official told The Associated Press that the Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, again tying the Islamic Republic to arming the Houthis despite a United Nations arms embargo. Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Tehran has denied in the past giving the rebels weapons.
The seizure, one of several amid the yearslong war in Yemen, comes as the US and others try to end a conflict that spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The arms shipment, described as sizeable, shows that the war may still have far to run.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless dhow, a traditional Mideast sailing ship, in an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan. Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck.
When laid out on the deck of the Monterey, the scale of the find came into focus. Sailors found nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov. They recovered hundreds of other heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The shipments also included several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons.
The Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet did not identify where the weapons originated, nor where they were going. However, an American defense official said the weapons resembled those of other shipments interdicted bounded for the Houthis.
Based on interviews with the crew and material investigated on board, the sailors determined the vessel came from Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement.
The seizure marks just the latest in the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden involving weapons likely bound to Yemen. The seizures began in 2016 and have continued intermittently throughout the war, which has seen the Houthis fire ballistic missiles and use drones later linked to Iran. Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.
This recent seizure appeared to be among the biggest. Tim Michetti, an investigative researcher who studies the illicit weapon trade, also said the shipment bore similarities to the others.
“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” he said.
Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government in March 2015. Iran backed the Houthis, who harass Saudi Arabia with missile fire and drone attacks.
Since 2015, the UN Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. Despite that, UN experts warn “an increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.”


Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
Updated 51 min 48 sec ago

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
  • Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

"We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late," Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
"I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.

Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as "barbaric" attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
"What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behaviour) that is rejected and condemned," the government said in a statement.
Frictions have mounted in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with nightly clashes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom, which lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.
"Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes," Safadi said in comments on state media.

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around al Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest mosque, at the height of the Ramadan fasting month.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.