Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland
A Lebanese Army helicopter sprays a swarm of desert locusts with pesticide near Lebanon’s northeastern town of Ersal, on the border with Syria, April 23, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland
  • Videos showing the insects flying over farmland in the towns of Ersal and Ras Baalbek in Bekaa circulated on social media, with the hashtag #locust trending in Lebanon
  • The Lebanese military said that helicopters had begun spraying pesticides over Baalbek and Ras Baalbek to “fight and eradicate” the desert locusts

BEIRUT: The arrival of locust swarms in Lebanon has caused panic among the country’s farmers.

Videos showing the insects flying over farmland in the towns of Ersal and Ras Baalbek in Bekaa circulated on social media, with the hashtag #locust trending in Lebanon on Friday as people made sarcastic comments about the latest crisis to hit the beleaguered country.

The Lebanese military said that helicopters had begun spraying pesticides over Baalbek and Ras Baalbek to “fight and eradicate” the desert locusts.

Ersal Mayor Bassel Al-Hujairi recounted seeing “millions” of locusts flying and attacking cherry trees and crops.

“Locusts have invaded one-third of Ersal,” he told Arab News. “As we rushed to find out the size of the disaster, locust swarms had already gone across the town, which means that in the early hours of Friday locusts were able to cross 15 km, heading from barren areas toward Ersal. If these swarms multiply, they can cover the sun.”

Ersal was home to more than two million cherry, apple and apricot trees that were located on the town’s southern and eastern sides, said the mayor, and locusts were still on the northern side of the town. 

“I hope wind will not take them to other directions,” he added.

The swarms arrived in Lebanon after invading Syria, Iraq and Jordan.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the appearance of desert locusts in Syria and Jordan was an “unusual and rare” event caused by several days of strong southerly winds and high temperatures that brought the adult groups to these areas.

It added that while the swarms did not represent a “large-scale invasion” and could be controlled, it feared that some of the mature adults may lay eggs and reproduce.

The ministries of agriculture and defense have mobilized to address the problem as Lebanon is a member of the FAO’s Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region.

Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada inspected Ersal and said that ministry teams had witnessed “locust waves” and were able to define their approximate scope. 

“But we still have fears that these locusts may reproduce and invade fields and farms. People are filming the locust swarms, but they are still relatively far.”

Ras Baalbek Mayor Menhem Mhanna reported “huge numbers” of locusts over the town’s barren areas and expressed his fears about these swarms reaching inhabited areas.

“Locusts will not find anything in Lebanon since the politicians have devoured everything,” said one person on social media, while another said: “Lebanon’s politicians are more dangerous than these swarms.”

“Locusts are the cherry on the top to be added to Lebanon’s economic collapse, political gridlock and starvation,” read another comment.

The crisis has brought the Lebanese back to the beginning of the 20th century, when swarms stripped the country of almost all its vegetation.

At that time Lebanon was already grappling with economic hardship and a double blockade by both the Ottoman Empire and the Allied Forces, resulting in a famine that led to more than a third of the population dying.

In 2013, historians and researchers Dr. Christian Taoutel and Father Pierre Wittouck released a book compiling the previously unpublished French chronicles of Jesuit priests during the famine called “The Lebanese people in the turmoil of the Great War of 1914-1918.”

According to the book, “famine started with a hungry swarm of locusts that devoured everything, where the Lebanese called the year of 1915 ‘The Year of Locusts’ which were impossible to control.”


1 Lebanese dead, another wounded by Israelis at border protest: state media

People and reporters watching after a pro-Palestinian rally in the Lebanese Khiam area, on Friday. A Lebanese demonstrator died and another was wounded by Israeli fire when dozens rallied to protest strikes on Gaza Strip. (AFP)
People and reporters watching after a pro-Palestinian rally in the Lebanese Khiam area, on Friday. A Lebanese demonstrator died and another was wounded by Israeli fire when dozens rallied to protest strikes on Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Updated 51 min 48 sec ago

1 Lebanese dead, another wounded by Israelis at border protest: state media

People and reporters watching after a pro-Palestinian rally in the Lebanese Khiam area, on Friday. A Lebanese demonstrator died and another was wounded by Israeli fire when dozens rallied to protest strikes on Gaza Strip. (AFP)
  • Local media reported the death of 21-year-old Lebanese demonstrator who succumbed to his injuries in hospital
  • The Lebanese army and security forces were deployed to stop the youths from advancing

KFARKILA, Lebanon: A Lebanese demonstrator was killed and another was wounded by Israeli fire Friday when dozens rallied on the Lebanon-Israel border to protest the Jewish state’s strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, state media reported.
The National News Agency (NNA) said in the afternoon two demonstrators were wounded “by two Israeli shells that fell near them after a number of youths tried to enter the town of Metula” in northern Israel.
Lebanon’s MTV news portal reported in the evening that one of the demonstrators, 21-year-old Mohammad Qassem Tahhan, from the southern village of Aadloun, succumbed to his injuries at Marjayoun Public Hospital.
In the aftermath, “the Lebanese army and security forces were deployed... to stop the youths from advancing” again, the NNA added.
The protesters, some carrying Palestinian flags and that of the group Hezbollah — arch-enemy of Israel — gathered in the Khiam plain, opposite Metula, a few dozen meters (yards) from the border, an AFP photographer said.
They later set fire to the area, with the flames spreading “all the way to the border,” he added.
The Israeli army confirmed on Twitter its tanks had “fired warning shots at a number of rioters... who had crossed into Israeli territory.”
They “sabotaged the fence and set fire to it... before returning to Lebanese territory,” it added, without mentioning any wounded.
On Thursday, three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh toward Israel, a Lebanese military source said.
Israel’s army said the rockets landed in the sea.
A source close to Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.


France’s Emmanuel Macron speaks with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for return to peace

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2021

France’s Emmanuel Macron speaks with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for return to peace

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. (AFP)
  • Israel pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday, killing 13 people including three children

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday about the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians and called for a return to peace in the region.

In a statement, Macron condemned rocket attacks by Hamas and said Israel had the right to defend itself. He also expressed concern about the plight of the civilian population in Gaza, which is run by Hamas.

Israel pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday, killing 13 people including three children, local health officials said, as it targeted Palestinian militant tunnels to try to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had no plans on relenting in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza, after heavy bombardment targeting the group’s targets in the Palestinian enclave.

“They attacked our capital, they fired rockets at our cities. They're paying and will continue to pay dearly for that,” he said following security consultations at the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

 


Families gather at Tehran cemetery in memory of 1988 massacre

In 1988, thousands of PMOI supporters were summarily executed by Tehran, in a mass killing that the UN and rights groups have said constituted crimes against humanity. (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/File Photo)
In 1988, thousands of PMOI supporters were summarily executed by Tehran, in a mass killing that the UN and rights groups have said constituted crimes against humanity. (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/File Photo)
Updated 14 May 2021

Families gather at Tehran cemetery in memory of 1988 massacre

In 1988, thousands of PMOI supporters were summarily executed by Tehran, in a mass killing that the UN and rights groups have said constituted crimes against humanity. (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/File Photo)
  • UN has branded Iranian regime’s mass killings of dissidents as crime against humanity
  • International commission of inquiry should be set up, opposition figure tells Arab News

LONDON: Families of Iranian political prisoners executed by the regime in 1988 have gathered outside a Tehran cemetery to commemorate their lost loved ones and call for accountability over the killings.

The cemetery in the neighborhood of Khavaran holds the unmarked mass graves of an unknown number of supporters of Iranian opposition groups.

On Thursday, families of slain members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) carried pictures of their murdered loved ones, laid flowers at the unmarked graves and chanted slogans against Ebrahim Raisi, head of the country’s judiciary.

In 1988, thousands of PMOI supporters were summarily executed by Tehran, in a mass killing that the UN and rights groups have said constituted crimes against humanity. Then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict ordering their execution.

READ MORE

The families of thousands of Iranians executed and buried in mass graves have written to the UN and world leaders urging them to prevent Tehran’s ongoing destruction of their last resting place. Click here for more.

Tehran has been accused of trying to hide evidence of the killings, for example by repurposing mass graves used for execution victims and instead forcing ethnic minorities to bury their dead in them.

However, momentum for accountability over the killings has been steadily growing. On May 4, more than 1,100 family members of those murdered penned an open letter urging the UN, US and EU to take urgent action to prevent the destruction of the graves and evidence of the killings, and to hold the regime accountable.

Furthermore, over 150 former UN officials, human rights and legal experts called on UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to open an independent inquiry into the killings.

READ MORE

More than 150 former UN officials and human rights experts have demanded that the UN conduct an inquiry into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran. More here.

Ali Safavi, a member of umbrella opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran — of which the PMOI is a part — told Arab News that it is “imperative” that Bachelet “establishes an international commission of inquiry into the 1988 massacre.” 

This “would enable investigators to go to Iran and visit Khavaran cemetery and mass graves in other Iranian cities as part of their investigation,” Safavi added.

“Those directly involved in the massacre, including current officials such as Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei, must be held accountable.”

Safavi said the protesters’ focus on Raisi is unsurprising given his outspoken and ongoing support for the killings, as well as his ascension through the regime’s upper echelons.

Rumors continue to circulate that Raisi will soon throw his hat in the ring for June’s presidential election.

Safavi said since becoming head of the judiciary in 2019, Raisi has directed the execution of at least 500 people — including, allegedly, Navid Afkari, the champion wrestler hung for participating in anti-regime protests.

Amnesty International said under Raisi, the judiciary has used the death penalty “as a weapon of political repression against dissident protesters and members of ethnic minority groups.”


Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
Updated 14 May 2021

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
  • Twin Brussels summits in June look to cool tensions between regional rivals
  • Ankara’s Europe pivot an “opportunistic” move amid struggling economy, experts say

ATHENS: The month of June could prove crucial for the mid-term and long-term future of Greek-Turkish relations, but also for the next steps in Ankara’s relationship with the EU.
The “twin summits” of NATO and the EU in Brussels, to be held on June 14 and June 24-25, respectively, could help clear the air between the two rivals and prepare the ground for a more positive agenda.
Athens and Ankara are exploring the possibility for a bilateral meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.
However, nothing has been agreed yet, and a planned visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Athens in May will reveal if there is enough common ground for such a meeting.
But Erdogan will also meet with his US counterpart President Joe Biden on June 14, and the bilateral agenda will cover heavyweight issues, ranging from the S-400 missile system to the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
A few days later, EU leaders will deal once more with the bloc’s relationship with Turkey.
Since the last European Council in March, member states decided to follow a dual-track approach toward Ankara, aiming to promote a positive agenda on issues such as the upgrade of the Customs Union and the EU-Turkey Statement on Migration.
In parallel, the EU is monitoring Turkey’s behavior toward Greece and Cyprus, following last summer’s escalation by Ankara when it sent seismic vessels in maritime areas close to Greek islands, violating the sovereign rights of both states and sparking regional tensions. 
Is there hope for a more sustained and viable relationship in the region?
“There is an obvious de-escalation with regard to Turkey’s illegal activities in disputed waters, but Ankara continues its provocative rhetoric, threatening Greece on a regular basis,” said Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute of International Relations at Athens’ Panteion University.
He added: “The core problem, though, is that despite diplomatic efforts and the resumption of exploratory talks, the two sides have avoided dealing with the fundamental problems that have negatively affected bilateral ties for decades. But at the same time, it is convenient to demonstrate that tensions are under control.”
Many experts believe that Ankara wants closer ties with the EU, even for opportunistic reasons, as the Turkish economy is facing increasing problems.
“The upcoming European summit is expected to once again examine relations with Turkey. Sanctions may be out of the question, but I do not foresee any drastic development in refreshing the EU-Turkey agenda,” said Filis.
“The Biden factor is certainly crucial. His insistence on human rights and democracy rendered it imperative that the Europeans follow. So, in such an environment, and given Ankara’s constant retreat from European values, unleashing the so-called positive agenda will not be an easy task. The EU needs a more solid approach on behalf of Turkey. The revision of the joint statement of March 2016 addressing the migration crisis might be considered,” he added.
George Pagoulatos, a politics professor and director of prominent Greek think tank ELIAMEP, said: “The European Council on March 25 outlined its readiness to positively engage with Turkey in a ‘phased, proportionate and reversible manner,’ subject to the conditions set out in previous European Council conclusions.
“There are a number of ‘low-politics’ areas of cooperation, including public health, climate, counterterrorism and migration management. This dual approach is the right framework; a positive agenda highly conditional on Turkey’s actions, given its track record of rule of law violations and provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Could an upgrade of the Customs Union deliver a win-win solution for all sides? “The Customs Union is the only institutionalized instrument that remains important for both the EU and Turkey, given the density of trade relations,” Pagoulatos said.
“There is a strong incentive, especially on Turkey’s part, to update the Customs Union. This in itself offers an opportunity to strengthen political and economic ties in EU relations with Turkey,” he added.


Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank
Updated 14 May 2021

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank
  • Witnesses said police fired tear gas and shot into the air to halt about 500 young demonstrators
  • Several thousand demonstrators also took to the streets after Friday prayers in Amman chanting anti-Israel slogans

KARAMEH: Jordanian riot police on Friday forcibly dispersed hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters trying to reach a bridge that leads to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Witnesses said police fired tear gas and shot into the air to halt about 500 young demonstrators, who broke away from the scheduled route of a march near the borders organized to protest Israeli attacks against Palestinians.
The demonstrators were within five km (three miles) of the King Hussein Bridge, known in Israel as the Allenby Bridge, in the Jordan Valley opposite the Palestinian city of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Witnesses said about 2,000 people took part in the protest, arranged by a mix of opposition parties and tribal groups in a kingdom where passions are running high since the escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israel.
“Oh King Abdullah, open the borders,” protesters chanted.
Several thousand demonstrators also took to the streets after Friday prayers from the main Husseini mosque in central Amman chanting anti-Israel slogans.
They called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and scrapping of an unpopular peace treaty with Israel.
Hundreds of mosques held prayers for those killed in Gaza.
Most of Jordan’s 10 million citizens are of Palestinian origin. They or their parents were expelled or fled to Jordan in the fighting that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948.
They have close family ties with their kin on the other side of the Jordan River in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.