Lebanon’s tourism sector seeks relief to recover from lockdown

Lebanon’s tourism sector seeks relief to recover from lockdown
A city sightseeing bus is pictured parked outside Beirut's landmark Mohammad al-Amin mosque on May 20, 2019. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 03 May 2021

Lebanon’s tourism sector seeks relief to recover from lockdown

Lebanon’s tourism sector seeks relief to recover from lockdown
  • Authorities urged to ease measures on outdoor spaces

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s tourism sector is seeking an ease in lockdown restrictions so businesses can stay afloat, amid warnings from medical experts and health officials to pay heed to India’s coronavirus catastrophe to avert a deeper crisis.

Jean Beiruti, secretary-general of the Tourism and Trade Unions Federation, said Lebanon had succeeded in gradually reducing the number of COVID-19 infections which would encourage tourism establishments to soon resume their work.

“We call on the authorities to ease measures in open places such as swimming pools, restaurants and outdoor cafes, and extend the opening times until after midnight instead of 9:30 p.m.,” he told Arab News.

Although domestic tourism did not cover all losses, it was sufficient to keep the sector going, he said.

Beiruti said that Lebanon was facing challenging times because of the pandemic and a “stifling economic crisis.”

The crisis had caused 50 percent of tourism establishments to close down or suffer severely, he added, and the tourism sector constituted 20 percent of national income.

“Our problem today is political. If the difficulties are resolved, the country will recover economically. But until the matter is resolved, we depend today on domestic tourism.”

His remarks came as daily Ministry of Health statistics indicated a decrease in the number of deaths and new coronavirus infections. It will resume a total lockdown and curfew for the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

Lebanon’s total number of coronavirus infections exceed 500,000 and the death toll has reached 7,278.

“Despite all the improvement in the pandemic situation in Lebanon, we are still in the fourth pandemic classification, which is a dangerous classification,” said Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the National Committee for the Administration of the Coronavirus Vaccine.

But the country could move to a different classification if the number of infections continued to decrease, he added.

Our problem today is political. If the difficulties are resolved, the country will recover economically. But until the matter is resolved, we depend today on domestic tourism.

Jean Beiruti

“We may move to the third classification, which means that gatherings will be allowed for 10 people, more customers will be allowed in restaurants and the opening times of tourism and commercial establishments will be prolonged," he told Arab News. "We may, within a month or two, reach the second classification but it depends on the implementation of measures similarly in all regions, and this is what we see happening during the implementation of the total lockdown so far."

He emphasized that citizens needed to understand that they were the “basis for confronting coronavirus.”

Lebanon’s vaccination rollout is no more than 6.3 percent through the Ministry of Health’s program, in addition to the programs being carried out by the private sector at its own expense to vaccinate workers.

These efforts raise the vaccination rollout to approximately 10 percent for the first dose and 3.5 percent for the second.

But Bizri considered this percentage to be “impressive” and attributed the slow inoculation rate to the late arrival of vaccine batches.

He anticipated that a million doses would arrive in June but insisted that people needed to stick to preventive measures while immunity was being built up.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan announced on Sunday that Lebanon had taken measures to restrict the spread of the Indian variant by making travelers from there observe a 14-day quarantine in a third country before entering Lebanese territory.

Although the virus spread rapidly, it had the same symptoms and the existing vaccines covered it, the minister said.

Dr. Firas Al-Abyad is the director of the Hariri Governmental University Hospital, which specializes in receiving coronavirus patients.

He warned of “indolence” with preventive measures and “individual recklessness,” stressing the need to draw lessons from India’s COVID-19 catastrophe in order to avert a deeper crisis in Lebanon.

“The virus comes as a wave, but sometimes it comes like a tsunami. This is what happened in India. The acquired immunity from previous infections does not last for a long time and vaccination rates are low, which does not help in reaching the required community immunity. Our situation is not better than the situation in India, which has a good health system, but the tidal wave of coronavirus led to the collapse of this system.”

Lebanon had almost faced a similar situation, he added, but came back from “the edge of the abyss.”

 


Lebanese president disavows foreign minister’s comments on Gulf states

Lebanese president disavows foreign minister’s comments on Gulf states
Lebanese President Michel Aoun. (Supplied)
Updated 6 min 6 sec ago

Lebanese president disavows foreign minister’s comments on Gulf states

Lebanese president disavows foreign minister’s comments on Gulf states
  • The minister has expressed his personal opinion, which in ‘no way’ reflected the position of Lebanon and its president

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Tuesday distanced himself from his foreign affairs minister who appeared to suggest that Gulf states were responsible for the rise of Daesh, as Saudi Arabia issued a strongly worded statement denouncing the minister’s “shameful insults.”  
Foreign Affairs Minister Charbel Wehbe has sparked fury and condemnation after telling Al-Hurra TV on Monday: “There is a second stage when ISIS (Daesh) came, and the countries of the people of love, friendship, and brotherhood brought them. The countries of love brought us Daesh and planted it for us in the Nineveh Plains, Anbar, and Palmyra.”
When he disliked comments from a Saudi guest during the same interview, Wehbe decided to leave the show and criticized “the Bedouins.”
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry condemned Wehbe’s statements that “bashed the Kingdom and its people, the shameful insults to the Kingdom, its people, and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries.”
It said Wehbe’s statements were “inconsistent with the simplest diplomatic norms” and were not consistent with the external relations between the “two brotherly peoples.”
It also said it had summoned the Lebanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Fawzi Kabbara, “to express the Kingdom’s rejection and condemnation of the Lebanese foreign minister’s insults, and it handed him a protest note.”
Aoun was quick to disavow Wehbe’s comments, saying the minister had expressed his personal opinion, which in “no way” reflected the position of Lebanon and its president, who was “keen to reject what harms brotherly and friendly countries in general, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in particular.”
Wehbe tried to contain the crisis by saying he was “surprised by the incorrect interpretations” of his words and that he “did not refer to the brothers in the Arab Gulf states” nor did he name any country.
He then issued a statement in which he admitted “using inappropriate expressions in an emotional moment, rejecting the unacceptable offenses directed at the president of the republic.”
The minister added that he would not hesitate to apologize for the expressions, stressing that “the intention was not to offend any of the brotherly Arab states or peoples. We all make mistakes.”
Wehbe’s interview remarks went viral on social media, provoking harsh comments that described him as “an idiot and a fool” and accused him of “falsifying history.”
His remarks shocked politicians, clerics, and economists inside and outside Lebanon, especially those working in the Gulf states.
The media office of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said: “Wehbe’s words have nothing to do with diplomatic action and are a reckless round of tampering with foreign policies and this would result in severe consequences for Lebanon and the interests of its people in the Arab countries.”
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian also criticized the minister. “Defamation, slander, and insults are not acceptable,” he said. “Whoever attacks the Kingdom and the rest of the Gulf states is attacking Lebanon. How can relations between brothers and siblings be built?”
The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt called the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, to denounce Wehbe’s “offensive and irresponsible statement,” while the leader of the Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea said the minister was supposed to be the foreign minister of Lebanon but “ended up being the foreign minister of Hezbollah.”
Geagea said that those who brought Daesh to prominence were Iran and the Syrian regime. “The first enemy of Daesh and its sisters is the Saudi leadership and other Islamic leaders,” he added, recalling Saudi Arabia’s support for Lebanon.
The media office of businessman Bahaa Hariri held the president and whoever brought him to power responsible for the “grave mistakes that affected Lebanon’s relations” with the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.


Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 May 2021

Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Yemeni news media say Houthis concede to more than 500 deaths among fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13
  • Houthis move troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up depleted forces after fighters abandon their recruitment campaigns, military source says

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi military offensive on Yemen’s central city of Marib has tapered off as the rebels have suffered heavy casualties, defections and stiff resistance from Yemen’s army and allied tribesmen, three military sources told Arab News.

Houthis have been mounting a major offensive on the city of Marib since February in a bid to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country, which contains rich oil reserves, gas fields and big electricity stations. 

The offensive has claimed the lives of thousands of combatants on both sides and triggered a huge displacement from contested areas in and around Marib. 

This week, Yemeni military officials say the intensity of the Houthi offensive has largely eased up for the first time since February as the rebels have dispatched fewer fighters and military equipment to the battlefields. 

“The Houthi attacks on Marib have decreased in May compared to April,” Yemeni army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili told Arab News on Tuesday.

During the past four months, the Houthis have rejected local and international calls for stopping their deadly assault on Marib amid warnings that their invasion of the strategic city would aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen. The city hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people who have fled fighting or Houthi crackdown in their home cities and villages. 

Yemeni officials believe the Houthis in the Marib province have been weakened by heavy casualties, intensive airstrikes, attritions and local tribes’ reluctance to join the fighting. 

Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen's army’s military media, told Arab News that the growing number of deaths among Houthis in Marib has prompted many Yemenis to reject Houthi calls for fighting government troops. 

“The Houthi attacks (in Marib) have decreased. People have refused to join their ranks as a result of the massacres that took place in recent battles in Marib,” Al-Hatemi said. 

Arab coalition warplanes have long been credited for foiling Houthi attempts to advance on the ground by targeting rebels’ reinforcements and military locations, Yemeni military officials say.

The government’s news media said the Houthis have officially admitted to the deaths of more than 500 fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13.

Based on Houthi media reports, Al-Masdr Online, a popular Yemeni news site, said the rebels had arranged funeral processions for 522 fighters. That number includes many high-ranking military leaders who were killed in fighting with government troops or by Arab coalition airstrikes in Marib between April 13 and May 12.

A military source with contacts inside Houthi-controlled territories told Arab News the Houthis have moved troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up their depleted forces after fighters abandoned their recruitment campaigns.

“Many people abandoned their weapons and returned to their houses after the Houthis lied about making victory in Marib. Those who are fighting in Marib came from other battlefields,” said the military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

At the same time, the Yemeni government and military officials have warned that the Houthis are trying to cash in on the growing resentment in Yemen toward the Israeli military operations in Gaza. They are using that conflict to recruit new fighters and raise funds for their weakened offensive in Marib.

“We warn citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi militia against falling victim to the Houthi exploitation and misinformation which uses the Palestinian cause and the tragedy of our steadfast Palestinian people in the occupied territories for making political gains with the aim of prolonging the war in Yemen and continuing to kill Yemenis,” Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, wrote on Twitter.

The Yemeni government has once again threatened more military operations if the rebels do not halt their offensive on Marib and continue to reject peace initiatives. 

During a meeting with French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa in Riyadh on Monday, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, Sultan Al-Barkani, warned that the Yemeni government could intensify military options until the Houthis accept UN- and US-brokered peace ideas and cease their attacks on Yemeni civilians.


General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
Updated 18 May 2021

General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
  • Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranges Tuesday protest in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank
  • Different Palestinian factions join the strike as laborers and professionals stay home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy

AMMAN: Residents of Gaza and the West Bank held a historic general strike on Tuesday that reflected the unity of the Palestinian people.

The Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranged the protest as the call was picked up by all the Palestinian communities that have been targeted by unprecedented and unrelenting Israeli shelling over the past two weeks.

Palestinians laborers and professionals stayed home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy. The Committee of East Jerusalem Merchants put out a statement calling on all shops to close as Palestinians of all walks of life adhered to the protest call.

Mohammad Baraka, head of the Higher Follow-up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel, told Arab News that the strike idea was agreed upon in a meeting in Jaffa on Sunday.

“As soon as we announced our decision, we got calls from different Palestinian factions, led by Fatah, which wanted to join the strike call,” he said. “Others also followed and the strike encompassed all of historic Palestine.”

Officials said the strike was in response to the brutal Israeli attack on the Al-Aqsa compound, Israeli efforts to evict Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the “attacks against our people in Israel.”

According to Baraka, more than 1,000 Palestinian youth have been imprisoned and 200 have been charged during the conflict while only 150 Jewish people have been picked up and none have been charged.

“The deeper meaning of this strike is that anyone who wants to break the Palestinian spirit because of the weakness of the Arab world will be disappointed,” Baraka said. “Armies may lose a war but people never lose.”

Vera Baboun, former mayor of Bethlehem and member of the Palestine National Council, called the strike historic. 

“The May 18 strike is a protest of our dignity that shines the light on 73 years of violations to our people’s rights in the occupied territories and in the 1948 areas,” she said.

Khalil El-Halabim, whose son was jailed for allegedly diverting money to Hamas, told Arab News that the strike has united all Palestinians. 

“Our goals are clearly united now,” he said. “This strike has illustrated the fact that the Palestinian cause has returned to center stage on the international community’s political agenda.”

Adnan Tarabshe, a Galilee-based theater actor, told Arab News that the strike reflected Palestinian anger but had a much more significant purpose. 

“It destroyed the claims by (former fourth Israeli premier) Golda Meir that older people will die and the young will forget,” he said. “The Palestinian people are here to stay and will not forget.”

Ghassan Khatib, the former Palestinian minister of labor, said the strike was a rejection of the racist Israeli policy toward Palestinians. 

“It is a reflection of the failure of Israel in absorbing Palestinians in the 1948 areas or oppressing Jerusalemites and Palestinians in the West Bank,” he told Arab News.

Khatib blamed the US for the Israeli arrogance “that we are witnessing now.”

Salah Zuheika, a political activist in Jerusalem, compared the strike to the Land Day Protest that was held on March 30, 1976, which is an important date on the Palestinian national calendar.

Jerusalem-based Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna told Arab News that the strike sent a message to all Palestinians to protest against unjust Israeli policies, especially the destruction in Gaza. 

“Children and elderly, men and women are all being attacked,” he said. “This strike was a civilized and effective way to send a message to the world that we seek peace with justice.”

William Tarazi, a Gaza-based businessman, told Arab News: “The strike was a simple response. We do not need only a strike or protest. We need a holistic approach that includes political and military actions as well as protests.”

Radi Jirai, a Fatah activist who supports the one-state solution, told Arab News that the strike was another sign that the Palestinian national identity has survived despite Zionist attempts. 

“This unity of Palestinians paves the way for a new Palestinian strategy based on the unity of the people and land in Palestine,” he said. “It is the defeat of the Zionist program and stresses the need for a single democratic state to be established on the ruins of the Zionist apartheid.”

Tourism businesswoman from Jerusalem, Margo Tarazi, believed the strike showed Israel that the Palestinian people are united. 

“Israel and our leaders have seen that after 73 years, the people of Palestine are united from the sea to the river (the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) and we will get our legitimate rights through our unity,” she told Arab News.


Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
Updated 18 May 2021

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
  • El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza

CAIRO: Egypt is allocating $500 million for reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes, with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi saying that specialist Egyptian firms would contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

“We will work to solve the crisis,” El-Sisi said on the sidelines of a conference in Paris. “There is hope for collective action to end the conflict.”

El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza to find out what their needs are and fulfill them.

Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing through which travelers, students and those wishing to receive medical treatment have begun arriving.

Egypt is leading mediation efforts to reach a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.


UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
Updated 18 May 2021

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
  • The move is part of the UAE's "proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society”
  • The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73% of the eligible population

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday it would offer a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drug-maker Sinopharm for those who have already received two doses.
The move is part of the UAE’s “proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said, with priority given to those aged above 60 or suffering a chronic disease.
The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73 percent of the eligible population, NCEMA said. The UAE is providing four vaccines for free but does not provide a breakdown for each one.
The UAE, a regional business and tourism hub, on Tuesday reported 1,270 new coronavirus infections to take the total to 548,681 cases with 1,637 deaths.
The World Health Organization, which last week approved Sinopharm for emergency use, has said a large Phase III trial of Sinopharm had shown that two doses, administered at an interval of 21 days, have an efficacy of 79 percent against symptomatic infection, 14 or more days after the second dose.
The UAE has started manufacturing the Chinese vaccine under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.