Nasrallah defies Lebanese state, says he will import Iranian oil

Nasrallah defies Lebanese state, says he will import Iranian oil
An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 8, 2021, shows the leader of the Lebanese Shiite party Hassan Nasrallah delivering a televised speech from an undisclosed location. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2021

Nasrallah defies Lebanese state, says he will import Iranian oil

Nasrallah defies Lebanese state, says he will import Iranian oil
  • MP Bilal Abdallah said the suffering of the Lebanese people ‘should not be used to establish stronger bridges with Iran’

BEIRUT: In a speech seen as an act of defiance against the Lebanese state and the US, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday insisted that Lebanon should be “negotiating with Iran to buy gasoline and diesel with the Lebanese currency if Lebanon’s shortages persist.”

Seemingly unconcerned about the possibility that this might result in international sanctions being imposed on Lebanon, he said, during a televised speech: “Shipments of fuel will arrive at Beirut’s port, and let the state prevent their access to Lebanon.”

Nasrallah’s speech came hours after reports that the Iraqi government has agreed to double a previous promise to supply Lebanon with oil, from 500,000 to 1 million tons. His comments provoked varying reactions among the Lebanese public. Some were surprised and some rejected the idea of buying oil from Iran, given the risk of sanctions. Washington still has sanctions in place on Iran and has designated the military and political wings of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

“Nasrallah used a high tone when he talked about bringing fuel from Iran,” MP Bilal Abdallah told Arab News. “The Lebanese are suffering from shortages in drugs, food and fuel. Their suffering should not be used to establish stronger bridges with Iran.”

He said such matters “should be discussed within the state, as the Iraqis did. When things happen outside the framework of the state and parliament, I am not sure they can be beneficial for the country.”

Abdallah added: “People’s suffering cannot be used for political purposes that affect Lebanon’s relations with its neighbors and the international community.”

Elias Hankhash, a politician who along with his Kataeb Party colleagues resigned from the parliament after the Beirut explosion last year in protest against government negligence, said that “Hezbollah controls all the state’s assets, including the illegal border crossings and the legal facilities and is a cover for the corrupt mafia.”

He blamed Hezbollah “for the bankruptcy, hunger and the international isolation the Lebanese are facing” and said that “buying fuel from Iran exposes Lebanon to sanctions and more isolation.”

He added: “It would be better for them to bring the fuel directly to Syria and stop the smuggling from Lebanon into Syria. We know exactly who is behind the smuggling of subsidized goods from Lebanon, which has humiliated the Lebanese waiting in never-ending queues at gas stations to fill their cars.”

During his speech, Nasrallah had attempted to show sympathy for the Lebanese public by saying that “humiliating the people is unacceptable.”

Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, on Wednesday thanked Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi for “his government’s approval to support Lebanon with fuel, increasing the support from 500,000 tons to 1 million tons, to meet half of Lebanon’s yearly fuel needs.”

Lebanon’s Central Bank had refused to open lines of credit to pay for fuel imports, leading to an electricity crisis.

Mark Ayoub, an expert on energy affairs in Lebanon and the Middle East, told Arab News: “In the absence of political solutions to the current crisis, nobody can oppose Lebanon resorting to foreign countries to secure fuel and overcome this difficult period.”

However, he said Nasrallah’s suggestion of working with the Iranian regime was an act of defiance against those who want to help the Lebanese people.

“Lebanon is in a state of emergency, and if we do not get the support we need the country will soon plunge into total darkness and will be completely isolated from the rest of the world,” he said.

On Tuesday, Nasrallah indirectly suggested that the formation of a new government will take a long time yet, dashing hopes of success for efforts by Berri to mediate between prime minister-designate Saad Hariri and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil.

The previous Lebanese government resigned in August last year amid public anger about the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port that destroyed a large section of the city. President Michel Aoun and Hariri have been unable to agree the formation of a new government, as they disagree on who should get to name the two Christian ministers. Aoun insists on naming them but Hariri says that this goes against the constitution and would give Aoun control of a “blocking third” of government portfolios, allowing him to block any proposal that requires a two-thirds majority.

On Wednesday, rumors that Hariri was ready to abandon the negotiations caused another spike in the dollar’s black market exchange rate, where it was selling for between 14,500 and 14,600 Lebanese pounds. Angry Lebanese people took to the streets once again to protest against the economic crisis and their poor living conditions.


Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
Updated 41 min 30 sec ago

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
  • The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new prime minister-designate Najib Mikati started consultations with leading political parties Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.
The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.
The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August and efforts to agree on a new lineup have proved fruitless.
The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst crises since the mid-19th century.
On Tuesday, Mikati met with top political parties, including the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.
Following their meeting, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said his party is ready to “seriously cooperate” with the new PM-designate.
“What is required is speedy cabinet formation and cooperation from all parties toward that end,” Raad told reporters.
FPM chief Gebran Bassil, accused by critics of repeatedly obstructing efforts to form a new government, said his party has decided “not to participate in the next cabinet, which means we will not get involved in the formation process.”
In an interview with the An-Nahar newspaper, Mikati vowed his lineup would be “purely technical” and tasked with bridging the gap to elections due next year.
Several lawmakers, including deputy speaker Elie Ferzli, on Tuesday, backed this push.
“The government will consist of specialists,” Ferzli said. “As for the nominating process, it will rest on Mikati and his agreements with the president.”
The designation of the 65-year-old Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man and to many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, was met with general skepticism.
A native of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest, he was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.
“How can I trust a thief who stole from me and my children and their future?” asked 57-year-old Beirut resident Mohammed Deeb, after Mikati’s designation.
“As long as this (political) class is still in power, nothing will change.”
On Sunday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s Beirut home, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.
Lebanon’s former colonial ruler France and other Western governments stopped short of welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to swiftly deliver a competent lineup.
But Lebanon’s bickering politicians view Mikati as a consensus candidate, who may be capable of easing a political deadlock that has stymied efforts toward forming a government.
Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, promised his government would work on implementing a French roadmap conditioning a huge aid package on reform and transparency.
Tuesday’s meetings with the parliamentary blocs are the customary official step that follows a new prime minister’s designation but the high-stakes horse-trading has yet to begin.
In some of his first comments after his designation, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.
Lebanon can no longer provide mains electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day nor can it afford to buy the fuel needed to power generators.
Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad program of reforms have so far been met.
Further stalling the bankrupt state’s recapitalization has been the government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a fully-fledged rescue plan.
Until then, the monetary institution is due to send around $900 million as part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid financing scheme to help Lebanon recover.
Experts have warned however that the amount would not be enough and risked being misused by a ruling class that offers no more guarantees of transparency than before.
According to the Al-Akhbar newspaper, Mikati wants to use the IMF money to build new plants aimed at stabilising Lebanon’s power supply.


Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
Updated 42 min 27 sec ago

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
  • The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier
  • The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week

TEHRAN: Iran recorded over 34,900 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, setting the nation’s single-day record for cases as vaccinations lag, public complacency deepens and the country’s outbreak spirals further out of control.
The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier, providing a sense of how quickly Iran’s latest surge, fueled by the contagious delta variant, is mounting. Health authorities recorded 357 COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 89,479 — the highest in the Middle East.
The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week. The government ordered the closure of state offices, public places and non-essential businesses in the capital of Tehran. But as with previous government measures, the lockdown looked very little like a lockdown at all. Tehran’s malls and markets were busy as usual and workers crowded offices and metro stations.
Iranian authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population that can little afford to bear them. The country, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Now, health officials warn that hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed with breathless COVID patients too numerous to handle. Fewer than 3 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated in the sanctions-hit country. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.


UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
Updated 27 July 2021

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
  • An additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19

DUBAI: The UAE reported on Tuesday 1,539 additional COVID-19 infections and two deaths overnight as total coronavirus cases in the country reached 674,724, including 1,929 fatalities related to the highly infection disease.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) also said that 296,686 COVID-19 tests were done over the past 24 hours, as the UAE expands testing capacities nationwide to ensure earlier detection of coronavirus cases so the necessary treatment of patients could undertaken.
MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 652,180.
Health officials earlier said the UAE has provided 16,524,169 COVID-19 vaccines doses, for a vaccine distribution rate of 167.07 doses per 100 people.
About 77.88 percent of the Emirates’ population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19, while 68.93 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Abu Dhabi from August 20 would allow only vaccinated people access to some public places including shopping centers, restaurants, cafes and all other retail outlets, which officials said was designed to safeguard public health and curb the spread of COVID-19.
In Dubai, hotels have been allowed to operate up to full occupancy while entertainment were allowed to increase capacity to 70 per cent.
Weddings are allowed to have guests of up to 100 people at venues and hotels, but all staff and guests must be vaccinated. Private gatherings have been limited to 30 guests.


EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
Updated 27 July 2021

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
  • Borrell pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Tuesday called for a speedy return to political stability in Tunisia after the country plunged into turmoil following the president’s ousting of the prime minister.
“The European Union is following developments in Tunisia with the greatest attention,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence.”
Borrell insisted that “the preservation of democracy and the stability of the country are priorities,” and pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The young North African democracy, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday after President Kais Saied dismissed premier Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup.”
Saied then sacked the defense minister and justice minister.
The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response, as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.


Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
Updated 27 July 2021

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
  • Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies
  • Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron’s phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
“Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO,” it said.
Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies like Pegasus.
A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers’ efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.