Cars erupt in flames in Beirut airport carpark, stockpiled petrol likely cause, local media report

Cars erupt in flames in Beirut airport carpark, stockpiled petrol likely cause, local media report
With petrol in short supply, residents have regularly been lined up for hours over the past two weeks to fill their tanks. (Twitter)
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Updated 17 June 2021

Cars erupt in flames in Beirut airport carpark, stockpiled petrol likely cause, local media report

Cars erupt in flames in Beirut airport carpark, stockpiled petrol likely cause, local media report
  • The fire is under investigation, but Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces could not be reached for comment.

DUBAI: Thick plumes of black smoke filled the air as a blaze ripped through three cars in the car park of Beirut’s international airport on Thursday.

Initial reports in local media suggested the cause of the fire was due to petrol stored inside one of the vehicles.

It is thought that the fuel was likely stored in several cans being used to stockpile petrol which has recently become a hot commodity in Lebanon, due to shortages.

Reports suggest the fuel somehow ignited and spread to two other cars parked nearby – although Arab News has been unable to independently verify this.

No injuries were reported, an emergency worker stationed at the airport told Arab News.

The fire is under investigation, but Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces could not be reached for comment.

Petrol stations across Lebanon have been running on low supply for weeks as the central bank struggles to meet subsidy needs.

With petrol in short supply, residents have regularly been lined up for hours over the past two weeks to fill their tanks.

Public officials have advised people not to stockpile petrol in take-home containers, which have caused a spike in accidental fires.

Last month, a residential building in a Beirut suburb caught fire after a resident hoarded the attractive commodity. 


US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
Updated 15 sec ago

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
  • Talks focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and to address economic stability and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen
  • US says has to fully consider humanitarian implications to designating Houthis as terrorist entity

LONDON: The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with senior UK and Gulf officials in London, as part of his first tour of 2022 to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN.
During talks with the British Minister for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, the two sides stressed they are “committed to working together to advance a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict, help stabilize the economy, and support urgent steps to ease the humanitarian crisis.”
The US envoy also took part in a UK-hosted Quint meeting to discuss the situation in Yemen with senior representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Britain, along with UN special envoy Hans Grundberg.

Lenderking was in Riyadh, the UAE and Oman last week, where he focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and the protection of all civilians, bringing the parties together to support a UN-led inclusive peace process, and doing more to address economic stability, humanitarian assistance access and fuel shortages, a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.
His visit comes as the Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The US has repeatedly pledged to continue to work with their partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help them defend against these deplorable Houthi attacks, the State Department said.

However, increased calls from regional allies are putting pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to relist the Houthis as a terrorist organization one year after it reversed a last-minute decision by former President Donald Trump to designate the militia.
“We will continue to work with our allies and partners in the region especially to promote accountability for the Houthis, for those Houthi leaders that have been behind these terrorist attacks,” the State Department said.
It added that the the Houthis’ redesignation as an “international terrorist organization” is “under review” and the US is expected to implement additional steps, including sanctions, to hold Houthi leaders accountable.
But when asked by Arab News about the possibility that the Biden administration will relist the militia, it said: “The United States remains committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen and would have to fully consider the humanitarian implications.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price had also said that they not going to relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that threaten civilians and regional stability and perpetuate the conflict, who are responsible for some of the human rights abuses or the violations of international humanitarian law.
“When you talk about the humanitarian crisis, there is one actor that is primarily responsible for the suffering of the Yemeni people, the widespread suffering of the Yemeni people. And that is the Houthis,” Price told reporters at a press briefing.
He added they are using every appropriate tool to hold the Houthis to account.
The State Department reiterated the American condemnation of the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and said it remained committed to solving the Yemeni conflict.
“Helping advance a durable resolution that ends the conflict in Yemen, improves Yemeni lives, and creates the space for Yemenis to collectively determine their own future remains a top US foreign policy priority,” it said.


Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
Updated 54 min 48 sec ago

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
  • Arab News told announcement on appointment of ambassadors possible before Israeli president’s trip

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has predicted the start of a positive “new period” in relations with Israel when his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog visits Turkey next month.

During a televised interview, the Turkish leader announced that Herzog would make the trip to Ankara before mid-February, prompting speculation among analysts that a move on the appointment of ambassadors to both countries could be imminent.

Although precise dates for the visit have not yet been revealed, it will mark the highest-level trip by an Israeli official to Turkey for years when then-Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara on the invitation of then-PM Erdogan.

In his nighttime TV announcement, Erdogan said: “With this visit, a new period can begin in Israel-Turkey relations.”

According to experts, any success in turning a new page in the fragile relationship between the two nations will depend on several factors, including the re-exchanging of envoys, and restrictions on Hamas’ activities in Turkey.

Herzog and Erdogan have spoken three times by phone since July, both passing on friendly messages, and last week Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, the first time such communication had taken place between the two nations’ foreign ministers in 13 years.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News that the appointment of ambassadors would be a concrete first step toward the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“There is some Israeli concern with the choice of ambassador on the Turkish side, but this is an issue that can be resolved,” she said.

She noted that any significant improvement in the COVID-19 situation could potentially cause friction over the entrance of certain Turkish citizens to Israel.

“Israel might deny entry to those it suspects are contributing to igniting tensions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Turkey will likely claim these people are innocent visitors.

“While a report that surfaced this week of Turkish willingness to curb some of Hamas’ orchestrated military activity from its territory is welcomed news in Israel, a negative development in this realm will be an additional cause of friction between Israel and Turkey,” Lindenstrauss added.

To what extent Turkey’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause, including settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, will be reconciled within the rapprochement process is still unknown.

Potential energy projects between the two countries are also on the negotiation table especially after Washington recently decided to withdraw support for the Israeli-Greek East Med pipeline. Following the decision, Erdogan said Turkey was ready to work with Israel on reviving gas transfer to Europe via Turkish soil.

Ankara is eager to diversify its energy resources in the wake of Iran’s sudden move to cut gas flows to Turkey and in the face of a threat to gas imports posed by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

“With regard to Turkish statements on renewal of the option of Israel exporting natural gas to Turkey and from there to Europe, it is not clear if developments since 2016 connected to Israel’s gas exports to and through Egypt, as well as recent developments surrounding the Arab pipeline, do not preclude such a pipeline,” Lindenstrauss said.

On the importance of Herzog’s visit, she added: “When Shimon Peres visited Turkey in 2007, he and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, gave speeches one after the other in front of the Turkish Parliament. This was the first speech of an Israeli leader in a Muslim-majority country’s parliament.

“Thus, it will be a good reminder that Ankara is capable of playing a more balanced role with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the benefits of such a more dispassionate stance.”

Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News that Herzog’s visit would be important for Turkey in overcoming its ongoing diplomatic isolation and improving relations with regional countries.

She said: “An announcement about the appointment of ambassadors may be expected before Herzog’s visit. Actually, it is just a technical detail. Both countries didn’t downgrade their diplomatic relations, they just called back their ambassadors.”

During the upcoming meeting in Ankara, Nasi expected the Palestinian issue, energy, trade, tourism, and regional security, including East Med balances, Syria, Iran, and Libya, to be high on the agenda.

“Ankara would prefer conditioning its rapprochement with Israel with the improvement in living conditions of Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel would expect from Turkey a step forward in terms of Hamas activities in the country,” she added.

Nasi pointed out that Israel had never closed its door to any dialogue opportunity with Turkey. “But its prerequisite is clear: Turkey should stop its support to Hamas. Israel therefore expects clear reassurances from the Turkish side.”

Meanwhile, experts believe that a resolution to the Cyprus issue will be the key to moving forward with any energy project between the two countries.

Nasi said: “The energy topic is preferred by the politicians because it creates a positive agenda in the public opinion of both countries.”

Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE on Feb. 14 as another step toward mending his country’s frayed ties with countries in the region.


Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
Updated 27 January 2022

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
  • President Aoun monitors aid effort as entire towns and villages are cut off
  • Japan donates $1.8 million to support UNICEF humanitarian aid programs

BEIRUT: People across Lebanon have been left stranded and struggling to find fuel for heating as snowstorm Yasmine continues to wreak havoc.

President Michel Aoun’s media office said he had instructed the relevant authorities to provide assistance to people in affected areas and had been following the work of military, security and civil agencies as they sought to clear roads.

As the storm intensified on Wednesday night, entire cities and villages in the Bekaa and northern regions were cut off, while power cuts left residents without heating.

Snow fell at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, leaving dozens of towns along the eastern and western mountain chains isolated. Most main and mountain roads at an altitude of 1,100 meters and above were completely cut off.

Snow also engulfed the runways at Beirut Airport, though did not prevent operations, and covered beaches in the northern cities of Byblos and Beirut and the southern city of Sidon.

Also in Sidon, firefighters rushed to tackle a blaze after a school bus was set on fire by lightning.

Along the banks of the Hasbani River in Shebaa and the neighboring villages of Arqoub the snowfall was recorded at up to a meter deep.

Footage shot in some of the worst affected areas went viral on social media.

In some regions the authorities issued warnings to motorists against driving as the freezing temperatures covered roads with ice.

The Ministry of Public Works warned people against trying to find alternative routes around snow-blocked roads until the authorities had clarified the situation and issued guidance.

The director-general of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, said the agency had responded to multiple calls from around the country, while the army said it was helping to get fuel to people in need and clear snow from roads.

Meanwhile, many people have complained about not being able to buy gas or diesel to heat their homes as they have become too expensive and too scarce.

Many gas stations ran out of diesel, which is mainly used for heating in mountain regions, as the price of a 20-liter canister reached $17.

Some people resorted to burning charcoal, while those less fortunate did their best to stay warm by wrapping themselves in blankets.

“The lack of heating is not limited to mountainous areas, but rather to cities and Beirut in particular,” a Civil Defense worker told Arab News.

“In poor homes we found children and the elderly curled up with only blankets,” the person said.

Speaking about the diesel shortage, Economy Minister Amin Salam said: “Those who try to monopolize diesel will be pursued, especially in mountainous areas.”

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad spoke of “violations committed by diesel distributors who do not abide by the specified fees.”

“There is an active black market taking commissions of up to 10 or 15 percent,” he said. “This is a crime. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and measures must be taken against them.”

One of the groups to be worst hit by the bad weather were the Syrian refugees — especially those in barren areas of Bekaa — whose flimsy plastic tents were left covered in snow.

UNICEF said on Thursday that Japan had contributed $1.8 million for humanitarian aid through the Adolescent and Youth, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene programs in Lebanon.

The money would be used to help 35,000 vulnerable children and families, it said.

Over the next two months, when temperatures at high altitude can fall to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), UNICEF will distribute blankets and warm clothing to vulnerable people with limited or no access to heating, as well as continuing to provide water and sanitation services within Bekaa.

Okubo Takeshi, Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, said: “We are fully aware of the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon where true victims are always vulnerable children and families.

“As they face the harsh winter conditions, Japan has decided to strengthen its interventions through UNICEF to alleviate their sufferings. I hope they receive our message through the assistance that the international community will be there with you at all times.”

Takeshi then tweeted: “No winter lasts forever, nor will the Lebanese crisis. Relief must come. May God protect Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s acting Information and Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said the Cabinet’s discussions of the government’s 2022 draft budget would be completed by Friday.


Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
Updated 27 January 2022

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
  • The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions
  • The cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to”

JERUSALEM: An autopsy has found that a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was pronounced dead shortly after being detained by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank died of a heart attack caused by “external violence.”
The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions. But it also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound, and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, concluded that the cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.”
Asaad was detained while returning home from a social gathering at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 12 by Israeli soldiers who had set up a flying checkpoint in his home village of Jiljiliya. It’s a common occurrence in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded, and then taken to an abandoned apartment complex nearby. Other Palestinians who were detained in the same building later that night said they didn’t realize he was there until after the soldiers left, when they found him unconscious, lying face down on the ground, and called an ambulance.
The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive. It’s unclear when exactly he died. Initial reports said he was 80 years old.
The unit that detained Asaad, Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. It was formed with the aim of integrating a segment of the population that does not normally do military service. But Israeli media have reported problems in the unit stemming from the hard-line ideology of many of the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the incident remains under investigation and that “actions will be taken if wrongdoing is found.”
The US Embassy said it has not yet seen a final report from the Israeli government and supports a “thorough investigation into the circumstances of the incident.” It said it was “deeply saddened” by Asaad’s death and has been in close contact with his family to provide consular assistance.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Asaad’s detention was “bizarre.”
“This is a very small, quiet village,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group. “There was no reason at all to take an 80-year-old and to drag him and handcuff him. I have no idea why they did it.”
Israel says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. But rights groups say those investigations rarely lead to indictments or convictions, and that in many cases the army does not interview key witnesses or retrieve evidence.
Sadot said the fact that the military is still investigating more than two weeks after the incident, even with the added pressure of American scrutiny, indicates that any eventual conclusion will be another “whitewash.”
“I don’t know, but from our experience, it will lead to nothing,” she said.


Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
Updated 27 January 2022

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
  • Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country

AMMAN: The Jordanian army said its troops on the northeastern border with Syria killed 27 drug smugglers after they tried to illegally enter the country at dawn on Thursday.

The clash with smugglers, the deadliest ever, came after the Jordanian Armed Forces announced a change in the rules of engagement in a bid to curb increasing illicit drug smuggling from Syria.

A security source told Arab News that orders were given to troops to chase and kill smugglers inside Syrian territory rather than wait until they get closer to the borders.

The security source said that the smugglers killed in Thursday’s operation tried to take advantage of the harsh weather conditions but “were received by vigilant border guards.”

The JAF said in a statement on Thursday that the smugglers were aided by an armed group, adding that a preliminary search of the area was conducted and large quantities of narcotics were found.

“The smugglers were supported by other armed groups,” the JAF said, adding that troops also wounded an unknown number of traffickers while others retreated back into Syrian territory.

Jordan has reported a surge in drug smuggling attempts from Syria, with authorities seizing large quantities of narcotics either found hidden in trucks on borders crossings or abandoned by smugglers following clashes with troops.

On Jan. 17, the Jordanian army announced that an officer had been killed and three border guards wounded in a clash with drug smugglers on the border with Syria, which stretches more than 360 kilometers.

The Jordanian army recently said that it had thwarted a total of 361 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria into the kingdom in 2021, seizing about 15.5 million pills.

In 2020, the army said it had thwarted more than 130 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria that resulted in the seizure of about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

And in October last year, the Jordanian army said it had shot down a drone carrying a large quantity of drugs as it flew over the border.

Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country and the group’s expansion of its drug trafficking operations as alternative financing following US sanctions.

UN drug experts say that Syria, shattered by a decade-long civil war, has become the region’s main production site for drugs destined for Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf and Europe.

According to an EU-funded report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research, “Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46 billion” in 2020.