Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun warned of an increasingly untenable situation. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens

Lebanese army calls for Arab, foreign aid as cash crisis deepens
  • Threat to military ‘leaves entire country at risk,’ defense ministers warn summit

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun on Thursday expressed confidence that the military will overcome what he described as a “crucial and delicate period” facing Lebanon.

The military chief warned of an increasingly untenable situation, but said that the institution remains strong.

“We believe that we will overcome this crucial and delicate period thanks to the strong will of our soldiers, and to the support of the Lebanese people and the friendly countries,” Gen. Aoun said.

His remarks came as 20 members of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), in addition to European and Arab countries, the UN, EU and other international organizations attended a virtual conference on Thursday to support the army.

Discontent is brewing among Lebanon’s security forces over a currency crash that has wiped out most of the value of their salaries. Lebanon’s pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar since late 2019.

The conference, organized by France in collaboration with Italy and the UN, aimed to mobilize support through in-kind aid for the Lebanese Army such as food, medicine and spare parts for its military equipment, in light of the collapse of the pound and the effect of the country’s struggling economy on the military.

Lebanon is facing a political deadlock and the biggest economic crisis in its history, and there are expectations that the army will step in to protect public safety in the event of a full collapse — much feared by the international community.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said: “We are concerned that the Lebanese army remains capable of fulfilling its duties in maintaining security and stability.”

Her Italian counterpart, Lorenzo Guerrini, highlighted the importance of “quickly responding to the needs of the army by providing it with basic support requirements.”

Joana Wronecka, UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said that the army must be kept “cohesive and operative.”

Zeina Akar, Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister, said: “Taking into consideration the unstable environment — full of upheaval and uncertainty — that surrounds Lebanon, the army is a guarantee for stability and for the security of the Lebanese people.”

The minister said the army is facing the same problems as the Lebanese people.

“Its purchase power is eroding and it needs strong support to keep performing its duties. The army’s personnel need support in order to provide livelihood for their families.”

Gen. Aoun reviewed the army’s requirements at Thursday’s talks, saying that there is “an incremental need today to support it so that it remains tenacious and capable of doing its duties.”

He said that the depreciation of the Lebanese pound had stripped military salaries of 90 percent of their value.

Gen. Aoun warned that “the continuous retreat of the economic and financial situation in Lebanon will eventually lead to the collapse of institutions, including the military institution, which will render the whole country vulnerable on the security level.”

Soldiers “need support as individuals to overcome this precarious period,” he added.

“The army is the guarantee for security and stability in Lebanon and the region. Jeopardizing its role will lead to the collapse of Lebanon and to the spread of chaos.”

France, which has led international efforts, has sought to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after failed attempts to agree a new government and launch reforms.

“The participants highlighted the dire and steadily degrading economic and social conditions in Lebanon. In this context, they stressed that the Lebanese army, though overstretched, remains a crucial pillar of the Lebanese state,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement.

“Their cohesiveness and professionalism remain key to preserving the country’s stability.”


Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Updated 11 min 32 sec ago

Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
  • Girl, 9, stung by scorpion, dies as vital medicines can only be found on black market at exorbitant prices

BEIRUT: A Lebanese child, Zahra Tleis, died on Friday, after being stung by a scorpion, and her family being unable to find an antidote to treat her, due to medicine shortages in the country.

Some vital medicines can only now be found on the black market, but are sold at exorbitant prices.
The director of Rafik Hariri Governmental Hospital, Dr. Firas Abiad, said “unfortunately, losing patients due to medicine shortages will become more common.”
The head of the National Health Authority, Ismail Sukkarieh, revealed to Arab News that even treatments for dog bites were missing from shelves.
“Such injections should be be available in large quantities in hospitals, and especially governmental hospitals, but have gone missing due to negligence and the medicine crisis.”
Sukkariyeh said the Lebanese people “are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.” He warned that the country will completely collapse if the situation persists.

Zahra Tleis

Lebanon has been facing an economic collapse since 2019, described by the World Bank as “one of the world’s worst crises since the 1850s.” More than half of the population now lives under the poverty line as the local currency, the lira, has lost over 90 percent of its value against the US dollar.
With the depletion of foreign currency reserves at the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban (BDL) and delays in opening lines of credits for imports, the health sector has been facing increasing pressure and fuel shortages.

HIGHLIGHT

Lebanese people ‘are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.’

The country’s electricity company, Electricité du Liban (EDL) has also been unable to provide power due to fuel shortages, and some regions have had to ration electricity for 22 hours a day. Owners of private generators have also been affected by the diesel and fuel crisis, and have resorted to rationing as well.
On Friday the BDL said it sold $293 million in July, in addition to approvals to sell $415 million to import gasoline and diesel and $120 million to import fuel for EDL, bringing the total number to $828 million.
The BDL said in a statement that “despite all the support it (the bank) has provided and its determination to preserve social security, the Lebanese are still facing shortages in diesel.
“The Lebanese have lost access to subsidized goods, which are now sold on the black market to humiliate and deprive the Lebanese of their most basic rights. This has had dangerous impacts on the health sector and food security, due to traders’ determination to smuggle goods or store them to be sold on the black market,” the statement added.
It added that importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon required BDL “to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.” It considered that “frivolous measures have led to the partial or total suspension of imports of 75 percent of companies.”
EDL warned “of the possibility of entering the danger zone and a total interruption of electricity, if the situation persisted.”
Economist Louis Hobeika told Arab News that “there is political and economic pressure on BDL to use the mandatory reserves. But this matter requires a constitutional amendment and such ‘sin’ shall not be committed twice.”
Hobeika recalled what Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in May that “the bank’s reserves in 2002 were drawn down to less than a billion dollars.”
Hobeika said that “removing subsidies would end the smuggling, but prices would increase a lot. A ration card was supposed to be issued as an alternative. What happened to this card? With the absence of a future economic vision, messing with the mandatory reserves can have a great risk on the fate of banks and deposits.”
He said that “the political and economic (Lebanese) mafias are stronger than the state; they fear no one, and Lebanese society is divided and fragmented and therefore, does not scare the mafias.”
Meanwhile, political leaders in Lebanon have congratulated the military ahead of Lebanese Army Day, which is celebrated every year on August 1.
President Michel Aoun said “the international community’s determination and commitment to support the Lebanese army reflects its confidence in the army’s role in protecting Lebanon and its constitutional institutions.”
The army on Saturday carried out a raid on a drug factory in Hortaala, Bekaa.
The army command announced that “a soldier was wounded during the raid, and a wanted man that had multiple warrants for his arrest, including robbing citizens, kidnapping, stealing cars, drug dealing, drug use and (firearms charges) was killed. Several other fugitives were arrested.”
Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun urged soldiers “not to allow anyone to take advantage of the poor living conditions to make you doubt your belief in your country and institution.”


Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
  • Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire

DUBAI: Dany Sultan and Mike Ritchard have spent most of their adult life on skateboards.
While both young men embraced skating from a relatively young age, Lebanon has not always accepted them back. Up until now, the small Mediterranean country lacked a place to kickflip and grind; a place of inclusivity where people from different backgrounds could come together and work on their craft.
Instead, Sultan, 25 and Ritchard, 19, started most of their morning sessions scouting urban landscapes and public spaces in and around Beirut.
“We’d street skate anyplace that had a ledge, stairs or handrails,” Ritchard told Arab News.
For him and street skaters alike, run-ins with residents and security guards were common. Given the lack of a safe haven to skate, their discipline was viewed as a public nuisance.
“We’ve had a couple of issues with security guards and police,” Ritchard said, adding that he, along with some friends, were briefly detained late last year.
But being hard-wired with a high tolerance for fear and a sense of adventure helped them look past the altercations.
“For years we have reached out to municipalities to try and convince them to support (us) but we were always met with indifference and even resistance,” Sultan said.
Little did any of them know that a group of volunteers and donors would soon pave the way for the country’s first community skatepark in the heart of Beirut: Snoubar (Pine) Skatepark.
Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire.
As the tragedy made rounds across the globe, it caught the attention of INGO Make Life Skate Life (MLSL).
“My friend Arne Hillerns, who runs MLSL, reached out after seeing the blast on the news back in Brussels,” Esther Chang, a skater and yoga instructor currently based in Beirut, told Arab News. She, along with Arne and another local skater, put together a relief fund to support the local skaters with anything from hospital bills to rebuilding doors and windows, to even supporting a local skater’s tuition for a few semesters at university.
After also giving away over 80 skateboards with the support of skaters around the world, only one thing was left to do: Build an actual skatepark.
“There was still this dream of building a skatepark that the locals have had for decades,” Chang said.
Horsh Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest, would serve as the optimal location.
“We pitched the idea to Beirut’s municipality —  a free-of-charge and public skatepark in Beirut for youth — asked for some land, and to our surprise they offered it to us,” Chang said.

To turn the dream into reality, a massive crowdfunding campaign was launched alongside donations from corporate and individual sponsors.

Axel A., a visual artist based in Dubai, auctioned off a customized skateboard. Decathlon, the French sports retailer, committed thousands of dollars.

“There was funding from a variety of sources including individuals as well as corporate sponsors such as the Decathlon Foundation, Air France and CHPO,” Samantha Robinson, MLSL’s creative director, told Arab News.

The nonprofit has previously completed sustainable skateparks in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco and Iraq with free on-site skateboarding, safety equipment loan systems and lessons with partner organizations.

“Local NGO arcenciel will help maintain and sustain the park while another NGO, Just Childhood, will create a program for free skateboarding lessons for the local youth in the neighboring Shatila Palestinian refugee camp,” Chang added.

“When Arne from MLSL contacted us to help build the first public, free skatepark in Beirut we were so excited to be part of it,” Jean-Philippe Rode, a skateboarder and product manager for Decathlon Skateboarding in France, told Arab News.

After gaining the financial support of the Decathlon Foundation, which forked out €50,000 ($59,352) in June, volunteers from across the world traveled to Beirut to take part in the project, coming from as far as Colombia, the US and Costa Rica.

The park was designed and constructed through the help of over 50 volunteers and local skaters alongside professional skatepark builders, who did “extremely taxing physical labor in the blazing hot sun, through stomach illnesses, dehydration and fatigue,” Robinson and Chang noted.

“They have such an admirable dedication to spreading the love of skateboarding and helping build the skate community here in Lebanon,” Robinson added.

One such volunteer was Dave Eassa, a lifelong skateboarder, visual artist and cultural worker from Baltimore in the US.

While serving as an artist in residence at Al-Raseef 153, a new arts space that is a part of the 7Hills skatepark and organization in Amman, Jordan, Eassa caught wind of the project during a conversation with 7Hills’ director.

“After speaking with Mohammed Zakaria (director of 7Hills) and German skater Matze, I bought a plane ticket at the last minute and headed to Beirut for 8 days to help with whatever I could,” Eassa said.

Skateboarding, Chang explained, has many intrinsic qualities beyond the sport itself. It has come a long way, breaking out of the fringes where it was regarded as counter-cultural, and propelling itself into the limelight by making its debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

The skatepark, she said, will give youths a space to “gather, share ideas, and support each other in something they all have in common, skateboarding. No matter their age, gender, religion, they come together as skaters.”

Officially completed on Thursday, the park will give skaters like Sultan and Ritchard a place to safely spin down ramps and loop around a quarter pipe, away from any harassment.

The sense of community fostered during the build has been unmatched, the skaters said.

“It is truly a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to volunteer their expertise, time and energy toward spreading the love of skateboarding,” Eassa said. 

“Skateboarding has saved so many of us, giving us purpose in our lives, and created lifelong bonds and friendships across the globe so naturally it makes sense that so many of us wanted to give back to the existing and future generations of Lebanese skateboarders,” he added.

For the past year, Lebanon’s has faced many social, political and economic problems. Skyrocketing unemployment, inflation and rising food insecurity are only the tip of the crisis.

“For many, skateboarding represents a positive outlet of energy and emotions, which proves to be priceless in such a troubled and distressed country. In truly trying times, it is such an important outlet, a place to leave all the issues of the world behind even just for a little.” Eassa said.

“In the midst of so much chaos, people came together to create something beautiful and for one another,” Chang, who is leaving Beirut after spending over two years there, said.

Yet Rode, like Chang, Eassa and the rest of the crew, will be back.

“There is no way you work on a skatepark and don’t skate it, so we’ll have to come back soon,” the 45-year-old skating aficionado said.


UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
Updated 01 August 2021

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH: The UN was urged on Saturday to take action against “Iranian terrorism” after a tanker was attacked by explosives-laden drones in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the MT Mercer Street, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

The Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned vessel is operated by Zodiac Maritime, an Israeli company based in the UK. On Saturday the ship was being escorted into port by the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

The US military said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street. Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

Iranian state TV said the drone strike was retaliation to “a recent Israeli attack” on Iranian targets at an airport in central Syria.

Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.

A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.

By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP)


Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • he SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021

CAIRO: Yehia Zaki, head of the General Authority for the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), announced on Thursday the success of talks with Russia to expand Moscow’s industrial zone within the SCZone.

An agreement was signed by Zaki and Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of Vasiliy Osmakov in Moscow after two days of negotiations.

Zaki said the final agreement is expected to be signed before the end of 2021 after an anticipated visit in August by a high-level Russian delegation to tour the new sites in the SCZone.

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters, Zaki said.

The first phase of the project will include an extension of 1 million square meters in East Port Said and 500,000 square meters in Ain Sokhna, he added.

The SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021 after signing the final contract.

Osmakov said the Egyptian delegation’s visit to Russia gave impetus to the project.

He said the expansion of the Russian zone will allow the entry of more Russian companies, adding that the SCZone is a window to Africa and the wider world due to its strategic location.

In September visits from Russian companies, businessmen and investors — who have expressed their desire to invest in Ain Sukhna — will take place.

The SCZone delegation held meetings in Moscow with major Russian manufacturers of vehicles, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.


Tunisia’s Ennahda puts off party meeting amid crisis

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Tunisia’s Ennahda puts off party meeting amid crisis

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Dozens of younger party members and some leaders called on Ghannouchi to resign

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia's biggest party, Ennahda, on Saturday postponed a meeting of its highest council after senior members called for his resignation over his handling of the political crisis, party sources said.

Rached Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, has played a central role in Tunisia's democratic crisis this week after President Kais Saied seized executive authority.

The moves have caused the biggest crisis in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Saied's moves, which also included freezing parliament and dismissing the prime minister, have also thrown Ennahda into turmoil, leading to recriminations within the party over its strategy and leadership.

The party has been the most consistently powerful in Tunisia since the revolution, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments and has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place, three party sources said.

Dozens of younger party members and some of its leaders including Samir Dilou, a parliament member, had called on Ghannouchi to resign, the sources said.

Ghannouchi has led Ennahda for decades, including from exile in Britain before the revolution, after which he returned to a tumultuous welcome at Tunis airport. He stood for election for the first time in 2019, winning a parliament seat and becoming speaker.