‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  
Lebanon’s hospitals were already struggling to cope with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic before the latest electricity crisis. (AP)
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Updated 29 June 2021

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  

‘Catastrophe’ warning as Lebanon's fuel crisis hits hospitals  
  • Doctors say they are being stretched even further with shortages of medical supplies and fuel

DUBAI: Dr. Samer Saade’s car ran out of fuel this morning while he was on his way to work at Hammoud Hospital University Medical Center in Sidon, southern Lebanon.

He parked his car on the side of the road in Khaldeh and took a cab for the remainder of the 30-km journey.

“I haven’t been able to fill my car for the past four days,” Saade told Arab News. “Either queue lines at gas stations are out of this world or the pumps are simply closed,” he said.

The emergency room physician, like practically all Lebanese, has been hit hard by the ongoing fuel shortage in the crisis-hit country.

Giant queues clogging roads near petrol stations have become a common sight and refueling is limited to 15 or 20 liters, making long-distance travel a thing of the past.

The fuel crisis, however, is not only limited to the petrol needed for cars; it has also made its way to the country’s beleaguered electricity grid.

Lebanon’s hospitals were already struggling to cope with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic before the latest electricity crisis.

Now, doctors say, they are being stretched even further with shortages of medical supplies and fuel.

“Medicine shortages, equipment shortages, hyperinflation pricing out the poor from getting care — anything that can go wrong in this country will go wrong, basically,” Saade said.

At the hospital, state electricity “barely comes on for two or three hours per day,” Saade said, with four private generators needed to fill the gap.

Two of Lebanon’s Turkish power barges have been shut down amid an ongoing feud with the parent company, while the other four state-owned power plants are running on fumes.

“We were already used to state electricity being out, but now we don’t even know if we’ll manage to secure enough fuel for the generators,” Saade told Arab News.

In total, his hospital has four generators that operate, with two operating at any given time.

According to Saade, his hospital has enough fuel reserves for the upcoming four days.

“After that, I don’t know. We’re living day-by-day,” he said.

Forty km away at Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, an establishment that found itself at the frontlines of the pandemic, the situation is even more precarious.

As prolonged electricity cuts surged, the hospital has been rationing electricity since yesterday and turning off air-conditioning in all areas except those used for medical purposes, the hospital’s general manager Firas Abiad wrote in a tweet.

“Air-conditioning throughout our premises except in areas needed for medical purposes, such as operating and examination rooms will be turned off due to protracted electricity cuts,” Abiad said.

Accompanying his tweet was a letter Abiad sent to caretaker Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar asking for support in maintaining the hospital’s electricity supply.

If the problem persists, “we’re headed toward a catastrophe,” Saade said.

“Ventilators, CPR machines, basically everything needed for critical care facilities will be shut down,” he added.

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for eight months, with negotiations stalled in a quagmire that has seen politicians bicker over cabinet portfolios and quotas.

Meanwhile, food insecurity and extreme poverty plague the country as any semblance of normal life dissipates.

Several industries have sounded the alarm over a lack of fuel, which has caused private generators to struggle to keep pace with increased state outages.

The head of the Lebanese poultry syndicate urged officials over the weekend to deliver diesel to chicken farms before power cuts compromise the wellbeing of livestock and the safety and quality of refrigerated chicken.

Meanwhile, the crisis is also jeopardizing public sector operations.

The General Security headquarters in Beirut, the country’s main intelligence agency, was hit with a blackout yesterday when a generator shutdown coincided with a state power cut.

Despite Lebanon needing to preserve its last remaining foreign currency reserves for any possible economic recovery, the central bank has continued to subsidize fuel, medicine and wheat, draining the state’s coffers of some $5 billion annually.

But the cash-strapped small Mediterranean country has now begun rolling back its subsidy program, starting with fuel.

Lebanon will now start importing fuel at LL3,900 to the dollar, as opposed to the official rate of LL1,500. On the black market, the Lebanese pound is trading at around LL18,000 per greenback, representing a depreciation of around 92 percent for the national currency.

Effective today, a price hike of around 30 to 40 percent on all fuel derivatives has been implemented.

The price of 20 liters of gas will now cost LL61,000 ($40 at the official rate), up from LL45,200, while 20 liters of diesel will cost LL46,100, up from LL33,300.

“These price increases will surely affect our ability to secure fuel while also increasing our costs and, as a result, the cost on patients,” Dr. Mohammed Khodrin, head of Akkar Governmental Hospital, told Arab News. 


Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources
Updated 14 sec ago

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

CAIRO: Lebanon's parliament on Tuesday confirmed the legislative election date as March 27, sources told Reuters.


Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
Updated 11 min 22 sec ago

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
  • Explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people
  • ‘Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system’

BEIRUT: They may often squabble but Lebanon’s political parties seem united in rejecting an investigation into Beirut’s massive port explosion that they fear could threaten their survival, analysts say.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.
In the aftermath of mass protests in late 2019 demanding the ouster of the traditional ruling class, many said the disaster was just the latest example of official incompetence and corruption.
But months into a domestic investigation, no one has been held accountable.
Politicians have repeatedly obstructed the work of judge Tarek Bitar by refusing to show up for questioning, filing legal complaints against him or calling for his dismissal, which last week sparked deadly violence in the heart of Beirut.
Analyst Lina Khatib said hopes were fading of holding those responsible for the port blast accountable.
“The ruling class in Lebanon is in agreement about wanting the port probe to be abandoned and they will use all available means to derail it,” said Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank.
The country’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah has spearheaded a campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of political bias.
The debate over his future, which comes after the previous investigator was removed in February, has already triggered the postponement of one cabinet meeting despite the urgency of addressing Lebanon’s acute economic crisis.
Nadim Houry, executive director at the Arab Reform Initiative, said that the whole ruling class felt under threat in what he described as “an essential battle in Lebanon for rule of law.”
“A section of society has decided that they want to go all the way and ask for truth,” but they face “a political class that is willing to use threats, use violence, use even launching into another civil war to prevent that quest for truth from leading to a result,” he said.
It emerged after the port blast that officials had known that hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had for years been left to linger in a warehouse near residential neighborhoods.
Families of the victims see in Bitar the only hope for justice in a country where impunity has long been the norm.
After the 1975 to 1990 civil war, Lebanon issued a broad amnesty that benefited the country’s warlords, allowing many of them to become political leaders.
“Regardless of what Bitar finds, it’s the idea itself that any of them can somehow be held accountable that they are resisting,” Houry said.
Any success in the blast probe would set a precedent and unravel a “impunity regime” under which each party agrees not to pursue the other for its crimes, as long as it is not targeted itself.
Tensions came to a boil last week after a rally against Bitar organized by Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal descended into violence that killed seven of their supporters.
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades trapped residents indoors for hours, reviving memories of the civil war.
Hezbollah accused snipers of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, of causing the bloodshed, but the latter has denied this.
The army, meanwhile, is investigating a video circulated on social media that appears to show a soldier shooting at protesters.
“Hezbollah is increasingly acting as the praetorian guard of the regime that has come into place since the 1990s,” Houry said.
The Iran-backed movement, the only one not to have disarmed after the civil war, is at least partly blacklisted by most Western governments but holds seats in parliament.
While political parties have publicly supported an investigation, analysts say they ultimately wish to protect their own interests.
“Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system... and they therefore oppose any steps to reform it or to instil accountability within it,” Khatib said.
A spokesman for the families of blast victims quit on Saturday, after many feared he had been intimidated into toeing the Hezbollah line and calling for Bitar to step down.
Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother in the explosion, lives in a Shiite-majority neighborhood.
The following day, many refrained from taking part in a protest to mark the second anniversary of the now-defunct 2019 protest movement, fearing further violence.
“Ultimately, the ruling class want to push the Lebanese to conclude that the price of accountability is too high,” Khatib said.


Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt
Updated 58 min 23 sec ago

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

CAIRO: A quake shook Cairo and other cities in Egypt at 0535 GMT on Tuesday, according to Reuters witnesses and social media postings.
Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, and Assiut, in Upper Egypt, were among cities where people said on social media they felt their houses and buildings shaking.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the authorities.

The tremor, whose magnitude the US Geological Survey measured at 6.0 and depth at 37.8km (23.5 miles), was also felt on several other Greek islands including Crete and Santorini, state TV said,
It also shook the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Beirut, Cairo and other cities in Egypt, parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the region around southern Turkey’s Antalya, Reuters witnesses said.
Two powerful quakes rattled Crete in recent weeks, killing one person and damaging buildings.
A Greek seismologist said Tuesday's quake came from a different African fault and no aftershocks were expected.


Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
  • Continued cooperation of two countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy

TOKYO: Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reconfirmed with his Kuwaiti counterpart continued cooperation between their countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy.

In telephone talks held on Oct. 18 with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Motegi stated that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attaches great importance to the relationship with Kuwait. Motegi also said he would like to work closely with Foreign Minister Dr. Al-Sabah, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

In addition, Motegi thanked Kuwait for its long-standing stable supply of crude oil and requested Kuwait’s cooperation, including an increase in production, to stabilize the crude oil market in light of the upward trend in crude oil prices.

The two sides agreed to continue to cooperate to further develop the bilateral relations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and Kuwait.

Both sides also exchanged views on bilateral relations and international cooperation, including the Joint Committee between the Governments of Japan and Kuwait.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan


‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.

Opinion

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MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”