‘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. 

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib
Updated 10 sec ago

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib
  • The rebels died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government
  • The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib

DUBAI: More than 140 rebels and pro-government troops have been killed this week as fighting intensifies for Yemen’s strategic northern city of Marib, military and medical sources told AFP Friday.
At least 51 loyalists were killed in the past four days, most of them in clashes in the province of Shabwa and the neighboring governorate of Marib, multiple military sources said.
They added that at least 93 Iran-backed Houthi rebels also died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government.
The Houthis rarely report casualty numbers, but figures were confirmed by medical sources.
The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government’s last northern stronghold, and the fighting has killed hundreds on both sides.
According to the military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Houthis have made advances and seized four districts — one in Marib and three in Shabwa.
Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting intervention to prop up the internationally recognized government the following year.
Earlier this week, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, the UN’s new envoy for Yemen, was in Oman, which has played a mediating role in the Yemen conflict.
He met with Omani and Houthi officials, including top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam.
“Sustainable peace can only be achieved through a peacefully negotiated settlement,” said Grundberg, according to a statement on Tuesday. “It is imperative that all efforts are directed toward revitalizing a political process that can produce lasting solutions that meet the aspirations of Yemeni women and men.”
While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.
The last talks took place in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the city of Hodeidah, where the port serves as the country’s lifeline.
But despite agreeing to a cease-fire in Hodeidah, violent clashes have since broken out between the rebels and pro-government troops around the strategic city.
On Wednesday, donors pledged an additional $600 million to tackle Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, as the UN and other aid agencies warned that vital aid programs would be cut this year without more funding.
This year’s $3.85 billion aid response plan to what the UN describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis had been only half funded before Wednesday’s high-level UN meeting co-hosted by Sweden, Switzerland and the EU.
A significant gap in funding for the aid response in Yemen, which has been divided by seven years of war, opened up last year, forcing some aid programs to close and the UN to warn of increasing risk of famine.

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies
Updated 7 min 2 sec ago

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies
  • Israeli municipality and Armenians agreed to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city into a parking lot, but ‘one could smell a rat’

AMMAN: A land row between Palestinians and an Armenian church in Jerusalem has intensified with the head of the Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine appealing for peace to the religious and political leadership in Armenia.
An agreement between the Armenians and Israeli Jerusalem municipality to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city of Jerusalem into a parking lot took effect on Jan. 1. Jewish residents of the Old City have had exclusive use of the parking lot, which has caused concern among the Palestinian leadership and members of the tiny Armenian community.
Officials of the Armenian Patriarchate insisted that the contract with the Israeli Jerusalem municipality and the Jewish-centric Jerusalem Development Authority does not constitute selling or leasing land but is simply a financial operation.
The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine wrote to Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian reminding him that the Armenian quarter is part of occupied Palestinian territories where UN resolutions, including the 2017 UNSC Resolution 2334, apply.
Letters by senior Palestinian officials were also sent to the Catholicos of All Armenians Patriarch Karekin II, calling land transactions in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem a violation of international law since the area inside the Old City of Jerusalem is an “integral part of the Palestinian occupied territories” governed by relevant international resolutions.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has also been “urged to intervene,” a statement by the Higher Presidential Committee stated.
The dispute follows the secrecy over land deals in the Old City of Jerusalem organized by the Armenian patriarchate in Jerusalem in cooperation with the Israeli institution.
Ramzi Khoury, the president of the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches in Palestine, told Arab News that the aim of the letters sent to Armenian officials is to force the church in Jerusalem to open up and coordinate with us: “Our main goal is to uncover what is hidden.”
The letters were sent twice, but there was no response.
While Khoury focused on a 10-year lease to the Israeli municipality of an empty plot to be turned into a parking lot, he did not specify a much more serious deal with a Jewish Austrian investor to lease the same land for 99 years to build a large hotel in a sensitive area between the Armenian and Jewish quarters.
Sources in the Armenian Patriarchate say that the hotel deal is opposed by the majority of the Armenian St. James Synod which has not met in more than three years.
A senior Armenian leader from Jerusalem told Arab News on condition of anonymity that he has always suspected a much bigger deal than the parking lot one: “From when the patriarch and his director of real estate began their effort, one could smell a rat.”
The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Sevan Gharibian and the head of the real estate department Rev. Baret Yeretsian are accused of going against the wishes of their own synod and that of the nearly 1,000 Armenian Christians who live in the occupied city of Jerusalem.
In a statement issued on Sept. 22 by the chair of the Armenian Patriarchate Synod, the church said that they had ratified the agreement and noted that the lease provides “a steady income of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support the Armenian patriarchate.”
The statement signed by Father Samuel Aghazian admitted that a “luxurious hotel structure” would be built based on a long-term lease without imposing any risk to the full and exclusive ownership of this land.
An Armenian website Keghart called what is happening in Jerusalem a scandal. In an editorial on Aug. 31, the publication reminded the Armenian patriarch that the Armenian Quarter and other “Patriarchate-owned” real estate does not even belong to the Armenian Church or to the St. James Brotherhood.
“They are the possessions of the Armenian nation. Every last inch of holy land Armenian property was purchased through the donations of Armenian pilgrims, nobility, kings, and charitable organizations over a millennium. Twice in recent centuries, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was bankrupt and was close to losing all its real estate. It was rescued by Armenian merchants and regular Armenian patriots.”
The Keghart editorial supported Palestinian and international law by concluding that “every inch of the holy land falls under strict local and international laws hence no one has the right to split up that one entity into different trading parts.”

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
Updated 41 min 1 sec ago

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
  • Students demand answers after abandoned pets found shot and poisoned on Beirut campus

BEIRUT: Video images showing the remains of stray dogs shot and buried on the state-funded Lebanese University’s Hadath campus in suburban Beirut have highlighted the growing problem of animals abandoned by their owners as the country’s economic crisis worsens.

Up to 50,000 stray dogs are estimated to be roaming the streets of Lebanon, according to welfare activists, with most unneutered and unvaccinated, posing a public health risk as the animals become increasingly aggressive and stocks of vaccines to combat rabies run low.

Images of five dogs found buried on the university campus sparked widespread anger this week after it was revealed the animals were being fed and cared for by students after having been abandoned.

Lebanese University’s 75 hectare campus is unfenced, and houses a large number of faculties as well accommodation for students, deans and visiting professors, and sports and health facilities.

Animal welfare activist Ghina Nahfawi told Arab News that the stray dogs were given names by students and would respond when offered food.

“We noticed one of the dogs became their leader and would tell the rest that it was OK to approach us,” she said.

“Last Friday, we could not find any trace of the dogs. Some were saying that the university administration and security guards wanted to get rid of them.”

Nahfawi said that students’ fears grew after another dog was found alive but in pain with symptoms suggesting it had been poisoned with Lannate, an insecticide that is highly toxic to livestock and wildlife.

“We saw blood and found some dogs that had been shot. We were told others were buried on the campus, but we did not believe it until we came across a foul smell and started digging with our hands, only to discover the bodies of five dogs.”

She said that students were told that other dogs, including pups, had been taken to mountainous areas and left to fend for themselves, and may have been killed by other animals.

Roger Akkawi, vice president of the animal charity Paw, told Arab News that up 50,000 pet dogs in Lebanon have been abandoned by their owners amid the pandemic and the devastating devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

“Most of the dogs left on the street are unneutered and unvaccinated. People think dogs are good hunters, but that’s not true — they depend on humans to survive,” he said.

“What people do not realize is the mating of two dogs may lead to the birth of an additional 400 dogs within two years, and that goes along with diseases resulting from the failure to vaccinate against rabies.”

Akkawi warned that Lebanon is “heading toward a catastrophe” because authorities have ignored the problem.

“People will encounter dogs on their doorsteps; many will die and no one will dare touch the bodies and bury them for fear of disease. Although the rabies vaccine is subsidized by the state, it is not available because suppliers do not care about importing it. The vaccine is only available in small quantities and for emergency cases.”

Amid the social media uproar over the killing of the stray dogs, students demanded an explanation from the university’s administration, calling for those responsible for the “massacre” to be held accountable.

In response, university authorities released a statement expressing regret for “the way in which the issue of stray dogs was addressed on and around the campus.”

The statement added: “A serious investigation has been opened. The administration had reached out to an animal welfare association and the Hadath municipality several times, but no radical solution was reached.”

The administration said that several students had been bitten by two dogs, adding that the strays are a threat to public safety in light of the lack of medicines and vaccines against rabies.

However, Nahfawi said that there is no evidence of students being attacked by dogs at the university. “The campus has been turned into a burial ground for dogs; that’s what really happened. They disregard all laws and accuse us of exaggerating the issue. This is shameful.”

She added: “The municipalities are responsible for addressing such issues, but they do not consider this a priority at the moment. Do they realize that unneutered and unvaccinated dogs pose a threat to people because we lack vaccines against rabies?”

According to Akkawi, the answer is to “trap, neuter and return dogs to nature.”

He said that the charity is training volunteers to handle stray dogs, but lacks funds to buy equipment and vaccines. “Municipal budgets do not take this matter into account, especially during the economic crisis we are experiencing.”

Akkawi said that the government does not consider the issue of stray animals a priority.

“We met the interior minister and warned that imposing lockdowns and keeping people at home during the pandemic would lead to massacres of stray dogs, which depend on restaurant waste to survive. We asked to be allowed out at night after curfew to feed dogs with the food we bought, but our request was rejected.”

Nahfawi said that while some may consider anger over the dog’s deaths as absurd compared with the suffering of people in Lebanon, “society will not become more peaceful and tolerant if it does not learn to properly deal with the most vulnerable beings.”

In August 2017, President Michel Aoun signed animal protection and welfare laws that include rules for treatment of stray dogs by municipalities.

In August 2018, the Ethical Treatment of Animals group won a ruling from the Lebanese judiciary jailing a man for 10 days and fining him $2,650 for mistreating dogs. The ruling was the first of its kind issued by a judicial authority in Lebanon, criminalizing the harming of animals.

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
Updated 24 September 2021

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
  • The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army has ‘redeployed’ soldiers away from several regions, notably Beirut’s southern suburbs, with its command saying in a statement that the redeployment is intended “to reduce the economic burdens on the army.”

The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown. In his notorious speech in March, Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Army, said: “Soldiers are struggling like other people; a soldier’s salary has lost its value and soldiers are going hungry like others.”

Aoun, who is currently visiting Turkey, met with his Turkish counterpart and other officials on Friday and requested logistical support, including equipment and machinery.

He will also visit Washington at the end of September to ask for direct American aid and promises of military assistance for the Lebanese army.

In recent months, some soldiers have deserted as the depreciation of the Lebanese pound has seen the relative value of their salaries plummet to the equivalent of $60 per month. Army command claims the number of deserters is “limited.”

Residents of the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs were surprised when the army withdrew its forces from checkpoints in the area. Soldiers have been deployed there since 2013, when the suburbs were targeted by bombings that were blamed on Daesh, and seen as connected to the war in Syria and Hezbollah’s interference in the interests of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Lebanese army command stressed on Friday that its troops would “continue to set up observation points in all areas, work on patrols, and carry out security missions.”

Meanwhile, dozens of families of victims of the August 2020 explosion in Beirut Port gathered in the capital to protest against the political pressure being placed on Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the blast.

Bitar was recently threatened by Hezbollah and, on Friday, the attorney representing Nohad Machnouk, the former interior minister who is accused in the case, filed a request to dismiss Bitar from the investigation.

If Bitar were to be dismissed from the case, he would be the second judge to have been removed from the investigation. Like his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, Bitar has issued a subpoena for a former prime minister, ministers and security officials in connection with the explosion..

Machnouk visited Dar Al-Fatwa — Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority — and gave a speech there in which he claimed that Bitar “takes his orders from” Salim Jreissati, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil and an advisor to Lebanese President Michael Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law.

Machnouk warned against summoning former Prime Minister Hassan Diab — also accused in the case — based on a subpoena Bitar issued after Diab failed to show up for questioning. He said Bitar is implementing “a political agenda, away from the constitution, law and logic.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also previously accused Bitar of being “politicized.”

Former minister Youssef Fenianos — another accused in the case — has requested that the file be transferred from Bitar to another judge.

The campaign against Bitar intensified on Friday. Jaafarite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in his Friday sermon: “It is not allowed to play with fire. What happened in the investigation … increases strong doubts about fabrication as well as (demands for) the dismissal of Judge Bitar, as the country is teeming with corruption.”

After his meeting with the president on Friday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi said: “Sects should not deal with justice; we are a country that separates between religion and state.”

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’
Updated 24 September 2021

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’
  • Abbas said Israel was “destroying the prospect of a political settlement based on the two-state solution” through its settlements on West Bank land
  • Most countries view the settlements as illegal, a position Israel disputes

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Friday of destroying the two-state solution with actions he said could lead Palestinians to demand equal rights within one binational state comprising Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Addressing the UN General Assembly via video link from the West Bank, Abbas, 85, urged the international community to act to save the two-state formula that for decades has been the bedrock of diplomacy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abbas said Israel was “destroying the prospect of a political settlement based on the two-state solution” through its settlements on West Bank land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Most countries view the settlements as illegal, a position Israel disputes.
“If the Israeli occupation authorities continue to entrench the reality of one apartheid state as is happening today, our Palestinian people and the entire world will not tolerate such a situation,” Abbas said. Israel rejects accusations of apartheid.
“Circumstances on the ground will inevitably impose equal and full political rights for all on the land of historical Palestine, within one state. In all cases, Israel has to choose,” Abbas said from Ramallah, the seat of his Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
There was no immediate Israeli comment on Abbas’ remarks.
Critics say internal Palestinian divisions have also contributed to the deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.
Under interim peace accords with Israel, Abbas’ PA was meant to exercise control in Gaza as well. But his Islamist rivals Hamas seized the coastal enclave in 2007 and years of on-and-off talks have failed to break their impasse.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a far-rightist who sits atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood. His government has vowed to avoid sensitive choices toward the Palestinians and instead focus on economic issues.
In his UN address, Abbas threatened to rescind the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel if it does not withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem within a year.
“If this is not achieved, why maintain recognition of Israel based on the 1967 borders? Why maintain this recognition?” Abbas said.
While some Palestinians and Israelis support the idea of a single binational state, most have very different ideas of what that entity would look like and how it would be governed.
Most analysts contend a single state would not be viable, for religious, political and demographic reasons. Israeli governments have viewed a one-state concept as undermining the essence of an independent Jewish state.
US President Joe Biden reiterated his support for the two-state solution during his own UN address on Tuesday, saying it would ensure “Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.”