Stung by Lebanon currency loss, UNICEF gives aid handouts in dollars

Stung by Lebanon currency loss, UNICEF gives aid handouts in dollars
Children play on a street in the Gemmayzeh district of Lebanon’s capital Beirut after the monster blast at the nearby port that devastated the city, August 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2021

Stung by Lebanon currency loss, UNICEF gives aid handouts in dollars

Stung by Lebanon currency loss, UNICEF gives aid handouts in dollars
  • The new initiative, named Haddi, or ‘next to me’ in Arabic, provides cash aid to 70,000 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children
  • Families with one child will receive monthly assistance of $40, rising to $60 for those with two children and $80 for larger families

BEIRUT: The families of vulnerable children in Lebanon have started receiving UNICEF cash handouts in US dollars as the UN children’s fund seeks to put a stop to hefty losses in aid due to unfavorable exchange rates at Lebanese banks.
The new initiative, named Haddi, or “next to me” in Arabic, provides cash aid to 70,000 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children at risk of child labor, early marriage or exclusion from schooling during Lebanon’s deep economic crisis.
“UNICEF chose to explore the risks and feasibility aspects related to switching to USD disbursements ... we assessed that the benefits were important and made the decision to switch to USD,” the fund told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
To get the full value of aid to those who need it, UNICEF’s Haddi program includes a new cash disbursal mechanism that cuts out private banks and instead channels aid in greenbacks to beneficiaries via money transfer services.
Families with one child will receive monthly assistance of $40, rising to $60 for those with two children and $80 for larger families, allowing them to choose how to spend it “to ensure people retain some dignity in the current situation.”
UK-based charity Save the Children said on Tuesday it had documented a “dramatic increase” in child labor in Lebanon this year, identifying 306 cases so far compared to 346 in all of 2020.
Children as young as five are selling fuel on the streets and collecting scrap metal or plastic, and more than one million minors — Lebanese and refugees — now need support, it said.
Lebanon’s outgoing deputy prime minister, who has been involved in aid talks, could not immediately be reached for comment on the new UNICEF strategy, nor could the caretaker ministers of finance or social affairs.
UNICEF has now effectively left a program known as LOUISE, which also involves the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP), to disburse aid via the Banque Libano-Francaise (BLF) bank.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in June found unfavorable conversion rates used by the bank had led to losses in aid of about $250 million via the program since 2019. The bank has declined to comment on the rates used.
The foreign exchange losses stemmed from a plunge in the value of the Lebanese pound since the country’s economy began to collapse in late 2019, sending prices soaring and forcing many Lebanese into poverty.
During 2020 and the first four months of 2021, banks exchanged dollars for UN agencies at rates on average 40 percent lower than the market rate, thereby slashing the amount of money reaching beneficiaries.
Though LOUISE agencies have since received progressively better exchange rates, they still lag behind the market price.
Some UN agencies, donor nations and Lebanese officials have raised concerns that paying out dollars to refugees, the country’s primary aid beneficiaries, would fuel tensions between them and members of host communities.
But including Lebanese children in the Haddi program and using money transfer outlets should alleviate such risks, UNICEF said.
“Providing cash through ATMs ... often leads to crowding and raises tensions in the community. To avoid this, Haddi does not use ATMs, instead leveraging a much larger network of money transfer branches across the entire country,” UNICEF said.
It said small-scale surveys among the first beneficiaries had not highlighted any safety or exchange rate problems.
“The response so far has been one of relief,” the fund said.


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
Updated 4 sec ago

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry
Updated 9 min 22 sec ago

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a statement, said Israeli forces had mounted an operation against "Hamas terrorists who were about to carry out imminent terrorist attacks".

He made no mention of casualties and an Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment on the raids.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, intends to gain strength in the West Bank and challenge its rival, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA Health Ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank village of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem. It said another Palestinian was killed in Burqin, a village near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Reports on Israel's main radio stations and news websites said that at least four militants were killed in raids on several locations in the West Bank aimed at capturing Hamas members.


Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 September 2021

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Conflict mapping shows militia has killed more people since the Biden administration revoked its FTO designation
  • Saudi diplomat says the Kingdom will continue to use UN mechanisms to expose the Houthis’ true terrorist face

LONDON: Seven months after the US removed the Houthis from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, the militia is killing more people than before and intensifying its efforts to bring the entire country of Yemen under its extremist doctrine, according to experts.

Within days of their removal, the Houthis escalated their assault on Yemen’s Marib, a province that provides temporary shelter to thousands of internally displaced people and acts as a bastion of the UN-backed government’s pushback against the Houthis’ religious tyranny.

Six months later, the siege of Marib continues to claim lives daily — on both sides — and perpetuates Yemen’s twin humanitarian and economic crises.

If these developments in Yemen are anything to go by, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as US president has backfired badly.

“I am revoking the designations of Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Biden said on Feb. 12.

Citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said the group’s inclusion on the list would only obstruct the delivery of aid.

“By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 but the Biden team never really tried to defend the rationale behind the move with evidence.

“The delisting gave the Houthis and, more importantly, their Iranian sponsors a sense of impunity,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “The delisting also eviscerated international efforts to prevent Houthi supply and finance.”

In fact, Rubin says, the Biden administration’s justification for the delisting of the Houthis — to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid — never made sense in the first place.

“There was already an inspection regime” in place, Rubin said. “The UN had repeatedly reported on the delivery of humanitarian goods. Ironically, it was often the Houthis which prevented the delivery of goods to cities like Taiz not under Houthi control.”

In Rubin’s view, Biden’s decision to delist the Houthis may have had more to do with domestic American politics than what was best for the Yemeni people — and it may have emboldened other regional terrorist groups in the process.

“The Biden administration’s delisting had more to do with reversing what (former president Donald) Trump had done than with any consideration of the realities on the ground,” he said.

“As such, Biden’s delisting for purely political reasons undermined the legitimacy of US listings and also encouraged other terrorist groups to demand delisting as a diplomatic concession.”

Drone missiles used by Houthis in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP/File Photo)

Not only has the delisting failed to concretely resolve the humanitarian situation in Yemen, but it may also have cost more people their lives.

Alexander Jalil is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, a highly specialized organization dedicated to recording instances of fatal and non-fatal violence in conflicts or politically unstable locations across the world.

Jalil told Arab News that ACLED’s data, painstakingly collected and verified based on local sources, suggests that not only were the Houthis involved in a higher proportion of the fighting in Yemen after they were removed from the terror list, but they were actually responsible for the deaths of more people.

“The events in the six months after the group was removed from the US terror designation list were also deadlier, as our fatalities count saw an increase between Feb. 12, 2021, and Aug. 12, 2021, compared to Aug. 12, 2020, and Feb. 12, 2021,” Jalil said.

INNUMBERS

* 7,998 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months prior to delisting.

* 9,312 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months since delisting.

(Source: ACLED)

ACLED’s data shows that in the six months preceding the Houthis’ removal from the terror blacklist, they were responsible for 7,998 fatalities. In the six months after they were removed, they killed 9,312 people — a rise of more than 1,314.

It is not clear exactly what caused this jump in fatalities, but Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow who specializes in Iran at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News “the delisting of the Houthis by the Biden administration tilted the balance in favor of Iran.”

Iran has long supported the Houthis, who are ideologically aligned with Tehran’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — or guardianship of the Islamic jurist. This ideology places supreme control of the state in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the basis of a religious worldview prescribed by his revolutionary predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 intervention in Yemen was launched in order to uphold the legitimate Yemeni government, which was forced from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis earlier that year, and to prevent further attacks on the Kingdom.

Tehran now provides funding, arms, training, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis — many of which have been turned against Saudi Arabia, its citizens, and its allies.

The Houthis unleashed a wave of ballistic missile and drone attacks against the Kingdom on Sept. 4, defying calls by the international community for a return to the negotiating table.

All of the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed, but falling debris from a missile shot down over Eastern Province injured a boy and a girl in Dammam city.

Falling debris also caused damage to 14 residential houses, coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

A second missile targeted the southwestern region of Najran followed by a third on the adjacent region of Jazan. Earlier that same day, coalition air defenses intercepted three booby-trapped drones launched by the Houthis.

Houthi attempts to target civilians and civilian objects are not only hostile and barbaric but also “incompatible with heavenly values ​​and humanitarian principles,” Al-Maliki told SPA.

Another attack at the end of August struck an airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

A speech by Shiite Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi is screened as supporters take part in a rally. (AFP/File Photo)

“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, told Arab News the Kingdom is actively working to expose the Houthi militia’s true nature as a terrorist organization through the UN Security Council.

“When we send letters to the UNSC or to the secretary-general regarding the various attacks that the Houthis try to launch against Saudi Arabia, our main objective is simply to record the fact,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added: “We are repulsing these attacks, foiling them well before they hit targets in most cases, and we are exposing them to the international community. We are making them well known to the international community and the world at large.”

Saudi Arabia has confronted the Houthis with force but has also consistently pushed for a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen that places the people at the heart of any political settlement. But a peaceful end to the conflict is not a goal shared by the Houthi militia.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said: “The peace initiative in Yemen tabled by the Kingdom last March ought to end the bloodshed and conflict. It ought to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militia rejects peaceful solutions.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis
Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis
  • Party leader Rached Ghannouchi chided for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances”

TUNIS/JEDDAH: Tunisia’s main Islamist political party was on the verge of collapse on Saturday after more than 100 key members resigned in protest against their leader.

Among the 113 members who resigned from the Ennahda party were key figures from the party leadership, including members of parliament and former ministers.

They directed their anger at veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, 80, who co-founded the party in 1981 inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and has led it ever since. “The current party leadership is responsible for Ennahdha’s isolation and largely for the deteriorating situation in the country,” the former members said.

They blamed Ghannouchi for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances” with other movements that “undermined Ennahdha’s credibility.”

Ghannouchi had “failed” and “refused all the advice” that was given to him, they said.

Former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki, one of those who resigned, said: “I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country.”

Ghannouchi was Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker until July, when President Kais Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed the immunity of lawmakers and put himself in charge of prosecutions.

On Wednesday, Saied announced decrees that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, and said he would rule by decree.

Ennahdha, the largest bloc in parliament, claimed the president had carried out a coup, but Saied’s actions remain overwhelmingly popular with Tunisians. They blame Ennahda for the country’s political and economic paralysis since the removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and for the failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fractious coalitions and short-lived governments since the uprising have failed to resolve mounting social and economic crises. Ennahda officials have demanded that Ghannouchi resign over the party’s response to the crisis, and strategic choices he has made since elections in 2019. Last month Ghannouchi dismissed the party’s executive committee in an effort to calm the protests against him.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, and has played a role in backing successive coalition governments. However, it has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

Ghannouchi admitted last week that his party was in part responsible for Saied taking executive power. “Ennahdha is not in power but it backed the government, despite some criticism we had,” he said.

(With Reuters)