Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension

Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension
An Israeli soldier walks past tanks positioned near the northern Israeli settlement of Shtula along the border with Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension

Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension
  • Security issue doubles anxiety of the Lebanese, who try to celebrate Eid during crippling economic crisis
  • Religious leaders rap ruling authorities in sermon 

BEIRUT: Israel shelled Lebanon on Tuesday in response to rocket attacks, the Israeli Army said, as the UN urged all sides to show “maximum restraint.”

The UN peacekeeping force in the border region, UNIFIL, said it had boosted security in the area and “launched an investigation” with the Lebanese military.

No party claimed responsibility for the two 122mm Grad rockets fired at dawn on Tuesday from the Qlaileh plain, south of the city of Tyre, in southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese Army announced that three bases for launching the rockets were found in the vicinity of Qlaileh.

It said a ready-to-fire rocket found on one of the bases was disabled by a specialized unit.




UN peacekeepers stand next to a Hezbollah flag raised on the Lebanese side of the border fence with Israel, near the northern Israeli settlement of Shtula on July 20, 2021. Israel shelled Lebanon in response to earlier rocket attacks, the Israeli army said. (AFP)

A similar security incident occurred in May when unknown individuals fired Grad-type rockets from the same area towards Israel, against the backdrop of the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

“The warning sirens sounded in the region of Western Galilee after the two rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel,” Israeli Army spokesman Avichay Adraee announced on Tuesday.

Adraee said one was intercepted and the second fell in an open area.

According to the Lebanese Army Command, Israel responded “less than half an hour later with 12 155-caliber artillery shells, targeting the Wadi Hamul area in the Bint Jbeil district,” which borders the Occupied Territories. No casualties or damage were reported.

The Commander of the South Litani Sector in the Lebanese Army Brig. Gen. Maroun Al-Qubayati and other senior officers inspected the rocket firing site in the Qlaileh plain.

They were briefed about the process of dismantling the bases and the unfired rocket, which was moved elsewhere.

The Lebanese Army Command said its soldiers conducted a survey of the area and prevented anyone from approaching it.

It added that soldiers patrolled along the coast between Ras Al-Ain and the Qlaileh plain and erected checkpoints.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said its radar “detected that rockets were fired from an area northwest of Qlaileh toward Israel, and later on, the Israeli Army artillery responded.”

Ardell added: “The UNIFIL was in direct contact with the parties to the conflict to urge them to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid further escalation.

“Together with the Lebanese Armed Forces, we have strengthened security in the area and launched an investigation.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened that “Israel will react to any threat to its sovereignty and its citizens.”

Gantz added: “We will not allow the social, political and economic crises in Lebanon to turn into a security threat to Israel.”

Gantz held the Lebanese state responsible for the exchange of fire, arguing that it allows terrorist acts to be carried out from its territory.

Gantz said: “Israel will respond in accordance with its interests when and where it is appropriate,” calling on the international community to work to restore stability to Lebanon.

This security development doubled the anxiety of the Lebanese, especially Muslims, who tried on Tuesday to celebrate Eid Al-Adha amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

The Lebanese barely shopped for Eid Al-Adha this year, with limited access to food or clothes, let alone presents.

In their Eid sermons, clerics took aim at Lebanese officials.

Some clerics addressed President Michel Aoun by name, while others criticized him indirectly.

A prayer was held at Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut in the absence of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Analysts believe political officials are avoiding appearing in public places for fear of having to confront the people’s resentment.

The Secretary of Dar Al-Fatwa in the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Amin Al-Kurdi, said in his sermon: “This country is misfortunate because it is ruled by warlords, corrupt politicians and people who chose to remain silent in the face of corruption.

“Today, the dignity of the citizens has been dragged through the mud in the queues of humiliation for fuel, food and medicine. Children died and patients could not use their oxygen concentrators due to power cuts.”

Regarding the ongoing investigations into the crime of the Beirut port explosion, Sheikh Al-Kurdi stressed that “there is no immunity for the corrupt and the perpetrators, and there is no cover for any of them, no matter how high their ranks are.”

The Mufti of Sidon Sheikh Salim Sousan criticized “those who overwhelmed the country, spread corruption and brought the homeland and the citizens to this state we live in, and did not abide by the principles, charters, the Constitution, the Taif Agreement and the National Pact.”

Sheikh Sousan added: “What does this corrupt authority that destroyed Lebanon and its economy and plundered its currency want? They want to go to hell? So let them go along with those who support them, but we want to live in a homeland that is an oasis of peace, security and stability, and there must be a real, peaceful popular uprising.”

The Mufti of Hasbaya and Marjayoun Sheikh Hassan Delly directly addressed Aoun: “Since you were elected president of the country, the people have been unjustly humiliated to get some liters of gasoline and crumbs of bread.

“We have children dying at the doors of hospitals, we have no medicines and the Lebanese pound’s value hit record lows. This happened under your reign and history will be forgiving towards you.”

Sheikh Delly addressed the Sunni leaders warning that “harming our rights and powers would harm one of the basic components of this nation’s entity.

“We must unite so that we do not become easy prey for others.”

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had stepped down from forming a government on July 15, nine months after he was assigned, failing to reach an agreement with Aoun.

Parliamentary consultations are expected to take place to assign an alternative Sunni figure next Monday, amid Sunni resentment over how the president and his political team handled the constitutional powers of the prime minister.


Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
Updated 20 September 2021

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Egypt receives 546,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Health minister said total number of registered infected people in Egypt is 296,929, with 16,970 deaths

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced that 546,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been received from the French government.

The minister explained that the doses are part of the COVAX agreement, in cooperation with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, within the framework of the state’s plan to diversify and expand the provision of vaccines to citizens.

Dr. Khaled Mujahid, assistant minister of health and population and the official spokesman for the ministry, said that this shipment was received in two batches, one of which arrived last Friday and the other yesterday at Cairo International Airport. He stressed that the Egyptian state was sparing no effort in providing free vaccines to citizens.

Mujahid explained that the shipment would be subject to analysis in the laboratories of the Egyptian Drug Authority and that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be distributed to the 781 vaccination centers throughout the governorates of the country.

He said that the AstraZeneca vaccine has proven to be effective in preventing infection with coronavirus virus disease (COVID-19) and explained that it is to be taken in two doses 28 days apart.

Mujahid said that centers designated to vaccinate people who wish to travel are equipped with all the requirements for data registration and the issuance of documented vaccine certificates with QR codes.

In recent days, Egypt has witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of people infected with the virus, as part of what officials consider the fourth wave. The Ministry of Health recorded on Monday 653 new cases and 19 deaths. 

Mujahid stated that the total number of registered infected people in Egypt is 296,929, with 16,970 deaths.

Zayed announced in previous statements that Egypt has manufactured 5 million vaccine doses within the country and has so far vaccinated 13 million people. 

She added that the ministry aims to vaccinate from 7 to 8 million citizens per month and hopes to have 40 million people vaccinated by December. 

An additional production line is being prepared at a factory in Giza with production starting Nov. 1. The production capacity will be 300,000 doses per day. 

Egypt owns two vaccine manufacturing factories, with one focusing on national needs and the other on production and distribution to Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.


Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port
Updated 20 September 2021

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port

Protesters against Sudan peace deal block roads, close key port
  • Last year, several rebel groups signed a landmark accord with the transitional government
  • Beja tribes people in eastern Sudan have criticised the fragile peace deal saying it does not represent them

KHARTOUM: Dozens of demonstrators in Sudan have blocked key roads and a crucial port in the country’s east in protest at parts of a peace deal with rebel groups, a protest leader said Monday.
Last year, several rebel groups signed a landmark accord with the transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of long-time autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
“We’ve blocked the (main) road connecting Port Sudan with the rest of the country since Friday as well as the main container and oil export terminals,” protest leader Sayed Abuamnah told AFP.
Beja tribes people in eastern Sudan have criticized the fragile peace deal saying it does not represent them.
Port Sudan in the Red Sea state is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its crippled economy dependent on exports.
The protests come as Sudan grapples with deep economic woes left in the wake of Bashir’s ouster, whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by prolonged US sanctions.
“The closure will not be lifted until our demands to nullify the parts about east Sudan in the peace deal are met,” Abuamnah added.
Aboud Sherbini, a port worker, confirmed the “port has completely shut down and the flow of imports and exports has stopped.”
Other witnesses from the restive eastern Qedaref state also told AFP that roads were blocked.
Abuamnah said protesters have called for the government’s dissolution and the formation of a non-partisan administration to lead the transition.
Similar protests in and around the port broke out last year over the October 2020 peace deal.
The government has yet to make a comment on the latest closure.


Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
Updated 20 September 2021

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show

Pfizer COVID-19 jab safe for children aged 5-11, clinical trial results show
  • The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over

FRANKFURT: Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday said clinical trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine was “safe, well tolerated” and produced a “robust” immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.
The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people 12 and over, the companies said in a statement. They said they would submit their data to regulatory bodies in the European Union, the United States and around the world “as soon as possible.”


Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
Updated 20 September 2021

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay

Lebanese lawmakers convene to approve Cabinet after power delay
  • Lebanon’s worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers convened Monday to confirm the country’s new government following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the parliament session.
It took some 40 minutes before electricity came back on. The incident, which underscored the deep crisis roiling the small Mediterranean country amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, was derided on social media.
Lebanese have been suffering electricity blackouts and severe shortages in fuel, diesel and medicine for months, threatening to shut down hospitals, bakeries and schools. Lines stretching several kilometers (miles) of people waiting to fill up their tanks are a daily occurrence at gas stations across the country.
The economic crisis, unfolding since 2019, has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world in the last 150 years. Within months, it had impoverished more than half of the population and left the national currency in freefall, driving inflation and unemployment to previously unseen levels.
A new government headed by billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was finally formed earlier this month after a 13-month delay, as politicians bickered about government portfolios at a time when the country was sliding deeper into financial chaos and poverty.
The new government is expected to undertake critically needed reforms, as well as manage public anger and tensions resulting from the planned lifting of fuel subsidies by the end of the month. Lebanon’s foreign reserves have been running dangerously low, and the central bank in the import-dependent country has said it was no longer able to support its $6 billion subsidy program.
The government is also expected to oversee a financial audit of the Central Bank and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package.
Few believe that can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties that the public blames for corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon’s resources.
Lawmakers are to debate the new government’s policy statement before a vote of confidence is held on Monday evening — a vote which Mikati's proposed Cabinet expects to win with the support from majority legislators.
Mikati, one of Lebanon’s richest businessmen who is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time, pledged to get to work immediately to ease the day-to-day suffering of the Lebanese.
“What happened here today with the electricity outage pales in comparison to what the Lebanese people have been suffering for months,” Mikati told lawmakers after power returned and the session got underway.
The session is being held at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace so that parliament members could observe social distancing measures imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.
“What can I say, it’s a farce,” lawmaker Taymour Jumblatt, the son of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said when asked about the electricity outage.
“It is not a good sign,” said lawmaker Faisal Sayegh. “We need to light up this hall, to say to people that we can light up the country.”


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 20 September 2021

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread

DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”