Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates
The Electricite du Liban company building in Beirut. Lebanon was plunged into darkness as the country faces power shortage and economic crisis. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 August 2021

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates

Ravaged Lebanon in complete darkness as electricity grid disintegrates
  • Acute fuel shortages have led the small Mediterranean country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with hospitals across the country sounding the alarm

DUBAI: Lebanon has been plunged into total darkness after its electric grid crumpled, piling further sorrows on a country teetering on the edge of collapse.

In a statement late on Sunday, the state-owned Électricité Du Liban announced that it had entered the stage of a complete blackout after “feeding reached an extremely low level.”

EDL had been supplying around one hour of electricity per day in the crisis-torn country with private generators struggling to fill the gaps, leaving residents with more than 15 hours of blackouts.

Eight feeding stations, which transfer power from Lebanon’s four main power plants onto its grid, have also been seized by angry residents, diverging electricity solely to their towns and villages.

The stations, located in southern Lebanon and Baalbek, have been seized for the better part of a week, with EDL calling on security forces to restore order.

“We’re in no man’s land, it’s simply not safe for employees to go to work anymore,” an EDL manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News.

With these stations effectively being run by untrained residents, the danger of an overload on a circuit becomes a possibility.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. To make matters worse, public-sector employees including EDL workers are expected to go on a full-fledged strike starting this week, he said.

“How do you expect an employee, living on $40 a month, with no gasoline, no medicine and no sense of security, to go to work,” he asked.

Acute fuel shortages have led the small Mediterranean country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with hospitals across the country sounding the alarm.

As dwindling diesel stocks threatened the lives of “40 adult patients and 15 children living on respirators” and another 180 others who are receiving dialysis treatment, one of Lebanon’s foremost university hospitals pleaded with concerned stakeholders for help.

These patients would die “within a matter of days,” the American University of Beirut’s Medical Center said on Saturday, before issuing a statement saying that it had replenished its stock for a week.

“After many calls that went unheeded, the AUB administration finally managed to get through to those who saw the dangers and were willing to take the initiative and help. Fuel suppliers, companies and citizens have stepped up, and AUBMC and other hospitals began to receive a resupply of fuel,” it said Sunday.

“AUBMC is gradually building back up its fuel supply and by tonight should have around a week of reserves,” it added.

The impending catastrophe comes on the heels of a tragic accident in the northern Akkar district that killed 28 people and injured scores of others.

At least 28 people were killed and 79 injured when a fuel tanker exploded in northern Lebanon early on Sunday, the health ministry said, after a seized fuel tanker exploded while residents flocked to replenish makeshift tanks.

Accounts varied as to what caused the explosion, from gunfire from the disgruntled tanker owner to reports that it was caused by a person who ignited a lighter.

With the country’s hospitals running on fumes and unable to care for patients amid fuel and medicine shortages, officials turned to friendly neighbors for help.

Three patients with severe burn wounds were airlifted to Turkey while Kuwait and Egypt sent over 10 tonnes of medical aid to Lebanon.

Speaking to his supporters Sunday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his Iran-backed party will begin importing fuel from Tehran.

The militant chief had previously said his group would be able to import fuel from Iran while bypassing Lebanon’s central bank to evade US sanctions.

“We will go to Iran and negotiate with the Iranian government… and buy vessels full of petrol and fuel oil and bring them to Beirut port,” he said, defying the “Lebanese state (to dare) to prevent the fuel and gasoline from reaching the Lebanese people.”


European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem
Updated 26 min 41 sec ago

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem

European countries urge Israel to stop construction in East Jerusalem
  • Earlier in the month, Israeli authorities approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem

PARIS: The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities on Wednesday evening to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem.
Earlier in the month, Israeli authorities approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, nearly half of which are to be built in the controversial areas of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa.
In a statement, the European countries said that the hundreds of new buildings would “constitute an additional obstacle to the two-state solution,” referring to international peace efforts to create a state for Palestinians.
They said that building in this area would further disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem and that these settlements are a violation of international law.
The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Israel captured East Jerusalem including the Old City in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which abuts the city, and the Gaza Strip. Israel views the entire city as its indivisible capital.
Most world powers deem the Israeli settlements illegal for taking in territory where Palestinians seek statehood.
The four countries also expressed concern about the evictions and demolitions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where residents say they are being displaced.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their East Jerusalem home — which they say they had lived in for decades — before a digger tore down the property, prompting criticism from rights activists and diplomats.


Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
Updated 48 min 39 sec ago

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
  • World must deal with their ‘criminal acts,’ Yemen’s prime minister says

AL-MUKALLA: Demands grew on Wednesday for the US to restore the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to its list of designated terrorist groups.

The government in Yemen joined calls for the reinstatement by authorities in the UAE after Monday’s Houthi drone attack on Abu Dhabi in which three people died.

“These criminal acts require designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization,” Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said. “The international community has to deal with this group.

More pressure needs to be applied to stop these terrorist crimes that threaten regional and international peace and stability.”

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization on Jan. 16, 2021, a few hours before the Trump administration handed the White House over to Joe Biden.

The new administration quickly reversed the move, paused a ban on financial transactions in Houthi-controlled areas on Jan. 25, and fully revoked the terrorist designation on Feb. 16.

The revocation was followed by a barrage of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis targeting civilians and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

On the ground, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy escalated airstrikes on Houthi military sites and reinforcements on Wednesday as government troops repelled the militia’s attempts to seize control of new areas.

Coalition warplanes destroyed military vehicles carrying Houthi fighters in Marib and struck Houthi gatherings and locations in the province. Thick smoke and large balls of fire billowed over targeted locations in southwestern Sanaa, including Attan Mountain, which hosts a ballistic missile depot.

The coalition said it had carried out 19 airstrikes in Marib that killed 90 Houthis and destroyed 11 of their vehicles.

There was heavy fighting between government troops and the Houthis south of the strategic central city of Marib. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at Yemen’s Armed Forces Guidance Department, told Arab News the Houthis had mounted several counterattacks on government troops around Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range in a bid to break a siege on pockets of their fighters on the strategic mountain.

The Houthis failed to achieve their goal of reaching the mountain and were forced into stopping their attacks after suffering heavy casualties. “They have to either surrender or die,” Al-Mekhlafi said. Loyalist Giants Brigades troops also engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis south of Marib.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began visits on Wednesday to the Gulf states and the UK. “The special envoy and his team will press the parties to deescalate militarily and...participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.


US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts
Updated 20 January 2022

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

RIYADH: US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.
Lenderking is on a tour of Gulf states and the British capital, London, to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials, and other international partners, the State Department said.
During the meeting, GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al-Hajraf stressed the importance of applying international pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militia to end its terrorist activities and seriously engage in the Yemen peace process.
The two sides discussed regional and international efforts to reach the political solution sought by the bloc, in accordance with the GCC initiative and its Executive Mechanism, the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference and UN Security Council resolution 2216.
Al-Hajraf praised Washington’s significant role and the efforts of the US envoy to end the Yemeni war, and the humanitarian and development assistance it provides to the Yemeni people.
He also strongly condemned the continued targeting of civilians and civilian targets with missiles and drones in Saudi Arabia, as well as the cowardly terrorist attack that targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport on Monday, killing three people.
Al-Hajraf said it constitutes a terrorist act, a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to regional security and stability.
During his tour, Lenderking “will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.
He will also call on donors to provide additional funding to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis, after the UN had said that around $3.9 billion is needed this year to help millions of people in the war-torn country.


Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
Updated 20 January 2022

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
  • For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign
  • The latest killing took place in Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces shot dead an anti-coup protester on Wednesday as American diplomats visited Khartoum seeking to help end a crisis which has claimed dozens of lives and derailed the country’s democratic transition.
For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign to protest the killing of seven people during a demonstration on Monday, one of the bloodiest days since the October 25 military coup.
The latest killing took place in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades.
Pro-democracy medics from the Doctors’ Committee said the protester was shot in the torso “by live bullets of the (security) forces.”
Witnesses also reported the use of tear gas by security forces in Omdurman and eastern Khartoum.
The death brings to 72 the number of people killed in a security crackdown against protesters who have taken to the streets — sometimes in the tens of thousands — calling for a return to the country’s democratic transition and opposing the latest military putsch.
Protesters have been shot by live rounds and hundreds have been wounded, according to the Doctors’ Committee.
The Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, called for more protests on Thursday in Khartoum “in tribute to the martyrs,” and nationwide on Friday.
Before the latest fatality, US Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, held meetings with the bereaved families of people killed during the protests, the US embassy said.
They also met with members of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in protests which ousted president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, as well as the mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change.
Its spokesman Wagdy Saleh said they pleaded for “an end to the systematic violence toward civilians” and a “credible political process.”
The diplomats are scheduled to meet with others including military leaders and political figures.
“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the US State Department said ahead of the visit.
The diplomats held earlier talks in Saudi Arabia with the “Friends of Sudan” — a group of Western and Arab countries favoring transition to civilian rule.
In a statement, the group backed a United Nations initiative announced last week to hold intra-Sudanese consultations to break the political impasse.
“We urge all to engage in good faith and reestablish public trust in the inevitable transition to democracy,” the group said.
“Ideally this political process will be time-bound and culminate in the formation of a civilian-led government which will prepare for democratic elections.”
While the US diplomats visited, coup leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan announced that vice-ministers — some of whom served before the coup and some appointed after — would now become ministers.
A statement from his office called it a “cabinet in charge of current affairs.”
But it has no prime minister, since the civilian premier Abdalla Hamdok resigned in early January after trying to cooperate with the military.
As part of the civil disobedience campaign, judicial workers including prosecutors and judges said they would not work for a state committing “crimes against humanity.”
University professors, corporations and doctors also joined the movement, according to separate statements.
Sudan’s authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition against demonstrators, and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests. A police general was stabbed to death last week.


Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
Updated 19 January 2022

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
  • Benjamin Briere was arrested while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area near the Turkmenistan-Iran border
  • Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges

DUBAI: A jailed French tourist in Iran, Benjamin Briere, will appear before a Revolutionary Court on Thursday on spying charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday, over a year after his arrest while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area.
“Benjamin will attend the court to be tried for spying and acting against national security charges,” one of his lawyers Saeid Dehghan told Reuters.
Briere has been held since May 2020, when he was arrested after flying a helicam — a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images — in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. He was charged with espionage and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
His trial comes as the United States and parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal including France are trying to restore the pact, which was abandoned in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual citizens and foreigners to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.