Fuel clashes see Lebanon ramp up security

Special Lebanon is struggling amid a 20-month-old economic crisis that has led to shortages of fuel and basic goods like baby formula, medicine and spare parts. (AP)
Lebanon is struggling amid a 20-month-old economic crisis that has led to shortages of fuel and basic goods like baby formula, medicine and spare parts. (AP)
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Updated 29 August 2021

Fuel clashes see Lebanon ramp up security

Lebanon is struggling amid a 20-month-old economic crisis that has led to shortages of fuel and basic goods like baby formula, medicine and spare parts. (AP)
  • Drivers enduring 10-hour gas station queues as street brawls erupt

BEIRUT: Security measures were increased in several Lebanese regions following violent clashes over fuel disputes in gas stations, where sticks, knives and other weapons were used.

On Saturday, Baalbek and neighboring towns were plunged into darkness due to a decrease in production of the Al-Zahrani thermal plant by almost 150 megawatts.

It came after the country’s diesel shortage led to severe rationing by private generator owners. Subscription prices for small local generators now exceed 7 million Lebanese pounds ($4,600) per month.

Jihad Salem Al-Husseini, a dentist, said: “My work has worsened a lot. I bought a private generator and put it on the roof of the building in which my clinic is located in Beirut, after the owner of the generator with whom I was subscribed asked me to pay 7 million Lebanese pounds per month. He refused to provide me with electricity during the day, saying that he decided to run his generator only at night due to the diesel shortage.

“The crisis is affecting everything. The loss of electricity is one of the crises.”

The electricity crisis has hit many businesses, including barber shops. In light of the power outages that led to the disuse of air conditioners, scenes of customers sitting on chairs in front of barber shops have become common. Many barbers have moved their morning shifts to the evening.

Hair stylist Mohammed Issa said: “Due to power outages, I had to raise my prices from 5,000 to 25,000 Lebanese pounds for a blow dry. The situation is very difficult.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• On Saturday, Baalbek and neighboring towns were plunged into darkness due to a decrease in production of the Al-Zahrani thermal plant by almost 150 megawatts.

• It came after the country’s diesel shortage led to severe rationing by private generator owners.

• Subscription prices for small local generators now exceed 7 million Lebanese pounds per month.

• Growing tensions resulting from the acute cost-of-living crisis Lebanon is facing have begun to threaten security stability and civil coexistence.

• Violence erupted between residents of two southern towns, which led to the injury of six people as a result of a dispute over fuel.

Meanwhile, growing tensions resulting from the acute cost-of-living crisis Lebanon is facing have begun to threaten security stability and civil coexistence. Violence erupted between residents of two southern towns, which led to the injury of six people as a result of a dispute over fuel.

Commenting on the violence, Raif Younan, mayor of Maghdouche, a predominantly Christian town east of Sidon, said: “No one will be allowed to harm the people or their properties.” The head of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, called on the national army to “maintain security in the villages east of Sidon.”

The price of one fuel gallon has risen by 65 percent after the gradual lifting of subsidies. The price of one gallon of diesel has increased by 69 percent, while the price of a fuel gallon on the black market recently reached about 600,000 Lebanese pounds. Fuel is more commonly sold at stations for 133,000 pounds, after regular 10-hour waiting periods.

On Saturday, tensions also erupted in front of a gas station in Akkar, which led to vehicular collisions. Fights also broke out in front of a gas station in Tripoli. On the Abbasiya highway, three people were injured during a fight.

According to a statement by the Lebanese Army, “two citizens who were causing trouble in front of gas stations in the towns of Taalbaya and Bar Elias in central Bekaa were arrested. Weapons and ammunition were seized in their possession.”


Iraq announces first cholera death since new outbreak

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 52 sec ago

Iraq announces first cholera death since new outbreak

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics. (AFP)
  • The other infections were mostly concentrated in neighboring Sulaimaniyah province, in the autonomous Kurdistan region

BAGHDAD: A cholera outbreak in Iraq claimed its first victim Tuesday, with 17 new cases recorded in the country within 24 hours, a health ministry spokesperson said.
The death was recorded in the northern province of Kirkuk, the ministry’s Seif Al-Badr was quoted as saying by state media.
“Over the past 24 hours, 17 new cases were detected, bringing the total to 76 cases registered in Iraq since the start of the year,” he said.
The outbreak was first officially reported earlier this month, with Kirkuk accounting for one of the 13 cases confirmed at that time.
The other infections were mostly concentrated in neighboring Sulaimaniyah province, in the autonomous Kurdistan region.
The country’s last broad cholera outbreak dates back to 2015, Badr had said previously, with the central provinces of Baghdad and Babil to its south the worst affected.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that is treatable with antibiotics and hydration but can kill within hours without medical attention.
It is caused by a germ that is typically transmitted by poor sanitation. People become infected when they swallow food or water carrying the bug.
According to the World Health Organization, researchers estimate that annually there are between 1.3 million and four million cases of cholera worldwide, leading to between 21,000 and 143,000 deaths.


New talks in final bid to save Iran nuclear deal

New talks in final bid to save Iran nuclear deal
Updated 5 min 56 sec ago

New talks in final bid to save Iran nuclear deal

New talks in final bid to save Iran nuclear deal
  • Doha talks also come just two weeks before US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the region
  • EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said the Doha discussions were the start of process to “unblock” the long-running Vienna negotiations

JEDDAH: Iran and the US resumed indirect talks on Tuesday aimed at rescuing Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

Tehran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani met EU official Enrique Mora in Doha, and Mora began passing messages to Rob Malley, the US special representative for Iran.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the talks aimed to reestablish the deal “in a way that supports and enhances security, stability and peace in the region and opens new horizons for broader regional cooperation and dialogue” with Iran.

Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, under which Tehran limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal and began reimposing sanctions, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

Talks in Vienna about reviving the agreement have been stalled since March. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing a stockpile of enriched uranium.

As the talks began in Doha on Tuesday, Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami confirmed that Tehran had begun installing a new cascade of advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground nuclear plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, said earlier that Iran was planning to enrich uranium through a new chain of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the site. A cascade is a group of centrifuges working together to enrich uranium more quickly.

“We will follow measures according to the plans made,” Eslami said.

Iran removed 27 IAEA surveillance cameras this month to pressure the West into making a deal. The IAEA’s director-general warned it could deal a “fatal blow” to the accord as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons grade.

Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent — to make one nuclear weapon, should it decide to do so.

Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran, and is already thought to have carried out a series of sabotage attacks and assassinations targeting Iranian officials.


Mikati continues consultations on draft government as delay extends

Mikati continues consultations on draft government as delay extends
Updated 28 June 2022

Mikati continues consultations on draft government as delay extends

Mikati continues consultations on draft government as delay extends
  • FPM and Lebanese Forces continue to block PM-designate’s attempts to put an end to the political blockage

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, who has been tasked with forming a new Lebanese government at the end of his non-binding parliamentary consultations on Tuesday, said that he “went over the opinions of the MPs and we will take most of what they said into consideration, but what matters is that national interest prevails.”

Mikati said that the opinions shared by the MPs “are in the national interest, even if from different angles.” 

He hoped to be able to form a government “that can carry out its duty and continue what the previous government has started, especially with the IMF, the electricity plan and the file of maritime border demarcation,” hoping that things “would take shape in a proper way.”

If Mikati succeeds in forming this government, it will be his second government under President Michel Aoun’s term; if not, he will remain a prime minister-designate as a caretaker.

The second day of consultations saw the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, issue an ambiguous position. 

Bassil confirmed that “the bloc isn’t interested in participating in the new government but we didn’t meet as a bloc yet to confirm the matter.”

He opposes Mikati and the FPM did not name him in the formation of a government.

He said: “We told Mikati why we don’t agree with the government formation. There’s a real problem with the credibility of the designation and we raised the issue with him, but we overcame this problem given the country’s situation.”

Bassil said that the movement is “against any government stripped of its powers, and we emphasized that it’s important for the government to deal with important files, including the file of the governorship of the central bank.”

At the same time, Bassil denied that he had made a “demand or imposed a condition before Mikati.” 

He said that “making amendments to the current government is a wrong bet,” adding: “We are against a presidential gap and we will prevent it from happening.”

Bassil’s statement was remarkable, especially when he said that “Mikati’s designation lacks credibility” but decided to turn a blind eye given the country’s situation.

The Free Patriotic Movement bloc and the Lebanese Forces bloc did not propose Mikati to form a government during the binding parliamentary consultations held by President Aoun last week. 

However, a source close to Mikati pointed out that the two Christian parties do not fully represent all Christians and that some MPs with popular representation nominated Mikati.

The source said that “the FPM is insisting on having an efficient government that isn’t stripped of its powers for the purpose of implementing a political agenda, as the president’s bloc wants to appoint people affiliated with the party to critical positions before the end of the term, including appointing a new governor for the central bank.”

Head of the Kataeb party Samy Gemayel warned against “the danger of adopting a no-government logic before the presidential elections.” 

He believes that “wasting time in these dangerous circumstances the country is going through is deadly for the Lebanese who are suffering on all levels.” 

Gemayel emphasized “the need to form an independent government as fast as possible to stop the collapse.”

After meeting with Mikati, MP Oussama Saad said that “Lebanon needs a government that can safely transport the country from the current political reality to a new reality capable of facing challenges and crises.” 

He added: “The presidential elections are imminent. Can we elect a new president who is independent of the internal and external axes? Are the internal blocs controlling the state’s decision ready to carry out a rescue project?”

MP Jihad Al-Samad ruled out the possibility of forming a new government “as it is hard to form a government with the ongoing petulance and selfishness.” 

He said that he demanded “that the current government be activated, either by regranting it the parliament’s confidence to revive it, or by expanding the concept of caretaking.”

MP Bilal Houshaymi said that “the decision not to participate in the government is wrong. The previous government implemented some reforms that should be completed and all blocs should cooperate to form a government. People put their trust in the parliament and we should seek to get out of the axis of hell.”

The Armenian MPs bloc expressed its interest in participating in the government. MP Hagop Pakradounian said: “A new government should be formed as soon as possible and we should avoid the game of conditions and counter-conditions. We hope that Mikati will have a governmental lineup in the coming couple of days.”

Head of the Lebanese Forces Media and Communication Department Charles Jabbour ruled out the possibility of a new government formation “because the formation of governments in Lebanon usually takes between two to three months at least, noting that the new government, if formed, will have four months to be able to assume its role.”

Regarding the position of MP Gebran Bassil, the political rival of the Lebanese Forces, Jabbour told Arab News: “The stated position is different from the implicit one. Bassil has said before that competent governments ended and a political government is what is needed. He refuses that the caretaker government remains until the end of the term because the FPM continues to hold on to appointments that are in its interest and wants to be part of the government in case of a presidential gap.”

Mikati is now working on a draft government expected to be submitted to the president so they can both sign the decree of its formation. The current ongoing prevention of its formation is being caused by the parliamentary blocs representing significant political forces that have decided not to participate in the government. 

Few expect this to change. Charles Jabbour said that “the blocs that didn’t nominate Mikati to form a government and won’t participate in the government will surely not grant it confidence in the parliament.” 

He added that the matter might depend on the ministerial statement but “I think that there will be a difficulty facing the formation of the new government.” 


Algeria jails Bouteflika-era energy minister for 20 years

Algeria jails Bouteflika-era energy minister for 20 years
Updated 28 June 2022

Algeria jails Bouteflika-era energy minister for 20 years

Algeria jails Bouteflika-era energy minister for 20 years
  • The Sonatrach officials were accused of prioritising Italian firm Saipem over an Emirati firm for a contract
  • Two other Bouteflika-era ministers had jail terms on corruption allegations upheld

ALGIERS: An Algerian appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for corruption against Chakib Khelil, energy minister for a decade under longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the APS news agency reported.
The court also fined him two million dinars (about $13,600) and upheld prison sentences of five and six years respectively against Mohamed Meziane, ex-head of state oil and gas giant Sonatrach, and his deputy Abdelhafidh Feghouli.
The Sonatrach officials were accused of prioritising Italian firm Saipem over an Emirati firm for a contract to construct the Arzew gas complex in the western region of Oran — at Khelil’s behest.
The officials were also charged with “granting undue privileges,” abusing their positions and “concluding contracts in violation of laws and regulations,” APS reported.
Two other Bouteflika-era ministers had jail terms on corruption allegations upheld on appeal on Tuesday: Djamel Ould Abbes for six years and Said Berkat for four, the news agency said.
The court also sentenced two representatives of Saipem in absentia to five years in prison.
Saipem said in a statement that it intended to challenge the decision in Algeria’s supreme court.
In 2013, the Algerian judiciary had issued an international arrest warrant for Khelil over a case involving contracts between Sonatrach and foreign companies, including Saipem, a former subsidiary of Italian energy giant ENI.
Prosecutors in Milan had accused Saipem of paying bribes to obtain contracts in Algeria, and the subsidiary was fined in 2018, before being cleared by an appeals court in 2020.
Khelil, now 82, quit his post in 2010 and moved to the United States after being associated with a scandal involving high-ranking Sonatrach officials who were later jailed for corruption.
He returned to Algeria in 2016 after the cases were dropped — then left again after Bouteflika’s resignation in 2019 that sparked a string of investigations into graft by his officials.


Over 100 murders in Syria camp since Jan 2021: UN

Over 100 murders in Syria camp since Jan 2021: UN
Updated 28 June 2022

Over 100 murders in Syria camp since Jan 2021: UN

Over 100 murders in Syria camp since Jan 2021: UN
  • The Al-Hol camp is increasingly unsafe and the child detainees are being condemned to a life with no future
  • There have been "around 106 murders since January last year in the camp" and "many" of the victims were women, said the UN resident coordinator in Syria

GENEVA: More than 100 people, including many women, have been murdered in a Syrian camp in just 18 months, the UN said Tuesday, demanding countries repatriate their citizens.
The Al-Hol camp is increasingly unsafe and the child detainees are being condemned to a life with no future, said Imran Riza, the UN resident coordinator in Syria.
Al-Hol, in the Kurdish-controlled northeast, was meant as a temporary detention facility.
However, it still holds about 56,000 people, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, some of whom maintain links with the Daesh group, which seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The rest are citizens of other countries, including children and other relatives of Daesh fighters.
Some 94 percent of the detainees are women and children, Riza, who has visited Al-Hol a handful of times, told reporters in Geneva.
“It’s a very harsh place and it’s become an increasingly unsafe place,” he said.
There have been “around 106 murders since January last year in the camp” and “many” of the victims were women, he added.
“There’s a great deal of gender-based violence... There’s a lot of no-go areas.”
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said violence was spiking in the camp, with another murder Tuesday — the seventh since June 11.
Out of 24 people murdered inside the camp this year, 16 were women, the Observatory added.
Riza said there were around 27,000 Iraqi detainees, 18-19,000 Syrians and around 12,000 third-country citizens.
While there have been some repatriations to Iraq, many other countries which “need to be accepting their people back” were refusing to do so.
“The majority of the population there are children. They are innocent. If you leave them in a place like Al-Hol, you’re essentially condemning them to not having a future.”
Riza said that when boys get to 12, 13 and 14, they are taken away from their families and put into a different center, where their future is one of radicalization and joining a militia.
“The only solution is emptying the camp,” he said.
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.
It quickly spiralled into a complex conflict that pulled in numerous actors, including militant groups and foreign powers. The war has left around half a million people dead and displaced millions.
Riza said the levels of need in Syria were unprecedented and increasing, with 14.6 million people requiring humanitarian assistance — up 1.2 million since 2021 and the highest since the civil war began.
Riza said the country was facing a “cascade of crises,” with the key factor now the economic decline dragging down socio-economic conditions.
“The impact on Syrians is devastating and families are increasingly pushed into destitution,” he said, with more than 90 percent of the population estimated to live below the poverty line.