Babies found dumped as Lebanese grapple with poverty

A general view of the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A general view of the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 03 September 2021

Babies found dumped as Lebanese grapple with poverty

A general view of the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • Country has reached starvation stage, says ex-minister

BEIRUT: Two babies have been found dumped in Lebanon in less than a week.

On Aug. 27, cleaners found a baby girl inside a garbage bag that was in a waste container under the Burj Hammoud Bridge, a popular mixed area with an Armenian majority where many underprivileged families live.

Then, on Sept. 1, a worker at Al-Bahr Mosque in the southern city of Sidon found a baby boy on the stairs of the building’s entrance. The baby was just a few months old and in poor health.

This terrifying social phenomenon is new to Lebanese society.

Lebanon experienced something similar over three decades ago during the civil war, and such incidents occurred intermittently after the conflict ended.

Security and judicial authorities usually follow up on these cases, often placing the abandoned babies in social welfare institutions.

In July a UNICEF report on Lebanon warned that over 30 percent of children were “going to bed hungry” and had skipped meals in the past month.

“Seventy-seven percent of households do not have enough food or enough money to buy food. Sixty percent of households have to buy food on credit or borrow money. Thirty percent of children are not receiving the primary health care they need,” it said.

The national currency has lost about 99 percent of its value in less than two years and around 55 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line as a result of an economic crisis.

Inflation is expected to increase, with the anticipation of a greater decline in the value of the Lebanese pound if the country’s political turmoil persists.

The international community requires the formation of a government that implements economic and financial reforms as a precondition for aid.

Khaled Qabbani, a former minister of justice and education and the director general of Social Welfare Institutions and the Islamic Orphanage in Lebanon, said he expected “the worst amid this economic, financial, political and moral collapse.”

“When people starve and institutions collapse and Lebanon loses the confidence of the international community while the political class is distracted by quotas and personal gains, we will see more children in the streets and more theft and looting,” he told Arab News. “Chaos is bound to prevail. Since the ruling authority and the security forces lost their stature, no one can prevent riots. We are currently in the midst of this stage and the phenomenon of leaving babies in the garbage and on the doors of mosques indicates this complete collapse.

“A high percentage of parents want to enroll their children in the orphanage because they are unable to provide them with care and protection. They know that we protect our children and provide them with education, a place to sleep, food and hospitalization. They would rather be separated from their children and place them in our care than keep them at home without food or education. The phenomenon of parents leaving their children is a product of poverty and a lack of moral values.

“Parents who enroll their children in our institutions have to come and take their children home weekly in order to maintain a family connection. However, parents have recently stopped coming to the orphanage due to the high cost of transportation, especially if they live in areas far from Beirut.”

The economic crisis has hit all institutions that provide social care within their sects. “Social welfare institutions had never experienced such conditions and risks, even in the most difficult stages of Lebanon’s history,” he added. “The country has reached the stage of starvation, people did not starve during the war.

“Our expenses increased and our sources of income decreased. The donors were affected by the crisis as well, so the size of donations dropped. The middle class, which is considered the backbone of society and which sympathizes greatly with its social welfare institutions, was also dramatically affected by the crisis. Remarkably, the people’s sympathy for us did not cease. On the contrary, the sense of responsibility rose and the donations never stopped. This means that society has not lost its social and patriotic sense.”

Qabbani said that many social welfare institutions in Lebanon faced the same predicament. Some had reduced their services, dismissed employees, or cut their salaries.

“All the Lebanese share the same plight and poverty has spread to all sects.”


Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
Updated 5 sec ago

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
CAIRO: Pro-military protesters briefly blocked major roads and bridges in Sudan’s capital Sunday, amid growing tensions between the generals and the pro-democracy movement that fueled the uprising against autocratic former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The development came a day after US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met with military and civilian leaders in Khartoum to find a compromise to the dispute.
The souring ties between the military and civilians in the ruling government threaten Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy since the military’s ouster of Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019 after nearly three decades of autocratic rule.
The current crisis surfaced with a coup attempt last month. Officials blamed Al-Bashir loyalists for the move. But the generals lashed out at the civilian part of the government, accusing politicians of seeking government posts rather than helping ease people’s economic suffering.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling Sovereign Council, said that dissolving the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok could resolve the ongoing political crisis. That suggestion was rejected by hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country Thursday.
That generals’ accusations, echoed by Burhan and his deputy, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, have aroused fears among civilians that the military may eventually hijack the country’s transition to civilian rule.
Pro-military protesters rallied in Khartoum earlier this month, echoing Burhan’s demands. The protesters have since held a sit-in outside the presidential palace in the capital. Last week, they attempted to storm the Cabinet headquarters as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with his Cabinet. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas.
On Saturday, dozens of pro-military protesters stormed the reception area of the headquarters of the country’s state-run news agency and set tires ablaze outside the agency offices. It delayed a news conference for pro-democracy activists, according to Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, director of SUNA news agency.
In an escalation Sunday, pro-military demonstrators cut off major roads and bridges, including the Mec Nimr Bridge, which links Khartoum’s downtown with other areas of the capital, according to activist and rights defender Tahani Abbas. The move caused traffic to clog the streets early Sunday, the first work day of the week, especially Nile Street, a main traffic artery in Khartoum.
“What is happening ... is an official coup sponsored by Burhan,” she said. Abbas shared photos of protesters blocking a bridge with passenger buses and vehicles being turned back.
Later in the day, security forces dispersed the protesters using tear gas to open the blocked roads. Video on social media purportedly showed protesters fleeing over the bridge and on Nile Street.
Feltman, the US envoy, met in Khartoum with Buhan, Dagalo and Hamdok and “emphasized US support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Sudanese people,” the US Embassy in Khartoum said.
He urged Sudanese leaders “to commit to working together to implement the constitutional declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement” between the government and an alliance of rebel groups, the embassy said.
The tensions come weeks ahead of a scheduled rotation of the leadership on the ruling sovereign council from the military to civilians, according to the constitutional declaration that established the joint government in August 2019.

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says
Updated 23 min 20 sec ago

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

DUBAI: Registration for candidates in Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections should open as of the first half of November, Emad Al-Sayah, the head of the High National Elections Commission, said on Sunday.


Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
  • Passengers vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel freely between the two countries

DUBAI: Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a “green corridor” agreement allowing passengers vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to travel freely between the two countries, the Israeli consulate in Dubai said on Twitter on Sunday.


Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

TEL AVIV: Israel is expected to move forward with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank this week, a settlement watchdog group said Sunday.
The plan for some 3,000 new settler units in the West Bank has already drawn calls for restraint from the US, which on Friday voiced “concern” over the expected approvals.
Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now said a committee is set to meet Wednesday to approve 2,800 units deep in the West Bank, complicating any efforts to create a Palestinian state. More than half of those are receiving final approval, meaning construction could begin in the coming year.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about the housing plans. He called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” to the conflict.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements, which house some 700,000 settlers, as the main obstacle to peace. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal.
Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Ofran said Israel is also set to approve 1,600 units for Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank that it controls. But critics say the move comes at the initiative of villagers and not the Israeli government and that the figure is a fraction of the building permits requested by Palestinians over the years.


Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
Updated 24 October 2021

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
  • High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore
  • The permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Crashing through the Mediterranean waves at sunset, Palestinian fisherman Mohammed Al-Nahal leads a convoy of rickety boats out for another risky night under the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Forced to stay close to shore due to Israeli restrictions on powerful engines, the men complain they must seek a catch from overfished shallow waters with declining stocks.
“If we catch 200 kilos (450 pounds) of sardines, that would be great,” Nahal says. “But we can also come back empty-handed.”
High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore.
“The further we go, the more we pay for fuel without guarantees about the catch,” Nahal says, leading a line of five boats, the air heavy with the stench of diesel and sardines.
For Gaza, fenced in by Israel and Egypt, and where Hamas Islamists took power in 2007, the open sea seems to offer the promise of freedom — but it is deceptive.
Israel’s navy fully controls the waters off Gaza’s 40-kilometer (25-mile) long coastline, and regularly restricts or expands the size of the fishing zone in response to security conditions.
After months of relative calm following an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, the permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles, its maximum under the blockade, including deep water with richer fish stocks.
But Nahal’s crew does not venture that far. Six miles is their outer limit, good for sardines, but too close to shore for the bigger value fish such as tuna.
“We fishermen do not have appropriate engines to reach a distance of 15 miles,” Nahal says. “Currently, we are not allowed to enter Gaza with these modern engines.”
Some Palestinian fishermen are also fearful of heading out too far to sea. In the past, Israeli gunboats have opened fire and damaged nets to enforce access restrictions.
Making a living requires resourcefulness, and Nahal has repurposed a Volvo car engine to power the boat and run the powerful lights — which the fishermen shine into the night waters to attract the sardines.
Due to the blockade’s import restrictions, Israel also limits access to other key equipment such as sonar devices to find fish shoals.
Israel restricts such items citing their “dual use,” saying they could either aid Hamas weapons production, or the powerful engines could be used by smugglers.
It says the blockade is necessary to protect Israeli civilians who have been targeted with thousands of rockets fired by militants in the enclave since the Hamas takeover.
But Yussef, 22, keeping watch on Nahal’s boat, complains that with all Gaza’s fishermen forced into the same small area, they struggle to catch enough to turn a profit.
“There’s not enough fish,” he says. “I’ve lived off of fishing since I was 14. Every day, when the water is open, I go out. It’s the only thing I know how to do in life.”
For Gaza, home to some two million Palestinians — roughly half of whom are unemployed — fish from the sea offer a critical source of protein.
But as well as overfishing, the industry faces multiple challenges.
They include poorly treated sewage pumped into the sea from the tightly packed city, “affecting the entire marine environment and public health,” according to a 2020 World Bank report.
“Many of the fish that people depend on are already overexploited,” the World Bank adds.
This time, for Nahal, there is moderate success.
After hours shining bright lights into the waters, the boats encircle the area and cast their nets.
“Here are the fish, catch them, for it is my fish that I love,” the men sing as the catch is hauled up.
Exhausted and back in port, the fishermen sell the catch in the busy port, where auctioneers shout prices to waiting wholesalers.
For Nahal, the half-ton sells within 90 seconds for 3,000 Israeli shekels ($935).
It is more than he had hoped for, but is barely a profitable night once his costs and crew’s wages are deducted.