Lebanese fear end to fuel subsidies as Arab ministers discuss energy rescue plan

Lebanese fear end to fuel subsidies as Arab ministers discuss energy rescue plan
Motorbike and car drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in Beirut, Lebanon, June 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 September 2021

Lebanese fear end to fuel subsidies as Arab ministers discuss energy rescue plan

Lebanese fear end to fuel subsidies as Arab ministers discuss energy rescue plan
  • Any decision to axe subsidies could lead to price hikes of almost all commodities in Lebanon, further adding to the deep economic and political crises already gripping the country
  • Georges Brax, a member of the gas station owners’ syndicate, said: “The $225 million allocated to subsidize fuel and electricity has basically dried up.”

BEIRUT: Fears were on Wednesday growing among Lebanese business leaders and citizens over the threat of an end to subsidies on all fuel products.

Concerns were raised as ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon discussed a road map toward opening up vital supply lines for gas and electricity to the Lebanese.

Any decision to axe subsidies could lead to price hikes of almost all commodities in Lebanon, further adding to the deep economic and political crises already gripping the country.

More than 12 months after the Lebanese government resigned and with the nation teetering on the brink of collapse, politicians have still to agree on the formation of a new administration.

Georges Brax, a member of the gas station owners’ syndicate, said: “The $225 million allocated to subsidize fuel and electricity has basically dried up.

“If Lebanon’s central bank approves new credit lines, subsidies will persist, otherwise, subsidies will be lifted and then we will have to import fuel according to the dollar price on the black market.”

The dire social and economic situation in Lebanon has left many people and businesses without access to electricity, medicine, gasoline, or diesel and the collapse of the local currency has impacted on hospital supplies and services and led to sharp food-price rises.

Lebanese officials recently started talks with Syria over the transit of Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity through its territory.

Hala Adel Zawati, Jordan’s minister of energy and mineral resources, invited her Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese counterparts to a four-way meeting in Amman on Wednesday that was also attended by experts and technicians from Lebanon’s electricity company and energy ministry.

At a joint press conference, she revealed that the meeting’s participants had agreed on “a road map to provide Lebanon with natural gas from Egypt.”

She said: “The meeting was preliminary and went very well. The infrastructure is almost ready to transit Egyptian gas to Lebanon, but we still have to check the network and gas facilities. We must verify that everything is ready to start the pumping as soon as possible.

“The next meetings will discuss the damaged infrastructure in Syria to transport electricity to Lebanon. Every Arab country will be responsible for the required cost to ensure the transit of gas to Lebanon,” Zawati added.

Ghassan Al-Zamil, Syria’s energy minister, said: “We will support any joint Arab effort that serves the Arab nation.”

And Raymond Ghajar, Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister, thanked “the brotherly countries” for their cooperation.

He said: “Lebanon today is in desperate need for the support of vital sectors. This step will enable us to benefit 450 power-generation plants and will enable the importation of electricity from Jordan in the future.”

Ghajar added that he hoped “to receive enough gas to generate 450 megawatts of electricity in Lebanon. We are working with the World Bank to secure financing for energy supplies.”

Egyptian minister of petroleum, Tarek Al-Mala, said: “After the interruption of the Arab Gas Pipeline for the past 10 years, we must check the whole network and gas facilities. We must also review some of the contractual terms.”

He added that a road map was being drawn up “with the participating ministers and Egyptian technical teams to repump gas via the Arab Gas Pipeline to Lebanon as soon as possible.”

However, head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners in Lebanon, Suleiman Haroun, said: “A health crisis is about to hit the country in the next two weeks if subsidies on fuel are lifted. Even the rich would not have access to hospitals. We have reported that imports of medical supplies have stopped.

“The current tariffs force hospitals to bill patients for the price difference, which has become extravagant. I have previously warned that hospitals would only become accessible for the rich,” he added.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Issam Araji, head of Lebanon’s health parliamentary committee, said: “The financial collapse and greed have led to billing patients in US dollars or Lebanese pounds according to the exchange rate on the black market.

“Insurance companies cannot increase the tariff. Patients are the victims. They are paying 85 percent of the bill and companies are only covering 15 percent. The only solution is a rescue government. Otherwise, God knows what might happen.”


Iran says forces seize two Greek tankers, Athens protests ‘piracy’

Iran says forces seize two Greek tankers, Athens protests ‘piracy’
Updated 13 sec ago

Iran says forces seize two Greek tankers, Athens protests ‘piracy’

Iran says forces seize two Greek tankers, Athens protests ‘piracy’
  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accused the tankers of unspecified violations
  • Greece’s Foreign Ministry said Iranian authorities ‘violently took over’ the two ships in an ‘act of piracy’

DUBAI/ATHENS: Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday, Iranian state media reported, shortly after Tehran warned it would take “punitive action” against Athens over the confiscation of Iranian oil by the US from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
“The Revolutionary Guards Navy today seized two Greek tankers for violations in Gulf waters,” said a Guards statement, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.
It gave no further details or say what the alleged violations were.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry said it made a strong demarche to the Iranian ambassador in Athens over the “violent taking over of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Arabian Gulf.
“These actions are tantamount to acts of piracy,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, warning Greek citizens to avoid traveling to Iran.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the vessels and their crews, and said these acts would have “particularly negative consequences” in bilateral relations and in Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
The ministry’s statement said that earlier Friday, an Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters some 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.
“Armed men then took the crew captive,” it said, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.
“A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, that was carrying seven Greek citizens, close to the coast of Iran,” the ministry said.
It added that one of the vessels was the Delta Poseidon, while a spokeswoman at the Athens-based company Polembros identified the second tanker as the Prudent Warrior.
A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the attack with a journalist, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its owner, Polembros Shipping in Greece, earlier said the company was “cooperating with the authorities and making every possible effort to address the situation effectively.”
The ministry said nine Greeks were among the crews of both vessels, but did not give a number of other sailors on board.
A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships had come close to — but not in — Iranian territorial waters Friday before drifting off into Iranian waters. The ships also had turned off their tracking devices, another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a mayday or a call for help, the official said.
Iran had threatened to take “punitive action” earlier Friday over Athens being involved in the US seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Greek waters.
Iran’s Nour News website, close to its security services, made the threat just as shipping news site Lloyd’s List said it believed two Greek tankers had been seized in the Arabian Gulf. Quoting anonymous industry sources, Lloyd’s reported that the two ships had been boarded after Iranian military helicopters approached them on Friday afternoon. It said both tankers had just been loaded with Iraqi crude oil.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, near the coast of the southern island of Evia due to EU sanctions.
Washington later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel, Reuters reported on Thursday.
The Pegas was later released because of confusion about the sanctions over its owners.
The Pegas was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 — two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector.
It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
Also on Friday, Iran summoned an envoy of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran, to protest against the Pegas oil seizure, the Iranian foreign ministry said.
“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the US government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” state media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather. It called the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”
The US on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
In 2019, Iran seized a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations two weeks after British forces detained an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Both vessels were later released.
(With Reuters, AP and AFP)


US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
Updated 27 May 2022

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
  • The US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade
  • Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step”

DUBAI: The US has designated a network run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force an “international oil smuggling and money laundering network.”
A US Treasury Department report on Wednesday said that officials had facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Iranian oil for both the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah.
It acted as a critical element of Iran’s oil revenue generation, and supported proxy militant groups that continued to “perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region.”
The department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, said the US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade.
He added that similar sanctions could apply to anyone purchasing oil from Iran.
Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step.”
“Assisted by Hezbollah, this oil network has been allowed to operate freely for too long. This is an important step, but the administration must keep pushing Hezbollah and its allies to the margins,” she said. “Hezbollah, who control the Lebanese Energy Ministry, recently took advantage of Lebanon’s energy problems to secure preferential access to the Lebanese market for their masters in Tehran.”
She said Sonatrach, a state-owned Algerian company, had been responsible for sending fuel oil to Lebanon and that its exit had “exacerbated the country’s already crippling” energy problems.
Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s state prosecutor, launched politically motivated proceedings against Sonatrach, which caused the Algerians to leave, she added.
“Hezbollah used this chaos to secure access for Iran to Beirut’s energy market.”


Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
Updated 27 May 2022

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
  • Move is part of Menarini’s planned regional expansion
  • CEO: ‘We are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East’

LONDON: Italian pharmaceutical giant Menarini has opened its Middle East headquarters in Dubai’s Science Park.

Specializing in pharma research and production, consumer healthcare, oncology and diagnostics, the move is part of the group’s planned expansion into the Middle East and Africa.

“It is a historical moment for us as we open our regional offices in Dubai to significantly grow our presence and portfolio in the Middle East,” said CEO Elcin Barker Ergun.

“As a 135-year-old family-owned company, we are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East in the coming years with our unwavering commitment to quality.”

Among those in attendance at the opening ceremony was Amin Hussain Al-Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing in the UAE.

Also in attendance were Italian Ambassador Nicola Lener, Menarini’s General Manager Luca Lastrucci, and its regional head Basel Thaher.

Ali Al-Sayed, director of the pharmaceutical services department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: “A defining objective of Dubai 2030 is to be a global hub for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation focused businesses.

“As a company with longstanding roots based in medical research, Menarini will be a strong contributor to this visionary strategy.”

He added: “Together, we share Dubai’s overarching healthcare vision of positioning Dubai as the leading destination for healthcare knowledge, education and training.”


Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years
  • More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement

TEHRAN: Hundreds of people took to the streets in southwestern Iran demanding justice after a tower block collapse killed 24 people, news outlets in the Islamic republic said on Friday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in the city of Abadan, in Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.


Images published by Fars news agency showed hundreds of residents marching along Abadan’s streets on Thursday night, mourning those who lost their lives by banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals.
Some shouted “Death to incompetent officials” and hailed the “Martyrs of Metropol,” Fars said.
People also took to the streets of Khorramshahr city, in the same province, expressing their sympathy with the families of those who died and calling for “a decisive and serious” trial of those responsible, it added.
Similar protests were held on Wednesday night in Abadan, state TV had reported.
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement.

A video posted on Tasnim news agency’s website on Friday showed rescuers carrying a gurney with a body wrapped in a black bag.
Abadan governor Ehsan Abbaspour, cited by ISNA news agency, said the number of people killed in the disaster stood at 24, up from 19 previously.
Officials said 37 people were also injured, although most have since been discharged from hospital.
It remains unknown how many people may still be trapped under the rubble.

More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for perpetrators to be prosecuted and punished, in a statement posted on his official website on Thursday.
The provincial judiciary said at least 10 people were arrested following the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, accused of being “responsible” for the collapse, the Judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
An investigation has been opened into the cause of the disaster in Abadan, a city of 230,000 people, 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of Tehran.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber visited Abadan on Friday to “investigate the dimensions of the building collapse incident,” according to ISNA.
In a previous major disaster in Iran, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the capital’s 15-story Plasco shopping center in January 2017.


Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
The ministry called for an immediate release of the ship and its cargo. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
  • The US seized Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece

Iran on Friday summoned the envoy of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran, to protest against the US seizure of Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece, the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by Iranian media.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ship and its cargo, the IRNA state news agency quoted it as saying.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the US government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” IRNA and other media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry told Reuters on Thursday that the US Department of Justice had “informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil.”
It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that the US plans to send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel.
The Iranian-flagged ship, the Pegas, was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 — two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector.
IRNA reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo of a ship which was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, adding that the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”