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.”


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.
 


Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli missile strikes near Damascus, state media reported on Friday.
“Our air defenses stopped a number of hostile missiles in the airspace of the southern countryside of Damascus,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the target of the Israeli strikes were Iranian bases near Damascus.
The latest strike follows one on May 14 that killed five soldiers and another one on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged mounting hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

 


Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
Updated 20 May 2022

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a "new republic", through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country's 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic", charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue" -- at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country's major actors.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.