Power cuts stall industrial revival in war-wracked Syria

Power cuts stall industrial revival in war-wracked Syria
Aleppo’s industrial districts may receive a little more power than residential neighborhoods, but it is still not enough for Mahmud Majkini’s business to fully get back on its feet. (AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2021

Power cuts stall industrial revival in war-wracked Syria

Power cuts stall industrial revival in war-wracked Syria
  • Yearslong conflict has ravaged electricity networks as well as oil and gas infrastructure across the country

DAMASCUS: Workshops in Syria’s Aleppo used to clatter on into the night before the war, but these days the machines grind to a halt at 6 p.m. sharp because of power cuts.
Fighting ended almost five years ago in the country’s former economic hub, but limited electricity supply has hampered a full return to work in its manufacturing neighborhoods that produce everything from plastic to food.
In the Karm Al-Qatarji district famous for textiles, Mahmud Majkini, 31, said his business weaving medical gauze was still reeling from the effects of the decade-old conflict.
“I can’t say the war has really ended as my machines haven’t gone back to working around the clock,” he said.
The conflict has ravaged electricity networks as well as oil and gas infrastructure across the country.
Syria’s largest oilfields remain beyond the government’s reach in the country’s Kurdish-held northeast, and Western sanctions have hampered fuel imports from abroad.
Syrians in government-held areas have had to adapt their lives at home and work around power cuts of up to 20 hours a day.
Aleppo’s industrial districts may receive a little more power than residential neighborhoods, but Majkini says it is still not enough for his business to fully get back on its feet.
Nowadays only half of his eight weaving machines shuttle back and forth in his narrow workshop on the third floor of a building with gutted walls.
He says he hardly dares fix the machine nearest to the gaping facade in case he slips over the edge and falls off.
“If we had electricity for longer, we could have worked more and fixed the wall,” he said. But instead, “we’re dicing with death.”
In industrial areas of the northern city, the state is supposed to provide power from 6:00 am to 6:00 p.m. four days a week, though in practice even that supply is often punctuated by electricity cuts.
Outside these hours, the public network runs dead.
Businessmen who can afford it buy diesel fuel to operate private generators, but many more are forced to shut up shop.
In residential neighborhoods, where power cuts last longer, many subscribe to private generators.
Government forces retook control of east Aleppo from rebels in late 2016, after years of deadly bombardment on the besieged opposition-held half of the city.
The fighting heavily scarred its industrial neighborhoods, most of them in the east. The city’s electrical network was all but obliterated.
Mohammed Al-Saleh, Aleppo chief of Syria’s state electricity company, said the authorities had slowly been working to rehabilitate power lines since 2017.
“But it’s not easy,” he said.
“When we returned to eastern parts of Aleppo, there were no transmission stations, no pylons, no power stations. We’re starting over from scratch.”
In February, the electricity company said it had started repairing the province’s power plant — one of the country’s largest — with support from key government ally Iran.
It followed a 2017 deal between Damascus and Tehran on “cooperation in the electricity sector,” including to fix the Aleppo power station and build a new one in the government stronghold of Latakia.
Until the network is restored, manufacturers are having to adapt.
In Karm Al-Qatarji, Abdel Salaam Mazyek, 52, said he missed the good old days when the neighborhood was alive with the constant swishing back and forth of textile machines.
“We used to work nonstop,” said Mazyek, who owns a workshop producing colorful materials.
But today he only works four days a week, desperately trying to “make the most of each minute of electricity.”


Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp
Updated 19 sec ago

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

GENEVA: Two Swiss half-sisters whose mother took them out of the country with her when she joined the Daesh militant group in the Middle East in 2016 have been repatriated from a desert camp in northeastern Syria, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The older girl, now 15, had suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg, requiring three operations, while the younger was said to be in poor health.

The ministry confirmed that it had repatriated the two minors from the Al-Roj camp in northeast Syria.

“The children arrived on Swiss soil on Dec. 6 at Geneva airport, having passed through Iraq,” it said in a statement.

The repatriation, believed to be the first of its kind to Switzerland, was carried out with the consent of their mother.

The government has previously said she was still in the camp and has several nationalities, although her Swiss citizenship had been withdrawn for security reasons. The girls have different fathers in Geneva.

The case had been raised by UN  human rights experts in April.

The experts said then that the girls had been allegedly abducted in 2016 by their mother who joined Daesh. A senior Swiss official said at the time that it was working hard to have the girls sent home.

More than 60,000 people, two-thirds of them children, are held in camps for families associated with Daesh. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits the camps, has described them as a “tragedy in plain sight.”


Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Updated 19 min 16 sec ago

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 07 December 2021

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, accusing them of being connected to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts.

In an action marking the week of the US Summit for Democracy, the Treasury Department said in a statement it was targeting repression and the undermining of democracy, designating individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Iran and deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria, among others.

“Treasury will continue to defend against authoritarianism, promoting accountability for violent repression of people seeking to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington blacklisted two senior Syrian Air Force officers it accused of being responsible for chemical weapon attacks on civilians and three senior officers in Syria's security and intelligence apparatus, according to the statement.

In Iran, the US designated the Special Units of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and Counter-Terror Special Forces, as well as several of their officials, and Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands Iran's hardline Basij militia. Two prisons and a prison director were also blacklisted over events that reportedly took place in them.

Tuesday's action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.


Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)

DOHA: France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he expected nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to resume on Thursday, but after last week he had not been encouraged and feared Iran’s new negotiating was trying to gain time.

“The elements today of the discussion that re-started are not very encouraging because we have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

He said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week, but he hoped things would take a positive turn otherwise it could lead to a “serious situation.”