Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months
Mourners carry the coffin of Ibrahim Harb, 35, who was critically injured in the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year and died Monday nearly 14 months after the blast. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 28 September 2021

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months

Beirut port blast victim dies after 14 months
  • Ibrahim Mustafa Harb fell into a coma after the explosion and spent more than three months in the hospital before passing away Monday
  • Judge Tarek Bitar suspended his investigation into the blast this week after a complaint filed by former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk

BEIRUT: Ibrahim Mustafa Harb, who was critically injured in the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year has died, nearly 14 months after the blast.

Harb, a 36-year-old accountant, was at his downtown office when the explosion wiped out the port and devastated nearby neighborhoods. He finally succumbed to his serious head injuries while at his parents’ home on Monday night.

Harb was in a coma after the blast and spent more than three months in the hospital. His condition began to improve until he suffered a setback last week.

“He sustained serious injuries to his face,” one of Harb’s relatives told Arab News. “As soon as he woke up from his coma, Harb underwent medical rehabilitation that cost his family unimaginable amounts.”

On Aug. 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, ignited after a massive fire at the port. It later emerged that the nitrate had been improperly stored at a port warehouse for years while senior political and security officials knew of its existence and did nothing about it.

Harb brings the death toll from the blast to 215.

The investigation into the case has produced few answers of accountability due to political pressure on investigators. The families of the victims continue to protest in the streets demanding justice.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who was investigating the explosion had to suspend his work on Monday. A court will now vote on whether to replace him in response to a complaint filed last week by former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.

Machnouk is one of the top officials suspected of negligence, a charge brought by Judge Bitar. Other suspects include former premier Hassan Diab, three other ministers, a former army commander, current directors of public security and state security, judges, senior officials at the Beirut port, and customs agents, some of whom have already been detained.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday that he hopes the court of appeal will reject Bitar’s suspension “because Lebanon cannot handle another judge being removed,” as he believes the investigation will lose credibility if a third judge will be named.

Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, was sacked in February.

The suspension of the probe has sparked an outcry from the families of the blast victims. They protested against the possible removal of Judge Bitar during a meeting with Justice Minister Henry Al-Khoury on Tuesday.

Al-Khoury said he was “confident about the judges of Lebanon” and called for leaving the case to its legal course.

“The smear campaigns against the judiciary system and judges must be stopped as this will only lead to weakening the case and delaying justice,” Al-Khoury said.

William Noun, brother of blast victim Joe Noun, was optimistic and wants Judge Bitar to remain on the case.

“The families of the victims hope that the court of cassation, which has the right to decide on Machnouk’s request, will not remove Judge Bitar and that its decision will be fair,” he said.

Rima Zahed, sister of victim Amin Zahed said: “We will not stop. We will sleep in the middle of the roads for this cause. The political authority has exposed itself. They are trying to obscure the truth.”

Shukri Sader, former head of the Shoura Council, said that removing judge Bitar “paves the way for more requests of removal that aim to buy time until the next session of parliament. During this period, there are no immunities for deputies and Judge Bitar can use this to question the defendants.”

He said there is “a corrupt class that destroys the rest of the judicial authorities under the cover of immunities that are the biggest curse.”

Bitar’s investigation, Sader said, has been transparent and impartial.

“We must stand with the families of the martyrs,” he said.

UN Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi tweeted: “There is an urgent need for an independent and impartial investigation into the explosion. Justice must be served and the families of the victims of the explosion have the right to know the truth.”

Meanwhile, defense attorneys for the director-general of Lebanese General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is a defendant in the blast case, accused Judge Bitar of “committing legal irregularities while investigating the case, either to gain time or to dilute the truth.”

The lawyers accused Bitar of “abnormal behavior” and a “double standard.” They accused him of giving a media interview and talking to families of the victims, who are a party in the case.


Yemen’s Marib will not fall to Houthis, says Hadi

Yemen’s Marib will not fall to Houthis, says Hadi
Updated 11 sec ago

Yemen’s Marib will not fall to Houthis, says Hadi

Yemen’s Marib will not fall to Houthis, says Hadi

AL-MUKALLA: Marib will not surrender to Iran-backed Houthi militias, Yemen's president said on Monday.

Speaking to the nation on the eve of the 54th anniversary of Yemen’s independence, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said the Houthis, with the aid of Tehran, have mounted aggressive assaults on Marib city for months and rejected all international peace initiatives to end the war in Yemen.

“Yemen is facing a purely Iranian project that targets faith, religion and the homeland, and aims to strike … our Arab nation using … Houthi militias that have agreed to be a cheap tool to tear the nation apart,” Hadi said, stressing that government troops and local tribes would “bury” Houthi fighters in the deserts of Marib and not allow them to seize control of the strategic city.

“Marib, the gateway to the defense of the Arabian Peninsula, will not fall, and their project will fall in front of the solidity of our heroes, and its deserts will bury the dreams of their (Iranian) masters.”

The Yemeni leader has long accused the Iranian regime of supporting the Houthis with weapons and funds that fuel the militia’s expansion in the face of heavy attacks from the government forces and the Arab coalition.

The president blasted the Houthis for launching a parallel economic war that has led to the rapid devaluation of the Yemeni riyal and an aggravating economic meltdown.

“The militia launches a fierce economic attack to influence the national currency by all dirty methods, and (has created) a parallel economy that feeds on the people’s livelihoods, aids looting, smuggling and black market trade,” he said, referring to the Houthi ban on the use of new banknotes printed by the internationally-recognized government in Aden, and the rebels’ reluctance to deposit state revenues into the country’s central bank.

“We will continue our struggle until we restore the state, end the coup, and these militias submit to peace and national consensus.”

On Tuesday, the Yemeni riyal broke a record low, reaching 1600 riyals against a US dollar. The riyal traded at nearly 700 against the dollar in January.

Hadi’s pledges to face political, economic and military challenges came as the Arab coalition announced on Tuesday it was carrying out a new wave of airstrikes targeting military sites in Houthi-held Sanaa and other locations.

The coalition’s warplanes struck several military locations in Sanaa, including a site overrun by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the coalition said in a statement carried by the Saudi News Agency.

In a separate statement, the coalition announced on Tuesday afternoon it carried out an airstrike on a military training camp for the Houthis in Mahliyah district, south of Marib, killing more than 60 combatants.

Local media sites such as Al-Sahil Al-Gharbi reported that a hospital in the Houthi-controlled Radaa city, Al-Bayda province, received the bodies of 34 dead Houthis killed in airstrikes in the same district, adding that other airstrikes destroyed military reinforcements heading to battlefields south of Marib.

Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News on Tuesday that Houthi missile and drone strikes on areas in Marib have been reduced since the beginning of the coalition’s intensive airstrikes against missile depots and drone workshops in Sanaa.

“The successful strikes destroyed ballistic missile and drone stores and workshops, and led to a reduction in the firing of ballistic missiles at populated areas,” Majili said.


Lebanon’s economic meltdown threatens to cancel Christmas

Lebanon’s economic meltdown threatens to cancel Christmas
Updated 51 min 32 sec ago

Lebanon’s economic meltdown threatens to cancel Christmas

Lebanon’s economic meltdown threatens to cancel Christmas
  • Some parents who cannot afford gifts for their children are telling them that Santa Claus is sick and not coming this year

DUBAI: Christmas is a time for celebration around the globe, but this year Lebanon and the Lebanese will find it hard to enjoy the seasonal festivities amid what the World Bank has called one of the worst depressions of modern history.

Farah Fouad, a single mother, said that some parents who cannot afford gifts for their children are telling them that Santa Claus is sick and not coming this year.

Even the price of Christmas decorations are rocketing out of reach for many families.

Maroun Yousef, a father of three children who works in the Gulf, said: “I earn my salary in dollars since I work overseas, yet my wife told me that prices are unbelievably high.”

An average-sized tree costs between $80 and $120 —between 2 million and 3 million pounds at the present black market rate.

“This doesn’t make sense at all and kills the season’s spirit. Adults might accept the idea of not having a Christmas tree, but imagine how children would feel! This dollar crisis has been killing everything in Lebanon, literally everything,” he said.

In the past few days, the country has witnessed nationwide protests as the dollar reached the highs of 25,000 in local currency as opposed to the official rate of 1,500.

Reuters reported last week that the Lebanese currency has lost more than 93 percent of its value since summer 2019.

“It is ridiculous. A tree for 3 million pounds! That is almost double my monthly salary,” said Maria Michele who works in a telecom office.

“But forget about the tree, what about the ornaments! I guess we’re going to have a decoration-free season,” said Maria who said it will make her children sad. She even gets more worried about buying Christmas gifts for her kids. 

In popular Beirut shopping districts such as Hamra, Mar Elias, Achrafieh and Mar Mkhayel where people usually get their Christmas decorations, it was noticeable how most people were merely window shopping.

Gaby, a gifts shop owner, said: “It is such a heartbreaking situation. Earlier this morning, a mother had to pull her crying son forcibly out of my store once she saw the prices of decorations and gifts. It was painful to see how she told him off for wanting to buy a gift he liked … but obviously she didn’t have the money.”

Soumaya Adel, a teacher and mother, said: “No dollar, no money, no Christmas, no decorations, no nothing.”

Mona Bassem, a mother of two, said she and her husband decided to “play it low-key this festive season” and had set up last year’s tree and decorations.

“We have started preparing our kids that this season Santa Claus won’t be coming, so they need to expect small gifts, unlike before,” she said.  

She said her kids went “grumpy and sad” for a couple of days but they would have to deal with the situation as “we are going through very tough financial conditions. At least they get to enjoy Christmas spirit and festivities at school.”

According to a report published last week by UNICEF, 77 percent of Lebanese families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by running up unpaid bills or borrowing money.

Khalil Faris, business manager, said: “It doesn’t feel like Christmas at all … we barely have food on the table.”

His cousin Adel said: “Even if we can afford buying a Christmas tree, there is no electricity for the lights. Everything is black and doomed in this country.”

Housewife Denise Ebrahim said that the economic meltdown has forced her to be “super frank” with her two daughters that “this Christmas they won’t be decorating or exchanging gifts due to the situation.”

“I couldn’t find any easier way to tell them, and they burst into tears. I promised them that if things improve, next year they’ll each get two gifts,” she said.


Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
Updated 30 November 2021

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
  • It follows reports that two people infected with the new coronavirus variant were found on a flight from Ethiopia
  • Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health on Tuesday dismissed as rumors reports that two people infected with the newly discovered omicron coronavirus variant had been found on a flight arriving from Ethiopia.

Spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said: “This is not true. Egypt is still free of the new coronavirus variant.”

The Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. Any passengers that test positive must return to their points of origin on same planes on which they arrived. Those who test negative must self-quarantine for seven days and take a PCR test at the end of that time.

Abdel Ghaffar stressed the importance of adhering to the precautionary measures implemented by Egyptian authorities to prevent the spread of the virus. He said these are designed to prevent the omicron variant entering the country, and added that although no cases of infection with the new variant have been discovered, “when it happens it will be announced with full transparency.”

Mohammed Al-Nadi, a member of the scientific committee charged with combating the coronavirus, said that although Egypt is free of the omicron variant so far, it is only a matter of time before cases are discovered in the country. He added that although many countries are attempting to prevent or slow the arrival of the variant, in the end it is likely to get through.

Egyptian authorities so far have done good job, Al-Nadi said, of isolating people arriving from places where the variant has been detected to reduce the chances of it spreading while information about it — such as its specific symptoms, how contagious it is and whether it is resistant to vaccines or treatments — is still uncertain.


Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
Updated 30 November 2021

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
  • Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities to demand that the armed forces stay out of government
  • Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far

CAIRO: Security forces fired tear gas at anti-coup protesters in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday, as tens of thousands marched in the latest demonstrations against a military takeover that took place last month.
Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities around the country to demand that the armed forces stay out of government.
Deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated earlier this month under military oversight in a deal that many in the pro-democracy movement oppose. Since the generals seized power on Oct. 25 and rounded up more than 100 civilian government figures, protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets.
In a video streamed online from the Bahri neighborhood of Khartoum, a few protesters threw stones as security forces repeatedly fired tear gas and used sound bombs to try to disperse them. Leaders of the pro-democracy movement have consistently called on those taking part in demonstrations to remain peaceful. In a larger march not far away, demonstrators filled an entire street.
Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far, according the Sudan Doctors’ Committee, which tracks protester deaths. On Tuesday, the group announced that the latest death was that of a protester who died from hemorrhaging in the skull after being badly beaten by security forces during a march last week.
On Saturday, Hamdok announced the replacement of top officials in the country’s police forces, according to Sudan’s state news agency, firing those who oversaw the response to earlier demonstrations.
Tuesday’s demonstrations come after Hamdok emphasized that the Sudanese people have the right to peacefully protest. In a Facebook post on Monday, he said it is a right “the Sudanese people have secured through decades of struggle.”
The military’s signing of a power-sharing deal with Hamdok coincided with his release from weeks of house arrest. Since then, a number of other officials have also been let go but many remain in detention, along with many activists and protesters.
Hamdok’s reinstatement was the biggest concession made by the military since the coup but leaves the country’s transition to democracy mired in crisis. Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have dismissed the deal as falling short of their demands for full civilian rule.
Sudan has been struggling with its transition to a democratic government since the overthrow of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, following a mass uprising against three decades of his rule.


Europeans see ‘problem’ if Iran is not serious in nuclear talks this week

Europeans see ‘problem’ if Iran is not serious in nuclear talks this week
Updated 43 min 33 sec ago

Europeans see ‘problem’ if Iran is not serious in nuclear talks this week

Europeans see ‘problem’ if Iran is not serious in nuclear talks this week
  • E3 diplomats said this week would be key to determining whether Iran was serious about reviving the pact
  • Whether Iran agrees to resume talks from where they left off in June is key

VIENNA: Iran must show seriousness this week about reviving a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, European diplomats said on Tuesday, saying otherwise they had a “problem” and it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off in June.
After a five-month hiatus, diplomats on Monday resumed talks on reviving the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and reimposed harsh US economic sanctions. Trump’s moves infuriated Iran and dismayed the other powers involved — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Senior British, French and German diplomats, a group known as the E3, told reporters that this week would be key to determining whether Iran was serious about reviving the pact, though they also did not want to impose artificial deadlines.
Under the agreement, Iran limited its uranium enrichment program, a process that can yield fissile material for bombs, in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions. Iran says its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.
Whether Iran agrees to resume talks from where they left off in June, with the election of anti-Western hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president, is key because if they are starting from a blank page the talks will presumably take longer.
“We are still waiting for a solid confirmation that the Iranian side is willing to start working there where we left off in June,” said a senior European diplomat, estimating that 70-80 percent of a draft agreement was completed in June.
“The next 48 hours will be quite important to know and to confirm that hopefully we can pick up there and get into very intensive working mode,” he added. “If they don’t show us that they’re serious this week, then we have a problem.”
The diplomat stressed that some of the most difficult issues were among the 20-30 percent that remain unresolved, including what to do about advanced centrifuges that Iran is using to enrich uranium in defiance of the original agreement.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani took an ambiguous stance, suggesting everything negotiated during six rounds of talks between April and June was open for discussion.
“What was discussed at the six previous rounds of talks in Vienna resulted in a draft and not an agreement. And a draft is subject to negotiations,” Bagheri Kani told reporters.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So all the issues concluded in the previous rounds of talks can be negotiated and it was agreed by all parties to the deal.”