Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility

Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility
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Firefighters attempt to put out a fire at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon. (AP)
Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility
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Smoke billows from a fire at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon on Oct. 11, 2021. (Reuters)
Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility
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Water is sprayed on a fire at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon on Oct. 11, 2021. (Reuters)
Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility
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Smoke billows from a fire at the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon on Oct. 11, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 October 2021

Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility

Fire destroys 250,000 liters of petrol in Lebanese oil facility
  • Army donates gas oil to help country out of blackout; Central Bank to secure $100m for fuel import

BEIRUT: Firefighters extinguished a blaze that broke out on Monday morning at Al-Zahrani oil facility, south of Beirut, with Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad estimating that 250,000 liters of petrol had been destroyed in the incident. 

He suggested the fire had been caused by a “mistake during the process of transporting the fuel that was in the tank, whose ceiling was tilted.”

As many as 15 fully staffed fire trucks worked to control the fire by isolating the tank to prevent the flames from spreading.

The fire provoked memories of the massive blast at Beirut Port 14 months ago, which killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated the capital. 

People went on social media to express their fears about the Al-Zahrani fire being deliberate, while others regretted their “bad luck and the never-ending daily catastrophes.”

An investigation has been launched into the fire. 

“We must wait for the results of the investigation in order to know whether anyone is responsible or whether the fire was caused by natural factors,” Fayyad noted.

Civil Defense Director-General Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar said it was “too early” to know the causes of the fire.

The Lebanese army gave 6,000 kiloliters of gas oil to Electricite du Liban from its reserves to reconnect the electrical grid in production plants to bring the country out of its total blackout due to fuel shortages. 

Fayyad said: “Today, the Jiyeh reverse engine plant was connected to the grid with a power of 50 megawatts, Deir Ammar plant with a power of 210 megawatts, and the reverse engine plant in Zouk with a power of 120 megawatts, as well as Al-Zahrani.

“This quantity is enough for three days, after which the plants’ production capacity will be replaced by another from the Zouk and Jiyeh thermal plants after supplying them with the fuel oil that arrived on Sunday evening, samples of which were examined by the Bureau Veritas labs in Dubai. The total production capacity will thus remain within limits at 500 megawatts to maintain the grid’s stability.

“The Central Bank has agreed to secure $100 million to conduct a bid to import fuel, which will help raise the hours of electricity supply by the end of this month.”

Energy experts believed that Lebanese authorities were “patching up” the electricity crisis instead of finding concrete solutions. 

Lebanon is facing a deficit in electricity generation because of the difficulty in securing fuel due to the Central Bank’s failure to open sufficient credits.

Huge losses

The electricity sector in Lebanon is considered one of the largest sectors causing huge losses, amounting to $43 billion, and most likely one of the main reasons for Lebanon’s current economic crises.

Lebanon relies on worn-out, low-efficiency thermal plants that use imported, expensive, and polluting heavy oil and diesel. 

Corruption has wrecked this sector and the reform process has been marred by political differences. 

The sector’s regulatory body, which was recognized years ago as a reliable authority that could take independent decisions, has yet to be formed because the energy minister argued it was limiting his powers.

After Hezbollah and Iran made their way into the sector by bringing Iranian fuel into Lebanon through illegal crossings with Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian tried to extend a hand to the electricity sector through an offer he made during his visit to Beirut on Oct. 7 “to build two power stations, one in Beirut and another in the south, within one and a half years.”

But it turned out that the proposal required Ghobeiry municipality, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, to take control of the Golf Club of Lebanon, which is located on a 410,000-square-meter property south of Beirut, on the pretext that the club had not paid fees owed to the municipality for four years, the total of which has been estimated at about LBP1 billion ($663,349).

The government did not take a stance on the Iranian offer despite pressure from Hezbollah, which began preparing to implement Iran’s plan on the golf club’s land.

Ghobeiry Mayor Maan Al-Khalil tweeted: “The property is rented from the state for LBP75 million, equivalent to $4,000. Khosh Amadid (Persian for welcome) to the Iranian grant, a 1,000-megawatt power plant to illuminate Beirut, its southern suburbs, and Mount Lebanon.”

The club’s lawyer, Imad Hamdan, denied claims the facility had dodged municipality fees and stressed the management’s confidence in “the state, its institutions and judiciary.”

The Iranian proposal provoked negative reactions, especially since the golf club is one of Beirut’s last green spaces. 

Former MP Fares Souaid warned against “Hezbollah, backed by Iran, putting its hand on Lebanon’s real estate history and abolishing it.”


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
Updated 59 min 18 sec ago

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments
  • Najib Mikati said George Kordahi’s comments on TV did not reflect government’s, president’s position on Yemen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday distanced himself from comments made by the country’s Information Minister George Kordahi suggesting that the Iran-backed Houthis were “defending themselves” in Yemen.

Kordahi had been responding to a question from the host of “Barlamanasha3b,” an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth TV show, asking about his position on the conflict in the war-torn country.

During the interview recorded on Aug. 5, one month before being appointed information minister, Kordahi said: “The Houthis in Yemen are a resistance movement, defending themselves and not attacking anyone.” He added that the group was acting in self-defense against the “Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen.”

Mikati said: “Kordahi’s statement reflects his personal opinion which we do not accept. These comments do not express the government nor the president’s (Michel Aoun) position on the Yemeni issue. Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries.”

When Kordahi’s remarks later surfaced in a video posted online, they sparked a frenzy on social media and an official protest to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Yemen’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Al-Deais.

Kordahi replied by saying he had not intended “in any way, to offend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” and expressed his “love and loyalty to the leaders and people of the two countries.”

He added: “What I said about the war in Yemen being an absurd war that needs to stop, I said it with conviction, not in defense of Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

But Al-Deais said Kordahi had only “added insult to injury, as he did not apologize, but rather confirmed what he had said.”

The Yemeni envoy added: “Kordahi’s remarks go against Lebanon’s clear position toward Yemen and its condemnation of the Houthi coup and its support for all relevant Arab and UN resolutions.”

Following a meeting with Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati added: “It is true that we distance ourselves from conflicts, but we do not distance ourselves from any Arab position in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This position is a constant position, and we look forward to the best relations.

“Kordahi’s comments will not affect the general course, especially since the constants of the Lebanese position on relations with Arab countries were stated in its ministerial declaration. The interview with Kordahi took place before he was appointed minister and was broadcast yesterday,” Mikati said.

Separately, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Kordahi’s comments reflected his “personal stand” and “do not reflect the government’s position.”

In a statement, it said: “The ministry has repeatedly condemned the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia and maintains its position in defending the security and safety of its Gulf brothers, for whom it holds love, respect, and appreciation, and refrains from interfering in their internal and external policies.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council noted that Kordahi’s remarks showed his limited knowledge and lack of understanding of the situation in Yemen.

GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf condemned, “the Lebanese minister of information’s defense of the Houthi coup group, while ignoring the intransigence of the Houthi movement against all international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis, and at a time when the Saudi Houthi group is targeting missiles and marches, targeting the defenseless Yemeni people, and preventing relief aid from reaching the stricken areas.”

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari on Wednesday met with Al-Deais.

In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy, Al-Bukhari reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s position on supporting legitimacy in Yemen, reaching a political solution, in accordance with the terms of reference represented by the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and the resolution 2216, in order to preserve Yemen’s unity, integrity, respect its sovereignty and independence, and reject any interference in its internal affairs.

“The Iranian-backed Houthis continue hostilities and terrorist operations by firing ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Saudi Arabia, violating international and humanitarian law by using civilian populations in Yemeni civilian areas as human shields, and launching booby-trapped boats and remotely marching, posing a serious threat to regional and international security,” he said.

The Saudi envoy highlighted, “the legitimate right of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, to take and implement the necessary measures to deal with these hostilities and terrorist attacks, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into these militias that poses a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation and global trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea.”

Al-Bukhari praised “the efficiency” of Saudi air defenses in intercepting and responding to more than 400 ballistic missiles, 791 drones, and at least 205 naval mines.


Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing
Updated 28 min 4 sec ago

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

BEIRUT: Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Wednesday blocked roads to leader Samir Geagea’s residence as he failed to turn up for a hearing at army intelligence over fatal clashes in Beirut.
Geagea was summoned to the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, amid claims by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement that Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters shot dead seven of their followers in clashes on Oct. 14.
Geagea has denied the claims and said he is being unfairly targetted for his support of a probe by Judge Tarek Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that Hezbollah opposes.
“We won’t let anyone, not Hezbollah nor Iran nor Syria or anyone try to subjugate us,” LF protester Fadi told Reuters.
“We are here today in 2021 sacrificing for Samir Geagea just like he sacrified for us in 1994 so Lebanon could remain and we could remain,” Fadi, who did not give his last name, said.
Geagea, a former warlord, was imprisoned after Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and released in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.


Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
Updated 27 October 2021

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
  • The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health

CAIRO: Envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his residence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 27 October 2021

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
  • Iran's negotiator said after talks with EU mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks
  • “This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps”: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
Iran's nuclear negotiator said after talks with European Union mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks in Vienna next month. These discussions had been on hiatus since June.
"We are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said.
The talks should focus on "closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June," he said.
"As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith."
President Joe Biden has repeatedly offered to return to the nuclear accord reached in 2015 but his administration has voiced growing frustration at the prolonged delay, which comes as a new hardline government gets settled in Tehran.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, leading Iran to step up contested nuclear work in protest.