Crucial for Lebanese to interact with Arab neighbors, says Pope Francis

Crucial for Lebanese to interact with Arab neighbors, says Pope Francis
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati meets Pope Francis at the Vatican, November 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 November 2021

Crucial for Lebanese to interact with Arab neighbors, says Pope Francis

Crucial for Lebanese to interact with Arab neighbors, says Pope Francis
  • Vatican keen on maintaining Lebanon’s stability and stopping emigration
  • Families of Beirut port blast victims: Army was aware of stored ammonium nitrate risk

BEIRUT: Pope Francis has called on “all the Lebanese to cooperate to save their country so that it can restore its role as a model for dialogue and convergence between East and West.”

The pope on Thursday received Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who visited to seek guidance from the Vatican in light of the difficulties Lebanon is facing.

Mikati quoted the pope as stressing “how crucial the Lebanese’s role and interaction with their Arab environment are to keeping Lebanon a pioneering, unique country.”

He said that Pope Francis told him that he “will make the necessary efforts in all international forums to help Lebanon pass this difficult stage and restore peace and stability.”

Mikati said: “We both agreed on the importance of activating Islamic-Christian relations.”

The prime minister is counting on the pope’s ability to promote the Lebanese cause with other countries.

“In these difficult times, we are in dire need of the support of our friends,” Mikati said following the meeting.

He added: “The more Christians in Lebanon feel safe, the more this will be reflected on all Christians in the East. I am confident that the Holy See can play a great role in this respect.”

Mikati said Christians in the East “have been among the pillars of freedoms, human rights and freedom of belief, and have always found a haven in Lebanon.”

Mikati also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“Lebanon is essential to the Christian presence in the East, and it has always been an example to the world about how societies can coexist,” Mikati’s media office quoted Parolin as saying.

He continued: “Lebanon receives special attention from the Holy See.

“Any credible government ought to secure the country’s obligations, especially with the international community.”

Parolin expressed concerns about the economic and social situation in Lebanon.

“The Vatican will make efforts to support Lebanon in international forums,” he said, stressing “the need for Lebanon to maintain the best relations with its Arab surroundings and the international community.”

Following the meetings, Mikati said he detailed “the government’s plans to address the challenges facing Lebanon,” to Vatican officials.

Mikati said he felt that the pope was pleased with the efforts “we are making in maintaining security and stability in Lebanon, addressing the enormous difficulties facing the country, and continuing to adhere to the national choices upon which the Lebanese unanimously agree, as well as strengthening relations between Lebanon and the world.”

The prime minister added that that Pope Francis “is fully aware of the Lebanese situation and the prevailing conditions, and stressed the need for everyone to cooperate to preserve the Lebanese message and stop the massive emigration from all sects.”

Lebanon is currently attracting broad international attention, with influential countries monitoring the behavior of the Lebanese forces on constitutional requirements, the first of which are the parliamentary elections.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to visit Lebanon in December. The Vatican’s Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher is also expected to visit in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, there have been developments in one of the crises that has attracted global attention. The families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion made significant accusations as they held a sit-in at the Palace of Justice in Beirut in solidarity with Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the blast probe.

William Noun, brother of explosion victim Joe Noun, said: “Documents revealed that on July 20, 2020, i.e. two weeks before the explosion, the Lebanese army was informed of the dangerous quantities of ammonium nitrate that were stored at the port.”

Noun claimed that the army “knew, just like the president, the prime minister and the public prosecutor, all of whom have fallen short in their duties.”

Noun named an army general, saying that he “continues to provide false information for the investigation and the judiciary.”

On Thursday, the General Authority of the Court of Cassation rejected lawsuits to dismiss Bitar filed by a group of politicians accused of being involved in the port explosion.

While there are no internal political solutions for the Cabinet impasse and the crisis with the Gulf, Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Al-Shami announced on Thursday that the technical negotiations with the International Monetary Fund were almost over.

Al-Shami said: “We have entered the negotiation stage on monetary and economic policies to start negotiations in earnest with the IMF team, which we hope will visit Lebanon soon.”

He said: “Every minister is working on the files within their jurisdiction, provided that the government's plan is announced as soon as it is completed,” stressing that the Cabinet needs to convene to approve the plan.

“Our goal is still to reach a preliminary agreement before the end of the year, after which we can reach a final agreement in January 2022,” Al-Shami said, adding: “We also need to address the exchange rate, monetary policy, and the banking and financial sector, and we are preparing a vision for how to solve this issue, which we will announce upon completion.”

Speaking about the impact of the parliamentary elections on the negotiations with the IMF, he noted: “The IMF will not associate any issue to the elections, but they can sometimes affect the negotiations.”


Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
Updated 42 min 24 sec ago

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
  • Mandatory vaccinations for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors

BEIRUT: Lebanon will impose a night-time curfew starting Dec. 17 on non-vaccinated people for three weeks.
And full vaccination will be made mandatory for all workers in several sectors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the COVID-19 committee said on Wednesday.
Vaccination will be mandatory for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors as of Jan. 10, the committee said.
A new coronavirus variant found in South Africa and detected in several countries was determined as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week and has led to strengthening COVID-19-related restrictions around the world.


Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
Updated 01 December 2021

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
  • Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6% of the world's vaccines
  • "The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean

CAIRO: An official at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said on Wednesday seven countries in the region have not yet reached a threshold of 10 percent vaccination coverage.
These countries represent a high-risk setting for the emergence of further variants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said at a news briefing in Cairo.
Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6 percent of the world’s vaccines, while G20 countries have received more than 80 percent, Al-Mandhari said.
“The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said Al-Mandhari. “Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
So far, 24 countries may have reported cases of the new Omicron variant, said Abdinasir Abubakr, infection hazards prevention manager for the region.
Early Omicron cases suggest mild symptoms, added Richard Brennen, WHO regional emergency director in the region.
In terms of the response to the variant, he warned of complacency and COVID-19 fatigue and encouraged social-distancing measures.
However, he said social and travel curbs require risk assessment before implementation.
“While we understand that some countries locked down international travel, this has to be done on evidence and strong analysis,” said Brennen.
As of Nov. 29, over 16.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 309,500 deaths were reported across the Eastern Mediterranean region.


IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
Updated 01 December 2021

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
  • The 2015 Iran nuclear deal does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all
  • Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog plans to increase the frequency of its inspections at Iran's Fordow plant after Iran started producing enriched uranium with more advanced machines there, the watchdog said in a report to member states on Wednesday seen by Reuters.
“The Agency has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at FFEP and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities,” the International Atomic Energy Agency report said, referring to the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

The IAEA said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.
Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that agreement does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all. Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product.
It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.


Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
Updated 01 December 2021

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
  • The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19
  • Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities

CAIRO: Egyptian citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will from Wednesday be denied access to all government services and buildings unless they can provide evidence of a negative PCR test.

The decision was taken by the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Crisis Management, which said the rule would apply to the provision of government services in all governorates and ministries.

The Ministry of Local Development instructed governors to implement the committee’s decision and refuse entry to government departments for anyone who is unable to provide evidence that they have been fully vaccinated or submit a negative PCR test result.

The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in places of work and study.

The Ministry of Health and Population said it had made vaccines available to all citizens and that they should get vaccinated to avoid being disadvantaged by the new ruling.

It added that people who had not yet had their jabs should visit one of the many vaccination facilities located at medical centers, subway and railway stations, or the mobile units that travel throughout villages and towns.

Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities, the health ministry said.

Egypt implemented a rule on Nov. 15 that prevents unvaccinated government employees from entering their place of work.


Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
Updated 01 December 2021

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
  • The council will hold its next regular meeting in Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference
  • The Muslim Council of Elders is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb

CAIRO: The Muslim Council of Elders has decided to hold the next round of the Dialogue of East and West in Bahrain after postponing it in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The council is an independent international body based in Abu Dhabi and aimed at promoting peace, dialogue and tolerance. It is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and its membership includes an elite group of Muslim scholars.

The council will hold its next regular meeting in the Bahraini capital, Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference.

The imam expressed his appreciation to Bahrain’s people and the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa for hosting the new edition of the dialogue.

He noted that the dialogue comes within the framework of strengthening relations between religious and cultural institutions in Islamic countries and their counterparts in Western societies, establishing common ground based on shared values and promoting coexistence.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahraini Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a member of the Muslim Council of Elders, expressed Bahrain’s excitement to host the meeting and the new edition of the dialogue.

Sultan Al-Romaithi, secretary-general of the council, said that arrangements for the dialogue are now being finalized and that the new edition will witness positive interactions between Western and Eastern scholars and intellectuals.

He explained that the council is in the process of nominating youths to participate in the dialogue who have the capabilities to become future leaders and ambassadors for the Muslim Council of Elders.

The council was founded on July 13, 2014 to spread a culture of peace in Muslim societies, reject violence and extremism, and confront hate speech.