Black Friday in Lebanon: Steeper prices, weak currency, further poverty

People walk past a poster advertising the Black Friday sales at a mall in Dora, Lebanon November 26, 2021. (Reuters)
People walk past a poster advertising the Black Friday sales at a mall in Dora, Lebanon November 26, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 November 2021

Black Friday in Lebanon: Steeper prices, weak currency, further poverty

People walk past a poster advertising the Black Friday sales at a mall in Dora, Lebanon November 26, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Protesters break into Ministry of Social Affairs building as economic crisis deepens
  • Central Bank warns about black market currency mobile apps amid currency plunge

 

BEIRUT: Black Friday promotions in Lebanon that flooded social media seem to have failed to attract customers as the Lebanese pound hit a new low amid a worsening economic and political stalemate.

The currency was trading at 25,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market on Friday. A further devaluation seems imminent amid the political instability.

Although many stores have extended the sales for the entire weekend, several people who headed to shops in search of good deals said: “It’s a hoax.”

Hassan, an engineer, said: “I went to a well-known appliance store where people used to queue for hours to be able to get in during previous Black Friday sales. The prices are much higher than the original brand stores. I left without buying anything.”

The minimum wage is now no more than $30, amid worsening economic conditions.

The head of the Beirut Traders’ Association, Nicolas Chammas, said: “It is too early to assess Black Friday sales. We need to wait until next week to see to what extent people’s purchasing power has declined.”

On Friday, the Central Bank warned against mobile applications offering exchange rates on the black market: “These are suspicious, illegal applications. Still, they are determining the exchange rate but do not reflect the reality.

“Rates change day and night, every day of the week, even during holidays; as if the parallel market is an organized market in the form of a stock exchange.

“Those operating these applications are serving other political and commercial interests. The judicial and security authorities have sought to control these applications at the request of the Lebanese government. Since many of them are based outside Lebanon, the Central Bank has demanded that international internet companies remove these applications from their networks.”

The Central Bank said that “the real exchange rate is announced daily by the Central Bank based on the current trading in the market, registered on Sayrafa platform.

“The Central Bank will follow up on this matter internationally and will hold companies such as Google, Facebook and others responsible for the harm these applications have on Lebanon and demand that they publish the official rate and the Sayrafa rate only.”

Activists expressed anger on social media, complaining about the absence of any prospect for political and economic solutions.

Some mocked the authorities for blaming the internet for the devaluation of the Lebanese pound: “Is cutting the internet the solution?”

In another sign of a worsening financial crisis, a small group of protesters broke into the Ministry of Social Affairs building near the Justice Palace in Beirut.

They removed a picture of President Michel Aoun, hung it upside down, then placed a banner over it bearing the slogan of the October 17 Revolution.

Protesters who entered the hall next to the office of the minister, Hector Hajjar, demanded that “an emergency operations room should be set up to address the unbearable living conditions.”

Hajjar demanded that the president’s picture be hung properly before agreeing to speak with the protesters.

One protester said: “I had to pay 600,000 Lebanese pounds in the pharmacy for a box of baby formula and two boxes of fever reducers. I get scared whenever I see my children walking barefoot around the house. I cannot afford to pay for medications if they get sick.

“My entire salary is the equivalent of three boxes of baby formula. What can I do? What happened to the ration card? Is the state waiting for us to die to take action?”

“We are consulting with the World Bank, the Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister Najib Mikati regarding financing the ration card, and I am part of the negotiations,” Hajjar said.

“Over 11 years, the ministry was able to provide support to 36,000 families,” he said.

“We will now start paying in US dollars instead of Lebanese pounds. We will visit 75,000 families and give about $12 million to the poorest. The money is an international grant,” said the minister.


At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
Updated 57 min 54 sec ago

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
  • He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned

TUNIS: At least 11 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, while 21 others were rescued by the coast guard, the army spokesman said on Friday.
He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned.


Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
Updated 8 min 2 sec ago

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said five Daesh prisoners managed to break out
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces said arrested two Daesh fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison

BEIRUT: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on Friday killed a number of Daesh group fighters after their attack on a Kurdish-run prison housing fellow militants, a war monitor reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces further announced the death of  several of its soldiers in the attack, the report added.
The rare attack on Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh province on Thursday saw the militia detonate a car bomb near the jail and attack Kurdish forces guarding the facility in an attempt to free some of the group’s members, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said “five IS prisoners managed to break out,” but it remains unclear whether they have since been killed or recaptured.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, described Friday’s attack as the largest such attack since the IS proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.

The US-led coalition battling Daesh said “SDF casualties ensued during the attack,” but it did not disclose how many.
The assault triggered clashes between the militants and US-backed SDF forces around the prison that continued into Friday amid heightened security measures, the Observatory said.
“Clashes are ongoing between IS fighters and (Kurdish) military forces in the area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, describing it as one of the largest such attacks by Daesh since its proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.
The SDF, which oversees the jail, said on Friday that it “arrested two IS fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison” as part of combing operations following the attack.
The militants were captured in the vicinity of the jail, it said.
It said Daesh fighters that carried out the attack were hiding in civilian homes in the neighborhood of Al-Zuhoor near the jail.
“Exceptional security measures in the vicinity of the prison and surrounding neighborhoods are ongoing,” it said in a statement on Friday morning.
Daesh fighters “are using civilians in the Al-Zuhoor neighborhood and areas north of the prison as human shields,” it said, adding that the militia had killed some civilians in the area.
“Our forces and the relevant security services are moving with great precision and sensitivity to contain these incident.”

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in a semi-autonomous region controlled by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said in a statement after Thursday’s attack.
“Coalition forces will continue to defend against and deter hostile activities against ourselves and our partners.”
The extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.
A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the Daesh proto-state in March 2019.
The remnants of the group mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to attack Syrian government and allied forces.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters shot dead an aid worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent at the Al-Hol camp for displaced people.
Last week, a militant attack near Syria’s border with Iraq killed five Syrian pro-regime fighters and wounded 14 others, according to the Observatory.


Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 21 January 2022

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.


Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
Updated 21 January 2022

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
  • The brazen attack was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months

BAGHDAD: Daesh gunmen attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept, Iraqi security officials said.
The officials said the attack occurred in the Al-Azim district, an open area north of of Baqouba in Diyala province. The circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear, but two officials who spoke to The Associated Press said Daesh group militants broke into the barracks at 3 a.m. local time and shot dead the soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to issue official statements.
The brazen attack more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Baghdad was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months.


Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic
Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”