Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold
A Syrian displaced woman removes the snow from over a tent, at a refugee camp, in Afrin, north of Aleppo on Wednesday. A snowstorm in the Middle East has left many Lebanese and Syrians scrambling to find ways to survive. (AP)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold

Impoverished Lebanese, Syrians struggle to survive cold
  • The storm, dubbed “Hiba” in Lebanon, began Tuesday night and is expected to peak Thursday
  • Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and others displaced by Syria’s war are sheltering in poorly heated tents

BEIRUT: A snowstorm in the Middle East has left many Lebanese and Syrians scrambling to find ways to survive, burning old clothes and plastic.
In some cases even sheep manure to keep warm as temperatures plummet and poverty soars.
The storm, dubbed “Hiba” in Lebanon, began Tuesday night and is expected to peak Thursday. Lebanon’s economic collapse and currency crash have meant an increasing number of families are unable to afford fuel to heat their homes this winter.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and others displaced by Syria’s war are sheltering in poorly heated tents, relying mostly on layers of blankets to keep warm.
“The situation is very, very difficult,” said social activist Baseem Atrash, speaking from the snowcapped northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal near the Syrian border. Arsal is home to one of the largest Syrian refugee concentrations in Lebanon, with some 50,000 people, most of them living in flimsy tents.
Atrash said Syrian refugees, as well as some Lebanese who have fallen into poverty since the country’s financial meltdown began in October 2019, lack diesel for heaters, while constant power cuts make electric heaters useless.
“They are burning anything to keep their heaters on, from plastic to old clothes,” Atrash said. Earlier this month, a Syrian mother and her three children died in their sleep after inhaling toxic fumes from burning coal to heat their room in a village in southern Lebanon.
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people, is home to 1.5 million Syrians who fled the now decade-old civil war in their country. The United Nations estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty. But as Lebanon grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis, the poverty has deepened for both Lebanese and Syrians. Sky-rocketing fuel prices coupled with a currency collapse has meant many essential commodities are now out of reach for the average Lebanese.
Nadim Attieh, a Lebanese, decided to donate some of his firewood to needy families after he heard of how cold it will get. He used Twitter to spread the word of his in-kind donation: a ton of wood — enough to last five or six families through the coldest three days ahead.
“I have stocked up on wood during summer and I have a good quantity. So why not share with people who are underprivileged,” asked Attieh, himself out of work since losing his job in the Gulf a couple of years ago.
The cost of a ton of wood is now equivalent to five times the minimum wage, selling for 3 million Lebanese pounds ($120) while some 20 liters of diesel now going for about 300,000 — nearly 10 times what it cost three years ago.
In Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, where many of the 3 million residents are displaced, Yassin Al-Yassin was fortifying his tent with extra tarps and supports as the weather worsened.
Al-Yassin, who lives in the tent with his wife, two daughters and son, couldn’t afford wood or diesel for heating, so he’ll be burning dried sheep manure that’s been piled up since summer.
“All we have to protect us is tarp and blankets,” he said by telephone from the tent, surrounded by mountains near the Turkish border. He said only those receiving hard currency from relatives abroad can afford to buy diesel and wood for heating.
Aid group CARE International said temperatures are expected to drop in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to well below freezing, endangering the lives of millions already living in precarious circumstances.
“People can see their own breath when lying on their thin mattresses, you will see children walk around in flipflops and ripped shirts. Families are afraid that they will freeze to death,” said Jolien Veldwijk, CARE Syria Country Director.
Cold and respiratory illnesses are rising and spreading, as is the threat of COVID-19 in overcrowded camps without sufficient health care, CARE said.
Ahamd Rakan, displaced nearly two years ago from his hometown of Kfar Nabel in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria and now living in a tent, said he has been gathering wood, olive seeds, papers and old clothes for months in order to use them for heating.
“I am luckier than others. I have a heater so I can keep my children warm,” he added.
Heavy snow also blanketed the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war. Bulldozers could be seen clearing snow drifts on Mount Hermon, where the area’s only ski resort was closed to visitors because of the stormy weather. The snow began falling early Wednesday and more is expected.
In eastern Turkey, heavy snowfall closed a major highway linking the cities of Tarsus, Adana and Gaziantep, stranding thousands of people and vehicles in snow that was half a meter (yard) high, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Gendarmerie forces distributed food overnight while authorities worked to clear the snow and reopen the highway. Access to thousands of villages was also blocked.
Meanwhile, authorities closed schools in 55 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.


Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’. (File/AFP)
Updated 56 min 37 sec ago

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
  • Negotiations had stalled for about two months

TEHRAN: Iran said on Monday it awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a stalemate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.
The European Union’s coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held two days of discussions with the Islamic republic’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked.
The negotiations, aimed at bringing the US back into the deal and Iran to full compliance with it, had stalled for about two months.
“Serious and result-oriented negotiations with special initiatives from Iran were held,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna,” where the talks are held, he added during his weekly press conference.
Iran has been engaged in direct negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has participated indirectly.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.
“If the US announces its political decision today, which we have not yet received, we can say that an important step has been taken in the progress of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh noted.
Among the sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terrorism list.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Friday said Mora’s mission to Tehran went “better than expected” and the stalled negotiations “have been reopened.”
Washington, however, has adopted a less optimistic tone. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “at this point, a deal remains far from certain.”
He added: “It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly.”
Talks on reviving the agreement began in April last year.


Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
Updated 16 May 2022

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
  • Friday’s incident was a ‘disproportionate use of force’ to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd
  • Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

JERUSALEM: The top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land on Monday condemned the police beating of mourners carrying the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, accusing the authorities of violating human rights and disrespecting the Catholic Church.
Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa told reporters at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem that Friday’s incident, broadcast around the world, was a “disproportionate use of force” to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd of thousands proceeding from the hospital to a nearby Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attack drew worldwide condemnation and added to the shock and outrage of Abu Akleh’s killing as she covered a shootout in the occupied West Bank.
The police attack, Pizzaballa told reporters, “is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”
There was no immediate Israeli response.
He spoke as Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Abu Akleh. The reporter, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the satellite channel, was killed Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. She was a household name across the Arab world, known for documenting the hardship of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.
Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military, after initially saying Palestinian gunmen might have been responsible, later backtracked and now says it’s not clear who fired the deadly bullet.
After an international uproar over the funeral violence, Israeli police launched an investigation into the conduct of the officers who attacked the mourners, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel. Human rights groups says Israel has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.
After earlier saying they would accept an outside partner, the Palestinians said late Sunday that they would handle the investigation alone and deliver results very soon.
“We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced. “We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.” He stood with Abu Akleh’s brother, Anton, and Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari.
Amid the wrangling, several research and human rights groups have launched their own investigations.
Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, published an analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at such factors as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots.
The group found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.
“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF (Israeli soldiers) were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, the lead researcher of the analysis.
Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis cannot be 100 percent certain without such evidence as the bullet, weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces. But he said the emergence of additional evidence typically bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.


US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects late Sheikh Khalifa

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects late Sheikh Khalifa
Updated 16 May 2022

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects late Sheikh Khalifa

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects late Sheikh Khalifa
  • Trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: A high-powered American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay respects to the federation’s late ruler and meet with the newly ascended president.
The trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi, intended to be a potent show of support.
The delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, among others.
The UAE named the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan its new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday.
Underscoring Abu Dhabi’s great influence in Western and Arab capitals, an array of presidents and prime ministers descended on the desert sheikhdom over the weekend to honor the late Sheikh Khalifa, praise Sheikh Mohamed and solidify ties. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to jet to the UAE capital.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi, Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to offer condolences on the death of the long-ailing Sheikh Khalifa and to shore up America’s crucial relationship with the UAE.
“The United States takes quite seriously the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE,” Harris told reporters. “We are going there then to express our condolences but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of that relationship.”
Blinken was first to touch down in Abu Dhabi before talks with his Emirati counterpart. It was widely expected officials would address the UAE’s long-simmering frustrations about American security protection in the region as well as tensions that have emerged between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
UAE is a key Russian trading partner and member of the so-called OPEC+ agreement, of which Russia is an important member.
After taking office, Biden lifted a terrorist designation on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is trying to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers — an accord that Gulf Arab states fear could embolden Iran and its proxies.
America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign policy goal of pivoting away from the Mideast and toward China has added to Gulf Arab concerns.


First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital. (File/Reuters)
Updated 16 May 2022

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa

First commercial flight in 6 years leaves Yemen’s Sanaa
  • The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives

SANAA: The first commercial flight in nearly six years took off from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital on Monday, a major step forward in a peace process that has provided rare relief from conflict.
The Yemenia plane carrying 126 passengers, including hospital patients needing treatment abroad and their relatives, took off from Sanaa for the Jordanian capital Amman just after 9:00 a.m. (0600 GMT), AFP journalists saw.


Before take-off, the plane was taxied through an honor guard of two fire trucks spraying jets of water.
Sanaa’s airport has been closed to commercial traffic since August 2016.


Flights resume at Baghdad International Airport after dust storm halts flights

Flights resume at Baghdad International Airport after dust storm halts flights
Flights at Baghad International Airport were cancelled after an intense dust storm hit Iraq.  (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Flights resume at Baghdad International Airport after dust storm halts flights

Flights resume at Baghdad International Airport after dust storm halts flights
  • Flights were disrupted at Baghdad International Airport

Flights at Baghdad International Airport resumed on Monday afternooon after they were temporarily suspended due to a dust storm. 

Videos circulating online showed a yellow hue eveloping the Iraqi capital city, impeeding vision and distrupting flights.