Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
A woman takes a picture on her mobile phone of children playing with snow in Houla, Lebanon, January 27, 2022. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 27 January 2022

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
  • President Aoun monitors aid effort as entire towns and villages are cut off
  • Japan donates $1.8 million to support UNICEF humanitarian aid programs

BEIRUT: People across Lebanon have been left stranded and struggling to find fuel for heating as snowstorm Yasmine continues to wreak havoc.

President Michel Aoun’s media office said he had instructed the relevant authorities to provide assistance to people in affected areas and had been following the work of military, security and civil agencies as they sought to clear roads.

As the storm intensified on Wednesday night, entire cities and villages in the Bekaa and northern regions were cut off, while power cuts left residents without heating.

Snow fell at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, leaving dozens of towns along the eastern and western mountain chains isolated. Most main and mountain roads at an altitude of 1,100 meters and above were completely cut off.

Snow also engulfed the runways at Beirut Airport, though did not prevent operations, and covered beaches in the northern cities of Byblos and Beirut and the southern city of Sidon.

Also in Sidon, firefighters rushed to tackle a blaze after a school bus was set on fire by lightning.

Along the banks of the Hasbani River in Shebaa and the neighboring villages of Arqoub the snowfall was recorded at up to a meter deep.

Footage shot in some of the worst affected areas went viral on social media.

In some regions the authorities issued warnings to motorists against driving as the freezing temperatures covered roads with ice.

The Ministry of Public Works warned people against trying to find alternative routes around snow-blocked roads until the authorities had clarified the situation and issued guidance.

The director-general of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, said the agency had responded to multiple calls from around the country, while the army said it was helping to get fuel to people in need and clear snow from roads.

Meanwhile, many people have complained about not being able to buy gas or diesel to heat their homes as they have become too expensive and too scarce.

Many gas stations ran out of diesel, which is mainly used for heating in mountain regions, as the price of a 20-liter canister reached $17.

Some people resorted to burning charcoal, while those less fortunate did their best to stay warm by wrapping themselves in blankets.

“The lack of heating is not limited to mountainous areas, but rather to cities and Beirut in particular,” a Civil Defense worker told Arab News.

“In poor homes we found children and the elderly curled up with only blankets,” the person said.

Speaking about the diesel shortage, Economy Minister Amin Salam said: “Those who try to monopolize diesel will be pursued, especially in mountainous areas.”

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad spoke of “violations committed by diesel distributors who do not abide by the specified fees.”

“There is an active black market taking commissions of up to 10 or 15 percent,” he said. “This is a crime. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and measures must be taken against them.”

One of the groups to be worst hit by the bad weather were the Syrian refugees — especially those in barren areas of Bekaa — whose flimsy plastic tents were left covered in snow.

UNICEF said on Thursday that Japan had contributed $1.8 million for humanitarian aid through the Adolescent and Youth, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene programs in Lebanon.

The money would be used to help 35,000 vulnerable children and families, it said.

Over the next two months, when temperatures at high altitude can fall to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), UNICEF will distribute blankets and warm clothing to vulnerable people with limited or no access to heating, as well as continuing to provide water and sanitation services within Bekaa.

Okubo Takeshi, Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, said: “We are fully aware of the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon where true victims are always vulnerable children and families.

“As they face the harsh winter conditions, Japan has decided to strengthen its interventions through UNICEF to alleviate their sufferings. I hope they receive our message through the assistance that the international community will be there with you at all times.”

Takeshi then tweeted: “No winter lasts forever, nor will the Lebanese crisis. Relief must come. May God protect Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s acting Information and Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said the Cabinet’s discussions of the government’s 2022 draft budget would be completed by Friday.


Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
Updated 1 min 15 sec ago

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
  • Return of Israeli attack helicopters mooted as violent clashes intensify

RAMALLAH: More than 70 Palestinians were wounded as Israeli forces attacked a funeral in East Jerusalem late on Monday. 

The unrest unfolded as Palestinians were burying Walid Al-Sharif, 23, who died on Saturday of wounds suffered during clashes last month at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The violence spread to the West Bank with Israeli forces arresting 16 Palestinians and a further 35 from East Jerusalem.

The attack on Al-Sharif’s funeral was similar to the brutal crackdown by Israeli police on the May 14 funeral of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on May 11 by Israeli soldiers without any provocation.

Meanwhile, dozens of students and civilians suffered after inhaling tear gas in Al-Aroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, following clashes with the Israeli army. The violence erupted as school students conducted a march in memory of a Palestinian who was killed by the Israeli military. The injured were treated at the site.

Clashes also erupted between school students and Israeli soldiers in the south of ​​Hebron city, near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers who lobbed tear gas canisters at the students, leaving several injured.

Israeli sources said the Israeli army is considering using combat helicopters during its operations in the occupied West Bank. This escalation follows the killing of an Israeli officer from a special unit during an armed clash with Palestinian resistance fighters in Jenin on May 14.

The Israeli army deployed combat helicopters during the second Palestinian Intifada from 2000 to 2004. The vehicles were occasionally flown over Palestinian territories during intense clashes with militants in the West Bank.

Israeli sources stated that “the strategy proposed by the Israeli security services, and adopted by the political leadership, is to expand arrests and raids, mainly in Jenin, to produce and obtain more intelligence and arrest more wanted persons.”

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson for the Palestinian government, told Arab News: “The absence of deterrent punishment and the constant feeling of impunity (enjoyed) by the Israeli occupation drives it to persist and continue this policy of escalating brutal and racist violence against the Palestinian people.

“The international resolutions calling for imposing sanctions on Israel must be activated because if sanctions are not imposed, and no measures are taken, it will be considered the green light for Israel to commit more crimes against the Palestinians.”

Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, said during his speech at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, that the recent Palestinian attacks in Israel are interlinked and inspired by the incitement from organizations in the region. “This incitement does not receive sufficient condemnation from the world and the leaders of the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that his directives are clear about targeting Palestinian militants “wherever they are, and with all kinds of weapons.”

He added: “We fully support the army and police in their efforts to target any militant, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or anywhere else in the country, who raises his hand on any settler or soldier from the army.”

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassim said Bennett, by allowing his army to target Palestinians with all means, has shown that “he intends to use the systematic terrorist policy in dealing with our people.”

Qassim said these statements expose how the occupying forces intend to escalate their aggression, indicating that Hamas will respond to the occupation by escalating the act of resistance in all its forms and continuing the revolution in all areas of the struggle.

Meanwhile, Bennett welcomed a recent decision to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal.

During a visit to the settlement of Elkana, he depicted the expansion of settlements as a response to recent Palestinian violence. 

Most of the international community, including the White House, view the settlements as an obstacle to peace because they shrink and divide territory where an independent Palestinian state would be established.


Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
Updated 20 min 24 sec ago

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
  • Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel
  • "Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities," Defence Minister Benny Gantz said

HERZLIYA, Israel: Iran is working on advanced uranium centrifuges at new underground sites being built near its Natanz nuclear plant, Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday, giving figures that appeared to go beyond those published by a UN watchdog.
Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel. Iranian progress in the field is being watched by world powers trying to resurrect a nuclear deal with Tehran, which denies having military designs.
“Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities, including new facilities being built at underground sites abutting Natanz,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech at Reichman University near Tel Aviv.
A March 3 report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had installed or planned to install a total of three IR6 cascades, amounting to around 660 machines.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said last month that Iran had set up a new underground Natanz workshop for making centrifuge parts, an apparent precaution against attacks.
In his remarks, Gantz alluded to Israel’s long-standing threat to take military action if it deems diplomacy is at a dead end to deny its arch-enemy the means to make nuclear weapons.
“The cost of such a future war, which we hope will not happen, can be prevented or reduced” with tougher negotiations by world powers, he said.
Ram Ben-Barak, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, confirmed Israeli media reports on Tuesday that Israel’s air force, as part of a scheduled one-month military exercise, would be simulating an attack on Iran.
“This exercise was planned long ago,” Ben-Barak told Reshet Bet Radio. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”


Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’
Updated 49 min 44 sec ago

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

ALGIERS: Algeria on Tuesday blamed “natural causes” for the death of a pro-democracy activist in detention last month, which sparked a wave of anger and prompted a lawsuit for manslaughter.
Hakim Debbazi, 55, was arrested in February after publishing Facebook posts in support of Hirak, a pro-democracy movement. He died on April 24, according to the Algerian rights group LADDH.
Earlier this month, his family said they were suing the state for manslaughter and “failing to help a person in danger,” and were seeking a billion euros in compensation.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Abderrachid Tabi told parliament that Debbazi had been transferred to hospital on April 17 “after falling ill” at the Kolea prison near the capital Algiers.
“He died at the hospital three days later,” Tabi said, local media reported. “The autopsy found that he had died of natural causes.”
Amnesty International has called on authorities to allow an independent investigation into his death.
His death comes after activists Mohamed Tamalt and Kamel Eddine Fekhar both died in detention in 2016 and 2019 respectively.
The CNLD prisoners’ support group says more than 260 people are behind bars in Algeria in relation to the Hirak protest movement or rights campaigning.


UN Yemen envoy: Talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing

UN Yemen envoy: Talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing
Updated 14 sec ago

UN Yemen envoy: Talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing

UN Yemen envoy: Talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing
  • Grundberg thanked the Kingdom for its support
  • He said there has been a “positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis” as a result of the truce

RIYADH: Talks to extend the two-month truce in Yemen with the parties concerned are ongoing, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said on Tuesday.

“I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce which is set to expire in two weeks, Grundberg said.

Speaking to the press from Amman, the UN envoy said he was “grateful for the consistent and robust support of the international community in advocating for the implementation and the extension of the truce.

“I would like to note in particular the support provided by Saudi Arabia.”

He said there has been a “considerable positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis” as a result of the truce which came into effect on April 2.

He applauded the parties to the truce for taking the “courageous” steps of agreeing to it and “prioritising alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

“The truce is holding in military terms. For the past six weeks civilian casualties have dropped considerably, fighting has sharply reduced,” Grundberg added.

“There are reports of increasing humanitarian access including in some front line locations that had previously been extremely difficult to access,” he said.


Iran detains protesting bus drivers: reports

Iran detains protesting bus drivers: reports
Updated 17 May 2022

Iran detains protesting bus drivers: reports

Iran detains protesting bus drivers: reports
  • "A number of drivers were detained yesterday during a gathering in front of the central office of the Tehran Bus Company," Mohsen Bagheri, a company official
  • The workers do not want anything beyond the law; their demand is a legal increase in wages

TEHRAN: Iran arrested a number of bus drivers who have staged protests in Tehran for the second consecutive day over their living conditions, media in the country reported on Tuesday.
“A number of drivers were detained yesterday during a gathering in front of the central office of the Tehran Bus Company,” Mohsen Bagheri, a company official, was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.
“A number of drivers were also arrested during today’s protest,” he added.
Bagheri did not say why the drivers were arrested, only expressing hope that they would be released soon.
“The workers do not want anything beyond the law; their demand is a legal increase in wages,” Bagheri said.
Striking bus drivers chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and called on him to resign at a protest on Monday, the reformist Shargh newspaper said on Twitter.
Buses were seen operating in different areas of the capital on Tuesday, AFP journalists said, but it was unclear if the strike was continuing.
The mayor of Tehran, Alireza Zakani, met with a group of drivers on Monday and said a committee was looking into the possibility of salary increases, according to state news agency IRNA.
Last week, Iran’s government announced a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the price of staples including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds have taken to the streets in a number of Iranian cities in the past week to protest against the moves, including in Tehran province, IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai said on Saturday that one person had been killed during demonstrations in the southwestern city of Dezful, according to ILNA.
Iran’s economy has been hit hard by sanctions imposed by the United States since 2018 as well as rising prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.