Charities in Lebanon warn that people are starving and help during Ramadan will be limited

As prices of basic commodities increase in Lebanon, it has become increasingly difficult for most people to afford a proper sahoor or iftar during Ramadan this year. (AFP)
As prices of basic commodities increase in Lebanon, it has become increasingly difficult for most people to afford a proper sahoor or iftar during Ramadan this year. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2022

Charities in Lebanon warn that people are starving and help during Ramadan will be limited

As prices of basic commodities increase in Lebanon, it has become increasingly difficult for most people to afford a proper sahoor or iftar during Ramadan this year. (AFP)
  • Amid the devastating financial crisis, the cost of feeding the hungry has risen exponentially, donations have declined and fewer people are able to volunteer

BEIRUT: Officials from charitable organizations and imams at mosques in Lebanon have raised concerns about their reduced ability during Ramadan this year to help the growing number of people going hungry, as a result of the effects of the financial crisis in the country.

They said costs have risen sharply in the past year, fewer people are volunteering and donations from “capable people” are in decline because the “conditions of benefactors have changed.”

The economic crisis has created harsh living conditions for many, as a result of which the number of families in need of assistance has increased. Meanwhile, the amount of donations received during Ramadan by charities and other groups that provide assistance is expected to fall, which will affect their ability to provide daily iftar meals for the growing numbers of people who are struggling.

FASTFACT

Faten Mneimneh from the Islamic Charitable Guidance and Reform Association told Arab News that because of the financial constraints and fewer volunteers the quality of iftar meals will be lower and less varied during Ramadan this year, at a time when growing numbers of people are going hungry.

Such a meal traditionally includes a fattoush salad and a plate of rice and meat. Last year the cost of a single meal was about 50,000-60,000 Lebanese pounds, which is about $33-$40 based on the official exchange rate of about 1,500 pounds to the dollar.

This year the cost has risen exponentially as a result of increased prices of gas and other fuels, electricity, disposable plates and packaging, and transport and distribution. There are also fewer people volunteering to work in kitchens and deliver the meals. In addition, the official exchange rate is not readily available, and the unofficial black market rate offered by exchanges is much worse.

“Conditions during the month of Ramadan this year will be much more difficult than the conditions of last year,” said Faten Mneimneh from the Islamic Charitable Guidance and Reform Association, which provides food and clothing for the needy.

“Last year, the US dollar exchange rate was $1 to 7,000 pounds, while now it has leaped to $1 to 22,000 pounds, and the prices of fuel, foodstuffs and even bread have hugely increased.

“This year there will not be meat or chicken in the iftar meals on daily basis, nor will there be a fattoush salad. Instead we will give people lettuce, two tomatoes and a cucumber with which to prepare their own salads.”

She added: “The number of women who have volunteered to cook the meals in their homes has fallen because the cost of a canister of gas has reached 500,000 pounds. We need to feed 120 people every day over a period of one month. If we resort to catering, this means we would need $2,000 to buy the iftar meals and we would not be able to provide other things such as medicines or clothing.

“In addition, the distribution of the iftar meals has become very costly due to the big increases in the price of gasoline.”

Mneimneh told Arab News that because of the financial constraints and fewer volunteers the quality of iftar meals will be lower and less varied during Ramadan this year, at a time when growing numbers of people are going hungry.

“Yes, there are people starving in Lebanon,” she said. “A few days ago, a lady in her 50s who lives in a room under the stairs of a building called us. She was crying and said that she was starving. She added that her sister used to help her but is no longer capable of doing so, so she recharged her phone with money her sister gave to her so that she could call us.”

Sheikh Zuhair Kibi, the director general of the Zakat Fund of Dar Al-Fatwa, said: “The biggest problem that we face in helping people is a lack of cash flow because the banks refuse to give us cash and only give us checks, and so our money in the banks is frozen. All benevolent societies are facing the same problem.

“In the meantime humanitarian needs are growing, especially the cost of medicines and hospital care, in addition to the prices of foodstuffs and the costs of transportation, which are eroding the limited wages of employees.”

He said the financial crisis is affecting families from all walks of life and added: “We in the Zakat Fund provide aid to 1,100 families and 2,300 orphans. We give 300 families a sum of 300,000 pounds per month and every orphan 700,000 pounds each month. We need 2 billion pounds every month to provide these needs, which does not include the salaries of employees of the Zakat Fund.”

The fund has raised its fasting ransom — a sum that is paid by those who cannot fast during Ramadan and is used to help feed others — to 35,000 pounds (about $1.60 in the black-market exchange rate) this year from 15,000 pounds last year.

Mneimneh said: “Charitable people are still giving money for Zakat because this is an obligation and it is money to help the poor. However the amounts have declined due to the complicated bank procedures.

“So all the people have been affected, whether rich or poor, as withdrawals from banks have been limited. We are relying on money sent home by expatriates — however, the banks are obstructing our efforts to get this money.”

Illustrating the growing levels of desperation many people are feeling, she said that as soon as her association announced at a mosque in Beirut that free pre-dawn suhoor meals were available, hundreds of people flocked to get them first thing in the morning. She added that because of the financial pressures the suhoor meals that are provided no longer contain eggs, cheese or sweets.


Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
Updated 14 August 2022

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
  • Cell members said they received money from the militia, training from the Iranians
  • The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of weapons

JEDDAH: A newly busted smuggling cell loyal to the Houthis in Yemen has given more information about Iran’s routes and techniques for transporting weapons and added more evidence of its military support to the militia, Yemeni officials have said.

The Yemeni government’s Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units on the country’s western coast, released a video on Saturday showing confessions from four members of a Houthi cell who were involved in smuggling Iranian weapons into Houthi-controlled areas.

The Joint Forces said they had recently busted Houthi cells along the western coast involved in smuggling weapons, espionage, and targeting military and security officials in Yemen.

The four men have been smuggling weapons from Iran to Yemen for the past five years.

Cell leader Ali Mohammed Halhali is still at large, the Joint Forces said, and vowed to release more videos of other Houthi smugglers and operatives in the coming days.

Based on the confessions, the Yemeni smugglers usually sailed from different coastal cities such as Sheher in the southeastern province of Hadramout and Al-Ghaydah in the eastern province of Mahra.

They met another group of Yemeni smugglers at a location in the Gulf of Oman, where they transported Iranian weapons from their boats before moving to a transit point in Somalia.

Later, another group of smugglers would take the same shipment to Yemen.

Some boats docked at Houthi-controlled areas in the Red Sea, while other weapon-laden vessels entered government-controlled areas in the Arabian Sea or the Red Sea.

Cell member Ibrahim Omer Hassan Akad said he and several smugglers sailed from Sheher to the Gulf of Oman, where they met other smugglers carrying weapons from Iran.

The smugglers later headed to the Somali port of Berbera, where they delivered the shipment to other Yemeni smugglers who took the goods to Yemen.

After successfully delivering the weapons, Akad would embark on another trip using the same routes through Sheher, the Gulf of Oman, and the Somali coast.

During one of his trips, he and other smugglers were asked to sail to Iran where they received weapons directly from the Iranians and handed them to other Yemenis.

Akad said that he had also smuggled fuel and fertilizer to the Houthis through some Somali ports.

The other smugglers, Mustafa Ahmed Gadad, Ali Mohammed Halhali, and Hussein Yahiya Futaini, said the Houthis gave some of them YER1.5 million ($5,994) for each voyage and that they were captured by the US navy in 2018 while transporting weapons from Iran to Yemen.

The US confiscated the weapons and handed the smugglers to authorities in Aden, who later released them.

The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of Iranian weapons and said they received smuggling training from the Iranians.

Yemeni government officials, journalists, and activists called for the Iranians to be punished for undermining peace in Yemen by arming the militia, arguing that the Houthis’ smuggling of weapons showed they were preparing for war.

Yemeni journalist Hassan Ghaleb said the confessions contradicted the Houthis’ claims that they manufactured missiles, drones, and other weapons in Yemen and refuted their denial of receiving military support from Iran.

“Smuggling is the most important source that the Houthis rely on to obtain various weapons, especially guided missiles, drones, and Iranian military technology,” Ghaleb said.


Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities
Updated 14 August 2022

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities
  • Lapid accelerates ‘colonization’ of Palestinian land to win more votes in coming election, West Bank official says

RAMALLAH: Senior Palestinian official sources have accused the Israeli government of speeding up settlement activities in the West Bank to harvest the votes of right-wing parties in the lead-up to Israeli parliamentary elections on Nov. 1.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s caretaker government has stepped up plans to colonize Palestinian land and build hundreds of other settlement units, they said.

Ghassan Daglas, director of settlement affairs in the northern West Bank affiliated with the Palestinian Presidency Office, told Arab News: “It is clear that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid believes that his access to power and the success of his party in the upcoming elections comes at the expense of confiscating Palestinian land and blood.”

A Palestinian man raises a national flag as Israeli security forces look on, during a demonstration against the establishment of Israeli outposts in Beit Dajan, east of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, on August 12, 2022. (AFP)

“From a war on Gaza to murder in Nablus . . . to the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the approval of the establishment of settlements . . . we do not know what his next steps will be in this direction.”

Daglas said that Lapid had accelerated the implementation of settlement plans due to the approaching Israeli elections.

“After the Israeli leaders classified the settlements between a strategic settlement and an isolated one, their policy has now become to build a settlement between each settlement and to encircle the Palestinian cities and isolate them with a settlement belt that extends geographically and cuts off their geographical contiguity,” he said.

Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, has increased dramatically under the recently dissolved Israeli coalition government and reached 62 percent compared to the previous Benjamin Netanyahu leadership.

Settlement activity across the West Bank flourished during former US President Donald Trump’s time in power, even though it was considered illegal under international law and threatened the two-state solution for Palestinians to establish an independent state based on the 1967 borders.

The Israeli settlement in the Palestinian Territories is a program approved by all Israeli governments, as they look forward to reaching 1 million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by 2025.

The current number is 650,000 in the West Bank and 150,000 in East Jerusalem, living in 160 settlements and 126 outposts on a built-up area that constitutes 1.6 percent of the total area of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On Saturday, the National Office for Defending the Land and Resisting Settlements said that Israeli authorities recently approved a plan to establish a new settlement on 259 dunums of Palestinian land belonging to the town of Deir Istiya in the Salfit governorate.

The plan calls for the establishment of 381 settlement units in the new settlement and public buildings, open areas and streets to connect the new settlement with its outer perimeter, the National Office said in a report.

The new settlement is located in the middle of the settlements of “Revava” to the east and “Kiryat Netiavim” to the west. This indicates the intention of the occupation authorities to create a new settlement bloc that includes the three settlements in addition to the industrial settlement of “Burkan” in the south.

Salfit governorate, a population of 70,000 distributed among 19 localities, has experienced the expansion of settlements projects in the region since 1975, with extension plans focusing on linking the Palestinian coast to the Jordan Valley.

The strategic location of the governorate has made it a target for the Israeli occupation, which confiscated large areas of land with 24 settlement blocs surrounding Salfit — the largest of which is the “Ariel” settlement, inhabited by about 25,000 settlers.

It is the second-largest settlement in the West Bank after the settlement of “Maalem Adumim” on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The towns and villages of Salfit governorate are undergoing hardship due to the practices of the occupation.

The Palesinians’ plight is made worse by escalation of the settlement rate, the racial isolation wall, and the environmental pollution resulting from the settlements’ waste, especially industrial areas, and the theft of agricultural land, groundwater sources, and obliteration of its historical and religious features, the report said.

It added that the occupation authorities were also accelerating the building of more settlement units in the Palestinian lands in Jordan Valley.

All indications confirm the existence of a new Israeli plan to promote and support settlements in the northern Jordan Valley as part of efforts to expel residents, implementing “a clear policy of ethnic cleansing and looting and stealing more lands and areas, especially in the village of Al-Farisiyah,” the report said.

According to sources from the National Office, the Israeli settlement committee has been harassing the residents of the village for more than a month, in addition to bulldozing the surrounding mountains and putting up advertisements for a project to establish a university for settlers, in addition to vital facilities such as parks and areas.

The Israeli army provides support to settlers, bulldozers destroy features of the mountains near Al-Farsiyah, and move the material to residential areas and close to their homes, the sources said.

 


Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region, three soldiers

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region, three soldiers
Updated 57 min 59 sec ago

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region, three soldiers

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region, three soldiers
  • In June, Israeli airstrikes temporarily put Damascus International Airport out of commission

DAMASCUS: Israeli air strikes on Syria killed three soldiers and wounded three others on Friday, state media said, after the latest such incident in the war-torn country.
“The aggression led to the death of three soldiers, the wounding of three others,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said, quoting a military source.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes inside the country, targeting government positions as well as allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters.
The latest Israeli strikes targeted sites in the countryside around the capital Damascus and south of coastal Tartus province, SANA said, adding that Syria’s air defense systems intercepted some of the missiles.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor also gave the same toll of killed and wounded from the strikes near an air defense base in Tartus province, where Iranian-backed groups are active.
The targeted site in Tartus is located eight kilometers (five miles) from a Russian base, said the monitor, which has a wide network of sources in Syria.
It said ambulances had rushed to the scene of the strikes in Tartus.
In early July Syria’s defense ministry said an Israeli strike conducted from the Mediterranean Sea near the town of Al-Hamadiyah, south of Tartus town, had wounded two civilians.
On Friday, Israeli shelling wounded two civilians in southern Syria near the occupied Golan Heights, according to state media.
Last month, an Israeli strike near Damascus killed three Syrian soldiers, state media said at the time. The Observatory said that strike targeted a military facility and an “Iranian weapons depot.”
After the latest incident Israeli authorities told AFP that they “do not comment on reports in the foreign media.”
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria, the military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
The war has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Russia’s military intervention in 2015 helped turn the war in favor of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, whose forces once only controlled a fifth of the country.
Last month the Observatory said a Russian air strike killed seven people, four of them children, in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib region, in the country’s north


Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament
Updated 14 August 2022

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament
  • Followers of Sadr, in defiance of his Shiite rivals of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, have been staging a sit-in protest at Iraq’s parliament

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s judiciary said Sunday it lacks the authority to dissolve parliament as demanded by populist Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, who is engaged in an escalating standoff with political rivals.
Followers of Sadr, in defiance of his Shiite rivals of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, have been staging a sit-in protest at Iraq’s parliament.
In the latest twist to the political turmoil, the firebrand cleric has urged the judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of this week to pave the way for new legislative elections.
But the judiciary replied that “the Supreme Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to dissolve parliament,” citing “the principle of a separation of powers.”
Under the constitution, parliament can only be dissolved by an absolute majority vote in the house, following a request by one-third of deputies or by the prime minister with the approval of the president.
Nearly 10 months on from the last elections, Iraq still has no government, new prime minister or new president, due to disagreement between factions over forming a coalition.
In the latest turmoil to strike the oil-rich but war-scarred nation, Sadr has called for “early democratic elections after a dissolution of parliament.”
Although it did not endorse the dissolution of parliament, the Supreme Judicial Council said it agreed with Sadr’s criticism of the system’s “failure to elect a president of the republic, a prime minister and the absence of a government formed within the constitutional timeframe.”
“This is an unacceptable situation that must be remedied,” it said.
The Coordination Framework opponents of Sadr launched their own Baghdad sit-in on Friday, nearly two weeks after the cleric’s supporters stormed parliament and began an open-ended protest, first inside, then outside the legislature.
The opposing encampments are the latest turn in a standoff which has so far remained peaceful.
On Twitter, a close associate of Sadr, Saleh Mohamed Al-Iraqi, said it was time to show “which of the two sides has the most support” among the Iraqi people.
He called on Sadr’s supporters across the country to rally in Baghdad for a “million-man demonstration.”
The demonstration would take place at 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Saturday, he said, calling for it to be “unprecedented in terms of numbers.”
Sadr’s camp launched the sit-in two weeks ago after the Coordination Framework nominated a candidate they saw as unacceptable for prime minister.
The cleric’s bloc emerged from the October elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
In June, 73 of his lawmakers quit in an aborted bid to break the months-long political logjam.


Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
  • Blaze ripped through Coptic church in Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry expressed “great sadness and sorrow” following a huge fire which engulfed the Abu Sefein Church in Cairo on Sunday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The fire ripped through the Coptic church in the Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

The ministry offered its deepest and sincere condolences to the government and people of Egypt, wishing the injured a speedy recovery, and security and safety for  Egypt and its people.

Also on Sunday, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Hissein Brahim Taha, expressed his condolences and sympathy.

Taha offered his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery for the injured.

He also stressed the support and solidarity of the OIC for Egypt in the tragic circumstances.