Saudi Arabia expresses support for humanitarian aid mechanism for Lebanon

Saudi Arabia expresses support for humanitarian aid mechanism for Lebanon
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun receives Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Beirut Walid Bukhari at the Baabda Palace on Wednesday. (SPA)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Saudi Arabia expresses support for humanitarian aid mechanism for Lebanon

Saudi Arabia expresses support for humanitarian aid mechanism for Lebanon
  • Saudi envoy tells Lebanese president the Kingdom is “keen on helping the Lebanese people”
  • Walid Bukhari, Michel Aoun also discuss boosting bilateral ties

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia has expressed its support for the people of Lebanon and its desire to bolster ties between the two nations following the return of its envoy to Beirut.

Walid Bukhari, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday that “the Kingdom is keen on helping the Lebanese people during difficult circumstances and strengthening relations between the two countries.”

According to the president’s media office, the two men discussed bilateral relations and Bukhari told Aoun about “the mechanism of the Saudi-French joint fund aimed at providing humanitarian support and achieving stability and development in Lebanon.”

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states recalled their ambassadors from Lebanon in October in protest against insulting statements made by former Information Minister George Qordahi regarding the war in Yemen.

Bukhari last met Aoun in March 2021. That meeting took place after a failed attempt to form a government led by former Premier Saad Hariri and the exchange of accusations of disrupting the process between Hariri and Aoun.

Since returning to Beirut, Bukhari has held talks with religious authorities, current and former prime ministers and interior ministers, foreign diplomats and other politicians.

Kuwaiti Ambassador Abdul-Al Sulaiman Al-Qenaei has also returned to Beirut. He said after meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday that “restoring diplomatic relations and the return of ambassadors indicate the success of the Kuwaiti initiative.”

He added that both Lebanon and the Gulf states had mutually agreed that their long history was above everything else and that “what happened is in the past and the return of ambassadors will lead to further rapprochement and cooperation that benefit the brotherly countries.”

Wednesday’s developments coincided with the 47th anniversary of the start of the civil war in Lebanon. Hariri tweeted: “The suffering of the Lebanese is repeated in different forms.”

Meanwhile, the joint parliamentary committees were unable to approve a draft Lebanese capital control law on Wednesday.

Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the Finance and Budget Committee, said: “We are making amendments to the current draft.”

Politicians have failed to pass the law since 2019 when Lebanon descended into a financial crisis that has paralyzed its banking system and frozen depositors out of their US dollar accounts.

Formal capital controls are a policy recommendation of the International Monetary Fund, from which Lebanon hopes to secure an aid package.

Lawmaker Bilal Abdullah said the draft contained “defects and needs amendments.”

He told Arab News: “The conditions of the IMF are harsh … How will we face people if the flour and medicines are no longer subsidized? What is the point of competing for parliamentary seats in a bankrupt country?

“Some people are preventing any progress toward the country’s recovery plan. However, some are forgetting that the country is bankrupt, and we must not stop negotiations with the IMF.”

Pressure is mounting on last week’s preliminary agreement between an IMF team and Lebanese authorities to implement the fund’s conditions to prevent a complete financial collapse.

The Depositors Outcry Association protested in Beirut against the draft capital control law. Alaa Khorshid, its head, said: “We cannot accept the theft of our money followed by the enactment of a law to protect the thieves.”

In another development, the US Department of State’s report about human rights in Lebanon referred to reliable information about “serious political interference with the judiciary and judicial affairs and imposing severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, arrests, unjustified prosecutions against journalists, censorship and the existence of laws criminalizing defamation, severe restrictions on internet freedom and the forced return of refugees to a country where their lives or freedom are threatened.”

The report mentioned “the presence of serious high-level and widespread official corruption” and added that “government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses, including evading or influencing judicial processes.”

The report also cited “unofficial detention facilities by the terrorist Hezbollah party and Palestinian militias.”


Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
Updated 14 sec ago

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
KANTARA, Cyprus: In the end, it was Mother Nature that extinguished a wildfire that scorched thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of villages in the north of divided Cyprus, officials said Saturday.
Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, as well as British military and Israeli personnel, had responded to calls for help to fight the fire which began Tuesday in the Kantara area of the Kyrenia mountain range.
“The fire... has been extinguished to a large extent with the effect of the rain that fell last night,” said Unal Ustel, prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Ankara.
“We have survived a great disaster.”
There have been no reports of casualties but Turkish Cypriot authorities said more than 6,500 acres (2,600 hectares) had been burned.
Helicopters were still dropping water onto the burning ridge lines on Friday, before intense rains fell overnight.
Forestry department head Cemil Karzaoglu said the fire was completely under control and mopping up operations were continuing where smoke was still visible.
Ustel expressed gratitude to “the British Base Areas, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration for their support in extinguishing the fire from the air.”
The United Nations peacekeeping force said it coordinated the firefighting response.
According to Cypriot media reports earlier, at least four villages were evacuated.
Emergency services from Israel and Britain’s Sovereign Base Areas on the eastern Mediterranean island often help fight Cyprus’s frequent wildfires.
In July last year, blazes that broke out in the Larnaca and Limassol districts claimed the lives of four Egyptian farmworkers and destroyed more than 12,000 acres.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the northern part of the island in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta in power in Greece at the time.

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
Updated 25 June 2022

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
  • Agency subject to smear campaign that ignores pioneering achievements, its chief tells Arab News
  • UN Relief and Works Agency supports millions of Palestinian refugees in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in a “political will” that matches declarations of support for its work, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency told Arab News.

Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came at a press briefing a day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.

This leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health care services for over 2 million people, and cash assistance for the poorest among them.

The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade.

This year, however, skyrocketing costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost-control measures as “there’s very little left to cut without cutting services,” Lazzarini said, adding that the money should tide UNRWA over until September, but things are up in the air after that.

“We’re in an early warning mode,” he said. “Right now, I’m drawing attention that we’re in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers can’t be paid.”

He added that UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe, and last year the Biden administration restored funding, reversing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.

But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.

“What’s also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in financing the construction of schools and clinics, and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “This is very important to keep.”

He said the Arab League has been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should at least amount to 7-8 percent of the agency’s core budget.

“There’s room for increased solidarity, and having the region committed means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donor conference, where some admitted to financial difficulties and donor fatigue.

“Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We’ll know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency.”

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

There are now about 6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who can’t spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

UNRWA’s problem is that “we’re expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we’re funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions,” he added.

Ahead of Thursday’s donor conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent UN representative, had urged countries to stop contributions until UNRWA fires teachers that his country claims support terrorism and killing Jews.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission on Friday that he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we’ll take measures in line with UN policies.”

He added that UNRWA’s detractors are usually civil society organizations that “seek to undermine the agency, usually target lawmakers, and talk about (UNRWA’s) textbooks and education in schools without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts exerted by the agency to ensure quality education in line with UNESCO standards.

“I keep reminding we’re the only ones having reached gender equality, having a proper human rights curriculum in the region, that we’re regularly assessed by third parties.

“The World Bank assessed that we’re high value for money when it comes to education. Children are one year ahead compared to public education in the region.

“We have extraordinary human success stories of kids who have gone to our schools and succeeded at international level.”

He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most heavily scrutinized but “despite that, there’s smear campaign on issues — which sometimes need indeed to be addressed — but which never acknowledge the efforts being put by the agency.”
 


60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises
Updated 25 June 2022

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

BEIRUT: On Saturday, 60,933 Lebanese students took their intermediate certificate exams (Brevet) amid severe power cuts, water shortages and inflated transport costs.
However, the security forces provided a peaceful environment inside the exam centers while the Lebanese Army was deployed outside.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education organized exams around where invigilators live to reduce transport costs. It also ensured that exams were only taken in centers that students and teachers could efficiently access.
Lebanon’s worsening financial crisis and the local currency’s depreciation meant that the ministry faced several challenges for holding the exams.
The ministry canceled the exams last year during the pandemic and struggled to organize them this year amid a teachers’ strike and parents grappling with the high costs of driving their children to centers.
Making matters worse for the students, an unusual end-of-June thunderstorm hit Lebanon on Saturday morning. Given the cloudy weather, the ministry had to plead with private generator owners to provide exam centers with power so students can clearly see their exam sheets.
In some centers in Diniyeh, northern Lebanon, exams were delayed for over two hours due to the power outage and the storm.
The second part of the Brevet exams will be held on Monday; just two days of exams are now required after subjects were reduced to five instead of nine.
The official exams of the Lebanese Baccalaureate Certificate of Secondary Education, which 43,000 students will take, are scheduled to start on Wednesday and last for three days.
A total of 12,000 teachers are supervising the official exams as the official education associations decided not to boycott exams at the last minute despite their demands to raise the allowance.
Imad Al-Ashkar, director general at the ministry, who heads the examining committees, said the suspension of studies as a result of the teachers’ strike and online schooling have been taken into account while setting exam papers.
The ministry has resorted to donors to secure additional funds to pay teachers for supervising and correcting official exams.
The teachers were promised an increase in financial allowances for supervisors and heads of exam centers; 160,000 LBP ($6.34) and 200,000 LBP respectively. They were also promised a $20 daily allowance provided by donor countries.
The currency depreciation means that the supervisor’s allowance is only enough to buy them a sandwich and a soda. Meanwhile, the price of a 20-liter gasoline canister is almost 700,000 LBP.
The struggle of education workers is being replicated by all the Lebanese, who are facing a living crisis that has reached unacceptable limits, as bakeries are running out of bread and water is barely reaching households since the Water Establishment cannot afford diesel to run its pump.
Power cuts are ongoing and more medicines are expected to go missing from pharmacies as subsidies will be lifted on more chronic disease medicines next week.
Traders are taking advantage of the crisis to make illegal profits; the cost of 10 barrels of household water has doubled to 1 million LBP.
Some bakery owners have reported that people in the southern suburb of Beirut are buying all the flour from the mills at a subsidized price before setting up stands near bakeries, selling flour bags at double their price while the security services stand idly by.


Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz
Updated 25 June 2022

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz
  • The international community’s lenient stance would only encourage the Houthis to refuse to lift their siege of the city
  • “He should push for the implementation of his proposal and name and shame the party that rejected it,” Al-Ajar told Arab News

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The Yemeni government’s delegation to peace talks focused on the southwestern city of Taiz demanded on Saturday that the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg denounce the Iran-backed Houthis for rejecting proposals to end the siege of Taiz and threatening to undermine the UN-brokered truce.
Ali Al-Ajar, a member of the government delegation, said the international community’s lenient stance would only encourage the Houthis to refuse to lift their siege of the city, which began in 2015.
“He should push for the implementation of his proposal and name and shame the party that rejected it,” Al-Ajar told Arab News. “His policy of holding the stick from the middle will not lead to any solution.”
Grundberg initially propose the opening of a main road and four secondary roads around the city in Amman, during the latest round of talks on Taiz between the government and the Houthis.
The government delegation, which had previously insisted that the Houthis lift their siege of Taiz immediately, accepted the proposal, while the Houthi delegation requested time to discuss it with their leaders in Sanaa.
Grundberg had visited Sanaa and Muscat in an effort to convince the Houthis to accept his proposal and start implementing a key element of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2.
The Houthis officially rejected Grundberg’s proposal on Taiz on Thursday, proposing as an alternative the “immediate opening” of two of the city’s access roads, one linking Taiz to Sanaa via Aber, Al-Saremen, Al-Demenah and Al-Houban, and the second connecting Taiz to Aden through Al-Sharejah (Lahj), Karesh and Al-Rahedah.
Those roads were described by the government delegation as “unpaved, long, and going through flood courses.” The first road, they said, is “small and rough” and only viable for off-road vehicles, while the second road runs through Houthi-controlled areas.
“For us, the (siege) is better than accepting the Houthi’s proposal. The road is one-way and dusty and would not alleviate the suffering of the people of Taiz. They should open the wide road between Taiz and Al-Houban,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military officer in Taiz, told Arab News.
Protesters on Friday congregated near Taiz’s blockaded western and eastern entrances to denounce the Houthi siege and draw international attention to their suffering. “Break Taiz siege,” read one of the posters written in English.
Taiz has been effectively cut off from the rest of the country since the Houthi siege began seven years ago, but the Iran-backed militia has so far failed to seize control of the city thanks to fierce opposition from the army and resistance fighters.


El-Sisi: ‘Terrorism among greatest challenges facing humanity’

El-Sisi: ‘Terrorism among greatest challenges facing humanity’
Updated 25 June 2022

El-Sisi: ‘Terrorism among greatest challenges facing humanity’

El-Sisi: ‘Terrorism among greatest challenges facing humanity’
  • Egyptian president was speaking at BRICS Summit
  • ‘Terrorism violates the basic rights of citizens, foremost of which is the right to life’

CAIRO: Terrorism remains among the greatest challenges facing humanity,” Egypt’s president said during his speech at a summit in Beijing that brought together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Abdel Fattah El-Sisi praised “the BRICS group’s keenness to adopt a common vision toward political and economic issues of interest to developing countries, especially with regard to exploring prospects for development cooperation and support for development financing.”

He added: “The efforts focused on addressing the repercussions of the current economic crisis should not come at the expense of supporting sustainable development in the least developed and developing countries, countries that still suffer from a lack of development financing.”

El-Sisi said: “Achieving development goals must come in parallel with all international efforts to address traditional and non-traditional challenges, top of which are the issues of terrorism and climate change.”

He added: “The phenomenon of terrorism violates the basic rights of citizens, foremost of which is the right to life, and hinders the efforts of governments toward achieving the economic and social goals of their people.”

He said: “Egypt stresses the need to adopt a comprehensive approach that includes various dimensions to dry up the sources of terrorism and prevent the provision of funding, safe havens and media platforms for terrorist organizations, as well as addressing the economic and social conditions and factors that push some to extremism and joining terrorist groups.”

Egypt previously participated as a guest in the BRICS Summit hosted by China in September 2017.