Lebanon pins hopes of revival on tourist influx

Lebanon pins hopes of revival on tourist influx
Four concerts are scheduled to be held at Baalbek castle between July 8-17, featuring Lebanese, Spanish and French artists. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Lebanon pins hopes of revival on tourist influx

Lebanon pins hopes of revival on tourist influx
  • Baalbeck festival ‘comeback’ leads the way as 1m arrivals tipped

BEIRUT: Lebanon is hoping a summer influx of tourists and visitors will help revive its flagging economy, with the return of live performances at the Baalbeck International Festival expected to be a major drawcard.

The festival, a global cultural highlight for more than six decades, was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic restrictions, but previews of its Baalbeck Castle line-up between July 8-17 have attracted more than 17 million views on social media.

Minister of Tourism Walid Nassar said that up to 12,000 people are expected to arrive in Beirut each day during the next three months, with over 1 million arrivals over the summer.

“Given its location and all its tourism components, Lebanon does not need marketing,” he said.

Speaking during an inspection tour of Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Nassar said that flights, hotels and even guest houses were fully booked for the summer.

Travel agencies and airlines say that many Lebanese expatriates planning to spend their summer vacation in Lebanon with their families have booked tickets.

“We have a 100 percent reservation rate between July 1 and mid-September,” Jean Abboud, head of the Syndicate of Tourism and Travel Agencies, told Arab News.

“A total of 110 planes will be landing in Beirut during this period, carrying 15,000 passengers, the vast majority of whom are Lebanese, in addition to Jordanians, Iraqis and Egyptians.”

He said that the number of flights to and from Lebanon may have to be increased to cope with the rising demand.

According to Abboud, holidaying expats will help revive Lebanon’s economy by pumping US dollars into the economy.

However, the surge in tourist numbers is putting pressure on the capital’s accommodation, with some five-star hotels on the Beirut waterfront destroyed in the 2020 Beirut port explosion yet to be rebuilt.

“The remaining options are four-star hotels in the capital, and there are a few five-star hotels outside the capital, in addition to the guest houses that have recently proliferated in various regions. A total of 17,000 hotel rooms have been set to receive the Lebanese in their homeland,” Abboud said.

He pointed to a decline in Gulf tourism to Lebanon, saying: “For decades, Gulf tourists used to spend long weeks in Lebanon. In 2011, their contribution to our economy amounted to $11 billion, while now it barely exceeds $4 billion.”

In Baalbeck, the city’s major festivals are regaining their appeal after organizers were unable to attract foreign performers in recent years amid the economic collapse and the local currency’s depreciation.

Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that “the security situation in Lebanon is stable and under control.”

Four concerts are scheduled to be held at Baalbek Castle between July 8-17, featuring Lebanese, Spanish and French artists. The festival opens with a performance of traditional songs by Somaya Baalbaki, who will be backed by an orchestra of more than 35 musicians led by Lebnan Baalbaki.

Nayla de Freij, head of the Baalbeck festival committee, told Arab News that Lebanon’s festivals are struggling in the face of difficult economic conditions, but were determined to “emphasize cultural exchange between East and West.”

Without state funding for the Baalbeck festival this year, organizers were relying on contributions from a limited number of sponsors, she said.

However, de Freij said that “austerity measures and the limited budget do not mean we will be cutting corners when it comes to the technical level that we want to maintain in the Baalbeck festivals. This is why we will only be holding four concerts this year, and we will not build the huge amphitheater.”

Performers at the festival “have accepted relatively small payments because they want to help Lebanon as well,” she added.

“Our role in these circumstances is to encourage the dying Lebanese art. There are creative artists who must continue their artistic careers. And we wanted to present art that resembles people and preserves their heritage.”

Both Abboud and de Freij said that security is the key to reviving summer activities in Lebanon.

“The committee contacted army and security services officials, and they confirmed that security will be under control to and from Baalbeck,” de Freij said.


Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement
Updated 10 sec ago

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement
JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters during a raid on a refugee camp near the city of Jericho on Monday aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, according to a statement from the Israeli military.
It said the targets of the raid were suspected of an attempted attack on a restaurant in the Israeli settlement of Vered Yeriho on Jan. 28.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian authorities.

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises
Updated 14 min 55 sec ago

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises
  • At least 76 people in seven Turkish provinces died while 440 people were injured
  • In Syria the death toll climbed to 99 and 334 injured

RIYADH/ANKARA: Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management agency says the 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed at least 76 people in seven Turkish provinces. The agency said 440 people were injured.
Meanwhile, the death toll in government-held areas of Syria from Monday's quake climbed to 99, according to Syrian state media citing the Health Ministry. In addition, at least 334 people were injured in Syria. Earlier, 20 people were reported killed in rebel-held areas of Syria.
This raises the overall death toll to 195 in Turkey and Syria.
Rescue workers and residents frantically searched for survivors under the rubble of crushed buildings in multiple cities on both sides of the border. In one quake-struck Turkish city, dozens pulled away chunks of concrete and twisted metal. People on the street shouted up to others inside a partially toppled apartment building, leaning dangerously.
The quake, felt as far away as Cairo, was centered north of the city of Gaziantep in an area about 90 kilometers from the Syrian border.
On the Syrian side of the border, the quake smashed opposition-held regions that are packed with some 4 million Syrians displaced from other parts of the country by the long civil war. Many of them live in decrepit conditions with little health care. At least 11 were killed in one town, Atmeh, and many more were buried in the rubble, a doctor in the town, Muheeb Qaddour, said.

“We fear that the deaths are in the hundreds,” Qaddour said, referring to the rebel-held northwest. “We are under extreme pressure.”
On the Turkish side, the area has several large cities and is home to millions of Syrian refugees.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.


There were at least 6 aftershocks, and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu urged people not to enter damaged buildings due to the risks. “Our priority is to bring out people trapped under ruined buildings and to transfer them to hospitals,” he said.
Tallies from various officials put the toll at at least 38 dead in Turkiye and 62 in Syria.
At least 130 buildings tumbled down in Turkiye’s Malatya province, neighboring the epicenter, Gov. Hulusi Sahin said. In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, at least 15 buildings collapsed. Rescue teams called for silence as they listed for survivors in a toppled 11-story building.
In northwest Syria, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the rebel-held region as “disastrous” adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble. The civil defense urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open areas. Emergency rooms were full of injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.

U.S. President Biden directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess response options to the most affected areas in the Turkiye and Syria earthquake, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday.
The United States is profoundly concerned by the reports of the destructive earthquake, he said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 33 kilometers from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. It was centered 18 kilometers deep, and a strong 6.7 aftershock rumbled about 10 minutes later.
Syria’s state media reported that some buildings collapsed in the northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Hama.
In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear.

The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.
The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.
Turkiye sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes.
Some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkiye in 1999.

The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.

Cetizens from as far as Jerusalem and Beirut talked of being awakened by the strong shaking. "I live in Gaziantep, Türkiye.  Was sleeping when it started. Absolutely terrifying," Nasip (@iam_nasib) commented on a video posted on Twitter.

"Felt it in Jerusalem," said Amy di Nardò (@amybellabella).

Sagittarius (@JRsagittarius) said he was in Beirut and the experienced "was terrifying."

Karolingston (@karolingston) of Cyprus said he was awakened because "My bed was shaking."

"Felt it in Lebanon. It was a hell of a feeling!" chimed in CharbelRahmé (@charbelrahm_e)

Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Duzce was one of the regions hit by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 — the worst to hit Turkiye in decades.

That quake killed more than 17,000 people, including about 1,000 in Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.

A magnitude-6.8 quake hit Elazig in January 2020, killing more than 40 people.

And in October that year, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 114 people and wounding more than 1,000.

(With agencies)


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”