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.


Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
Updated 10 sec ago

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 Iranian 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 21 min 26 sec ago

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

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region
Updated 23 min 40 sec ago

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region

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

DAMASCUS: Israel launched a missile attack on western Syria Sunday night and explosions were heard in the coastal region of the war-torn country, Syrian state media reported. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Syrian state TV reported that Israel’s military targeted several positions in the province of Tartus without giving further details. The TV said the missiles were fired by warplanes flying over neighboring Lebanon.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the Israeli strike targeted a Syrian army air defense base in the area of Abu Afsa. It added that Iran-backed fighters are usually in the base.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria over the past years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that sent thousands of fighters to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
In June, Israeli airstrikes temporarily put Damascus International Airport out of commission.


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

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament
Updated 59 min 3 sec ago

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.