Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
A welcoming billboard is seen along the airport road in Beirut following a campaign by the Tourism Ministry to replace the pictures of political figures with images of natural sites. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
  • Ninety-three flights carrying expatriates arrived in Lebanon, while pilgrim number decreased amid high prices

BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is perhaps the only active official facility in Lebanon these days.

Caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh said Thursday: “Ninety-three flights arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday, carrying 15,444 passengers coming to spend summer vacation here.

“The number of planes arriving in Beirut will increase in the coming days,” Hamiyeh expected.

Lebanon is counting on summertime travel to pump hard currency into the economic cycle amid accumulated political and economic crises and their impact on the living situation of the Lebanese people.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also PM-designated, warned Thursday during the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “Every delay in coming up with solutions to crises costs Lebanon $25 million a day.”

A source at the Middle East Airlines told Arab News: “As a result of the economic crisis, COVID-19 precautionary measures, and the decline in the financial capabilities of the Lebanese, only a few thousand pilgrims will be traveling to perform Hajj this year. Their numbers reached over 25,000 in previous years.”

On Wednesday, an MEA flight carrying the first batch of Lebanese pilgrims landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. MEA is the only authorized airline in Lebanon to transport pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.

The economic collapse and the national currency’s depreciation made the pilgrimage more difficult for those wishing to go to Makkah.

Former MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar complained about “the inability of the Lebanese to travel to perform Hajj because the vaccine against meningitis, which Saudi Arabia requires from pilgrims for their safety, is not available in the Ministry of Health for lack of funding, or in pharmacies.”

Abdelrahman Al-Taweel, who is in charge of the Foutowa campaign for Hajj and Umrah, said: “The number of pilgrims this year did not reach 2,700, which is the quota allocated to Lebanon. The main reason is the high cost of the trip, which amounts to $6,000 per pilgrim. Everything is more expensive nowadays, [including] airline tickets, the price of which has risen globally as a result of the high cost of fuel, as well as tents and other supplies, and other additional fees.”

Al-Taweel noted: “The unavailability of the meningitis vaccine, which the Ministry of Health is supposed to provide to people, prompted the pilgrims to buy it at their own expense. It costs $60, which is equivalent to 1,800,000 LBP, according to the black-market exchange rate.”

Lebanon is trying to convey the image that it is doing well — despite the crises plaguing it — to visitors, including the Arab foreign ministers whom officials encouraged Thursday to hold their consultative meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Summit.

However, public-sector employees went on strike and will only resume work once their demands — including increased salaries, transportation allowances and health and educational benefits — are met.

In the absence of solutions, it seems that the general strike will continue, paralyzing the entire country.

MP Ghassan Hasbani, member of the Strong Republic bloc, warned after the Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “The government is yet to present a final financial…reform plan in order to interpret laws. The government must refer this plan to parliament as quickly as possible with a legislative roadmap and laws ready for implementation to speed up recovery and approve a budget that reflects the required reforms.”

It remains unknown whether the composition of the new government that Mikati handed over to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday morning will get the latter’s approval.

Less than 24 hours after the non-binding parliamentary consultations, Mikati drafted a government formation consisting of the current government, with some amendments, particularly to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Economy.


Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam
Updated 8 sec ago

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam

Egypt warns of cracks in Ethiopian dam
  • Cairo, Khartoum fear it will reduce their share of Nile waters
  • Egypt says it will take all necessary measures to protect national security

CAIRO: In a letter to the UN Security Council, Egypt has warned of cracks in the concrete facade of the sub-dam linked to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Cairo said this is particularly alarming due to Ethiopia’s failure to comply with its duty to conduct the required environmental and socioeconomic impact studies.

The letter, sent to the UNSC president, said Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Aty had received a message about Ethiopia’s intention to unilaterally resume filling the GERD during the current rainy season.

Abdel-Aty said Ethiopia’s decision comes in the absence of an agreement between it and Egypt and Sudan on the rules governing the filling and operation of the dam, constituting a violation of the 2015 Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries.

He stressed that Cairo holds Ethiopia fully responsible for any significant harm that may be caused to Egypt by these repeated violations.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the country reserves its right guaranteed in the UN Charter to take all necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security, including against any harm that Ethiopia’s unilateral measures may cause.

The GERD has raised tensions between Ethiopia on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other.

The latter two countries are demanding a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam, which they fear will reduce their share of the Nile’s waters.

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UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey
Updated 41 min ago

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey

UK police seek urgent help locating boy last seen in Turkey
  • 4-year-old George Jack Temperley-Wells visited Antalya with his mother to see his father

LONDON: Police in the UK have asked for help to locate a 4-year-old boy who is thought to be missing after traveling to Turkey.

George Jack Temperley-Wells is believed to have gone to visit his father Scott Nigel Wells in the city of Antalya on June 29 with his mother Brogan Elizabeth Temperley. Antalya is a popular summer holiday destination for Britons.

Durham Police said anyone in contact with Temperley should notify authorities in Turkey or the UK immediately with information on her whereabouts, adding that they have serious concerns for the welfare of her son.

The police said the boy has red hair, a pale complexion and dark eyes, while his mother is described as being slim with long dark hair and dark eyes.

The force released two images of the trio dining in the area at a restaurant recently, where they were seen smiling together.

People in Turkey with information should visit their nearest police station or call 112/115. Anyone in the UK with information should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, and quote the incident number 325 for June 30.


UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs
Updated 15 min 58 sec ago

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs

UN, Italian agency sign deal to rebuild damaged Beirut suburbs
  • Italian Embassy: Project will improve housing for vulnerable people affected by port blast

LONDON: The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and the UN Program for Human Settlements have signed an agreement in Beirut to finance the rehabilitation of the public park of the Mar Mikhael train station in the Lebanese capital.

The program will also restore some of the housing damaged by the Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020.

The Italian Embassy in Beirut reported the signing, hosting a ceremony at the Italian diplomatic headquarters in Baabda. It was attended by Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Nicoletta Bombardiere.

The project, titled “Ensuring safe public spaces and adequate housing for all within the city of Beirut,” is being funded by the agency and will be implemented by the UN program alongside Lebanese authorities.

The embassy said the project will improve “housing conditions for vulnerable populations affected by the explosion of the port of Beirut, in particular in the vicinity of the old Mar Mikhael railway station.”

It added that the project intends to increase “access to safe and inclusive public spaces within the railway station, also revitalizing the urban fabric of the city.”

Bombardiere said: “This project will allow the citizens of Beirut to rediscover the old Mar Mikhael railway station and its historical relevance.

“At the same time, we continue our commitment to respond to basic needs, such as social housing, restoring the cultural and social fabric of the districts most affected.”


Armed man demanding frozen deposits takes hostages at Lebanese commercial bank

Armed man demanding frozen deposits takes hostages at Lebanese commercial bank
Updated 2 min 50 sec ago

Armed man demanding frozen deposits takes hostages at Lebanese commercial bank

Armed man demanding frozen deposits takes hostages at Lebanese commercial bank
  • The gunman entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighborhood in west Beirut with a firearm, security source said

BEIRUT: An armed man demanding deposits frozen by his bank took an unspecified number of hostages on Thursday at the Federal Bank of Lebanon, a security source said and a Reuters witness said.
Lebanese banks have limited withdrawals of hard currency for most depositors during the country’s three-year financial meltdown, which has left more than three-quarters of the population poor.

 


The man entered the Federal Bank of Lebanon branch in the Hamra neighborhood in west Beirut just before noon on Thursday with a firearm, the security source told Reuters.
Some customers in the bank managed to flee before he shut the doors on the rest, said the source, who was not able to specify how many clients or employees were in the branch.

 


Two shots were subsequently fired, according to Lebanese media station Al-Jadeed.
A Reuters witness could see a bearded man in a black shirt behind the gated entrance to the bank speaking to several men in plainclothes on the outside.
“Let them give me back my money!” he was heard telling them.

 

The following is a live update of the events as they unfold. All timings are GMT:

10:47 am - Al-Akhbar tweets footage of demonstrators outside the bank chanting "Down with the banks ruling" of Lebanon.

10:29 am – Al Arabiya news channel reports that eight hostages are being held inside the bank.

10:20am – The face of the gunman (Reuters)

10:11 am – Video of the gunman appears to show his hostages pleading with him.

 

 

09:30am - Al Jadeed Television confirms that Basem Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, has taken hostages in a branch of Federal Bank Lebanon in Hamrah Street in Beirut, demanding his money back.

He has $210,000 and his brother has $500,000 in accounts in the bank. Direct negotiations are ongoing between the families of the hostages and Hussein.


Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton
Updated 11 August 2022

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton
  • ‘The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction’
  • US Justice Department: Plan likely in retaliation for the killing of Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “fiction” Thursday US allegations it had plotted to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for the assassination of one of its top commanders.
The US claim comes at a crunch moment in talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that Washington had abandoned in 2018 but has said it wants to rejoin, with Iran now considering what European Union mediators have called a “final” text.
“The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
“This time they have come up with a plot involving individuals like Bolton whose political career has failed,” Kanani scoffed.
“The Islamic republic warns against any action that targets Iranian citizens by resorting to ridiculous accusations.”
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill Bolton.
The plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.
Guards member Shahram Poursafi is also alleged to have dangled the possibility of a second target he said would earn the ostensible assassin $1 million.
The court papers did not identify that alleged target, but according to US media outlet Axios, it was former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo.
The person Poursafi was dealing with was actually an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the court filings.
Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which carries up to 10 years in prison; and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.
The Justice Department said Poursafi remains at large and is believed to be in Iran.
“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” current White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned after the charges were announced.
Soleimani, a revered figure in Iran, was killed in a US drone strike just after he landed at Baghdad’s airport on January 7, 2020.
Since his death, Tehran has vowed to take revenge, and the United States has ramped up security for prominent current and former officials, including Pompeo, who was leading the State Department when Soleimani was killed.
Bolton, like Pompeo a strong critic of Iran, was national security adviser in the White House of former president Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019.
He was strongly opposed to the 2015 deal putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and supported the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the pact in May 2018.
Bolton blasted Iran’s government as “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States” in a statement on Wednesday.
Kanani said the US Justice Department’s “baseless claims” were a smokescreen to “avoid being held to account for the numerous crimes in which the US government has been directly implicated, like the cowardly assassination” of Soleimani.