Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens
A farmer collects wheat in field at Houla village in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 05 July 2022

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

BEIRUT: The Lebanese have once again sporadically taken to the streets of Beirut and other urban areas to protest the continued strain on their living conditions, but no official nationwide movement has erupted to unify their anger.

On Tuesday, protesters closed the offices of a mobile phone operator in Tripoli, north Lebanon, and asked employees to leave their offices in protest against the rise in prices.

There are growing concerns in Tripoli as thousands of families are unable to provide their basic daily necessities.

Security reports have indicated that nighttime crime is on the rise, punctuated by random shootings in popular neighborhoods. Fears have been compounded after a majority of people in Tripoli have stopped paying their private generator subscriptions, practically living in the dark 24/7, because they can no longer afford the fees.

Many Lebanese have also given up another basic service — the internet — after bundles were priced in dollars. Caretaker Minister of Communications Johnny Korm said: “The new cell phone bill is calculated by dividing the previous bill by three and multiplying it by the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate (25,300 LBP/USD) or multiplying it by 2.5 for the Ogero service.”

Korm added: “Indeed, we expect many to stop using cellphones altogether, but it is too early to give accurate figures. Consumption has so far decreased by 8 percent since the beginning of July.”

Protesters blocked roads in Beirut, complaining about the loss of access to the public water network for the third week, and lamenting the regular power cuts that have blighted all areas due to the suspension of production plants.

Just one power station, the Deir Ammar plant, has continued operations amid a scarcity of fuel coming from Iraq, which is less than the expected quantity as Baghdad battles its own power sector struggles.

Although the Ministry of Economy said that there is enough flour to meet Lebanon’s consumption needs, citizens are still queuing at bakeries that are only selling one bundle of bread per customer in an attempt to provide bread to the largest possible number of customers.

Meanwhile, some are selling bread on the black market amid fears that wheat will not be available after Eid Al-Adha since the Central Bank is yet to open credits for wheat imports.

MP Wael Abu Faour reported: “According to the security services, organized gangs are stealing subsidized flour and selling it on the black market.”

The World Bank country classifications by income level on July 1 showed that Lebanon has become a lower-middle-income country.

“For the eleventh consecutive year, Lebanon’s real GDP per capita fell in 2021, and the country also experienced sharp exchange rate depreciation,” the report stated, as the per capita gross national income in 2021 amounted to $3,450, after it was $5,510 in 2020.

Representatives from the General Labor Union, the Forces for Change groups, the private sector and civil society bodies discussed on Tuesday “a mechanism of action to end the government’s policies of starvation and humiliation and its petty decisions to increase prices, through the deliberate killing of the Lebanese people and the financing of corruption that has been rampant for many years.”

They unanimously agreed on “the absolute rejection of any increase in prices, especially telecommunications and the internet, because it is deliberate theft to continue financing the corrupt system and its groups that are holding on to their posts and suffocating citizens.”

They further called on the Lebanese to be ready to participate in the upcoming moves to restore their rights, the most basic of which are telecommunications services and the internet.

While Lebanon’s economic deterioration worsens and politicians fail to form a government that can approve the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund, the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission — which monitored the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 — issued a report that slammed several aspects of how the elections were held.

Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU team, said during a press conference in Beirut: “The conclusion in the mission’s final report is that although preparations were affected by limited financial and human resources, the election authorities delivered the May 15 parliamentary elections in the scheduled time. However, these elections were overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying and clientelism, which distorted the level playing field and seriously affected the voters’ choice.”

In its report, the mission noted: “The campaign was vibrant but marred by various instances of intimidation (including on social media) and cases of campaign obstruction. Besides, the legal framework for campaign finance suffers from serious shortcomings concerning transparency and accountability.”

The mission included a series of recommendations to improve the electoral process in the future. “These recommendations are setting a framework for a gradual Lebanese-led reform process,” Holvenyi emphasized, adding: “The EU stands ready to support Lebanon in implementing these recommendations to improve future election processes if deemed necessary, feasible, and useful.”


New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal
Updated 11 sec ago

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal
BEIRUT: A new buyer is being sought for the first grain shipment to leave Ukraine under a hard-won deal with Russia after the original Lebanese buyer canceled its order, the Ukrainian embassy said.
The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of maize and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli at the weekend.
But now the keenly anticipated shipment is looking for a buyer after the shipping agent agreed to a request to cancel the original order in the light of the long delay in delivery.
A five-month delay after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “prompted the buyer and the shipping agent to reach agreement on the cancelation of the order,” the Ukraine embassy said in a statement late Tuesday.
The agent is now studying alternative bids for the maize before deciding on its destination, the embassy added.
The Razoni is currently anchored off the Turkish port of Mersin, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Another ship docked in Turkey Monday with a cargo of 12,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, becoming the first to reach its destination under the deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow on its coast.
Ukraine said Monday it was “optimistic” that the millions of tons of wheat and other grain that had been trapped in its silos and ports could now be exported, in a major boost for world food supplies.

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction
Updated 10 August 2022

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction

Iraq launches Mosul airport reconstruction
  • The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, had been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014

MOSUL: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi on Wednesday inaugurated the reconstruction of Mosul international airport, still in disrepair five years after the battle that expelled Daesh from the city.
Entire sectors of the northern metropolis have remained in ruins since the July 2017 recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led multinational coalition.
The airport, which was heavily damaged in the battle, has been disused since the extremists seized Mosul and adjacent areas in 2014.
Kadhemi, in an official ceremony at the airport on the southern outskirts of Mosul, laid the foundation stone for its renovation.
Airport director Haider Ali told AFP that the reconstruction has been assigned to two Turkish companies and is expected to take 24 months.
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction, the city of 1.5 million inhabitants has regained a semblance of normality: shops have reopened, traffic jams are back and international agencies have been funding restoration projects for historic sites.
But huge challenges remain.
At the end of 2021, the Red Cross estimated that 35 percent of west Mosul residents and less than 15 percent in east Mosul, which bore the brunt of the fighting, have enough water to meet their daily needs.
Kadhemi, quoted in a statement issued by his office, said that “huge efforts” were being made to rebuild the city.
In January, a provincial official spoke of a $266-million budget for major reconstruction projects, notably in the health, education and transport sectors for 2021-2022, according to the state news agency INA.


Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’
Updated 10 August 2022

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’

Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for ‘spying’
  • The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “childish” Wednesday claims by the United States that an Iranian satellite launched by Russia is intended for spying.
The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a “profound threat.”
“We are aware of reports that Russia launched a satellite with significant spying capabilities on Iran’s behalf,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
The head of Iran’s Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, told reporters Wednesday that the spying allegation was “basically childish.”
“Sometimes, some comments are made to incite tensions; saying that we want to spy with the Khayyam satellite... is basically childish,” he said.
“The Khayyam satellite is entirely designed and built to meet the needs of the country in crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on.”
Ahead of the launch, there was speculation that Russia might borrow Iran’s satellite temporarily to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or longer” to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.
Iran’s space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite “from day one” in an apparent reaction to the Post’s report.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, according to the space agency.
Khayyam is not the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.
In 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement.
Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.


Death and destruction: Israel’s strike on Palestine Tower

Death and destruction: Israel’s strike on Palestine Tower
Updated 10 August 2022

Death and destruction: Israel’s strike on Palestine Tower

Death and destruction: Israel’s strike on Palestine Tower
  • ‘There were screams and we heard explosions from every direction,’ survivor tells Daily Telegraph
  • 3-day bombing of Gaza last week killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and injured hundreds

LONDON: An Israeli missile strike on a block of offices and apartments in Gaza City destroyed homes and killed innocents, the Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper’s on-the-ground correspondents James Rothwell and Siham Shamalakh reported from Palestine Tower, where residents were forced to “move in darkness” following an Israeli airstrike on Friday that left death and destruction.

The reporters found “clothes, sofas and other fragments of their lives … buried under collapsed walls.”

They added: “In one room, which belonged to a family of eight, blood is smeared across a wall. The air is heavy with smoke and an acrid, chemical smell which residents suspect was left by the missiles.”

The destruction came as Israel launched its biggest attack on the Palestinian territory since May 2021. The missile strike on Friday assassinated Tayseer Al-Jabari, a commander with Islamic Jihad.

Khalil Kanoon, who lives in the tower, told the Telegraph that he and his family were sitting down for lunch when the missiles hit. He reported seven missiles slamming into the building, where he lives with his family.

“My mother, my wife and I were in the kitchen and my children were playing in the bedroom,” said Kanoon.

“I was telling my wife that it seemed Israel was about to strike Gaza, and before I finished the sentence we heard a very big explosion and the windows blew out. There were screams and we heard explosions from every direction.”

Kanoon told the Telegraph that he and his family escaped the destruction, running through shattered glass barefoot, but his mother was wounded in the hand.

He added that the residents, left homeless and with little hope of urgent rehousing, were unaware that Al-Jabari was in the tower and were not pre-warned of the attack.

The airstrike on the tower was the opening attack in a three-day bombardment that killed 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and injured hundreds.

Israel said it had intelligence of imminent attacks so had to launch the airstrike to stop Islamic Jihad from assaulting Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.

The ceasefire, introduced on Sunday night, has done little to calm the frayed nerves of the tower’s residents.

Kanoon told the Telegraph: “We condemn this unjustified Israeli strike with so many bombs targeting civilians on a weekend, where they were not pre-warned. We are calling for the buildings to be rebuilt so we can go back to our apartments.”

He added: “The situation is very hard, some families will have to rent (elsewhere), some are staying with relatives and some have nowhere to go. We also want psychological support.”

The Telegraph also visited Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where doctors told the reporters that they were mostly treating lower-limb wounds and head injuries.

“The healthcare system is exposed to collapse, even if there had been no aggression. Every year it is worse,” said Dr. Hani Sami Al-Haytham, chairman of Shifa’s accident and emergency department.

He added: “The ultrasound was donated by the Red Cross, but it is out of order and we have no alternative because of the repeated power cuts ... If the power keeps going off this causes malfunctions.”

The Telegraph said several children had been left with life-changing injuries, including 11-year-old Rahaf Suleiman, whose feet and arm had to be amputated.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, a 65-year-old retired engineer who was injured in the strikes, said: “You can’t imagine the explosion. We can’t believe we survived.”


UAE urges UN to drop ‘Islamic State’ name when referring to Daesh

UAE urges UN to drop ‘Islamic State’ name when referring to Daesh
Updated 10 August 2022

UAE urges UN to drop ‘Islamic State’ name when referring to Daesh

UAE urges UN to drop ‘Islamic State’ name when referring to Daesh

The UAE has called on United Nations organizations to stop using the term ‘Islamic State’ when referring to Da’esh, during the UN Security Council in New York, arguing that the extremists should not be associated with the religion. 
UAE Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative and Chargé d’Affaires, Mohamed Abushahab said ijn his address that organizations should not “permit Daesh and other groups to hijack a religion of tolerance and give credence to their pretences.”  
“There is nothing Islamic about terrorism,” he added. 

Abushahab’s statement came as the UN recognized that the threat posed by Daesh and its affiliates remained ‘global and evolving’. 
“Daesh and its affiliates continue to exploit conflict dynamics, governance fragilities and inequality to incite, plan and organize terrorist attacks,” said UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov, as he presented the Secretary-General’s fifteenth report. 
Abushahab stressed that the fight against terrorism went beyond Daesh, as the ‘fight against Al-Qaeda remains a global priority’ especially after ‘the organization enters a leadership vacuum, following the death of Ayman Al-Zawahiri.’ 
During his address, he said technology could be a “double-edged sword” that can be used to improve people’s quality of life in one respect, but misused by terrorist groups in the other. 
Abushahab said ‘emerging technologies have tremendous potential to aid in efforts to prevent counter, and address terrorism.’ 
And he said the council ‘must focus on preventing the emergence of the next generation of terrorists and extremists,’ referring to the recruitment of children at refugee camps. 
“At Al-Hol camp, more than 25,000 children are at potential risk of radicalization,” said Abushahab. “Genuine efforts must be made to give these children hope for a more peaceful and prosperous future.” 
He concluded his remarks by calling on the international community to ‘seize this opportunity and act now’ to eliminate Daesh and other terrorist groups.