Relief and gratitude at Saudi decision to lift Lebanon direct travel restrictions

Special Relief and gratitude at Saudi decision to lift Lebanon direct travel restrictions
Nationals, residing in Saudi Arabia, arrive at the Beirut international airport during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis in April 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2022

Relief and gratitude at Saudi decision to lift Lebanon direct travel restrictions

Relief and gratitude at Saudi decision to lift Lebanon direct travel restrictions
  • KSA move provides great momentum for Beirut-Riyadh-Jeddah air traffic, industry leader tells Arab News

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s decision to drop COVID-19 restrictions for passengers traveling from Lebanon will provide great momentum for air traffic between Beirut, Riyadh, and Jeddah, an industry leader said on Friday.

Jean Abboud, head of the Syndicate of Tourism and Travel Agencies, told Arab News that airlines had started programming their flights to Riyadh and Jeddah from Beirut. Most people were relieved by the move, he added.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Bukhari, tweeted on Thursday evening about the decision, as the Kingdom lifts precautionary measures during the Hajj season.

Lebanon’s caretaker Tourism Minister Walid Nassar thanked the Saudi leadership for allowing people to fly directly from Lebanon without the need to spend 14 days outside the country before entering Saudi Arabia.

Nassar added that the Kingdom had always stood by Lebanon and the Lebanese, taking decisions that were “in the interest of our country.”

Abboud said that previous measures had prevented about 60 percent of Lebanese people living and working in Saudi Arabia from returning directly from Beirut.

“So they became more reluctant to fly out to Lebanon. The Lebanese community in the Kingdom is quite large, and the Lebanese used to fly to Beirut very frequently, sometimes every weekend. However, the condition requiring them to stay 14 days in another country before returning to Saudi Arabia became a major waste of time and money.

“Airlines are adjusting their flights to the Kingdom in light of the decision, especially since large numbers of Lebanese are currently spending their summer vacation in Lebanon and wish to return via a direct flight to Saudi Arabia."

MP Bilal Al-Hashimi thanked Saudi Arabia for its decision.

He said: “We are happy to return to the Kingdom of goodness, humanity, love, and giving, which has always been an example for Arab brotherhood. We all yearn for more such decisions that we are accustomed to from the Kingdom that has never left Lebanon. Rather, it has always provided support and aid, and it will always do so, especially in these virtuous days.”

Mohamed Choucair, the president of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, described the Saudi decision as an important step toward rebuilding bilateral ties, a pillar for Lebanon's balance and recovery.

The head of the Lebanese-Gulf Businessmen Councils, Samir Al-Khatib, said: “We were closely following up on this issue with the concerned officials in the Kingdom, especially with the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, given that the ease of movement between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia constitutes an essential foundation for maintaining the relations of brotherhood, friendship and love between the two brotherly peoples.

“This decision is very important in proving the Kingdom's keenness on the best relations between the two brotherly peoples and the two brotherly countries. I hope we hear more good news soon.”

In April, the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait announced the return of their ambassadors to Lebanon following the diplomatic and economic row caused by statements from a former information minister about the war in Yemen.

At the time, the Saudi Foreign Ministry stressed the importance of Lebanon returning to its Arab origins.

It said Bukhari’s return to Beirut was in response to the “calls and appeals of moderate national political forces in Lebanon, and in confirmation of the Lebanese prime minister’s statement of the government’s commitment to take the necessary and required measures to enhance cooperation with the Kingdom and Gulf Cooperation Council countries and to stop all political, military, and security activities affecting the Kingdom and GCC countries.”

Passenger traffic through Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport has been rising significantly, reaching around 30,000 passengers per day, with over 19,000 arrivals, mostly Lebanese people living and working in the GCC, Europe, Canada, the US, and Africa.

Passenger traffic for the first half of 2022 reached 2,568,797, compared to 1,444,502 passengers in 2021, an increase of 77.83 percent and an increase of 113 percent over the same period in 2020, according to the airport's director-general of civil aviation Fadi Al-Hassan.

The total number of flights by national, Arab, and foreign airlines during the first half of 2022 was 22,501, compared to 15,033 flights in the first half of 2021, an increase of 49.67 percent.

The number of flights arriving in Lebanon increased by 49.68 percent to reach 11,253. Flights departing Lebanon increased by 49.67 percent to reach 11,248.

The total number of passengers through Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport in June reached 580,787, compared to 394,220 passengers in June 2021, an increase of 47.32 percent.

The number of passengers in the first week of July increased by 44.91 percent compared to the same period in 2021, reaching 183,352.


Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
  • Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them

DUBAI: Iran’s crackdown against prominent individuals linked to ongoing protests in the country continues with the arrest of prominent human rights activists in Tehran.

Bahareh Hedayat, a university student, was detained early on October 3, Radio Farda reported, as the unrest hit a crescendo in Tehran and has hit far-flung provinces in open demonstration of grievances against rigid social restrictions, political repression and a failing economy.

Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times, the report noted, quoting the BBC.

Hossein Masumi, another political activist, was arrested on October 2 with his whereabouts unknown according to his family.

The protest actions, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while under detention by Iran’s morality police for alleged violations of the Islamic dress code, are on their third week despite government efforts to quell them.

The Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them, and being used as basis for the detention of key personalities.


UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”


Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power
Updated 04 October 2022

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza have long endured an unstable and costly electricity supply, so Yasser Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.

Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his beachfront fish farm and seafood restaurant, The Sailor, he said the investment he made six years ago had more than paid off.

“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” Hajj said, standing under a blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen for the fish, as well as to draw and pump water from the sea.”

The dozens of solar panels that shade the fish ponds below have brought savings that are now paying to refurbish the business, he said, as laborers loaded sand onto a horse-drawn cart.

Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) per month for electricity, “a huge burden,” before solar power slashed his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels.

For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, living under Hamas rule and a 15-year-old Israeli blockade, power cuts are a daily fact of life that impact everything from homes to hospital wards.

While some Gazans pay for a generator to kick in when the mains are cut — for around half of each day, according to UN data — ever more people are turning to renewables.

From the rooftops of Gaza City, solar panels now stretch out into the horizon.

Green energy advocates say it is a vision for a global future as the world faces the perils of climate change and rising energy costs.

Gaza bakery owner Bishara Shehadeh began the switch to solar this summer, by placing hundreds of gleaming panels on his rooftop.

“We have surplus electricity in the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for providing us with current during the night.” 

Solar energy lights up the bright bulbs illuminating the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.

“We are working on importing ovens, depending on electrical power, from Israel, to save the cost of diesel,” said Shehadeh.

Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied partially on foreign donors to kick-start their switch to solar, although their owners are also investing their own cash.

But in a poverty-stricken territory where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, not everyone can afford to install renewable energy.

Around a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes, according to an estimate published in April by the Energy, Sustainability and Society journal.

Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who got a four-year loan to fund his bakery project.

At a store selling solar power kits, MegaPower, engineer Shehab Hussein said prices start at around $1,000 and can be paid in instalments. Clients included a sewing factory and a drinks producer, which see the mostly Chinese-made technology as “a worthwhile investment,” he said.

Raya Al-Dadah, who heads the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels that heat water for more than 15 years.

“The pipe is super rusty, the glass is broken ... and I just had a shower and the water is super hot,” she said during a visit to the territory.

But Dadah encountered obstacles when she tried to import a more sophisticated solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are tightly restricted by Israel and Egypt.

“Bringing them to the Gaza Strip has proved to be impossible,” she said.

The advanced set-up includes more efficient panels and equipment that tracks the sun’s path.

Such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems factor in weather conditions and can harness up to 20 percent more energy than standard panels, chief executive Gil Kroyzer told AFP.

Across the frontier in Gaza, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah relies on the standard panels to power a women’s center and surrounding homes in the strip’s northern Jabalia area.


EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause
Updated 04 October 2022

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

BRUSSELS: The EU vowed to press Israel on Monday about the treatment of Palestinians, settlement expansions and stalled peace efforts at the first meeting in a decade of a frozen joint council.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process, which is stalled.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid dialed in remotely for the EU-Israel Association Council talks and the country’s traveling delegation was headed by intelligence minister Elazar Stern.

Meetings of the council have been suspended for a decade since Israel ditched them over the EU’s opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank.

The EU has been looking for a fresh start with Israel since right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office in 2021 after 12 years in charge.

“All in all, today is a good occasion to show our determination to have a positive and fruitful relationship with Israel, pushing for peace,” Borrell said. 

Support expressed by Lapid in a speech at the UN for a two-state solution with the Palestinians was “very important,” he added.

“We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace,” Borrell said.

But he said a UN report on the situation in the occupied territories was “worrisome,” as the number of Palestinians reported killed this year reached the highest level since 2007.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is Israel’s firm opposition to EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Well, this is one of the issues in which certainly we disagree,” Borrell said. “For the time being in any case, those (nuclear deal) negotiations are stalled.”


Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated 04 October 2022

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • Friends of Cancer Patients to offer free screenings across UAE in October
  • Initiative backed by health ministry, private-sector partners

SHARJAH: The Friends of Cancer Patients charity will deliver its Pink Caravan initiative across the UAE in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emirates News Agency reported.

Pink Caravan is a UAE-based scheme that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer and provide facilities for its detection and treatment.

Throughout October, mobile clinics will offer people access to free screenings and consultations with experts.

With support from the Ministry of Health and Prevention the initiative will also host a series of public activities on the subject with help from partners MSD, Pfizer, Adnoc, Amit Group and others.

Ashraf Mallak, MSD’s managing director for the GCC, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally and in the UAE today. With patients being at the heart of our efforts, we are committed to improving long-term disease control and survival for patients.”

He added that the company had developed an immuno-oncology therapy and had 1,300 clinical trials underway studying more than 30 tumor types.

“This year, we are joining forces with FOCP’s Pink Caravan to achieve a greater impact in the UAE. We look forward to a successful awareness campaign and encourage women to avail themselves of the screenings,” Mallak said.

FOCP Chairman Sawsan Jafar said: “Last year, our Pink Caravan initiative delivered thousands of free breast health checkups, including 2,197 clinical breast examinations, 1,019 mammograms and 208 ultrasound tests.

“This testifies to both the generosity and support extended by our sponsors and partners as well as the willingness of members of the UAE community to actively participate in securing their own health and well-being.”

He added: “We are fortunate to have received the support of so many private and public sector entities to promote breast cancer awareness and drive early detection efforts this October. We always need more assistance to be able to make the greatest impact.

“I therefore urge our supporters — sponsors, public and private entities and the people — to ensure the success of our advocacy efforts once again. With a responsible community and committed philanthropists, the UAE will always be a step ahead of breast cancer.”