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 summons Danish ambassador over Copenhagen embassy attack

Iran summons Danish ambassador over Copenhagen embassy attack
Updated 11 sec ago

Iran summons Danish ambassador over Copenhagen embassy attack

Iran summons Danish ambassador over Copenhagen embassy attack

COPENHAGEN: Iran's foreign ministry has summoned the Danish ambassador in Tehran over a knife attack attempt on the Iranian ambassador in Copenhagen, Iran's Arabic-language television network Al Alam reported on Friday.

More to follow...


Libyan group: At least 15 dead after migrant shipwreck

Libyan group: At least 15 dead after migrant shipwreck
Updated 3 min 30 sec ago

Libyan group: At least 15 dead after migrant shipwreck

Libyan group: At least 15 dead after migrant shipwreck
  • Migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in a desperate attempt to reach European shores
  • Local authorities had informed the aid group of bodies washing up onshore

BENGHAZI, Libya: A spokesman for Libya’s Red Crescent said Friday that at least 15 bodies have been recovered after a migrant shipwreck off the country’s western coast.
Migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in a desperate attempt to reach European shores.
Tawfik Al Shukri said that local authorities had informed the aid group of bodies washing up onshore. He said they were retrieved and transported to a hospital, where the remains would be examined to determine the cause of death.
In a video circulated online, the burnt hull of the wrecked boat is seen lodged on coastal rocks with bodies strewn on it and nearby. The cause of the deaths was not immediately clear, nor was it apparent when the fire was started that burnt the vessel.
The shipwreck took place off the western Libyan city of Sabratha, a major launching point for the mainly African migrants making the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean.
The International Organization for Migration said in June that at least 150 migrants departing from Libya were feared to have drowned in the first sixth months of 2022. Crossings typically increase in the summer and early fall months.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East amid internal strife. Torn by civil war since 2011, the oil-rich country is divided between rival governments, each backed by international patrons and multiple armed militias on the ground.
Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across desert country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then typically packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.
Many of those who have been intercepted and returned to Libya — including women and children — are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape and extortion, according to rights groups.


Cholera, hepatitis hit Lebanon already grappling with financial meltdown

Cholera, hepatitis hit Lebanon already grappling with financial meltdown
Updated 17 min 59 sec ago

Cholera, hepatitis hit Lebanon already grappling with financial meltdown

Cholera, hepatitis hit Lebanon already grappling with financial meltdown
  • A Syrian in his 50s, who lives in a refugee camp, and a Lebanese woman caring for him were this week confirmed to have the disease in Akkar
  • The last cholera epidemic in Lebanon was recorded in 1993

BEIRUT: Lebanese health authorities fear that the country could be hit by its first cholera epidemic in nearly three decades after the confirmation of two cases close to the Syrian border.
A Syrian in his 50s, who lives in a refugee camp, and a Lebanese woman caring for him were this week confirmed to have the disease in Akkar. The Syrian, whose infection was recorded on Oct. 5, was said to be stable in hospital while the woman was with her family and stable.
Health Ministry officials said that they had also recorded multiple cases of diarrhea in Akkar, which has poor sanitation services and a population swelled by refugees, and tests are ongoing to check whether any of the sufferers have cholera.
Meanwhile, three to five daily cases of hepatitis are being recorded among villagers in the northern region of Danniyeh.
The last cholera epidemic in Lebanon was recorded in 1993 and led to several deaths. Its re-emergence comes amid an outbreak in Syria, with thousands of cases in the past month.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s caretaker health minister, said that he expected cases to rise due to the outbreak across the border.
However he noted that cases were “still limited,” and that medicine was available. He stressed that Lebanon was coordinating with the World Health Organization, while his ministry was examining sewage water and instructing hospitals to report any patient with symptoms.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, an MP and bacteriologist, told Arab News that Lebanon’s weakened state left it vulnerable to mass infection.
“Hepatitis and cholera will spread in Lebanon as a result of the collapse of state institutions, the lack of maintenance of sewage and sewers, and electricity and water cuts,” he said.
“The Syrian patient refrained from saying how he contracted the disease. We don’t know if he was in Syria illegally and returned to Lebanon. If this is the case, it is easy to contain the disease.
“But if the cause is contaminated water, many others could contract the disease, especially since state institutions and municipalities are not carrying out their duties in terms of ensuring water safety and isolating sewage.
“Hepatitis and cholera outbreaks are a symbol of the state’s failure and we are paying the price.”
The threat of disease adds to problems faced by a country already suffering financial collapse.
Lebanese banks on Friday closed after an unprecedented wave of holdups by savers trying to access their frozen accounts.
Branches had been open only a few days since the last closure two weeks ago, in response to armed intruders threatening employees to get their money.
Banks have now threatened to close their doors indefinitely and their services will be limited to ATMs. An appointment-only system failed to stop the holdups.
Lebanese are also worried about the security situation, as negotiations stall in a US-mediated maritime deal with Israel over the extraction of gas and oil from the disputed Karish field.
Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper, reported that authorities were preparing to begin tests “possibly early next week.”
Lebanon is opposed to drilling. During the Friday sermon, Hezbollah’s Shoura Council Sheikh, Mohammed Yazbek, said: “Our response is clear. Oil shall not be extracted from the Karish field before Lebanon’s demands are met. We don’t want war, but we will be ready for it should it happen.”
The US mediation has not ended despite the Israeli refusal to consider Lebanon’s proposed amendments to the deal.


Palestinian shot by British forces as boy to petition UK government for atrocities apology

Palestinian shot by British forces as boy to petition UK government for atrocities apology
Updated 48 min 44 sec ago

Palestinian shot by British forces as boy to petition UK government for atrocities apology

Palestinian shot by British forces as boy to petition UK government for atrocities apology
  • Munib Al-Masri will present his dossier to the British government later this year

LONDON: A petition for an apology from the UK government for atrocities committed in Palestine in the first half of the 20th century will be lodged by a Palestinian businessman and former politician, it was reported Friday.

A 300-page document outlining crimes and abuses committed by British forces in Palestine between 1917 and 1948 has been drafted by Munib Al-Masri, a close friend and ally of late Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat, according to the BBC.

The 88-year-old told the broadcaster he was shot as a young boy in 1944, an incident that affected him in his adult life, saying: “(Britain’s role) affected me a lot because I saw how people were harassed…We had no protection whatsoever and nobody to defend us.”

Al-Masri will present his dossier to the British government later this year.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and British lawyer Ben Emmerson are reviewing the evidence.

Emmerson told the BBC that “shocking crimes committed by certain elements of the British mandatory forces” were carried out “systematically on the Palestinian population,” adding that even during the time the crimes were carried out, they would have been seen as breaches of international law.

According to the BBC, the British Defense Ministry said it was aware of “historical allegations” during the period outlined in the dossier and that any evidence would be “reviewed thoroughly.”


At least 82 Balochi protesters and bystanders killed in bloody crackdown in Iran

At least 82 Balochi protesters and bystanders killed in bloody crackdown in Iran
Updated 56 min 32 sec ago

At least 82 Balochi protesters and bystanders killed in bloody crackdown in Iran

At least 82 Balochi protesters and bystanders killed in bloody crackdown in Iran
  • Sept. 30 marked the deadliest day on record since protests spread across Iran
  • Amnesty International secretary-general said Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for human life

DUBAI: Many Iranians are widely referring to Friday, Sept. 30 as “Bloody Friday” following violent crackdowns by Iranian security forces that resulted in the unlawful killing of 66 Balochi protesters demonstrating Mahsa Amini’s death.

Following the death of 22-year-old Amini, who reportedly died in custody after her arrest by Iran’s “morality” police, Sept. 30 marked the deadliest day on record since protests began spreading across Iran last month, according to a report issued by Amnesty International on Friday.

The report said Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers after Friday prayers.  

Since then, another 16 people were killed in separate incidents in Zahedan amid an ongoing clampdown on protests.

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power.

“The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lacklustre response by the international community,” she added.

Evidence gathered by Amnesty International shows that the majority of victims were shot in the head, heart, neck and torso, revealing a clear intent to kill or seriously harm.

Consistent with their previous pattern of denial and cover-up, according to Amnesty’s report, the authorities have under-reported the number of fatalities, announcing that 19 people, including bystanders and several members of the security forces, were killed during the protests in Zahedan on Sept. 30.

In an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for the deaths, the authorities have shared false narratives blaming the deaths on “terrorists,” “rioters” and “separatists,” whom they claim were acting for foreign governments.

Propaganda videos broadcast on state media after Sept. 30 have shown detainees, whom authorities allege were involved in armed attacks against security forces in Zahedan, with sacks over their heads.

The authorities have claimed that protesters had committed acts of looting and arson on public property.

Protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Balochistan province, populated by the long-oppressed Balochi ethnic minority, were scheduled to take place after Friday prayers on Sept. 30 as a show of solidarity with nationwide protests and to demand accountability for the reported rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander in the province.