Two years after Beirut mega-blast, Lebanon hits new lows

Two years after Beirut mega-blast, Lebanon hits new lows
A view shows partially-collapsed Beirut grain silos, damaged in the August 2020 port blast, in Beirut on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Two years after Beirut mega-blast, Lebanon hits new lows

Two years after Beirut mega-blast, Lebanon hits new lows
  • An investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference
  • French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who monitors the silos with sensors, told AFP that four more towers could come crumbling down "at any time"

BEIRUT: Crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years Thursday since a massive port explosion ripped through Beirut, with victims’ relatives planning protest marches and the country bracing for silos to collapse at the blast site.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
Yet an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the August 4, 2020 tragedy, prompting rights defenders and some victims’ families to demand an international probe.
Several heavily damaged grain silos that became a grim symbol of the disaster collapsed last week, and more are dangerously close to coming down, with chunks already falling on Thursday, AFP correspondents reported.
French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who monitors the silos with sensors, told AFP that four more towers could come crumbling down “at any time.”
“I hope that seeing the silos fall will give people the will to fight for justice, to battle with us,” said Tatiana Hasrouty, who lost her father in the blast.
Politicians “are doing everything in their power to stop the investigation” into the explosion, she said.
The mega-blast was a nightmarish moment in the chaotic history of Lebanon, which is mired in its worst-ever economic crisis marked by blackouts, runaway inflation and widespread despair.
When protesters from three separate marches converge at the port, they will smell the smoke wafting from the silos where fermenting grain is smoldering in the blistering summer heat.
The enormous explosion two years ago was felt as far away as Israel and Cyprus and sowed the kind of devastation normally caused by wars and natural disasters.
It further scarred the crisis-tested population and accelerated a massive exodus that recalls the flight from the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon’s ruling class, accused of misrule, graft and gross negligence, has however clung firmly to power even as the people endure shortages of fuel, medicines and clean water.
“This ruling class is killing us every day,” Hasrouty said. “If we did not die in the blast, we are dying of hunger, from a lack of basic human rights.”
Power cuts last up to 23 hours a day, streets are dark at night and traffic lights out of service, leaving some districts illuminated mainly by the silo fires.
Lara Khatchikian, 51, whose apartment was badly hit two years ago, has watched the blazes, calling the sight “a nightmare.”
“I have felt fear, we couldn’t sleep,” she said. “It takes superhuman strength to live when you are constantly reminded of the blast.”
The government in April ordered the silos’ demolition, but this has been suspended, partially because of objections from victims’ relatives who want them preserved as a memorial.
Meanwhile, the probe is also at risk of falling apart, as officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have curtailed the work of the lead investigator Tarek Bitar with a series of lawsuits.
A judicial official close to the investigation said judge Bitar’s work had been paused since December 23.
Hezbollah, which has repeatedly accused Bitar of bias, on Thursday condemned what it described as a two-year “intense political and media campaign, which contained false accusations” against it, and called for a “fair” investigation.
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday reiterated his call for an “impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion.”
UN experts and groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had earlier relaunched an appeal to the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission.
The rights groups jointly declared that “it is now, more than ever, clear that the domestic investigation cannot deliver justice.”
Aya Majzoub of HRW said that an international investigation “may be the only hope for the millions of Lebanese people... to get the answers they deserve.”


Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM
Updated 16 sec ago

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM
  • The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has carried out all of its obligations under the UN-brokered truce and has made “major” concessions to clear the way for its renewal and the end of the war, Yemen’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak told reporters in the Moroccan capital Rabat that the Houthis have imposed numerous restrictions and conditions to thwart attempts to extend the truce.

He added that the Iran-backed militia has refused to pay public employees in the areas they control despite having made millions of dollars from the sale of oil ships that entered Hodeidah port during the truce.

“We carried out everything in the armistice agreement and made major concessions. The Houthis erected new roadblocks at every stage of the talks,” the Yemeni minister said, noting that Houthi artillery, explosive-rigged drones, snipers and landmines had killed or injured 1,400 government soldiers and officers, as well as 94 civilians during the truce.

The minister said that the government would only pay public employees in Houthi areas if the militia group would deposit earnings from Hodeidah port into the central bank in accordance with the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement in 2018.

“The Houthis plundered more than 45 billion Yemeni riyals ($18 million) prior to the armistice and have not paid a single riyal in public employee salaries since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement.”

He accused Iran of using the Houthis to further its expansionist goals, vowing to oppose Iran’s attempts to seize control of the country’s resources, including oil.

“The Houthi group imposed the war in order to carry out Tehran's expansionist agenda in the region,” he said. “We will utilize our constitutional right to defend our nation and people, and we won’t let Iran take control of Yemen’s oil riches.”

The international community’s efforts to end the war in Yemen took a major hit this week when the Iran-backed Houthis refused to renew the truce and threatened to target oil ships transporting the country’s oil exports from government-controlled areas.

The Houthis rejected a suggestion to partially ease their siege of Taiz by opening at least one main road leading into and out of the city, and they told UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg that they would agree to renew the truce only if the Yemeni government paid public servants in areas under their control.

The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths.

With the truce, which went into effect on April 2 and has been renewed twice, thousands of passengers have been able to fly from Sanaa airport, and more than 50 fuel ships have entered the port of Hodeidah, ending severe fuel shortages in the Houthi-controlled areas.

Similarly, the EU mission in Yemen has blamed the Houthis’ “maximalist demands” for undermining international efforts to renew the truce and has urged warring factions, particularly the Houthis, to cooperate with the UN’s Yemen envoy and de-escalate.

“We urge in particular the Houthis to moderate their demands and to engage constructively with UN special envoy Grundberg so that the truce can continue and develop into an effective ceasefire, paving the way for a comprehensive process leading to peace in Yemen,” the EU mission said in a statement.


Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters
Updated 37 min 30 sec ago

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters
  • The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations
  • Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women

ROME: A top Italian judges’ association has condemned Iran for its crackdown on protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations taking place throughout Iran.

Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women.

Her death has since sparked protests in almost every province of Iran over the policing of personal freedoms.

In its statement, the association expressed its “deep solidarity and closeness to Iranian women, who are demonstrating in many ways to claim their freedom and against an oppression that has lasted for 40 years, putting their own lives at risk.”

Association president, Paola Briguori, described Tehran’s actions as “horrible and unacceptable,” adding that “when fundamental rights are undermined one cannot remain silent waiting for everything to calm down.”

Briguori said the crackdown on demonstrators reflected “the legacy of a regime that constantly violates human rights and freedom of expression, repressing and nullifying women’s rights. It is time to give voice to the disapproval and to say enough.”

President of the Italian National Press Federation, Beppe Giulietti, took part in a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Rome. He said the media had an important role to play in highlighting the situation in Iran and urged news organizations to “give space to those who have no voice today.”


UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights
Updated 41 min 33 sec ago

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights
  • The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days

ABU DHABI: The UAE has issued a new federal law to strengthen domestic labor rights.

Decree Federal Law No.9 for 2022 covers all aspects of domestic labor law and guarantees the rights of all parties in a relationship, whether workers, employers or recruitment agents, in line with clear standards and frameworks, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Wednesday.

The decree law covers working hours, weekly breaks and leave for domestic workers and affirms the right of domestic workers to a paid day off per week, according to the law’s executive regulations.

The executive resolutions issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization are responsible for working hours and leaves.

The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days, said WAM.

If the service period is less than a year and more than six months, workers are entitled to two days leave every month, and the employer can specify the start date of the annual leave.

Moreover, the decree law says if domestic workers wish to travel to their home countries on annual leave, employers must cover the cost of their return tickets once every two years.

The decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to sick leave for a period not exceeding 30 days during a contractual year, whether continuous or intermittent if the need for this leave can be proven by a medical report issued by an approved national health authority.

Furthermore, the decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to change their employer based on the requirements set in their contracts and if they have fulfilled their obligations to the original employer, according to the conditions and procedures included in the resolution of the ministry.

The decree law stipulates that the employer will inform the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization about any violations committed by a domestic worker against applicable laws.

Recruitment agents must administer the necessary medical examinations for domestic workers within a period not exceeding 30 days before their entry into the country, the decree law confirmed.

They must treat domestic workers in a humane way, not expose them to violence, and raise their awareness of the relevant authorities they must contact if their rights are violated, stressed the decree law.

The law also prohibits recruiting or temporarily hiring domestic workers without obtaining a license from the ministry, according to the executive regulation of the decree law and the ministry’s resolutions.

If domestic workers are recruited or employed on a temporary basis, they cannot be discriminated against based on by race, religion, nationality, social class or disability. Sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal, is prohibited, along with people being forced to work or do any actions that fall in the category of human trafficking.

The law, which was issued on Sept. 9, will come into force three months after the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.


Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force
Updated 46 sec ago

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force
  • Basij militia used to suppress widespread protests in Iran

RIYADH: Iranian teenage girls have heckled a member of the regime’s feared Basij paramilitary force, in a protest stemming from the death of a young woman at the hands of Iran’s morality police.

A video shared on social media shows the girls waving their headscarves in the air and chanting “get lost, Basiji” at the man who was meant to address a crowd of demonstrators. Unconfirmed reports said the video was taken in Shiraz on Tuesday.

The protest came in the third week of unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, days after she was arrested by morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, in Tehran for allegedly wearing an incorrect headscarf. Her family say she was beaten in custody. Authorities claim she had a heart attack.

The Basij is a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that has been designated as a terrorist organization by several states, including Saudi Arabia. Its members have been used against the ongoing protests, in which scores of people have died.

Many of the demonstrations are being led by women and girls, who have been flouting the law on compulsory headscarves in a symbolic show of their opposition to the regime.

A second video posted online this week showed a man yelling “death to the dictator” as girls, who had removed their headscarves, walked through traffic in the northwestern city of Sanandaj. An elderly woman was seen clapping in solidarity as the girls chanted “freedom.”

In a third clip, a teacher appeared to threaten students with expulsion if they did not cover their heads as they took part in a sit-down protest in a schoolyard.

Footage reportedly shot in Karaj meanwhile showed girls chasing a man, believed to be a member of the security forces, as he rode a motorcycle.


Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs
Updated 29 min 49 sec ago

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs
  • Ministers agreed on programs for higher education, scientific research, and innovation between next year and 2025

MUSCAT: Jordan and Oman’s foreign ministers have signed agreements to deepen ties in education, science, and tourism.

Jordan’s Ayman Safadi on Wednesday met his Omani counterpart Badr Albusaidi in Muscat to follow up on recent talks between King Abdullah II and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The ministers signed executive programs for higher education, scientific research, and innovation between next year and 2025, and another on tourism cooperation up to 2026.

Safadi and Albusaidi also discussed preparations for Jordanian-Omani Joint Higher Committee meetings in Amman next year, as well as a business forum to be held on the sidelines.

Jordanian royals visit the National Museum of Oman and the House of Musical Arts at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. (Petra News Agency)

King Abdullah, accompanied by Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, visited the National Museum of Oman and the House of Musical Arts at the Royal Opera House in Muscat.

The royals were given an overview of the museum’s collections and artifacts and also attended a performance by the Royal Guard of Oman band.