Cargo ship bound for Lebanon brings hope, not solution to food crisis

An inspection team  in Turkey on Friday completed checking the empty cargo ship Fulmar S before it left Istanbul to collect grain from the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk. (AFP)
An inspection team in Turkey on Friday completed checking the empty cargo ship Fulmar S before it left Istanbul to collect grain from the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 06 August 2022

Cargo ship bound for Lebanon brings hope, not solution to food crisis

Cargo ship bound for Lebanon brings hope, not solution to food crisis

BEIRUT: A ship bringing corn to Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli normally would not cause a stir. But it’s getting attention because of where it came from: Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa.
The Razoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed, is emerging from the edges of a Russian war that has threatened food supplies in countries like Lebanon, which has the world’s highest rate of food inflation — a staggering 122 percent — and depends on the Black Sea region for nearly all of its wheat.
The fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grains inside Ukraine, and the Razoni’s departure on Monday marked a first major step toward extracting those food supplies and getting them to farms and bakeries to feed millions of people who are going hungry in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
“Actually seeing the shipment move is a big deal,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence.
“This 26,000 tons in the scale of the 20 million tons that are locked up is nothing, absolutely nothing ... but if we start seeing this, every shipment that goes is going to increase confidence.”
The small scale means the initial shipments leaving the world’s breadbasket will not draw down food prices or ease a global food crisis anytime soon. Plus, most of the trapped grain is for animal feed, not for people to eat, experts say.

I think the crisis will continue as long as operating costs continue to soar and purchasing power falls.

Ibrahim Tarchichi, Chief of the Bekaa Farmers Association

That will extend the war’s ripple effects for the world’s most vulnerable people thousands of miles away in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, where hunger could soon turn to famine and where inflation has pushed the cost of food and energy out of reach for many.
To farmers in Lebanon, the shipment expected this weekend is a sign that grains might become more available again, even if at a higher price, said Ibrahim Tarchichi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Association.
But he said it won’t make a dent in his country, where years of endemic corruption and political divides have upended life.
Since 2019, the economy has contracted by at least 58 percent, with the currency depreciating so severely that half the population now lives in poverty.
“I think the crisis will continue as long as operating costs continue to soar and purchasing power falls,” Tarchichi said.
The strife was on sharp display this week when a section of Beirut’s massive port grain silos collapsed in a huge cloud of dust, two years after a massive explosion killed more than 200 people and wounded thousands of others.
While symbolic, the shipments have done little to cool market concerns. Drought and high fertilizer costs have kept grain prices more than 50 percent higher than early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. And while Ukraine is a top supplier of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to developing countries, it represents just 10 percent of the international wheat trade.
There’s also little to suggest that the world’s poorest who rely on Ukrainian wheat distributed through UN agencies like the World Food Programme will be able to access them anytime soon.
Before the war, half the grain the World Food Programme purchased for distribution came from Ukraine.
The Razoni’s safe passage was guaranteed by a four-month-long deal brokered by the UN and Turkey with Ukraine and Russia two weeks ago.
The grain corridor through the Black Sea is 111 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide, with waters strewn with drifting explosive mines, slowing the work.
Three more ships departed on Friday, heading to Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom. All the ships that have departed so far had been stuck there since the war began nearly six months ago.
Under the deal, some — not all — the food exported will go to countries experiencing food insecurity. That means it could take weeks for people in Africa to see grain from the new shipments and even longer to see the effects on high food prices, said Shaun Ferris, a Kenya-based adviser on agriculture and markets for Catholic Relief Services, a partner in World Food Programme distributions.
In East Africa, thousands of people have died as Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya face the worst drought in four decades. Survivors have described burying their children as they fled to camps where little assistance could be found.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Somalia and other African countries turned to non-traditional grain partners like India, Turkey and Brazil, but at higher prices. Prices of critical foods could start to go down in two or three months as markets for imported food adjust and local harvests progress, Ferris said.
Deciding who is first in line for the grain from Ukraine could be affected by humanitarian needs but could also come down to existing business arrangements and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay the most, Ferris said.
“Ukraine is not a charity,” he said. “It will be looking to get the best deals on the market” to maintain its own fragile economy.
The WFP said this week it’s planning to buy, load and ship 30,000 tons of wheat out of Ukraine on a UN-chartered vessel. It did not say where the vessel would go or when that voyage might happen.
In Lebanon, where Mercy Corps says the price of wheat flour has risen by more than 200 percent since the start of Russia’s war, people stood in long, often tense lines outside bakeries for subsidized bread in recent days.
The government green-lit a $150 million World Bank loan to import wheat, a temporary solution of six to nine months before it could be forced to lift subsidies on bread altogether.
While the situation is hard for millions of Lebanese, the country’s roughly 1 million Syrian refugees who fled a civil war across the border face stigmatization and discrimination trying to buy bread.
A Syrian living in northern Lebanon said it often takes him three to four visits to bakeries before he finds someone willing to sell him bread, with priority given to Lebanese. He described lines of 100 people waiting and only a handful being allowed in every half-hour to buy a small bundle of loaves.
“We get all sorts of rude comments because we’re Syrian, which we usually just ignore, but sometimes it gets too much and we decide to go home empty-handed,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.


Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack
Updated 19 sec ago

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack
DAMASCUS: Syria on Thursday dismissed the global chemical weapons watchdog’s statement, which said that investigators had found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Syrian air force dropped two cylinders of chlorine gas in 2018 on then-rebel-held town of Douma.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons produced a detailed report following a fact-finding mission that investigated the April 7, 2018 attack. Medical workers and activists said at the time more than 40 people were killed in the attack. OPCW inspectors headed to the site of the attack days later.
The United States, Britain and France blamed Syrian government forces and launched airstrikes. Syria and key ally Russia deny any chemical attack.
Douma was the final target of the Syrian government’s sweeping campaign to reclaim control of the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus, from the rebels, who gave up the town days after the alleged chemical attack.
Syria’s permanent representative to OPCW, Ambassador Milad Atieh, told reporters that the OPCW has been biased toward “Western positions.”
“The OPCW’s report relied mostly on information obtained from countries hostile to Syria and some other media and social networking sites run by terrorist organizations,” he said. “The report contained false accusations aimed at increasing pressure and escalating Western positions hostile to Syria.”
Atieh claimed the report’s methodology had “serious irregularities and defects” and false accusations that impacted its credibility, though he did not give any examples or offer evidence to support his statement.
In an attempt to ensure accountability for crimes in Syria, the United Nations has established a commission entitled “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.” It is mandated to preserve and analyze evidence of crimes and prepare files for trials in “national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.”
Atieh however accused the United States and Western countries of political interference with the UN commission.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a joint statement with his British, French, and German counterparts last week commended the OPCW report and called on key Syrian ally Russia to “stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons.”
“Syria must fully declare and destroy its chemical weapons program and allow the deployment of OPCW staff to its country to verify it has done so,” the statement read.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.
Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 under severe international pressure after a deadly chemical attack on a Damascus suburb.

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit
Updated 41 min 39 sec ago

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit
  • Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment
  • There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain's enclaves in Africa

RABAT: Spain and Morocco have agreed to set aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by
frequent disputes over migration and territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).
“We have agreed on a commitment to mutual respect, whereby in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid everything that we know offends the other party, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over the Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain each year through Morocco.
Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs control points between the two.
Madrid says that reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has not confirmed the development and has given no public statement indicating that its long-held stance that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he reversed former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy on the Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad.”
Spain’s about-turn on Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, a Polisario Front ally, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.
In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not reference an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.


Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism
Updated 02 February 2023

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism
  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group
Updated 02 February 2023

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group
  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran
Updated 02 February 2023

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran
  • The pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program”
  • Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine

PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear program but shadowed by an upsurge of violence in the region.
Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.
The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict.
France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, calling its nuclear program “dangerous” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.
Tehran also holds several foreign nationals who Western governments see as political hostages.
But Macron’s office said the French leader would “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”
Netanyahu visits as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged rockets and missiles over Gaza, the latest violent episode as the conflict intensifies.
A week ago, seven were killed in a mass shooting by a Palestinian at a synagogue in annexed east Jerusalem — one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.
In France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.