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)
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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.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
Updated 7 sec ago

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 02 October 2022

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”


International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
Updated 02 October 2022

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce
  • Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce

AL-MUKALLA: A six-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Arab coalition ended on Sunday with no word from the rivals on whether it would be extended.

The US, UK, China, other world powers and the secretary-general of the Arab League have all urged Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthis to extend the UN-brokered truce.

Despite mounting pressure, only the Yemeni government had earlier agreed to extend the truce.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Steven H. Fagin, expressed concern about the various Yemeni parties’ hesitation to express their support for extending the truce.

“I call on the parties not to squander the progress of the last six months and to prioritize the Yemeni people by accepting an extension and expansion of the truce,” Fagin said in a brief statement. 

On Sunday, the UK Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim reissued the same call to the Houthis and other Yemeni parties to follow the UN envoy’s suggestions for extending the truce.

“I encourage the Houthis to work with the UN to extend the Truce. It’s the only route that will provide an opportunity for them to deliver benefits for ordinary Yemenis” he said on Twitter. 

The UN-brokered truce, which began on April 2 and has been extended twice, has dramatically reduced violence in Yemen, allowed flights to leave Sanaa airport, and eliminated fuel shortages throughout the country by allowing dozens of fuel ships to reach the port of Hodeidah.

The only term of the truce that has not been implemented is the opening of roads in besieged Taiz, as the Houthis have refused to open at least one main road leading into and out of the city, which is the main demand of the Yemeni government.

As the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, shuttled between Muscat, Riyadh, and Sanaa to persuade Yemeni leaders to renew the truce, foreign diplomats and humanitarian organizations in Yemen sent last-minute appeals to both sides on Sunday.

“China emphasizes its support for the special envoy and is willing to make unremitting efforts with the international community to resolve the Yemen issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. 

The EU’s mission in Yemen also demanded that the Yemeni government and the Houthis accept the UN envoy’s proposal, renew the truce, and implement its provisions.

“Time to consolidate and develop a truce, including opening roads and agreeing on the payment of salaries, that has delivered and can bring more benefits to the #Yemeni people,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce and work to alleviate suffering.

The latest UN proposal includes a six-month cease-fire while the Houthis open only minor roads in Taiz, paying public employees in their territories, while the Yemeni government covers any shortfall in payments, allowing more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port, and opening new routes from Sanaa to Muscat, Doha, and Mumbai. 

Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce.

During a meeting with the UN envoy in Riyadh on Sunday, the Yemeni leader stated that he is committed to supporting any peace initiative to end the war in Yemen and alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, and he urged mounting pressure on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to stop undermining peace efforts.

In Sanaa, the Houthis rejected calls to renew the truce on Saturday night, threatening to resume military operations, including strikes on oil companies in government-controlled areas.


UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
Updated 02 October 2022

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
  • The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended
  • Envoy said the extended and expanded truce would have provided critical benefits to Yemen’s population

RIYADH: The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed regret on Sunday that an agreement to extend and expand the truce in the country had not been reached.

“The truce that began on April.2, 2022 has offered a truly historic opportunity for Yemen. Building on the positive outcomes of the past six months, I submitted another proposal to the parties on Oct.1 to extend the truce for another six months, with additional elements,” Grundberg said in a statement.

The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended.

The proposal included the payment of civil servant salaries and pensions, the opening of specific roads in Taiz and other governorates, additional destinations for flights to and from Sanaa airport, unhindered entry of fuel ships into Hodeidah port, strengthening deescalation mechanisms, and a commitment to urgently release detainees, the envoy said.

It also included the initiation of negotiations for a ceasefire, the resumption of an inclusive political process, and economic issues.

The envoy said that the extended and expanded truce would provide additional critical benefits to Yemen’s population.

He thanked the Yemeni government for engaging positively with his proposal and said he will continue to work with both sides to find solutions.

“I am grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides over the past weeks. And I appreciate the position of the government of Yemen on engaging positively with my proposal. I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions,” Grundberg said.

The envoy urged the parties to maintain calm and refrain from provocations or any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence in the war-torn country.

“I urge them to fulfil their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace. Ultimately, Yemenis need an end to the conflict through an inclusive political process and a negotiated settlement. I will continue my relentless efforts to engage with the parties to quickly reach an agreement on a way forward,” he said.


King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
Updated 02 October 2022

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Sultan Haitham bin Tarik will meet in Muscat

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II, accompanied by Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, will arrive in Oman on Tuesday for an official visit.

The king’s trip comes after an invitation from Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, Jordan News Agency reported.

During the two day visit, the two leaders will hold talks in Muscat about their deep bilateral ties as well as the most recent regional and international developments.