Death toll from Syria migrant shipwreck rises

Update Death toll from Syria migrant shipwreck rises
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Rescuers search for victims and survivors off the coast of Syria’s southern port city of after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)
Update Death toll from Syria migrant shipwreck rises
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Ambulances are seen during the rescue process of migrants in the port of Tartous, Syria on Thursday in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Death toll from Syria migrant shipwreck rises

Death toll from Syria migrant shipwreck rises
  • Syria’s health minister: The number of victims from the shipwreck has reached 73 people
  • Tripoli has emerged as a illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats departing from its shores

DAMASCUS: At least 73 migrants drowned when a boat they boarded in Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast, Syria’s health minister said Friday, the deadliest such shipwreck from Lebanon in recent years.

Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for illegal migration, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave the country.

Around 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small boat that sank Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian city of Tartus.

“The number of victims from the shipwreck has reached 73 people,” Syria’s Health Minister Hassan Al-Ghabash said in a statement, adding that 20 survivors were being treated in hospital in Tartus.

Of those rescued, five were Lebanese, Lebanon’s caretaker transport minister Ali Hamie said.

“I am discussing with Syria’s transport minister a mechanism to retrieve the corpses from Syria,” Hamie said. 

Tartus is the southernmost of Syria’s main ports, and lies some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, where the passengers had boarded.

“We are dealing with one of our largest ever rescue operations,” Sleiman Khalil, an official at Syria’s transport ministry said.

“We are covering a large area that extends along the entire Syrian coast,” he added, saying high waves made their work challenging.

Many of the boat’s Lebanese passengers hail from impoverished regions in the country’s north including the city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest.

Tripoli has emerged as a illegal migration hub, with most migrant boats departing from its shores.

Wissam Al-Talawi, a Tripoli resident who hails from the northern Akkar region, was among the survivors and is being treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad said.

But the corpses of Wissam’s two daughters, aged five and nine, had been returned to Lebanon where they were buried early on Friday, Ahmad said.

“They left two days ago,” he added.

“(My brother) couldn’t afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school,” he added, saying Wissam’s wife and two sons remain missing.

Other relatives said they had arrived at Syria’s border to check on their relatives.

Last year Lebanon saw a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in overcrowded boats to reach Europe.

In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people, sparking anger in the country.

The circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, with some on board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the smugglers attempted reckless escape manoeuvres.

Many of the bodies were never recovered.

On September 13, Turkey’s coastguard announced the death of six migrants, including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe, off the coast of the southwestern province of aft.

They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.

Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometers away to the west.


Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the US a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


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He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.

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While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.

 

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Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
Updated 04 October 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
  • King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s efforts to bolster security and stability in the region
  • Two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry

RIYADH: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq on Tuesday expressed keenness to bolster bilateral relations in all fields during a meeting in Muscat.

During talks held at Al-Alam Palace in Muscat, the two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry, Jordan News Agency reported.

King Abdullah and Sultan Haitham stressed the need to step up the trade exchange between their countries and called for the Oman-Jordan Joint Committee to reconvene after the king’s visit.

The importance of bolstering cooperation between the private sectors in the two countries and maintaining coordination and consultation on various issues of mutual concern including food security and energy was also discussed.

King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s continuous efforts to bolster security and stability in the region.

The monarch also highlighted the importance of supporting the Palestinians to seek their just and legitimate rights, and the need to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II.


Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
Updated 04 October 2022

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
  • Houthis ordered operators to stop shipping oil and minerals from government-controlled regions
  • Militia group refused to renew UN truce and resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale

AL-MUKALLA: The internationally recognized government of Yemen has slammed Houthi threats to attack oil ships and called for international action to stop the group from damaging civilian infrastructure and power sources.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak described the threats as “criminal and terrorist activity,” adding that the Iran-backed Houthis had no respect for international agreements prohibiting attacks on civilian facilities.

“Such a threat is unmistakable evidence of these groups’ terrorist nature, which is nothing new to Yemenis. It is crucial that the world understands how this terrorist organization operates and how it disregards fundamental international laws and conventions,” he told Arab News on Tuesday.

The minister’s comments came as the Aden-based Ministry of Transportation urged foreign shipping companies to continue their operations despite Houthi demands that they stop movements of the country’s oil.

In a letter sent on Monday to agents of shipping firms operating in Yemen, the ministry’s Maritime Affairs Authority said they should carry on exporting the nation’s oil, gas, and minerals from government-controlled ports and not comply with Houthi demands or threats.

“Memoranda or circulars will not be considered unless they are issued by Aden’s Presidency of the General Authority for Maritime Affairs,” the government’s maritime body said in the letter seen by Arab News.

The Yemen government’s request came a day after the Houthis officially ordered ship operators to stop transporting oil and minerals from government-controlled regions, threatening to target their vessels if the demand was ignored.

On Sunday, hours before a UN-brokered truce expired, the Houthis’ Minister of Transport Abdul-Wahab Yahya Al-Durra sent a letter requesting firms to cease shipping the country’s oil and other natural resources by 6 p.m., accusing them of looting Yemen’s resources.

“Any navigation activity that violates standard procedures will be treated as an illegal act that jeopardizes national interests, and we hold you fully responsible for violating it,” the Houthi minister said in his letter, also seen by Arab News.

The Yemeni militia group has refused to renew the UN truce and has resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale.

The Houthis threatened to target oil ships docking in government-controlled areas in a bid to deprive the government of financial resources unless it paid all public employees in areas under the group’s control, reopened Sanaa airport, and lifted alleged restrictions on fuel ship movements through Hodeidah port.

The Houthis’ refusal to open roads in Taiz has also hampered efforts to keep the truce in place.

The Yemeni government has said that the Houthis should pay public employees in their areas with the millions of dollars earned from fuel ships passing through Hodeidah port during the truce.

Yemen’s Oil Minister Saeed Al-Shumasi recently told Al-Ghad Mushreq TV that the country exported 2 million barrels of oil every two months from oil fields in the southeastern province of Hadramout, plus 600,000 barrels from the southern province of Shabwa.

The Dhaba oil terminal in Hadramout province handles most of the country’s oil exports to international markets.


UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
Updated 04 October 2022

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
  • Relief efforts continue to pour in to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million
  • The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority

ABU DHABI: A ship carrying nearly 1,000 tons of aid to Somali people hit by drought is the latest contribution of the UAE to the relief effort.
The ship, which docked in Mogadishu last month, will distribute its cargo to help meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people, reported Emirates News Agency (WAM).
The aid effort is part of a coordinated project with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority, the Zayed Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation for Humanitarian Works.
The distribution has been expanded in the past week to camps in the most badly hit areas, including Mogadishu and in the Mahas and Mataban areas of Hiran governorate in the Hirshabelle region.
The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority.
The drought facing Somalia is the worst in decades. The UN World Meteorological Organization has predicted the country will face a fifth successive failed rainy season.
More than 7 million Somalis face humanitarian issues and are in need of food, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
 


Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
Updated 04 October 2022

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
  • Retired diplomat entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh and refused to leave until he was given his savings
  • A retired security officer entered BLC Bank in Bekaa and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine

BEIRUT: A former police officer brandishing a weapon and a retired ambassador were among savers who stormed banks in Lebanon after they partially reopened following a week’s closure after earlier raids.
Georges Habib Siam, 76, the honorary consul general of Ireland and former protocol director at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh, Mount Lebanon, and refused to leave until he was given his savings.
Ali Deeb Al-Sahli, a retired member of the Internal Security Forces, entered the Chtaura branch of the BLC Bank in the Bekaa, and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine, who was evicted from his house and expelled from university due to a lack of money.
A video shared on social media showed other savers cheering Al-Sahli, before bank employees are seen taking his weapon, before detaining and then handing him over to security forces. Another video showed Al-Sahli saying he would sell his kidney for money.
Ali Hassan Hodroj, another saver, demanded that staff in the Byblos Bank branch in Tire, southern Lebanon, hand over his savings of around $44,000. He was able to recover some money, which he handed over to another protester outside before surrendering himself to police.
Meanwhile, dozens of employees of the Kadisha Electricity Co. stormed the FNB’s Tripoli branch, demanding their full salaries and allowances after the bank deducted 3 percent.
The latest attempts by Lebanese to get their money came two weeks after hold-ups at seven branches, which led to banks closing for a week in protest.
The Lebanese financial system has been in turmoil since 2020, with the Lebanese pound losing most of its value. The country’s banks have restricted depositor withdrawals from their dollar accounts and any money taken out in local currency has been subject to exchange rates that have rendered it almost worthless. Meanwhile, authorities have yet to enact a recovery plan.
Hassan Moghnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Arab News: “The situation is going to get worse as long as there is no radical solution to the issue of withholding deposits.
“Ignoring this will lead to more chaos, despite all the measures taken, since all people have deposits in banks.”
Assad Khoury, the head of the Syndicate of Bank Employees in Lebanon, said: “Things will not be resolved by storming banks. A comprehensive solution is required. The responsibility lies primarily with the political authority, which is still trying to deny its responsibilities.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said that it had no control over financial or monetary policies, and its members were not the decision-makers.
In a statement, it said: “The state withdrew $62.6 billion from the central bank. These sums were spent on maintaining subsidies, stabilizing the exchange rate, high interests, electricity, the state’s import needs, and others.
“When the crisis began, the central bank had reserves of about $33 billion. Today, reserves have fallen to about $10 billion.
“When banks tried to speak up in an effort to change the situation, the head of the ABL was prosecuted.
“If the situation continues, the International Monetary Fund will stop negotiating with Lebanon, the central bank’s reserves will be depleted, and the state will be unable to secure any purchases from abroad.
“Lebanon would thus be unable to secure the minimum necessities of living, such as electricity, water, medicine, telecommunications, etc., and hope of recovering deposits would fade, and the local currency would depreciate even further,” the association statement added.