Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities
Smoke billows from a compound in the southern Lebanese village of Odaisseh on Monday following Israeli bombardment amid ongoing cross-border tensions. (AFP)
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Updated 25 December 2023
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Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

Plea for Lebanon to remain neutral amid Israel-Hezbollah hostilities
  • Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi says Lebanon ‘is a land of dialogue and peace’ while condemning Gaza genocide

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi reiterated his plea for Lebanon to remain neutral on Monday amid continuing hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israel forces.

In his Christmas sermon, the patriarch spoke about “the families afflicted by the genocidal war on Gaza and our families in southern Lebanon because of the extension of this ill-fated and rejected war to their towns and villages, with the deaths it left behind, the destruction of homes, and the destruction of property.”

Al-Rahi condemned the “brutal genocide taking place in Gaza.”

He said: “We reject its spread to the southern villages. Lebanon is not a land of war but a land of dialogue and peace.”

Al-Rahi said: “The spread of the war to southern Lebanon contradicts Resolution 1701. Lebanon must return to its neutrality as a defender, through diplomacy, of any lost rights.

“The Baabda Declaration in 2012, unanimously approved by the political blocs, affirmed Lebanon’s neutrality with the expression ‘distancing itself’ and adopted it.

“Lebanon’s neutrality has been at the core of Lebanon’s identity since 1860, and it is politically neutral in that it neither fights nor is fought.”

Al-Rahi’s new appeal came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army entered a new phase.

The attacks are now targeting residential houses on both sides of the Blue Line along the border, with some military operations transgressing the rules of engagement.

A security source told Arab News: “Scenes of destruction can be observed in residential neighborhoods in the border areas targeted by Israeli bombing.”

Hezbollah’s attacks are now hitting targets as far as 10 km inside Israel.

Sheikh Naim Kassem, deputy secretary-general, reiterated that the movement’s military operations on the southern front “are to support Gaza, and no one believes that this matter is isolated from protecting Lebanon.”

He said: “We are in one situation; the enemy is one, and this enemy is expansionist. Israel’s strategy is to target one group at a time, aiming to annihilate all.”

On Monday, Hezbollah announced that it had “targeted buildings in the Misgav Am settlement with missile weapons, in response to bombing villages and civilian homes” in southern Lebanon.

On Sunday, Hezbollah announced “targeting a residential building in the Avivim settlement, causing confirmed casualties.”

For the past 79 days, Hezbollah’s hostilities on the southern border have been limited to Israeli military outposts and gatherings of Israeli soldiers.

However, during the past week, the Israeli forces mainly targeted houses belonging to Hezbollah members and cadres in some border villages.

Israel targeted a house in Kfarkila with three shells on Monday, setting it on fire, after targeting a residential home on Sunday in Markaba.

Hezbollah announced the death of the house owner, Wissam Khalil Hammoud, who is one of its members.

Hezbollah also announced on Saturday the death of Ibrahim Salameh from the Aytaroun village after Israeli shelling targeted his house.

Hezbollah said it targeted a deployment of Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the Metat barracks on Monday.

Since Monday morning, there has been a tense atmosphere in the border villages.

The outskirts of Naqoura, Hanin, and Wadi Hamul were targeted by Israeli artillery shelling.

Hezbollah declared that it initiated missile strikes on the Beit Hilal military base located east of Kiryat Shmona, the Israeli military site of Jal Al-Alam, and a gathering of Israeli soldiers near the Birkat Risha site.

Israeli forces conducted a series of attacks in the areas surrounding Aita Al-Shaab, Tallet Al-Raheb, Kafr Kila, and the Marjayoun Plain.

Additionally, Israeli warplanes targeted the outskirts of Aitaroun and Mays Al-Jabal, launching air-to-surface missiles that caused explosions heard in the Bint Jbeil area.

The Israeli forces used Burkan missiles, phosphorus bombs, and artillery in Monday’s bombardment and installed a surveillance balloon above the towns of Al-Dhahira and Alma Al-Shaab.

According to statistics gathered by journalists in southern Lebanon, the total number of casualties from Israeli airstrikes during the clashes in southern Lebanon over the past 79 days reached 159, including 107 in the south and 14 in Syria.

Among the casualties were 17 civilians in southern Lebanon, including three journalists, one soldier from the Lebanese Army, one from the Amal movement, one from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, two from the Jamaa Islamiyya, and seven from the Islamic Jihad Movement, as well as nine casualties from the Hamas movement in Lebanon.


Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says
Updated 10 sec ago
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Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says
TAMPA: Heavy seas battered the US maritime humanitarian mission to Gaza on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said, with four vessels serving a floating aid delivery pier breaking free from their moorings.
No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional, CENTCOM said in a statement, adding that no US personnel would enter Gaza.
Two of the affected vessels were now anchored on the beach near the pier and the other two were beached on the coast of Israel near Ashkelon, CENTCOM said, adding that efforts to recover the vessels were under way with assistance from the Israeli Navy.

Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’
Updated 35 min 8 sec ago
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Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’
  • That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications
  • The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi

CAIRO: Pharmacy owners in Egypt have voiced concerns about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals in the country as they prepare for another price increase following the Egyptian Drug Authority’s recent review.
That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications to “offset the rising costs of production, which have been exacerbated by the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar.”
The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi, secretary-general of the Pharmacy Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, adding that the “uncontrolled” rise in medicine prices has not been matched by a corresponding increase in profit margins for pharmacists.
“We anticipate more closures in 2024,” he added. “In February, the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce appealed to the Central Bank governor to reactivate the low-interest rate loan of 5 percent for small and medium-sized pharmacies, capped at EGP500,000 ($10,600) per pharmacy.
“The goal was to safeguard pharmacies from economic challenges such as low purchasing power, cash payment demands from pharmaceutical companies, limited liquidity, rising operating costs, and shrinking profit margins.”
That proposal was rejected, however, and loans are currently only available at a 15-percent interest rate, which is, El-Badawi said, “far higher than a pharmacist’s profit margins and thus constitutes a loss.”
Pharmacy owner Dr. Sami Saad told Arab News: “We face several problems due to price increases, including reduced profit margins for pharmacists, dual pricing for drugs, and pharmaceutical companies not recalling expired products. All these issues could force us to close at any time because we are not making any profit.”
Saad added the Egyptian Drug Authority had not considered pharmacists’ demands or the crises they are facing.
“Every day is a struggle. And although I heard that the head of the authority plans to intervene to resolve these issues, there has been no progress so far,” he said.
Dr. El-Badawi reiterated: “I fear for the closure of pharmacies — a difficult situation that will only get worse. I am concerned for the 85,000 pharmacies across the country.
“The health of Egyptians is at risk,” he added. “I urge all responsible authorities to intervene.”


More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank
Updated 25 May 2024
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More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank
  • 27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty
  • “Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, the World Bank said

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.
The World Bank published two new reports on Syria, which found that “27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty.”
“Extreme poverty, while virtually non-existent before the conflict, affected more than one in four Syrians in 2022” and might have further deteriorated after a deadly earthquake last year, one of the reports said.
The quake killed about 6,000 people in the country.
According to the United Nations, about 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, while it previously estimated that around 2 million lived in extreme poverty after more than a decade of war.
The report cited neighbor Lebanon’s economic meltdown in late 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as having eroded the welfare of Syrian households in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has also ravaged the economy, infrastructure and industry, while Western sanctions have added to the country’s woes.
“Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, already coping with “soaring prices, reduced access to essential services and rising unemployment,” the World Bank said.
The UN told AFP previously that its humanitarian response plan for Syria for 2024 requires more than $4 billion but that it is only six percent funded.
The international community is set to meet in Brussels Monday to try and muster funds for Syria at a yearly pledging conference.
A lack of opportunities and dwindling aid has pushed many Syrians to rely on money sent from relatives abroad to survive, with the World Bank estimating that “in 2022, the total value of remittances received by Syrian households reached about $1.05 billion.”
Syria’s estimated GDP stood at around $6.2 billion in 2023.
Syria’s “real GDP is projected to contract by 1.5 percent in 2024, extending the 1.2 percent decline in 2023,” the report said.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 due to the pass-through effects of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential further subsidy cuts (for) food and fuel,” it said.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.


Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’

Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’
Updated 25 May 2024
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Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’

Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’
  • “There is an intention to renew the talks this week and there is an agreement,” said the official
  • The official did not elaborate on the agreement

JERUSALEM: An Israeli official said Saturday the government had an “intention” to renew “this week” talks aimed at reaching a hostage release deal in Gaza, after a meeting in Paris between US and Israeli officials.
“There is an intention to renew the talks this week and there is an agreement,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli official did not elaborate on the agreement, but Israeli media reported that Mossad chief David Barnea had agreed during meetings in Paris with mediators CIA Director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on a new framework for the stalled negotiations.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken also spoke with Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz about new efforts to achieve a ceasefire and reopen the Rafah border crossing, Washington said.
Talks aimed at reaching a hostage release and truce deal in the Gaza Strip ground to a halt this month after Israel launched a military operation in the territory’s far-southern city of Rafah.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,903 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to data from the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces

Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces
Updated 25 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces

Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces
  • The Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement that controls part of the country, last released prisoners in April 2023
  • Yemen has been embroiled in years of civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthis said they had postponed the release of around 100 prisoners belonging to government forces that had previously been announced to take place on Saturday.
A Houthi official said that the delay was because of “technical reasons,” adding the release would take place at another time.
The head of the Houthi Prisoner Affairs Committee, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, said on Friday that the group would release more than 100 prisoners in what he called “a unilateral humanitarian initiative.”
The Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement that controls part of the country, last released prisoners in April 2023 in an exchange of 250 Houthis for 70 government forces.
Yemen has been embroiled in years of civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry.
The Houthis are the de facto authorities in northern Yemen, while the internationally recognized government is represented by the Political Leadership Council, which took over power from Yemen’s president-in-exile.