Lebanon Enters Full Lockdown To Stem COVID-19 Uptick

ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

Lebanon went into a tight lockdown Thursday, with residents barred even from grocery shopping and forced to rely on food deliveries as the country battles to slow spiking novel coronavirus cases.

The new restrictions were only loosely respected in some areas of the country, however, reflecting deep mistrust of a political elite held responsible for a deepening economic crisis.

The lockdown, ordered after some hospitals started to run out of intensive care beds, includes a 24-hour curfew until January 25.

Non-essential workers are barred from leaving their homes, and supermarkets are only allowed to operate by delivery.

Those needing an emergency exemption — to see a doctor, say — can request one via a text message or by filling in a form online.

In the capital, roads were quieter than usual, while non-essential shops remained shuttered. Security forces stopped drivers at several checkpoints in the centre of the city.

Security forces said compliance with the new measures stood at 94 percent.

But in some areas, some people ventured out to buy groceries.

As the lockdown went into force, authorities announced Thursday that 41 people had died of the coronavirus over the previous 24 hours, with 5,196 new infections registered.

– Heart attacks –

Recent days have seen Lebanon hit record daily Covid-19 caseloads in one of the steepest increases in transmission worldwide.

In Geitawi Hospital in Beirut on Thursday, director Pierre Yared said the emergencies department was brimming over with more than 30 people suffering from Covid-19 the previous day.

“The ER was filled with corona patients, there were no other patients,” he said.

Cases skyrocketed after authorities loosened restrictions during the holiday season, allowing restaurants and night clubs to remain open until 3:00 am, despite warnings from health professionals.

A partial lockdown in place since January 7 has failed to halt the spread of the virus.

Firass Abiad, the prominent director of the main state hospital treating Covid patients, warned the latest lockdown must not fail.

“In the last 24 hours alone, four Covid positive patients presented in cardiac arrest to our emergency room,” he wrote on Twitter.

“One of them was a 19 years old patient. This is serious.”

The new measures came into effect after caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 late Wednesday, state media said.

The announcement on Monday raised fears of food shortages in impoverished and remote regions where deliveries are not readily available.

For several days, Lebanese have flooded supermarkets and chemists to stock up on supplies.

Some are worried the new restrictions will pile additional suffering on the country’s poorest.

– Political crisis –

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, was already grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades when the pandemic hit.

Previous lockdowns have forced businesses to close and deprived some, particularly informal day labourers, of income. Around half Lebanon’s population lives in poverty.

The World Bank Group on Tuesday approved a $246-million aid package to help 786,000 vulnerable Lebanese, but it is unclear when it will arrive.

Lebanon has recorded 237,132 cases since February last year, including 1,781 deaths.

Parliament is expected to convene Friday to examine a bill to allow the import and use of Covid-19 vaccines, which authorities have previously said will arrive in Lebanon by February.

Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.

The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut port last summer killed 200 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

A deeply divided political class has been unable to agree on a new cabinet to launch urgently needed reforms.

Israeli Strikes On Syria Kill 23 – Monitor

 

Israeli night raids targeting arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria killed at least seven Syrian soldiers and 16 allied fighters, in the deadliest raids since 2018, a war monitor said Wednesday.

The Israeli air force carried out more than 18 strikes against multiple targets in an area stretching from the eastern town of Deir Ezzor to the Iraqi border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The raids killed seven Syrian soldiers and 16 non-Syrian militia fighters whose nationalities were not immediately known, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Paramilitaries belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Fatimid Brigade, which is made up of pro-Iranian Afghan fighters, operate in the region, the Observatory said.

The raids also wounded 28 troops and militiamen, some of them critically.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman called the Israeli raids the “deadliest since June 2018” when strikes on the same region killed at least 55 pro-government fighters, including Iraqis as well as Syrians.

In November, similar raids on eastern Syria killed at least 19 pro-Iran militia fighters, the monitor said.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the latest strikes but gave few details.

“At 1:10 am (2310 GMT Tuesday), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial assault on the town of Deir Ezzor and the Albu Kamal region,” SANA said, citing a military source.

“The results of the aggression are currently being verified,” it added.

It was the second wave of Israeli raids in Syria in less than a week.

The last strikes on January 7 targeted positions in southern Syria and in the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus, killing three pro-Iran fighters.

Israel routinely carries out raids in Syria, mostly against targets linked to Iran in what it says is a bid to prevent its arch foe from consolidating a foothold on its northern border.

Israel hit around 50 targets in Syria in 2020, according to an annual report released in late December by the Israeli military.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.

Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Lebanon Police Scuffle With Students Protesting Tuition Increase

Lebanese students protest a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition in Beirut’s Hamra district on December 19, 2020. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

Lebanese riot police on Saturday scuffled with students protesting a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition — equivalent to a major fee hike.

Near the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city’s Hamra district, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to approach the main gate.

Students responded by throwing water bottles and other objects at riot police blocking their path.

It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.

The protest came in response to a decision by AUB and the Lebanese American University (LAU), another top private institution, to price tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

The nosediving currency is still officially pegged at around 1,500 pounds to the greenback.

The move has prompted fears that other universities could follow suit, potentially leading to an exodus of students from private institutions while public universities remain underfunded and overstretched.

Hundreds of students had gathered in Hamra earlier Saturday in a protest they billed a “student day of rage”.

They chanted anti-government slogans and called for affordable education in a country mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

 

The protest came in response to a decision by AUB and the Lebanese American University (LAU), another top private institution, to price tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. Near the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city’s Hamra district, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were trying to approach the main gate. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

Later in the evening, some torched dumpsters to block the street and vandalised banks before security forces pushed them out.

Over the past year, the Lebanese pound has lost up to 80 percent of its value on the black market, where on Saturday the dollar was selling for at least 8,200 pounds.

Universities have struggled to adapt to the de facto devaluation as prices nationwide have soared.

Commercial banks have halted dollar transactions and restricted withdrawals of Lebanese pounds, in moves that have starved many of their savings.

According to the United Nations, more than half of Lebanon’s population is now living in poverty.

Hezbollah Fugitive Killer Of Former Lebanon PM Hariri Bags Life Sentence

 

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A UN-backed court on Friday sentenced fugitive Hezbollah member Salim Ayyash to life imprisonment for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri.

“The trial chamber is satisfied that it should impose the maximum sentence for each of the five crimes of life imprisonment to be served concurrently,” said Judge David Re of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands.

More to follow . . .

Lebanon PM Diab, Ex-Ministers Indicted Over Port Blast

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on May 21, 2020 shows Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaking during a press conference at the governmental palace in the capital Beirut. DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

 

Lebanon’s lead investigator into the catastrophic Beirut port explosion charged outgoing premier Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with negligence on Thursday, a judicial source said.

They are the first politicians to be indicted over the devastating August 4 blast that killed more than 200 people, disfigured the heart of the capital and stoked a wave of public anger against Lebanon’s ruling elite.

The four were charged with “negligence and causing death to hundreds and injuries to thousands more” in the first such official indictment against a prime minister in office in Lebanese history, the judicial source said.

After the blast, it emerged top security officials and politicians had known for years about hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored haphazardly at the Beirut port but had failed to take precautionary measures.

The decision by judge Fadi Sawan came after the investigation confirmed the suspects had received “several written notices warning them against postponing the disposal of ammonium nitrate fertiliser,” the source said.

“They also did not take the necessary measures to avoid the devastating explosion and its enormous damage,” added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

 

A Lebanese couple inspects the damage to their house in an area overlooking the destroyed Beirut port on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Diab, who resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion, already testified before Sawan in September.

His office on Thursday said the outgoing premier’s conscience was clear.

“He is confident that his hands are clean and that he has handled the Beirut Port blast file in a responsible and transparent manner,” it said in a statement.

– Judge to question suspects –
The other senior officials charged are former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil and the ex-ministers of public works Yusef Fenianos and Ghazi Zaiter.

The United States in September slapped sanctions on Khalil and Fenianos for alleged corruption and support of the powerful Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement.

READ ALSO: Suicide Car Bomb Kills 26 Afghan Security Personnel

In a letter to parliament late last month, judge Sawan asked lawmakers to investigate several outgoing and former ministers, including Khalil, Fenianos and Zaiter, over the blast.

The letter came after Sawan’s investigations raised “certain suspicions about the responsibility of those ministers and their failure towards addressing the presence of the ammonium nitrate at the port”.

The judicial source Thursday said parliament had not responded to Sawan’s request, prompting him to press charges.

Sawan will begin questioning the suspects from Monday, the source said.

Diab on Thursday told Sawan he respected the rule of law, but accused the judge of bypassing parliament and said he had already “provided all the information he had regarding this file”.

The investigation has so far triggered the arrest of 25 people, including top port and customs officials.

Lebanese officials have rejected an international probe, despite demands both at home and abroad for an impartial investigation.

Experts from France and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation took part in the preliminary investigation.

– Decades of negligence –
Public anger has simmered over the pace of the investigation, which had until Thursday spared top political officials widely accused for the country’s worst peace-time disaster.

Lebanese on social media cautiously welcomed the charges, but urged more to be done.

“All this could remain a mere attempt to calm public opinion unless it comes with serious investigations into the responsibility of these and other ministers who have not yet been summoned,” Lebanese rights group Legal Agenda wrote on Twitter.

Many blame the blast on decades of negligence and corruption by the country’s ruling elite, who include former warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war.

On July 20, Diab and President Michel Aoun had both received a report from the State Security agency warning of the danger posed by the highly unstable material at the port.

After the explosion, the agency confirmed it had alerted authorities in a detailed report quoting a chemical expert who had visited the warehouse.

If ignited, the ammonium nitrate would cause a huge explosion that would be especially destructive to the port, warned the report seen by AFP.

The Beirut Bar Association has handed the public prosecutor hundreds of criminal complaints from victims of the explosion.

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, but its divided political class has for months failed to agree on a new cabinet to implement desperately needed reforms.

Saad Hariri, who stepped down as premier last year following mass anti-government protests, is set to make a comeback after he was tasked to form a government in October.

AFP

Lebanon Starts Two-Weeks Of Restrictions To Curb COVID-19 Cases

 


ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

Lebanon started a new two-week lockdown Saturday after coronavirus infections crossed the 100,000 mark in a country where hospital capacity has become saturated.

The capital’s roads were largely empty and police checkpoints had been set up at several locations, while the seaside promenade often thronging on weekends was deserted, an AFP photographer said.

The airport however remained open, as did essential businesses.

Under the measures announced, during the day people were to stay home unless they were granted an exception, and only cars with certain number plates were allowed on the roads.

A nighttime curfew was to come into force from 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) to 5:00 am (0300 GMT).

Lebanon, with a population of around six million, has been recording some 11,000 coronavirus infections on average each week, the health ministry said Thursday.

Since February, the country has recorded 102,607 Covid-19 cases, including 796 deaths, it says.

A first country-wide lockdown imposed in March was effective in stemming the spread of the virus, and restrictions were gradually lifted as summer beckoned people outdoors.

But the number of coronavirus cases surged following a monstrous blast at Beirut’s port on August 4 which killed more than 200 people, wounded at least 6,500, and overwhelmed hospitals.

The new restrictions are set to last until November 30 but the authorities have said they could be extended, as they fear the health system would not be able to cope with many more cases needing intensive care.

“The situation is critical and getting worse,” Said al-Asmar, a pulmonologist at the main public hospital in Beirut dealing with Covid-19 cases, warned on Friday.

Sometimes, “patients need intensive care, but we have to leave them in accident and emergency,” the doctor at the Rafik Hariri Hospital told AFP.

The World Health Organization said at the end of October that 88 percent of Lebanon’s 306 intensive care beds were occupied.

On Thursday, Qatar sent two planes carrying medical equipment to Lebanon to equip field hospitals in the southern city of Tyre and the northern city of Tripoli, each with 500 beds, the Qatari embassy in Beirut said.

-AFP

Lebanese President In Talks With Parliament To Name New Premier

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda east of the capital Beirut. – (Photo by Handout / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP) 

 

Lebanese President Michel Aoun will begin parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister next week, his office said on Wednesday.

It will mark the third attempt to name a new premier in less than a year following a series of resignations in the face of a deepening economic crisis and a port explosion that ravaged entire districts of the capital.

Outgoing prime minister Hasan Diab quit in the wake of the colossal August 4 explosion at Beirut port that killed more than 190 people and wounded at least 6,500.

His designated successor Mustapha Adib stepped down last month after he failed to forge a consensus around a new government line-up.

“President Aoun has set Thursday, October 15 as the date for holding parliamentary consultations to assign a figure to form a new government,” his office said on Twitter.

Since the Beirut port blast, Western governments have stepped up pressure on Lebanese leaders to put in place a government ready to implement sweeping reforms and unlock much-needed aid.

On a visit to Beirut at the beginning of last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had secured promises from Lebanon’s factions to install a reform-minded administration within a fortnight.

When Diab finally abandoned his efforts to get faction leaders to deliver, Macron accused them of looking to their own selfish interests rather than those of the country.

The date set by Aoun for the start of parliamentary consultations comes just two days before Lebanon marks the first anniversary of a nationwide protest movement demanding sweeping political reform.

Its rallies lost momentum earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic hit, but public anger has soared since the port blast, which was caused by the ignition of a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that had been left uninspected for years.

A confessional power-sharing system, which has been in place ever since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, has created an entrenched, often hereditary, political elite that the protest movement holds responsible for the country’s woes.

-AFP

Lebanon, Israel Hold Talks To Settle Border Disputes

 

(FILES) A file picture taken on September 5, 2018 near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing in northern Israel, shows the Naqura Bay south of the Lebanese city of Tyre as seen behind a new wall on the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

 

Lebanon and Israel said Thursday they will hold US-brokered negotiations on their disputed land and maritime borders, the first talks in decades between two countries technically still at war.

The United States will act as a facilitator during the talks to be held in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura, Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told a news conference in Beirut, without giving a date.

In Israel, Energy Minister Youval Steinitz said in a statement the “direct negotiations” would be held after the Jewish feast of Sukkot that ends October 10.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed what he a called a historic agreement between the two countries to discuss their disputed borders, a “result of nearly three years of intense diplomatic engagement.”

Berri said a framework agreement had been reached to start the negotiations, and read out a September 22 copy of it.

“The United States were asked by both sides, Israel and Lebanon, to act as a mediator and facilitator to draw up the maritime borders, and it is ready to do this,” he quoted it as saying.

“On the issue of (the) maritime border, continuous talks will be held at the UN headquarters in Naqoura under UN sponsorship,” he said.

“The US representatives and the US special coordinator for Lebanon are prepared to provide meeting minutes together that they will sign and present to Israel and Lebanon to sign at the end of each meeting,” he added.

The UN peacekeeping force patrolling the shared border welcomed the news.

UNIFIL “welcomes today’s announcement of a framework agreement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on maritime border demarcation between the two countries,” it said.

The talks between Lebanon and Israel, which are still technically at war, follow two years of indirect contacts via the US administration, Steinitz’s office said.

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement fought a devastating war in 2006.

At the time, then Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said that Lebanon would be the “last Arab country to make peace with Israel”.

US envoy David Schenker on September 8 said he hoped to come to Lebanon and sign a framework agreement towards starting discussions “in the coming weeks”.

The issue of the maritime border is particularly sensitive due to the possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.

In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean for oil and gas with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.

Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.

Exploration of the other one, Block 9, has not started and is more controversial as ownership is disputed.

-AFP

Human Trafficking: 70 Stranded Nigerian Girls Return From Lebanon

 

Another batch of 70 stranded Nigerian girls evacuated from Lebanon by the Federal Government and the Lebanese community in Nigeria arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on Sunday.

The spokesperson for the Lebanese community in Nigeria, Philip Wehbe, while receiving them at the airport in Abuja told Channels Television that the evacuation is in fulfillment of the community’s resolve to ensure that no Nigerian is left stranded in Lebanon.

READ ALSO: ‘We Will Follow Through’: Kyari Hails FG’s Deal With Labour

He revealed that 470 Nigerian ladies have been so far been evacuated from Lebanon and appreciated the Nigerian Government for their efforts in securing the return of the girls back home.

“We saw a viral video a long time ago and we started bringing a lot of stranded girls from Lebanon, we already brought 470 girls, and today we are here to receive another batch of 70 girls from Lebanon,” Wehb said.

There have been several pleas from Nigerian girls stranded in the country seeking assistance to enable them to return home after being lured to Lebanon by human traffickers.

 

See photos of the girls at the airport below…

PHOTOS: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels TV

Huge Fire Erupts In Lebanon Port Weeks After Deadly Blast

Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut's port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut’s port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

A huge fire raged in Beirut port on Thursday, sparking alarm among Lebanese still reeling from the devastating dockside explosion that disfigured the capital last month.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze just over a month after the August 4 blast which killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands and ravaged much of the capital.

Huge columns of black smoke, visible from faraway neighbourhoods, billowed above the site of the fire.

Haitham, a 33-year-old worker at a company at the port, told AFP how he fled the new fire in fear.

“We were working when all of a sudden they started yelling at us to get out,” he said. “There was welding going on… and a fire broke out. We don’t know what happened.

A picture taken from Dbayeh, north of Beirut, shows smoke from a huge fire raging at the port in the Lebanese capital on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.  Joseph EID / AFP
A picture taken from Dbayeh, north of Beirut, shows smoke from a huge fire raging at the port in the Lebanese capital on September 10, 2020. Joseph EID / AFP

 

“We dropped everything and started running … It reminded us of the explosion.”

The interim head of the port, Bassem al-Kaissi, told Lebanese television channel LBC that the blaze started in the port’s free zone, where an importer had stocked cooking oil containers and tyres.

The fire “started with oil containers before moving on to the tyres,” he said. “It was either caused by the heat or by a mistake. It’s too early to say.”

‘Can’t take this much trauma’

The army reported it was responding to the fire, also saying it had broken out at a warehouse containing oil and tyres.

“Operations have begun to extinguish the fire and army helicopters will take part,” it said on Twitter.

Social media users posted video footage which unsettled Beirut residents only just recovering from the country’s deadliest peacetime disaster.

“Insane fire at the port, causing a panic all across Beirut. We just can’t catch a break,” Aya Majzoub, a researcher for the group Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

“We can’t take this much trauma,” another user wrote.

Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut's port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.  ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Lebanese firefighters try to put out a fire that broke out at Beirut’s port area, on September 10, 2020. Thick black columns of smoke rose into the sky, as the army said it had engulfed a warehouse storing engine oil and vehicle tyres.
ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

The August 4 blast sparked widespread outrage after it emerged authorities had been aware for years of the presence of the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate that blew up, and the scandal forced the government to resign.

Criminology researcher Omar Nashabe tweeted about the latest disaster: “Where are we living?”

“This is the scene of the crime a month ago! Where is the judiciary? Where is the state? Where is responsibility?”

The port blast had heaped new misery on Lebanese already battling the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, which has seen poverty rates double to more than half the population.

Lebanon has launched a probe into the blast, one off the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever, and arrested 25 suspects so far.

Among them are top port and customs officials, as well as Syrian workers who allegedly carried out welding hours before the explosion.

Lebanon has rejected an international investigation into the explosion, but its probe is being aided by foreign experts, including from the American FBI and France.

 

AFP

Hezbollah, Hamas Chiefs Meet To Discuss Israel-Arab Ties

A handout picture released by the Hezbollah press office on September 6, 2020 shows Hassan Nasrallah (R), the head of Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, meeting with Hamas’ political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) at an undisclosed location. (Photo by – / various sources / AFP)

 

Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, both enemies of Israel, have met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between the Jewish state and Arab countries, a report said Sunday.

They stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV channel reported, without saying where or when the meeting took place.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, was pictured meeting Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the Islamist movement that control the Gaza Strip.

They discussed “political and military developments in Palestine, Lebanon and the region” and “the dangers to the Palestinian cause” including “Arab plans for normalisation” with Israel, Al-Manar said.

The meeting comes after an August 13 announcement that the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to normalise ties.

While the US-backed diplomatic drive aims to boost a regional alliance against Iran, Palestinians have condemned it as a “stab in the back” as they remain under occupation and don’t have their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is in talks with other Arab and Muslim leaders now about normalising relations, following the deals with UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.

Haniyeh has been in Lebanon since Wednesday, on his first visit to the country in nearly 30 years, for direct and video-conference talks with other Palestinian groups that oppose Israel’s diplomatic initiative.

Israel’s military has in recent weeks targeted Hamas in the Gaza Strip and what it says have been Hezbollah gunmen along its northern border with Lebanon.

It also regularly launches air strikes in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militants fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Nasrallah has been living in a secret location for years and makes very few public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.

AFP

World Bank Cancels Loan For Controversial Lebanon Dam

A file photo of the World Bank logo.

 

The World Bank on Friday said it was canceling a loan to fund a dam in Lebanon that environmentalists claimed could destroy a valley rich in biodiversity.

The Bisri Dam was partially suspended in June after the Washington-based development lender said it raised concerns about the project’s implementation and given the government of Lebanon until September 4 to finalize key agreements related to operations and maintenance as well as the environment.

In a statement, the World Bank said it had notified the government that it was withdrawing its financing “due to non-completion of the tasks that are preconditions to the commencement of construction.”

“The canceled portion of the loan is $244 million and the cancelation is effective immediately,” the bank said.

Located in a valley 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital, the dam aims to supply drinking water as well as irrigation for 1.6 million residents.

Environmentalists and some farmers disputed assurances from the government and World Bank that the dam to be built on a seismic fault line does not increase the risk of earthquakes.

AFP