Meeting comes after August’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic relations.
Leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas group met to discuss diplomatic normalisation between Israel and Arab countries, the movement said.
On Sunday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniya was given a hero’s welcome at Ain al-Helweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.
Hezbollah-run Al-Manar television reported earlier that Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah movement, and Haniya stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel.
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 Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to normalise ties.
While the United States-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 do not 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 the UAE and, decades ago, Egypt and Jordan.
First visit in 30 years Haniya arrived in Lebanon on 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.
Haniya, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, the movement that controls the Gaza Strip, arrived in Ain al-Helweh under the protection of Hamas members and camp guards.
Before a cheering crowd of hundreds in Ain al-Helweh, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, including refugees who travelled to see him from other camps, Haniya praised his movement’s military capacity and shrugged off the UAE-Israel normalisation deal.
“Not long ago, our rockets only reached [targets] metres from Gaza’s borders. Today, the resistance in Gaza possesses rockets that can reach Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv,” he said.
As for normalisation between Israel and Arab countries, that “does not represent the people, neither their conscience, nor their history nor their heritage”, Haniya said, quoted in a Hamas statement.
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 attacks in war-torn Syria against what it says are Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian fighters fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Nasrallah has been living in secret locations since Hezbollah’s devastating 2006 war with Israel and only makes rare public appearances. He said in 2014 that he often changes his place of residence.
Standing in a pile of broken glass in northern Lebanon, a man forced shovel-loads of shards retrieved from Beirut after the massive explosion at its port into a red-hot furnace.
Melted down at a factory in second city Tripoli, they re-emerged as molten glass ready to be recycled into traditional slim-necked water jugs.
The August 4 port explosion ripped through countless glass doors and windows when it laid waste to whole Beirut neighbourhoods, killing at least 190 people and wounding thousands more.
Volunteers, non-governmental groups and entrepreneurs have tried to salvage at least part of the tonnes of glass that littered the streets, some of it through recycling at Wissam Hammoud’s family’s glass factory.
“Here we have glass from the Beirut explosion,” said Hammoud, deputy head at the United Glass Production Company (Uniglass), as several men sorted through a mound of shards outside the building.
“Organisations are bringing it to us so that we can remanufacture it,” said the 24-year-old.
As workers washed and stacked jars behind him, Hammoud said that between 20 and 22 tonnes of glass had been brought to the factory, a hive of rhythmic activity centred around the furnace that burns at 900-1,200 degrees Celsius (1,650-2,190 Fahrenheit).
Nearby, three men produced jars stamped out of a mold in a carefully choreographed sequence, while another two handled the more delicate process of blowing and forming the traditional Lebanese pitchers.
“We work 24 hours a day,” Hammoud said. “We can’t stop because stopping costs too much money.”
Helping local industry – Ziad Abichaker, CEO of environmental engineering company Cedar Environmental, has spearheaded multiple glass recycling initiatives in Lebanon.
In the first days after the blast, he teamed up with civil society organisations and a host of volunteers to come up with a plan to keep as much glass as possible out of landfills already overburdened by a decades-old solid waste crisis.
“We decided that at least part of the shattered glass… our local industries should benefit from as a raw material,” Abichaker told the press.
“We’re diverting glass from ending up in the landfill, we’re supplying our local industries with free raw material,” he added.
According to him, more than 5,000 tonnes of glass was shattered by the explosion.
From mid-August to September 2, almost 58 tonnes were sent for reuse at Uniglass and Koub/Golden Glass in Tripoli.
Abichaker said he hoped, with funding, to bring the total to 250 tonnes.
‘Tip of the iceberg’ – At the volunteer hub dubbed the Base Camp in Beirut’s hard-hit Mar Mikhael district, young men and women kitted out with sturdy shoes, masks and heavy gloves sort the glass, pulling bits of detritus out of the piled shards under a scorching sun.
Anthony Abdel Karim, who had launched months before the blast an upcycling glass project called Annine Fadye or “Empty Bottle” in Arabic, coordinates the operations.
We have “mountains of waste that are piling up in Beirut, they’re mixed with everything. Glass and rubble and metal are mixed with organic waste… and this is not healthy,” he said.
“We don’t have proper recycling in Lebanon.”
Abdel Karim was drawn to recycling glass after seeing huge numbers of bottles being thrown out while working in events management in Beirut’s nightlife, one of the city’s calling cards first quieted by the pandemic and economic crisis, and now battered by the blast.
Glass from the explosion poses different challenges from bottles, as much of it is dirty, so the initiative focuses on gathering glass from inside homes and other buildings, setting up a hotline where people can request pickup.
Abdel Karim said they aim to find other ways of recycling the glass that is not suitable to send to Tripoli, possibly by crushing it to be used in cement or other materials.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting just a fraction of the glass so far had been collected and repurposed. “It needs a lot of time, we know that.”
After three days of digging through rubble of a building, rescuers say there is no hope of finding someone alive.
Rescue workers digging through the rubble of a Beirut building for the third day have said there is no longer hope of finding someone alive more than a month after a huge port explosion shattered Lebanon’s capital.
About 50 rescue workers and volunteers, including a specialist team from Chile, had been working for three days to locate any survivors after sensors on Thursday detected signs of breathing and heat.
“Technically speaking, there are no signs of life inside the building,” Francisco Lermanda, the head of volunteer rescue group Topos Chile, said in a news conference on Saturday evening, adding that rescuers had combed 95 percent of the building.
The signs of life picked up by their sensitive equipment in the past two days, Lermanda said, were the breaths of fellow rescuers who were already inside the building. He said efforts would now focus on clearing the rubble and finding remains.
“We never stop with even 1 percent of hope,” Lermanda said. “We never stop until the job is done.”
The rescue efforts had dominated local and social media for days, as the Lebanese were transfixed, desperate for a miracle. But none came.
But even the faint hope of a miracle caught the imagination of a country already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
“I was not aware I needed a miracle that much. Please God, give Beirut this miracle it deserves,” said Selim Mourad, a 32-year-old filmmaker.
‘Crumbling’ building The August 4 blast killed some 200 people, injured 6,000 more, and devastated whole neighbourhoods. One month on, seven people are still listed as missing.
The authorities held ceremonies on Friday to mark a month since the explosion tore into the city.
The ruined building where the search was continuing lies between the residential districts of Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, among the hardest-hit areas by the blast and home to many old buildings that crumbled as the shockwave ripped through.
Work was slow, rescue workers said, as the badly damaged building was at risk of complete collapse.
“The building is really crumbling, it’s scary and there’s a lot of danger to the team,” said George Abou Moussa, head of Lebanon’s civil defence, on Saturday evening.
Moussa in the morning had said the chances of finding someone alive were “very low”.
Workers used shovels and their hands to dig, while mechanical diggers and a crane lifted heavy debris. Scanning equipment was also used to create 3D images of the wrecked building.
Rescuers continue frantic search for potential survivor under the rubble of a building demolished by August 4 blast.
Rescuers in the Lebanese capital have resumed work in a bid to determine if there is a person trapped under piles of debris of a building that collapsed a month ago following a deadly explosion.
One month after the massive blast at Beirut’s port devastated the city, a frantic search for a possible survivor entered its third day on Saturday after hopes of success had dwindled a day earlier.
Chilean rescue workers on Thursday said they had detected a sign of life from under the rubble of a collapsed building in the Gemmayze neighbourhood. A sniffer dog named Flash – brought to Beirut by the Chilean rescuers – was the first to respond to a scent at the site.
Electronic sensors were then brought in to examine the area and signals indicating someone was trapped below were detected.
The Chilean volunteers are part of a Mexican rescue non-profit named “Los Topos” and are being aided by Lebanese civil defence volunteers.
Francisco Lermanda, leader of the Chilean “Topos” rescue team, which is leading the search effort, told reporters on Friday evening he could neither confirm nor rule out that there was anyone alive under the huge pile of debris.
“We have to reach three metres, this is where we received the signal,” he said.
He added that audio equipment detected what appeared to be weak breathing – initially between 18 and 20 breaths per minute – and that the specialists told them that it indicated a person could be about three metres deep.
Lermanda said digging crews were tunnelling towards the location from multiple directions and had reached 1.2 metres deep so far.
‘Not giving up’ Lebanese engineer Riad al-Assad, who is helping the Chilean team, on Friday said the team “did a test between 4:30 and 6:30 pm local time but they did not hear anything, they repeated it at 8:30 pm and again the same result”.
Al-Assad said work was briefly paused late on Friday since the Chilean team had been working for 48 hours non-stop.
Reporting from Beirut, Noble Reporters Media said the Chileans had decided not to “give up”.
Khodr said some people believe the inability to determine whether there is a person trapped beneath the rubble was because there were so many people in the area on Friday night, with many using mobile phones that were “jamming” the rescue team’s equipment.
“A short while ago, they used laser scanners,” she said. “The Chilean team are not giving up, they said … even if it’s just a 1 percent chance, we will continue until we prove or discount proof of life.”
According to Khodr, people are “furious” and are questioning why local authorities have not cleared the debris a month after the explosion.
“What is clear is that the government has not been present,” she said. “They have been absent in the rescue efforts, in the relief efforts … as well as the rebuilding efforts.”
The search came as Lebanon on Friday marked a month since the devastating explosion on August 4, which killed some 200 people, wounded 6,000 others and left a country already reeling from a severe financial crisis in a state of shock.
On Friday, people in Beirut gathered for a vigil and prayer. The Lebanese army stood for a minute of silence at the port alongside family members who lost their loved ones in the explosion.
At another event near the blast site, white roses were distributed to the families of the dead and wounded, and religious leaders representing the main sects in Lebanon prayed.
A minute of silence was also observed by people passing the road near the port, while traffic came to a standstill at exactly 6:07 pm (15:07 GMT) – the time the blast occurred.
The tragedy was caused by ammonium nitrate which was poorly stored in a port warehouse.
Chile rescue team says it has found signs someone may still be alive beneath the rubble of a collapsed building.
A Chilean rescue team said it detected signs of life underneath the rubble of a building that collapsed in the massive explosion that tore through Beirut one month ago.
A member of the TOPOS CHILE rescue team told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media that, using a scanning machine, it discovered signs of a pulse and breathing near the ground floor of the collapsed building.
He said it most likely belonged to a child, adding that the team also found the presence of at least one body.
The August 4 explosion, that killed 191 people and injured more than 6,000, destroyed much of Lebanon’s capital.
The Chilean team had been visiting streets in the capital as part of a mission to secure buildings before the reconstruction phase when one of their search dogs ran towards a building and alerted them of human presence, Akram Nehme, member of the Achrafieh 2020 NGO that helped bring TOPOS CHILE to Beirut, told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.
Edward Bitar, a member of NGO Live Love Lebanon working with TOPOS CHILE in Lebanon, said they had detected 18 breath cycles per minute emanating from under the rubble using the sensor.
“We are trying to keep hopes low. If someone is found, it would be a miracle,” said Bitar.
TOPOS CHILE often heads to disaster zones, including to Japan’s Fukushima region in 2011 when a nuclear reactor exploded.
In 2010, it helped rescue a man in Haiti after he spent 27 days in the rubble caused by an earthquake.
Looking for life Bitar said the owner of the building had attested to the fact that no one was inside.
But a number of people on the scene said they had alerted security forces of the smell of decomposition emanating from the building in the days after the blast, adding that security forces did not search the rubble.
Official search-and-rescue efforts have long-since been called off.
Thursday’s volunteer-led effort started in the morning and continued into the night. The team removed the rubble of the building – stone by stone – with help from Lebanese climbers, firefighters and civil defence.
Rescue workers repeatedly silenced the large crowd to enable their sensor to probe for signs of life, leading an eerie silence to fall over the street.
For many Lebanese, Thursday’s volunteer-led efforts are just the latest example of state failure, both in the lead-up to the explosion – caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate haphazardly stored at the Beirut port for almost seven years – and in the explosion’s aftermath.
On Thursday, a month after the explosion, Lebanon’s army announced it found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port.
The military said army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.
“Honestly this is why we all walk around believing something else is gonna blow us up. Their incompetence is stunning,” Lebanese activist Bissan Fakih said in a tweet, referring to the country’s political class
Lebanon’s army said it found the chemical near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month.
Lebanon’s army has found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month, caused by a large stockpile of the same highly explosive chemical, that killed 191 people.
The military said in a statement on Thursday that army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.
Army engineers were “dealing with it”, according to the statement that was carried by the state news agency NNA.
There were no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner.
The find comes almost a month after nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port for six years detonated, wreaking death and destruction.
Along with 191 people killed, more than 6,000 were injured.
Entire neighbourhoods were devastated, nearly 300,000 people were left homeless as the blast caused damage worth billions of dollars.
Lebanon’s government quit amid public anger in a nation already brought to its knees by an economic crisis.
The public remains anxious that more hazardous materials are being stored badly, putting them at risk.
Days after the August 4 blast, French and Italian chemical experts working amid the remains of the port identified more than 20 containers carrying dangerous chemicals.
The army later said these containers were moved and stored safely in locations away from the port.
French experts, as well as the FBI, have taken part in the investigation into the explosion at the request of Lebanese authorities.
So far, authorities have detained 25 people over last month’s explosion, most of them port and customs officials.
Earlier this week, a UN agency warned that more than half of Lebanon’s population risk facing a food crisis in the aftermath of the explosion that compounded the country’s existing woes.
“More than half of the country’s population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year’s end,” the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said.
“Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis,” ESCWA executive secretary, Rola Dashti, said.
Dashti said Lebanon’s government must prioritise the rebuilding of silos at the Beirut port, the country’s largest grain storage.
France proposed a detailed draft list of sweeping reforms it is pressuring Lebanon to implement by year’s end.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a visit to Lebanon, has offered to help provide the crisis-hit nation with vital aid if its politicians make good on long-overdue reforms.
Speaking at the palatial French ambassador’s residence in Beirut from where Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by colonial France 100 years ago, Macron said he would rally international aid at an October donor conference aimed at rebuilding the capital after a devastating explosion last month and halting the country’s economic demise.
But “we will not give Lebanon a carte-blanche, or a blank check,” he added, noting that everything was conditional on whether the country’s fractious leaders could unite around change.
Even before the August 4 explosion that killed at least 190 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged wide swaths of Beirut, Lebanon had been drowning in economic crisis.
Its government was seeking $20bn in financial aid, half from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme and the other half from development funds pledged by a host of donor nations at a 2018 donor conference. An additional sum of nearly $5bn is now needed for the reconstruction of Beirut, as well as humanitarian assistance.
Macron said Lebanese leaders had pledged to form a government with 15 days, which must then implement a host of reforms within one to three months.
Before the meetings on Tuesday, the French embassy distributed a “draft programme for the new government”, to the heads of political blocs, which Noble Reporters Media has obtained.
The French draft proposals get into the nitty-gritty details of public policy in Lebanon, underlining some laws and projects and sidelining others.
Here are the main points:
COVID-19 and the humanitarian situation
The government will prepare and disseminate a coronavirus pandemic control plan “that includes support for the most vulnerable people”.
It will strengthen social safety net programmes for the population.
Aftermath of the Beirut explosion
The government will facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid – provided by the international community and coordinated by the United Nations – in an “expeditious, transparent and effective manner”.
It will put in place governance mechanisms to allow the disbursal of aid in a “transparent and traceable manner”.
It will begin reconstruction based on a needs assessment by the World Bank, EU and UN that estimated the value of damages caused by the explosion at up to $4.6bn.
The government will rapidly launch tenders for the reconstruction of Beirut’s port according to “neutral” standards.
It will conduct an “impartial and independent investigation” into the port explosion “that enables the full truth to be established regarding the causes of the explosion, with the support of Lebanon’s international partners … within a reasonable timeframe”.
The government will regularly exchange views with civil society regarding its programme and the reforms it entails.
It will immediately resume stalled negotiations with the IMF and rapidly approve measures requested by the lender, including a capital controls law and a “full audit” of the Central Bank’s accounts.
The French proposal also called for the approval of a timetable for working with the IMF within 15 days of the government gaining confidence.
It goes on to propose time limits for sector-specific reforms.
Within one month, the government will:
Appoint officials to the National Electricity Regulatory Authority according to Law 462/2002 “without amendments”, and provide the Authority with the resources to carry out its work.
Launch tenders for gas-fired power plants to plug Lebanon’s massive energy gap.
“Abandon” the controversial Selaata power plant project in its current form. The project is one President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement party have insisted on.
Within three months, the government will:
Announce a timetable for raising the price of electricity, “provided that this will first affect the most financially wealthy consumers”.
Within one month:
Parliament should finalise and approve a draft law on capital control that should “immediately be implemented for a period of four years” after it is approved by the IMF.
Governance, judicial and financial regulations
Within one month, the government will:
Hold a meeting to follow up on the 2018 donor conference in which the international community pledged $11bn in soft loans, and launch a website dedicated to following up on projects, financing and related reforms.
Complete judicial, financial and administrative appointments, including members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority and regulatory bodies in the electricity, telecommunications and civil aviation sectors, “in accordance with transparency and competency-based standards”.
Approve in Parliament a law on the independence of the judiciary.
Launch a study on Lebanon’s public administration by an “independent international institution” such as the World Bank or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “with a specialised office”.
Fighting corruption and smuggling
Within one month, the government will:
Appoint members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and grant it the resources to launch its work.
Launch the track to accede to a 1997 OECD treaty on combating corruption.
Implement customs reforms with immediate effect.
Within three months, the government will:
Establish “control gates” and strengthen oversight at the Beirut and Tripoli ports and at the Beirut airport, as well as at other border crossings.
Public procurement reform
Within one month:
Parliament will prepare, adopt and implement a bill on public procurement reform.
The government will grant the Higher Council for Privatization the human and financial capabilities necessary to carry out its tasks.
Within one month:
Prepare and vote on a “corrective finance bill that explicitly clarifies the status of accounts for the year 2020”.
By the end of the year:
Prepare and approve a “harmonised” budget for the year 2021.
“The government will ensure that new legislative elections are organised within a maximum period of one year.”
“The electoral law will be reformed with the full inclusion of civil society, allowing Parliament to be more representative of the aspirations of civil society.”
At his speech later on Wednesday, however, Macron seemed to walk back his proposal for early polls, saying there was “no consensus” on early elections and that other reforms were the priority.
As the world gathers aid for the people of Lebanon, it must ensure that it gets to those who need it.
On August 4, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history wreaked havoc on Beirut. Nearly 200 lives were lost, and more than 6,000 people were injured.
An estimated 300,000 people were instantly left homeless. The blast obliterated homes, schools, medical facilities, and the port of Beirut, which supplies nearly 85 percent of the country’s food.
Humanitarian relief efforts are already under way, but the longer-term reconstruction will take years.
For Lebanon to truly recover, the country and its international partners will need to address something more insidious than the blast: corruption.
Lebanon was already on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. In 2019, the country’s economic collapse threw hundreds of thousands into poverty and exacerbated an already spiking unemployment rate, especially among the youth.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown further deepened the hardship, including for more than one million Syrian refugees.
Donors and international aid agencies have launched a humanitarian intervention to help the population cope.
But the effort faces a significant challenge: how to channel hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in aid without it being siphoned off by corruption.
For decades, Lebanon has suffered from systemic corruption that bankrupted the country.
Many Lebanese hold political leaders responsible for the country’s economic collapse and today, many consider the port explosion to be yet another example of neglect.
Several reports make clear that Lebanese officials knew about the presence of these lethal materials for years and failed to act.
Unlike in the past, Western donors appear wary of traditional assistance strategies that rely on the Lebanese government. “If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.
John Barsa of USAID said firmly: “Our aid is absolutely not going to the government. Our aid is going to the people of Lebanon.”
To limit the opportunities for corruption, many donors are largely betting on the UN to spearhead the emergency relief efforts. However, this route is not without challenges. Some Lebanon watchers have voiced concerns over the undue influence of the Assad regime on UN aid operations in Syria. In Lebanon, the UN and other aid agencies have partnered in the past with Lebanese entities now associated with corruption, like the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), a “key partner of the UN in Lebanon,” or with NGOs founded by or tied to members of the political elite.
To address these fears, international aid organisations must reassert their independence from Lebanon’s political elite. For example, UN agencies should exercise greater scrutiny when partnering with governmental or non-governmental bodies. They should also strive to strengthen transparency around aid delivery. Such measures could include the timely and regular release of programme budgets and aid distribution data; a communications plan and formal dialogue with aid beneficiaries; and dedicated staff to monitor aid delivery. Indeed, some of these steps may already be under way.
Second, international aid agencies must empower Lebanese civil society in the relief effort. Fortunately, Lebanon already has a robust landscape of local activists and groups dedicated to the needs of the vulnerable. In addition, new grassroots networks emerged last year during the country’s economic implosion, and the blast sparked a groundswell of citizen mobilisation. Donors and the UN will need to prioritise the flow of resources to these groups and include them in decision-making. The UN’s Lebanon Response Fund allocated roughly a quarter of its money through local NGOs in 2019. While impressive, that local share will need to grow. Finally, Lebanese civil society should be given a greater role with respect to oversight and accountability.
Third, donors and international financial institutions (IFIs) must address corruption as part of the wider reconstruction effort. The World Bank estimates that Lebanon will need up to $2bn for recovery. Fortunately, it appears to be taking the corruption issue seriously, calling for a series of anti-corruption measures as part of the rebuilding process. These include a new national anti-corruption commission and a call for Lebanon to join the Open Government Partnership. The Bank has also floated the idea of a new type of financing facility that could channel resources directly to NGOs engaged in recovery.
All of these would be steps in the right direction. However, bilateral and multilateral donors will still need a legitimate Lebanese governmental counterpart with whom to do business. This is particularly true for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with whom talks have stalled over a bailout for Lebanon’s economy. Addressing this dilemma will certainly require some innovative thinking.
Any real reform agenda – one that uproots Lebanon’s entrenched corruption – will face great resistance by the elite. But as the world gathers support for the people of Lebanon, it cannot lose sight of this goal if aid is to get to those who need it.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Noble Reporters Media’s editorial stance.
In second Beirut visit since deadly blast, French president vows wide-reaching aid, threatens sanctions to coax reforms.
French President Emmanuel Macron presented Lebanon’s political establishment with two choices during a trip that ended Tuesday: implement reforms, and vital international aid will flow plentifully, but continue on the same path, and the doors to assistance will slam shut – and the country’s ossified political leadership may be directly targeted with sanctions.
“I did not come today to give a warning, but I returned to help Lebanon and accompany it to its future,” Macron said on Tuesday, 100 years since colonial France declared the founding of Greater Lebanon.
Macron arrived in Beirut on Monday with the aim of pushing the country’s sectarian leaders to find consensus over reforms and over the need to end decades of corruption and mismanagement that have devastated the country. He pledged to hold an aid conference for the economically-devastated nation at the end of October if reforms are commenced.
His previous visit came just days after a monstrous explosion last month killed 190 people, injured more than 6,000 and wrecked half of the city, causing up to $4.6bn in physical damage, according to a World Bank assessment.
At the time, Macon came bearing a message that change was necessasry if the country was to avoid total collapse.
“You are at a critical moment in your history where the political system must be reformed,” he said on Tuesday.
“When a country disintegrates, you never know when it will be reborn.”
New PM not a ‘messiah’ Indeed, there is little to celebrate – and much to fear – as Lebanon marks its 100th birthday. In the past year it has witnessed massive protests, deep economic and financial crisis, a surging coronavirus outbreak and one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded.
Since Macron’s last visit, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s flailing government resigned and a new Prime Minister, Mustapha Adib, has been appointed by the country’s establishment under direct French pressure.
France aimed to ensure that whoever is selected has wide political buy-in, unlike Diab.
Macron admitted that Adib was not a “messiah” and contended that Adib knew that he was backed by “political forces that have lost the confidence of the public”.
Nevertheless, he said Adib was able to form a capable government and to implement the needed reforms. And Macron said he had heard encouraging words from political leaders.
He split Tuesday between ceremonial gestures – a visit to the destroyed Beirut port and planting a cedar tree, the country’s national emblem – and tete-a-tete meetings with politicians, whom he summoned to the ambassador’s residence.
Macron told reporters that they had pledged to form a government within 15 days – unprecedented in Lebanon’s recent history, where government formation usually take many months.
The government would then have to implement reforms to the crippled electricity sector and the insolvent financial sector within three months, and hold early parliamentary polls within a year.
Macron promised to return by December to follow up on the reform process.
Sanction threats If reforms are not implemented, Macron said he would inform the international community that no aid could flow and he would talk openly about those in Lebanon who were blocking change.
“We will not give Lebanon a carte blanche, or a blank check,” he said.
He also said he did not rule out sanctions against political leaders, but said that France would first have to prove crimes such as corruption or terrorism had been committed.
A western diplomat told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) that Macron was keeping the option of sanctions open as “a stick he can wave” at politicians.
This includes the threat of sanctions against President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, who heads the country’s largest party in terms of its share of seats in parliament.
However, the source said that there were no sanctions currently being prepared, as the international community waits for the Lebanese response to Macron’s initiative.
All political leaders have so far expressed their openness to the French initiative, including Hezbollah and Aoun. Several leaders have also called for Lebanon to finally make the move to being a secular state – a shift mandated by its constitution – though they have also said this in the past.
Currently, all seats in parliament are allocated by sect, and top state positions are meted out along religious lines.
Macron was repeatedly asked to justify his decision to give Hezbollah a seat at the table by meeting with a top Hezbollah official.
The Iran-backed armed group and political party is blacklisted as a terrorist group by western nations including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, but France maintains relations with its so-called “political wing”.
Macron said Hezbollah was a major constituent of the Lebanese population, with representation in parliament, and it would be foolish to exclude the group from the reform process.
He said that the next round of reform talks with Lebanon would broach the thorny issue of the group’s arsenal, which rivals that of the Lebanese army.
“Will we get to results directly? I don’t know,” said Macron. “But it shouldn’t be a taboo.”
Demonstrators gathered to call for justice over the Beirut blast and rejected the ruling class and new prime minister.
Angry protesters threw rocks and used metal frames to climb over steel walls surrounding Lebanon’s heavily fortified Parliament complex in central Beirut as security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
A smaller group of demonstrators marched towards Parliament after hundreds of others gathered in Martyrs’ Square on Tuesday to demand justice for victims of the devastating port blast and commemorate the centennial anniversary of the creation of Greater Lebanon.
The protests coincided with the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Beirut for the second time since the enormous explosion at the capital’s port last month, which killed at least 190 people, injured thousands, and left 300,000 others homeless.
The two-day visit came after Lebanese leaders named the country’s former ambassador to Berlin, Mustapha Adib, as the new prime minister-designate, tasking him with the formation of a new government in the wake of the blast.
Protesters, coming from various parts of the country and representing many civil society groups and political movements, chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the government step down.
“We want them gone, all of them gone,” said a young protester as he threw rocks at steel walls.
Firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, security forces pushed back the protesters away from Parliament into Martyrs’ Square. Sporadic clashes erupted between both sides. By late evening, however, only a few dozen demonstrators remained on the streets.
Earlier at Martyrs’ Square, protesters called for early elections, a new electoral law, and an independent government to resolve the prolonged financial crisis and hold those responsible for the August 4 port explosion accountable.
Many also expressed their rejection for Adib as the country’s new prime minister and Macron’s visit, saying it was a reflection of foreign involvement in the country’s internal affairs.
Ruling class rejected Nay Elrahi, a 33-year-old university instructor from Mount Lebanon, said she wanted to express her rejection for the ruling elite, including the newly appointed prime minister.
“We are here to say no to the ruling class and to the farcical appointment of Adib. The political parties don’t seem to realise how devastating the blast was,” the activist and protest organiser told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).
“They’re proceeding with the same business-as-usual mode, appointing people in an unconstitutional way,” said Elrahi. “This blatant lack of accountability with appointments by political parties for public offices is what got us where we are.
“Adib has no vision, no plan. He just parachuted into office with the help of an international chaperon.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Rami Finge, a 54-year-old dentist from Tripoli – Adib’s hometown – said while he and a group of 25 other activists came from the northern city to reject Macron’s visit, Adib’s appointment was even more reason for him to participate.
“Especially we, the residents of Tripoli, have suffered from this regime. Adib represents the same ruling class which we reject completely,” said Finge, adding he went to school with the newly appointed prime minister.
“He’s not an independent politician, nor is he cut out for this job,” he added.
Adib was tasked on Monday with forming a new government after he received 90 of 120 votes in favour of his appointment from across the main political parties in power – including Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal and the Future Movements.
A day before his formal appointment, four senior Sunni politicians and former prime ministers – Saad Hariri, Fouad Seniora, Najib Mikati, and Tammam Salam – endorsed Adib for the role, while rumours circulated in local media that Macron had also shown support for Adib.
Adib’s appointment came after his predecessor, Hassan Diab, who came to power by the support of a narrower margin of the country’s ruling elite following anti-government protests that toppled Saad Hariri’s government last year.
‘No to foreign interference’ Doumit Azzi, a 22-year-old university student from Jounieh, north of Beirut, said a principle reason behind his participation was “to show opposition to Macron’s involvement”.
“All it [the visit] does is give international legitimacy to the current regime,” said Azzi, who is also a member of the grassroots Lahaki – For My Rights – movement.
“We are angry at this regime, which has done nothing after the blast. And before that, it did nothing to address the demands of the revolution or solve the economic crisis – now even worse,” he told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).
On Monday, the World Bank estimated the explosion caused at least $3.2bn in physical damage, mostly to the transport sector, housing, and cultural sites, in addition to at least $2.9bn in losses to the country’s economic output.
Even before the blast, Lebanon’s economy was in tatters because of the breakdown of the banking system, skyrocketing inflation, and the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the World Bank projecting that 45 percent of the population would be living under the poverty line this year.
Neamat Baderaldeen, 39, from Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon, said she came to show her rejection for “foreign interference” in Lebanon’s affairs.
“I’m against Macron’s visit and any other foreign involvement in our country,” said Baderaldeen. “Whether its tasking Adib or Macron’s visit and his meeting with civil society groups and NGOs, the developments mean there’s been no change.
“We all know that Macron isn’t here to help us. He’s here for foreign interests.”
Continuing demonstrations Tuesday’s protest was the first large demonstration since August 8, which left dozens of people injured after thousands of anti-government protesters were met with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and sporadic live ammunition fire from security forces, only four days after the blast.
Clashes erupted between rioters and members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) as demonstrators tried to reach the country’s Parliament building, a site that has often been targeted since the launch of the protest movement in October last year.
Thousands of people have since taken to the streets in mass demonstrations to protest corruption, the lack of basic services, and government mismanagement.
The protest movement experienced a lull as coronavirus-related restrictions were imposed to curb its spread in February. But the centennial and recent developments pushed people back onto the streets.
“We’re here because today marks 100 years since Lebanon was established, but we still have no country,” said 30-year-old Mohamed Sarhan. “We’re here to demand a change.”
Diplomat won votes from 90 MPs and must form a government to push through long-overdue reforms.
Lebanese diplomat Mustapha Adib has been tasked with forming a government by an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians representing the country’s political establishment.
Adib received the votes of 90 MPs out of a possible 120, garnering the support of Hezbollah and its allies the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement, in addition to the Future Movement of former prime minister Saad Hariri and a number of smaller blocs.
Adib said it was no longer the time for words and promises.
“It’s time for work to dovetail efforts and join hands, to restore hope among the Lebanese,” Adib told reporters on Monday.
“By the grace of God Almighty, we hope we will be successful in selecting professionals with proven expertise and efficiency to implement the necessary financial and economic reforms.”
Seventeen MPs voted for other candidates, including 14 votes by the Lebanese Forces for International Court of Justice judge Nawaf Salam. About a dozen MPs either voted for no one or did not show up.
Like his predecessor Hassan Diab, who was named by a narrower margin by the country’s establishment following unprecedented anti-government protests that toppled a government last year, 48-year-old Adib is little-known to the public.
He has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013, has for two decades been an advisor to billionaire former prime minister Najib Mikati, and is seen as being close to the country’s major parties.
Monday’s binding consultations between President Michel Aoun and MPs amounted to little more than a rubber stamp on a decision that had been hashed out among the country’s sectarian leaders in the lead-up to French President Emmanuel Macron’s second visit to Beirut in under a month.
Macron arrives Monday night and has been in direct contact with Lebanese officials since his early August visit in the wake of a massive Beirut explosion that left at least 190 people dead and damaged large parts of the city.
Macron has urged Lebanon’s ossified politicians to come to a political understanding in order to pass through sweeping reforms and halt decades of corruption and mismanagement, which led the country into its deepest-ever economic crisis.
Blast fallout Adib will now have to form a government that can push through long-overdue economic, financial and governance reforms in order to unlock international support for the crisis-hit nation, which was already collapsing before the explosion.
The World Bank on Monday estimated the blast caused between $3.2bn and $4.6bn in physical damage, mostly to the transport sector, housing and cultural sites, and incurred an additional $2.9bn to $3.2bn in losses to economic output.
The organisation estimated Lebanon’s immediate needs until the end of 2020 at between $605m and $760m, including for cash assistance, housing, and support for businesses.
Western donors see a resumption of stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, as well as reforms to the electricity and financial sectors, as key conditions for providing large-scale financial assistance.
Adib’s predecessor, Diab, was unable to push through reforms because of high-level political meddling that is common in Lebanon, a country where major decisions are traditionally made between the handful of ruling sectarian leaders rather than governments.
“We know there are political forces behind these governments that don’t necessarily align with the governments that they appoint, and that makes it difficult to have a programme and solutions to these complicated problems,” Mike Azar, a senior financial advisor, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media).
He noted Diab’s government had faltered because it didn’t have a clear plan for how to adress the country’s challenges, and included a “hodge-podge of different people with different views,” which led to chronic dysfunction.
Up-hill struggle According to Azar, the country faces four key challenges: the recovery and reconstruction after the explosion, the criminal investigation into the explosion, the economic reform programme and financial restructuring, and the restructuring of the political system itself, “which is root cause of most of Lebanon’s current problems”.
“Most of the needed reforms will be politically and personally costly to the key political decision-makers behind any government that emerges,” he said. “Without a clear strategy for how Adib intends to address these challenges in the face of great political resistance, there is no reason to believe that Adib’s government will be any more successful than Diab’s.”
Adib, therefore, will find it difficult to push forward changes unless top politicians agree to them, even though many of these reforms go against their entrenched interests.
Lebanon’s President Aoun and Hezbollah’s powerful leader, Hasan Nasrallah, have both indicated they are ready to agree to a new political system in Lebanon, as long as it is based on consensus.
But Rima Majed, an assistant professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut who was involved in organising during Lebanon’s uprising, said it was clear Adib had been picked to maintain and protect the interests of the country’s ruling class.
“It still remains a republic of billionaires but its now run by their men, their advisers,” Majed told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “It’s disturbing from a class aspect because they are reproducing the system and Adib is clearly coming to preserve the interests of those billionaires, be it Hariri, Mikati or [House Speaker Nabih] Berri.”
She said Adib’s government, once formed, would continue the “counter-revolution” that Diab’s government had begun, putting an end to any chance of a “political process that includes the uprising”.
Part of this is also due to circumstance: Local actors had become more empowered to take part in national politics during the uprising, but the Beirut blast has thrown the process almost-entirely to the international level.
“There’s something bigger being cooked up that the uprising is unable to grasp,” she said.
Ambassador to Germany set to be named crisis-hit Lebanon’s prime minister-designate at Monday’s nomination process.
An influential group of former Lebanese prime ministers has picked little-known diplomat Mustapha Adib to head the country’s next government, all but ensuring his appointment at a nomination process on Monday.
Fouad Siniora, speaking on behalf of the group which met on Sunday, said Adib should rapidly form a government capable of implementing long-overdue reforms and overseeing Beirut’s reconstruction following a massive explosion that killed at least 190 people and damaged large parts of the capital earlier this month.
The group of four former prime ministers represents the largest number of Sunni Muslim MPs in Lebanon’s parliament, including the Future Movement bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Their support is seen as essential for the success of the prime minister, who under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing pact must always be Sunni.
Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab had the support of just a handful of parliament’s 27 Sunni MPs in addition to little popular support. His six-month government, which resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion, is widely seen as having failed to make headway on vital economic and political reforms demanded by massive protests that led to Hariri’s resignation last year as prime minister.
On Monday morning, President Michel Aoun is due to hold binding consultations with MPs to go through the formal motions of picking the next prime minister, who must then form a government – a process which in the past has taken many months.
The consultations will begin with three of the four former prime ministers and Hariri’s Future Movement bloc, all of whom are set to nominate Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany. Most other major blocs, including Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, have indicated they will follow suit, easily giving Adib the largest share of votes.
A ‘gift’ for Macron Adib’s designation will come on the eve of French President Emmanuel Macron’s second trip to Lebanon in under a month – a visit set to focus on the need for reform in order to unlock foreign support.
“A gift for Macron, got to love it,” Lebanon analyst Karim Makdisi said on Twitter.
In Beirut just a few days after the devastating explosion, Macron had proposed Lebanese leaders come to a new political understanding and warned failure to change could lead to deep unrest.
Lebanon is drowning in the worst economic and financial crisis in decades, which has pushed more than half of the population under the poverty line and has left the currency worth only about 20 percent of what it was last summer.
The crisis is fuelled by decades of rampant corruption and mismanagement by the same political leaders who are due to nominate the next prime minister.
If picked, Adib’s government will have to resume stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a roughly $10bn programme – a key demand of international donors – and push through reforms to the electricity and the financial sectors that have previously been bogged down by disagreements between Lebanon’s sectarian leaders.
Diab had failed to make headway on this process because of high-level disagreements. And although the next government will be under heavy international pressure to push through reforms, few in Lebanon are inclined to believe Adib’s government will be much different – and some were quick in making parallels between him and Diab.
“Mustapha Adib seems like another Hassan Diab,” Lebanon analyst Ramez Dagher wrote on Twitter.
Like Diab, Adib is an academic and is not well known among the public.
Adib has a PhD in law and political science and has taught at the state-funded Lebanese University since 2010.
Both have ties to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, with Adib serving as an adviser to him since 2000, while Diab served as education minister in his cabinet.
Even Adib’s four-letter name is an acronym of Diab.
“This is another attempt to beautify the system with a new face that very few people know and project the image that something is going to change,” Sami Atallah, the director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera.
“I doubt anything will, because we’ll see how this government will be formed with representatives of different political parties, just like Diab,” he added, noting one marked difference was that Adib will be nominated by a large number of Sunni MPs, giving him a wider backing.
Canada’s foreign minister Thursday offered help in investigating the cause of the colossal port explosion that ravaged Beirut on August 4.
During a tour of the capital, Francois-Philippe Champagne stressed the need for a “credible investigation” into the blast that killed more than 180 people including two Canadians and wounded thousands.
“Canada would like, under the right circumstances, to contribute to the investigation,” he told Lebanese press.
The United States has already sent FBI investigators to assist at the request of Lebanese authorities, and France has opened its own probe.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun accepted the Canadian offer.
“We welcome the help that Canada wants to provide in the ongoing investigations over the explosion at the Beirut port,” Aoun told Champagne, according to the presidency.
The blast came after hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been left unsecured for several years at the port, despite repeated warnings of the dangers it posed.
Western powers, international bodies and Lebanese at home and abroad have called for an international probe into the blast, but Lebanese authorities have rejected this.
Champagne also called for “economic and political reforms” as he met Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Charbel Wehbe.
The Canadian minister toured Beirut neighbourhoods devastated by the blast, and met the families of the two Canadians who were killed in the disaster.
He said Canada would contribute an additional 8 million Canadian dollars ($6 million) to aid efforts to match the contribution of Canadians via a fund launched earlier this month.
Canada, which is home to a large Lebanese community, previously pledged 30 million Canadians dollars (more than $22 million) to help after the blast.
In Lebanon’s ongoing probe, Judge Fadi Sawan has so far issued arrest warrants for 16 people.
He is next week due to start questioning six others, including the director-general of land and maritime transport and four senior security officers responsible for the port.
A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has sentenced two Lebanese to two years in prison each over $890,000 found in their possession.
The duo – Chamseddine Waell Mohammed and Dina Jihad Khali were said to have attempted to smuggle the foreign currency out of the country before they were arrested by the Nigerian Customs Service and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In a statement issued on Thursday by EFCC Head, Media and Publicity, Dele Oyewale, the anti-graft agency secured their conviction before Justice I. M. Sani of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
According to the statement, the Lebanese pleaded guilty to separate one count charge of money laundering preferred against them by the agency.
The offences run contrary to Section 2 (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 2 (5) of the same Act.
At the court hearing, EFCC prosecuting Counsel, Aso Larrys Peters tendered some documents, which included a letter of invitation by Customs and statements of the defendants, as exhibits.
Similarly, a police officer and EFCC witness, Macaulay Olayinka, while being led in evidence by prosecution counsel, said the money recovered from the suspects had been deposited with the Rivers branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria for safe keeping.
“The said amount was found inside their Luggage on board a chartered flight with registration number 9HVFF to Lebanon.
“They were apprehended by the Nigeria Custom Service, Area One Command, Port Harcourt and handed over to the Port Harcourt Zonal office of the EFCC on August 12, 2020 for further investigation.
“The Convicts, Khali with Passport Number LR152975 (Republic of Lebanon) was arrested with $670,000 while Mohammed with Passport Number LR0356598 (Republic of Lebanon) had in his possession the sum of $220,000,” he said.
Thereafter, Peter urged the Court to sentence the defendants.
However, Counsel to the defendants, Paul Ejiga begged the court to temper justice with mercy as the defendants were first time offenders who have no previous criminal record.
Subsequently, Justice Sani sentenced the defendants to two years imprisonment with an option of fine of N1million each.
The judge also ordered the “undeclared amount” to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Nigerians girls crying for help to return home in a video that went viral recently have been evacuated from Lebanon.
Their arrival was announced on Sunday via the verified Twitter handle of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM).
According to NIDCOM, a total of 68 Nigerian girls stranded in Lebanon were brought back home aboard a Middle East Airline plane.
The plane conveying the evacuees arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja at about 15:30pm.
No Place Like Home NIDCOM noted that the returnees would proceed on self-isolation for 14 days, as part of the guideline of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
It thanked the Nigerian Mission in Lebanon, the Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, and the Lebanese community in Nigeria for making the evacuation possible.
The agency added that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nigeria were responsible for the logistics.
In her reaction, NIDCOM Chairman, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, welcomed the evacuated girls, saying there was no place like home.
Meanwhile, Noble Reporters Media gathered that the flight left Lebanon at about 11am (Lebanese time) and landed in Abuja hours later.
The 68 girls were said to be among over 200 passengers, including other Nigerians and Lebanese nationals onboard the place.
One of the Nigerian passengers told Channels Television that they were all tested three days before the flight while the ladies were separated from the rest of the flight on arrival.
Their arrival came three days after 94 other Nigerian ladies stranded in Lebanon were brought back to the country.