Lebanon has signed a deal to broker Iraqi fuel sales in hopes of alleviating a crippling financial and energy crisis in the small Mediterranean countryBy SARAH EL DEEB Associated PressJuly 24, 2021, 2:07 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBEIRUT — Lebanon signed a deal Saturday to broker Iraqi fuel sales in hopes of alleviating a crippling financial and energy crisis in the small Mediterranean country, Lebanese and Iraqi media reported.The deal allows Beirut to resell 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil from Iraq — fuel that Lebanon cannot use in its own power plants — to companies who would then provide useable fuel to Lebanon over the next year.Lebanon would offer Iraq services in exchange, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajjar said, without offering details. Local media said Iraq would benefit from Lebanese health services and agriculture consultancy.The swap, which Ghajjar estimates is valued at between $300-400 million, could offer a brief respite to Lebanon’s worsening power cuts and bring funds to its cash-strapped government. But a structural power solution, in a sector steeped in corruption and political interference, is far from sight.Blackouts have been a fixture in Lebanon since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990, and the small country relies on imported fuel. But the problem has intensified as the government grapples with unprecedented financial problems, and considers lifting fuel subsidies.“The Iraqi state agreed to open an account in Lebanon’s Central Bank in exchange for this fuel. This account is managed by the Iraqi Finance Ministry through which it buys services inside Lebanon… in Lebanese pounds,” Ghajjar said. Then Lebanon resells the fuel in exchange for fuel it can use in its plants.“We hope other Arab countries follow suit and give us this opportunity because it is really a golden opportunity for us,” Ghajjar said at Beirut International Airport upon his return from Baghdad.A statement from Iraq’s Prime Minister’s office said the 1 million barrels of fuel oil would be offered to Lebanon in exchange for services and products, although neither side immediately mentioned what these were.Lebanon’s state electricity company has most recently been providing no more than four hours of power a day, leaving private generator operators as the main providers. Diesel supplies have dwindled, and long queues stretch outside gas stations each day.Government officials have also complained of widespread smuggling to neighboring Syria, which is also facing an economic crisis following a decade of war.Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt last year and struggled to pay suppliers. The Central Bank has been limiting credit to purchases of basic supplies, including fuel and medicine.The energy crisis has reached unprecedented levels in Lebanon. Generator operators warned Friday they would have to turn off their engines as diesel shortages have worsened and prices on the black market have reached exorbitant levels.Hospitals are rationing their consumption, shutting off air conditioning in waiting areas, while bakeries in some parts of Lebanon have stopped their ovens altogether. Supermarkets have warned that the power shortages threaten their merchandise and endanger food safety.The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks, putting more than four million people, including one million refugees, in immediate risk of losing access to safe water.————Associated Press writer Samya Kullab in Baghdad contributed to this report
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down Thursday over what he called “key differences” with the president, deepening a political crisis that has left the Lebanese without a government for nine months even as they endure an unprecedented economic meltdown.With no clear candidate to replace Hariri, Lebanon is likely to slide deeper into chaos and uncertainty. Prospects for forming a government to undertake desperately needed reforms and talks for a recovery package with the International Monetary Fund are now even more remote.Poverty has soared in the past several months and dire shortages of medicines, fuel and electricity have marked what the World Bank describes as one of the world’s worst economic crisis of the past 150 years.“I have excused myself from forming the government,” Hariri said after a 20-minute meeting with President Michel Aoun. “May God help the country.”Later, Hariri — one of Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni Muslim leaders — told Al-Jadeed TV that he has no intention of endorsing a replacement. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based political system, the prime minister is picked from the ranks of Sunnis.Without Hariri’s backing, prospects of forming a government would become even more remote. Aoun said he would soon set a date for consultations with parliamentary blocs on naming a new prime minister-designate.Hariri told the TV that when this happens, his bloc would “consult with our friends and allies and see what to do.”After news broke of Hariri stepping down, protesters — mostly his supporters — blocked roads and set fire to tires in several parts of Beirut, decrying the deepening crisis. Troops deployed to break up a protest at the edge of Beirut, firing in the air and using armored vehicles to open roads. Protesters pelted the soldiers with stones.The national currency, in free fall since the crisis erupted in late 2019, plunged to a new low, selling for more than 20,000 to the dollar on the black market. The Lebanese pound, pegged to the dollar for 30 years, has lost more than 90% of its value.In a last-ditch effort to end the deadlock, Hariri had proposed a 24-member Cabinet to Aoun on Wednesday, and said he expected a response from the president by Thursday.Aoun, who has blamed Hariri for the deadlock, said the premier-designate had rejected the idea of changing any names on the proposed list, indicating he already planned to step down and “was finding a pretext to justify his decision.”International calls have mounted for Lebanese leaders to form a new government. In an unusual move, the French and U.S. ambassadors to Beirut recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss Lebanon with Saudi officials. The two said Lebanon is in “desperate need” of a new, pro-reform government to lead it out of its economic and financial crisis.But for months, the effort has been blocked by a power struggle between Hariri on one side and Aoun and his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest bloc in parliament, on the other.They locked horns over the shape of the Cabinet that will oversee critical reforms and elections scheduled for next year. Each side blamed the other for the deadlock, which has paralyzed Lebanon even as the meltdown accelerated and inflation soared.Nabil Bou Monsef, a political commentator in An-Nahar newspaper, said that naming a new prime minister would now be even more difficult.“We may not be able to form a government or find an alternative to Saad Hariri,” he said. “President Michel Aoun will now consider himself victorious in getting rid of Saad Hariri. But in reality, (Aoun) has opened the gates of hell for the whole country and his rule.”Regional and international mediation has failed to bridge the differences between the Lebanese leaders. European Union Foreign policy Chief, Josep Borrell, said during a visit to Lebanon last month that a power struggle and a case of strong mistrust is at the heart of the political crisis.The 51-year-old Hariri has served as prime minister twice, the first time from 2009-2011. His second time came in 2016, in an uneasy partnership with Aoun, an ally of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group, which is backed by Iran. At the time, Hariri had backed Aoun for president, ending nearly two years for Lebanon without a head of state, while he stepped in as premier.In 2017, in a reflection of a feud between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran, Hariri suddenly resigned in a televised address from Riyadh and accused Hezbollah of taking Lebanon hostage. The move was seen as forced on Hariri by the Saudis, and he was quickly restored to power, but it signaled the end of his traditional alliance with the Sunni regional powerhouse.Then, in October 2019, Hariri resigned, bowing to nationwide protests demanding major reforms. A year later, parliament named him once again to the post, months after the government of Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the massive Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port. More than 200 people died in the blast that defaced the city and injured thousands, compounding Lebanon’s woes. An investigation continues into what caused it.Talks with the IMF also came to a halt after Diab’s resignation. The deadlock left no one to address the spiraling crisis, rooted in years of mismanagement and corruption.Lebanon’s economy contracted by over 20% in 2020 and poverty deepened, with more than 55% of the population living below the poverty line.———Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.
Lebanon’s president says there will be no political cover for anyone accused of a crime related to the massive explosion nearly a year ago at the Beirut portBy SARAH EL DEEB Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 5:38 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBEIRUT — Lebanon’s president said Wednesday there would be no political cover for anyone implicated in last year’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, speaking a day after protests erupted over the handling of the investigation.The blast on Aug. 4 was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored for years there with the knowledge of top government officials. The explosion killed over 200 people, injured hundreds more and devastated nearby Beirut neighborhoods.It’s still unclear what exactly caused the explosion, and an investigation by a state-appointed judge has been riddled by charges of political interference. The delays have frustrated the public, particularly amid reports that most of Lebanon’s leadership, including the president, knew of the explosives at the port.The hours-long protests Tuesday outside the house of caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fehmi were sparked by his rejection of a request by the new lead investigator to remove immunity for one of the most senior security officials accused in the port case, general security chief Abbas Ibrahim, allowing him to be questioned. The protesters saw Fehmi’s move as an obstruction of the probe.Families of the victims and explosion survivors held a mock funeral while protesters scuffled with members of the security forces guarding the building, who fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Dozens were lightly injured on both sides.Amnesty International urged Lebanese authorities to lift immunities granted to all officials, saying that an impartial investigation is essential for a better future in a country with a history of “entrenched impunity.”“The protesters’ demand is simple: let justice take its course,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s deputy regional director. “Any failure to do so is an obstruction of justice.”President Michel Aoun said Wednesday the investigation is ongoing and that “there will be no political cover for anyone who was negligent or guilty.” However, he did not address critics who said that Fehmi obstructed the investigation.Aoun’s comments came during a meeting with Patrick Durel, French President Emmanuel Macron’s envoy.Aoun also approved Aug. 4 as a day of mourning, declaring it a national holiday. Families of the victims have been campaigning for this recognition.Lebanon is in the throes of the country’s worst economic crisis but the political leadership has been unable to form a government to lead negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a recovery package.The caretaker government resigned after the port explosion. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has been unable to agree with Aoun on a Cabinet line-up and French and local efforts have failed to bridge their differences.Hariri met Wednesday with Aoun in renewed efforts to resolve the political deadlock and following a quick trip to Cairo, a close ally. He proposed a new 24-minister Cabinet and said he expects a response from Aoun by Thursday. There were reports this was a last-ditch effort before Hariri steps down.“We have entered the ninth month trying to form a government,” he said after the meeting. “Now is a time for the truth.”
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister is warning that the country is hurtling toward a “social explosion” and appealed on the international community for assistance to prevent the demise of the nation facing multiple crisesBy SARAH EL DEEB Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 8:14 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBEIRUT — Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister warned Tuesday that the country is hurtling toward a “social explosion” and appealed on the international community for assistance to prevent the demise of the nation facing multiple crises.Hassan Diab’s plea came as he spoke to diplomats in Lebanon, where politicians have failed to agree on forming a new government, nearly a year after Diab’s Cabinet resigned. His government has been acting in caretaker capacity since August 2020, when he stepped down following a massive explosion at the Beirut Port that only compounded the country’s crises.Diab urged friendly nations to extend assistance despite the lack of a new government, saying that linking aid to reform of a deeply corrupt system has become a “threat to the lives of Lebanese” and to the country’s stability.Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis has unfolded since late 2019, spiraling out of control in this country of over 6 million, including more than a million Syrian refugees. A foreign currency shortage has crippled the import-dependent nation, leaving residents struggling to find fuel, medicines and basic supplies. Daily power outages last for hours, threatening hospitals and food stores, and leaving entire neighborhoods in darkness.The World Bank called it one of the worst crises since 1850s and described Lebanon’s economic contraction as brutal. The national currency lost nearly 95% of its value, plunging the once middle-income country into poverty. Inflation and unemployment soared and waves of professionals have migrated abroad, seeking a better life.The political crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a post-civil war political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries. Banks, once the country’s booming sector, have imposed informal capital controls and depositors are unable to freely access their accounts.Lebanon has been promised billions in international assistance, pending a reform plan to deal with corruption. But vying for power and trading blame, the political elite never agreed.“What sin have the Lebanese committed to pay a dear price? Are the Lebanese people supposed to die at hospital’s doors on the way to holding the corrupt accountable?” Diab said.“I appeal through you to the kings, princes, presidents and leaders of brotherly and friendly countries, and I call upon the United Nations and all international bodies, the international community, and the global public opinion to help save the Lebanese from death and prevent the demise of Lebanon,” he told the diplomats.“Lebanon is a few days away from social explosion,” he added. “The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone.”Qatar’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Lebanon on Tuesday and met with officials including the president, the prime minister-designate and Diab.As part of its effort to mitigate the political crisis in Lebanon, Qatar announced it is donating 70 tons of food monthly for a year to the Lebanese army, the Qatari news agency reported.The Qatari foreign minister urged political rivals to work for the common good and form a government quickly for the sake of stability in Lebanon.The economic meltdown is putting unprecedented pressure on the U.S.-backed Lebanese army. It has affected its operational abilities, wiped out soldiers’ salaries and hurt morale. France and the United States have pledged more assistance to the military, one of the few unifying institutions in the deeply divided country.