Lebanon hit by Eid virus surge

Lebanese troops try to control irate villagers in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the border with Syria after clashes with them left one protester dead and several soldiers wounded. (AN photo)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Lebanon hit by Eid virus surge

  • Record number of daily COVID-19 cases reported
  • Army’s 75th anniversary celebrations canceled

BEIRUT: Lebanon is enduring an Eid holiday surge in COVID-19 infections, with a record 224 new coronavirus cases recorded on Saturday.

The new patients bring the total number of cases in Lebanon to 4,555, and the death toll rose by two to 59.

Among the casualties of the pandemic fallout were celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of Lebanon’s army. 

A general lockdown reimposed last Thursday in a renewed effort to contain the outbreak forced the military to curtail its plans.

The occasion was marked with little of the fanfare of previous years, and traditional celebrations including a parade and graduation ceremony were abandoned.

Instead President Michel Aoun delivered a televised speech and received a delegation led by army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun.

The president told the army that “surrender is not permitted.” He said: “During my military career, I learned how to walk in a minefield to save the wounded. And today the wounded is the country itself.”

Aoun used his address to criticize opponents of reform to address Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.

“The reforms that are being implemented will not stop until we know the real situation of public finances, and lay our hand on suspicious files in order to find the right solutions and sue the corrupt,” he said.

The president said that an anti-corruption campaign would extend to all government sectors in an effort to win back the trust of the Lebanese people.

He criticized those “who are attacking all salvation attempts in order to score vocal triumphs, especially those who ran away from responsibility in the midst of the crisis.”

Aoun also called on the army “to preserve Lebanese sovereignty against Israeli aggression while abiding by UN Resolution 1701,” pointing out that “we have to defend ourselves, our territories, water and sovereignty, and there will be no complacency.”

The army chief told the president: “Since the start of protests last October, the subsequent economic crisis and the outbreak of the pandemic, the Lebanese army has made every effort to preserve security and stability.”

The military would “remain the guarantor and the core basis for the country’s safety and security,” he said.

On the eve of Army Day, clashes between Lebanese troops and villagers in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the border with Syria left one person dead and several soldiers wounded.

The clashes erupted after the army arrested townsmen for allegedly smuggling sheep from Syria into Lebanon. 

Soldiers clashed with protesters and fired rubber bullets at residents who blocked roads.

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Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

Updated 09 August 2020

Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

  • MPs resign in protest as political fallout intensifies
  • As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying

BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters set up a mock gallows in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday and demanded “revenge” against politicians widely held responsible for the deadly explosion that devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.

At least 60 people are still missing after the massive blast in Beirut port, which killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 others and left thousands homeless.

As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of people who gathered in the capital calling for the downfall of the country’s political elite, chanting:
“The people want the regime to fall.”

More than 100 protesters were injured in the clashes.

After demonstrators set up the mock gallows, effigies of political leaders, including former prime minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were displayed in some of the most explicit signs of public anger seen in years.

Police shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who responded by hurling rocks and charging security cordons.

One of the protesters, who gave her name only as Lina, said: “We came from Hasbaya in solidarity with Beirut. We came to stand together in grief and offer condolence for the loss of sons and daughters.

“We came to tell all the leaders to leave so that we can rebuild what you have destroyed, what happened is because of your negligence and greed,” she said.

Meanwhile, the three-member Kataeb party parliamentary bloc resigned on Saturday in protest at the blast, bringing to five the number of MPs to quit since the disaster.

In an emotional speech during a funeral service for a top party official who died in Tuesday’s blast, party leader Samy Gemayel announced his resignation and that of the two other MPs.

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian also resigned, while MP Michel Daher announced his withdrawal from the Strong Lebanon bloc led by the Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil.

As international aid flows into shell-shocked Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay and European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the city to deliver relief aid and offer support.

After meeting President Michel Aoun and inspecting damage at the Foreign Ministry, near the port, Gheit said he would ask the Economic and Social Council to meet in the next two weeks to "examine the situation in Lebanon and how to help.”

He described the situation as “a disaster,” and said that “we must recognize that the Lebanese situation is difficult and complex.”

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced that the wife of Dutch envoy to Lebanon Jan Waltmans died of wounds sustained in the blast.

The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon said that 43 Syrians were among those killed in the explosion.

Military teams working at the blast site carried out tests for chemical, radioactive or biological agents on Saturday, Col. Roger Khoury told Arab News during a media tour.

Rescue teams are working round the clock looking for cell phone signals in the search for those missing after the blast.

However, the teams say they are being hampered by debris from the explosion, including concrete rubble from grain silos destroyed in the blast.

Military divers searching the port and nearby ocean for victims of the blast found a body hurled 500 meters by the force of the blast.

By early Saturday, a total of 61 relief planes had landed at Beirut airport carrying medical and relief supplies as well as food, Ministry of Defense Operations Room Commander Brig. Gen. Jean Nohra told Arab News.

He said that medical supplies are being distributed in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

Supplies are being stored at the headquarters of the Central Military Medical Authority in Beirut before being distributed, he said.