Lebanon raids discover hoarded fuel, medicine and baby formula

News of the hoarding has only added to the anger of Lebanese citizens, who have been suffering through exhausting fuel and medicine shortages for months. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 August 2021

Lebanon raids discover hoarded fuel, medicine and baby formula

  • Citizens irate after millions of liters of hidden subsidized fuel seized while long queues outside gas stations continue
  • Raid operation reveals partnership between a brother of Hezbollah minister and the NewPharm Company in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Raids carried out by Lebanon security forces discovered millions of liters of subsidized fuel hidden in underground tanks to be sold later on the black market at new prices. Some of the tanks were merely covered by sand.

“Monopolized” medicine and baby formula were seized, too.

News of the hoarding has only added to the anger of Lebanese citizens, who have been suffering through exhausting fuel and medicine shortages for months. Long queues outside gas stations and empty shelves at pharmacies are common across the country.

The largest quantities of hidden subsidized fuel were found in Hawsh Al-Omara in Zahle, Bekaa, where more than 1.5 million liters of gasoline were seized.

Scenes of Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan raiding depots in the south of Lebanon and the Shouf area that contained medicine missing from pharmacies have also left citizens fuming.

The depots contained medicine that could treat patients with coronavirus (COVID-19), blood pressure, and respiratory problems. Antibiotics and thousands of infant formulas — all subsidized at the official rate ($1=1,500 LBP) — were also discovered.

“The raids are based on an electronic tracking system of ‘monopolized’ medicine,” Hassan said. “The system is very precise and accurate.”

The raid operation revealed a partnership between Hussein Fneish, brother of Hezbollah minister Mohammed Fneish, and Issam Ahmed Khalifa, of the NewPharm Company in Lebanon.

However, the timing of Hassan’s raids were criticized. Lebanon’s Central Bank has not opened credit lines for imports for three months as laws were put in place to prohibit free imports.

“These security campaigns and raids should have been carried out earlier,” Issam Araji, head of the Health Parliamentary Committee, told Arab News.

“Medicine and fuel should have never been hoarded. Following these raids, Lebanon seemed like a floating city in a sea of gasoline and diesel. The dangerous part is that the fuel was being stored in residential neighborhoods.”

Araji, who is also a cardiologist, said he had warned authorities about the hoarding of medicine for more than a year.

“But they insisted that people were storing the medicine in their houses,” Araji said. “People cannot afford their daily bread, how would they be able to store all of the medicine? I think that the health minister has finally decided to take action because he received information about companies hiding and storing the medicine. These campaigns will all be in vain unless offenders are punished to deter others.”

Although the country has started to unload ships of imported fuel and distribute it to gas stations, queues outside the filling stations did not get any shorter on Wednesday. Most drivers parked throughout the night and slept in their cars, hoping to fill up their vehicles in the morning.

Adnan Naccouzi, 69, suffered a stroke while waiting in a long queue for gas in the hot weather and without drinking water. He has been recovering inside the intensive care unit at a Beirut hospital for the past 24 hours.

Authorities have said fuel will be sold according to new prices, amid a gradual reduction of fuel subsidies.

As of Wednesday, a 20-liter canister of gasoline was sold for 133,000 Lebanese pounds ($88) and the same canister of diesel for 99,000 pounds. The cost of transportation has automatically increased, where the fare rose to 20,000 pounds for each passenger; more than double the price of the previous day.

Despite the public calls to arrest monopolists and put them in prison, hoarding is classified by the Lebanese penal code as a misdemeanor and sanctioned either by a fine or up to six months in prison.

Meanwhile, Judge Ghada Aoun issued a search and investigation warrant against Lebanon’s Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh. This comes five days after setting a date for an investigation session — that he did not attend — over accusations of money laundering and money transfers abroad.

Lebanon’s State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat in April dismissed Judge Aoun from the case. But she has insisted on proceeding with her investigations and broke into a money exchange company with the help of activists from the Free Patriotic Movement.

In other developments, the country’s caretaker premier Hassan Diab will not appear before Judge Tarek Bitar, who is investigating last year’s Beirut blast. Diab was supposed to be questioned as a defendant in the case on Thursday, but has insisted that he should be questioned by the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

Judge Fadi Sawan, the investigating judge who preceded Bitar, listened to Diab’s testimony in his capacity as a witness more than a year ago. In that testimony, Diab acknowledged the presence of the ammonium nitrate that was illegally stored at the port and explained why he changed his mind about visiting the site just days before the explosion.


Iran nuclear talks pause as diplomats confer with capitals

Delegations waiting for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA in Vienna, in December 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 28 January 2022

Iran nuclear talks pause as diplomats confer with capitals

  • Russia’s representative at the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said the meeting was expected to resume next week

VIENNA: Talks to salvage the tattered 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have paused while diplomats return to capitals for political consultations, European officials said Friday.

“January has been the most intensive period of these talks to date,” British, German and French negotiators said in a joint statement. “Everyone knows we are reaching the final stage, which requires political decisions.”

Russia’s representative at the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said the meeting was expected to resume next week.

The United States pulled out of the Vienna accord in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and reimpose heavy sanctions on Iran. Tehran has responded by increasing the purity and amounts of uranium it enriches and stockpiles, in breach of the accord.

US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal, which is still supported by Russia, the three European powers and China.


Syrian fighters search for Daesh sleeper cells near prison

Updated 28 January 2022

Syrian fighters search for Daesh sleeper cells near prison

  • About a half-dozen Daesh fighters surrendered Friday morning, among scores of militants hiding in a basement in the northern section of the prison
  • Daesh group's Jan. 20 attack on the prison was the biggest military operation by the extremist group since the fall of their self-declared caliphate in 2019

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish-led fighters searched Friday near a Syrian prison for Daesh group militants as dozens of armed extremists holed up in a small part of the jail, a Kurdish official said.
About a half-dozen Daesh fighters surrendered Friday morning, among scores of militants hiding in a basement in the northern section of the prison, according to Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
He would not confirm or deny a report by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, that SDF fighters discovered the bodies of 18 of their comrades inside Gweiran prison, also known as Al-Sinaa prison, in northeast Syria on Friday.
Daesh group’s Jan. 20 attack on the prison was the biggest military operation by the extremist group since the fall of their self-declared caliphate in 2019. It came as the militants staged deadly attacks in both Syria and Iraq that stoked fears that Daesh may be staging a comeback.
The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned the city of Hassakeh into a conflict zone. The Kurdish-led administration declared a curfew and sealed off the city, barring movement in and out.
Thousands of people in Hassakeh were displaced in recent days because of the fighting.
The SDF claimed Wednesday it had regained full control of the prison — a week after scores of militants overran the facility. The attackers allowed some to escape but also took hostages, including child detainees, and clashed with SDF fighters in violence that killed dozens.
The SDF had said that between 60 and 90 militants were hiding out in the northern section of the prison.
Ali said the militants are in the basement of a two-story building and that those who remain inside are refusing to surrender. “Our units are surrounding the building and are trying to convince them to surrender,” he said.
The Observatory said SDF fighters are betting that more time will force Daesh militants to surrender as their food dwindles.
The Hawar News Agency, ANHA, an online Kurdish news service, reported that several automatic rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade and hand grenades were confiscated from the Daesh gunmen who surrendered Friday. It added that SDF fighters are conducting search operations in the prison as well as several Hassakeh neighborhoods in search for Daesh sleeper cells.
The SDF said about 3,000 inmates have surrendered since its operation to retake the prison’s northern wing began three days ago.
At least 300 foreign child detainees are believed to be held in the Gweiran facility. Thousands more, mostly under the age of 12, are held with their mothers in locked camps in other parts of northeastern Syria on suspicion of being families of Daesh members. Most countries have refused to repatriate them, with only 25 out of 60 countries taking back their children, some without their mothers.
The Britain-based Observatory put the death toll from the struggle at over 260, including over 180 militants and more than 73 fighters from the Kurdish-led force. At least seven civilians were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.
The SDF said preliminary information put the force’s death toll at 35.


6 dead, 30 missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

Updated 28 January 2022

6 dead, 30 missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

TUNIS: At least six Africans trying to migrate to Europe died and an estimated 30 were missing in the Mediterranean Sea after their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia on Thursday, according to Tunisia’s Defense Ministry.
Tunisian naval and coast guard forces retrieved the bodies, rescued 34 survivors and are searching for the people listed as missing, the ministry said in a statement. The survivors told rescuers that the boat had 70 people on it and they were headed for Italy, the ministry said.
The boat had left from neighboring Libya and sank about 40 kilometers (24 miles) off the Tunisian town of Zarzis, near the Libyan border, it said.
The survivors included people from Egypt, Sudan and Ivory Coast, according to Mongi Slim, head of the Tunisian Red Crescent.
It’s the latest of several migrant boat sinkings in the region. The central Mediterranean route, which runs from North Africa to southern Italy, is the busiest and deadliest migration route to Europe. People travel from Libya and Tunisia in crowded boats and at the mercy of the smugglers they pay to get them across the sea.
About 60,000 people arrived in Italy by sea last year, and some 1,200 died or disappeared on the journey, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The Tunisian Defense Ministry said authorities thwarted eight boat migration trips in the last 48 hours off the coast of the city of Sfax, and 130 people from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa were detained.

Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound

Updated 28 January 2022

Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound

  • US air base, known as Camp Victory, is located around the perimeter of Baghdad’s civilian airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets landed in the Baghdad International Airport compound and near an adjacent US air base, damaging one disused civilian aeroplane, Iraqi police sources said.
The police sources did not report any other damage or any injuries. The damaged aircraft was an out of use Iraqi Airways plane, they said.
The US air base, known as Camp Victory, is located around the perimeter of Baghdad’s civilian airport.
Rocket attacks which US and some Iraqi officials blame on Iran-aligned Shiite militia groups who oppose the US military presence in the region have regularly hit the complex in recent years.


Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

Updated 28 January 2022

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

  • Coalition spokesman slams Houthis for peddling misleading information
  • Joint Forces Command ready to present facts to UN Humanitarian and Red Cross teams

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen on Friday denied targeting a prison in Saada and accused the Houthi militia of trying to mislead the public.

Houthi officials on Thursday claimed that coalition air strikes last week killed around 90 people and wounded more than 200 at Saada prison.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency, Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Malki said the targeted location was a Houthi special security camp, which is a "legitimate military target". 

Al-Maliki cited a report of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) dated January 27, 2022, after investigating the Houthis' claim.

The statement said there are four locations identified as prisons in the Joint Forces Command’s No Strike List (NSL) in Saada, all of which are being used by the "terrorist Houthi militia" in launching "cross-border attacks to target civilians and civilian objects."

The closest prison is located 1.8 kilometers away from the site targeted in a coalition air strike.

"What was announced and disseminated by the terrorist Houthi militia in its media outlets is a blatant attempt to mislead the public opinion regarding the true nature of the location in an attempt to garner sympathy from UN organizations and INGOs," Al-Maliki said in the statement.

He assured that the Joint Forces Command "applies the highest targeting standards."

The Coalition said it is prepared to shed light on the issue with representatives of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Red Cross.

"The terrorist Houthi militia bears the full responsibility in case it uses civilians as human shields in its military locations," Al-Maliki said.

Fighting has escalated in recent weeks, with more air strikes on what the coalition says are Houthi military targets.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has stepped up missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates and cross-border launches on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The coalition had previously accused the Houthis of using civilian centers as a shield against legitimate strikes.

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