Lebanon to slash official exchange rate from Nov. 1, finance minister says

Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil attends a parliament session in Beirut on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Lebanon to slash official exchange rate from Nov. 1, finance minister says

  • After saying the move would come into effect on Nov. 1, the ministry later said the step was conditioned on the approval of a plan to address the crisis
  • “The goal is for there to be a unification of the exchange rates in Lebanon,” Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said

BEIRUT: Lebanon plans to slash its official exchange rate, replacing the 1,507 per dollar rate adopted 25 years ago with a rate of 15,000 in a step toward unifying numerous exchange rates, the finance minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
After saying the move would come into effect on Nov. 1, the ministry later said the step was conditioned on the approval of a plan to address the crisis, which is under discussion in parliament.
The Lebanese pound has plunged by more than 95 percent from the official rate since Lebanon fell into financial crisis three years ago, with dollars currently changing hands at around 38,000 on a parallel market.
“The goal is for there to be a unification of the exchange rates in Lebanon,” Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said, calling the decision a “fundamental step” in that direction. The step would come into force on Nov. 1, the ministry said.
“Today, Lebanon has entered a new phase and is no longer using an official US dollar exchange rate that makes no sense ... Now we have one that is useful, based on which you can steer the economy toward a better situation,” he said.
The decision — which Khalil said was agreed with central bank governor Riad Salameh — marks a milestone in the meltdown that has plunged swathes of the population into poverty in the worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Salameh told Reuters via text message that the decision “will require time before it is implemented.
“We have to wait before anticipating further moves,” he said.
Ruling politicians have so far taken scarcely any action toward tackling the crisis.
Unifying the numerous exchange rates operating in the country is one of several conditions set by the IMF for Lebanon to secure a badly needed aid package. The Fund has said this is crucial to boosting economic activity.
The IMF said last week progress in implementing reforms remained very slow, with the bulk yet to be carried out.
In addition to official and parallel market exchange rates, authorities have created several others during the crisis, including unfavorable rates applied to withdrawals of Lebanese pounds from hard currency deposits in the frozen banking system.
Khalil noted that unification of the exchange rates was an IMF demand, but added it was also something that must happen regardless, saying the government was taking a gradual approach.
On Monday, the parliament approved a state budget that applied the 15,000 rate to customs taxes — a step aimed at boosting state revenues. Khalil said this had paved the way for the decision he announced on Wednesday.
He said discussions were under way with stakeholders including banks and depositors on the implications of the decision and how it would be applied. “We have taken this month to explain to everyone carefully what is happening,” he said.
Financial authorities would also work to contain any social or financial repercussions, especially regarding housing loans and “help the private sector on an orderly transition to the new exchange rate,” a ministry statement added.
Several economists contacted by Reuters said there were not enough details to comment on the move.
RECOVERY PLAN
Lebanon’s crisis was caused by decades of profligate spending by a state riddled with corruption and waste, together with unsustainable financial policies.
Depositors have paid a big price, mostly unable to access dollar savings or forced to make withdrawals in pounds at unfavorable rates.
A recovery plan that would address some $72 billion in losses in the financial system has yet to be finalized.
Asked by Reuters how the decision would affect depositors, Khalil said “there should not be any impact” while adding that this was under study.
Khalil said an update to a draft government financial recovery plan was being discussed in parliament.
“It needs time,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s decision would reflect positively on the plan “because it is helping economic activity and increases revenues for the state.”
Khalil said money coming into Lebanon was avoiding the banking sector due to distortions in the exchange rate and a lack of confidence, which he said he hoped would be assuaged by the unification of rates.


Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

Updated 02 December 2022

Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

  • Turkiye is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters
  • Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier said operations against Daesh had not stopped

QAMISHLI: The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed group that helped defeat Daesh terrorists in Syria, has stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations as a result of Turkish bombardment on its area of control, a spokesman said Friday.
Turkiye has ramped up its shelling and air strikes on northern Syria in recent weeks and is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters that it dubs terrorists but which make up the bulk of the US-supported SDF.
The SDF has long warned that fighting off a new Turkish incursion would divert resources away from protecting a prison holding Daesh fighters or targeting Daesh sleeper cells still waging hit-and-run attacks in Syria.
Aram Henna told Reuters that “all coordination and joint counter-terrorism operations with the coalition” as well as “all the joint special operations we were carrying out regularly” had had been halted.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier told reporters that operations against Daesh had not stopped.
SDF head Mazloum Abdi earlier this week told Reuters he wanted a “stronger” message from Washington after seeing unprecedented Turkish deployments along the border.
“We are still nervous. We need stronger, more solid statements to stop Turkiye,” he said. “Turkiye has announced its intent and is now feeling things out. The beginning of an invasion will depend on how it analyzes the positions of other countries.”


Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

Updated 02 December 2022

Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

  • Israel strips human rights defender Salah Al-Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency, plans to deport him to France

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians on Thursday and injured two others during a West Bank arrest raid that sparked gun battles, confirmed Palestinian medical sources.

The Jenin city refugee camp raid at dawn also resulted in the arrest of nine people. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh warned of the severe consequences of the Israeli killings. He called on the world’s countries to intervene.

A general strike to mourn the two who were killed, Mohammed Al-Saadi and Naim Al-Zubaidi, was declared in the city.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, eight Palestinians have been killed and 10 injured in the West Bank during the past 72 hours.

Shtayyeh accused Israeli forces of “benefiting from the absence of accountability and punishment, under an international policy based on double standards.”

Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, governor of Jenin, told Arab News that an atmosphere of pain, anger and sadness has overwhelmed the city due to the actions of the Israeli army, which “violates Palestinian lands and commits cold-blooded killing.”

He told Arab News that 54 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin since the beginning of this year.

Most of them were not involved in stone-throwing incidents, and they were not armed. Dozens were wounded, and many others have been detained.

“This is targeted killing and systematic state terrorism against the Palestinians,” the governor told Arab News.

Israeli armed forces issued an alert for expected rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel following the murder of the Jenin Brigade commander in Thursday’s early morning raid.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission said that Israeli security authorities and settlers carried out 833 attacks against Palestinians during November.

It said the aggressive acts ranged from direct assaults on citizens to vandalism, land razing, the confiscation of property and more.

The attacks were concentrated in the Ramallah governorate with 170 attacks, followed by the Hebron governorate with 140, then the Nablus governorate with 111, said the commission.

In another development, Israeli authorities have decided to deport Palestinian prisoner Salah Al-Hamouri from East Jerusalem to France after the expiration of his detention on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Israelis arrested Al-Hamouri on March 22, and since then, he has been under administrative detention with no trial or known charge.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Israeli authorities to free Al-Hamouri and cancel their decision to deport him.

Activists said that Palestinian human rights defender Al-Hamouri “is at imminent risk of deportation” after Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on Nov. 30 an appeal against the Interior Ministry’s decision to revoke his Jerusalem residency status on the grounds of “breach of allegiance.”

This decision leaves Al-Hamouri with no legal status in Jerusalem. He will thus likely be deported on Sunday to France, as he also has French citizenship, human rights activists said.

“Salah Al-Hamouri’s case illustrates so many of the restrictive measures Israel is employing against Palestinians, including human rights defenders,” Jessica Montel, executive director of human rights organization HaMoked, told Arab News.

Among these are the “invasive surveillance technology, the criminalization of human rights organizations, the use of administrative detention, and the revocation of Jerusalem residency,” she said. “This is outrageous.

“As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Al-Hamouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel. The fact that his residency was revoked largely based on secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice.”

Hassan Al-Hamouri, 66, father of Salah Al-Hamouri, told Arab News that the Israeli police summoned him on Nov. 29 and asked him not to raise Palestinian flags when receiving Salah on Sunday and not to organize official receptions.

He also said that the number of those receiving him should not exceed 20 at his house. 

Following this, Salah’s lawyer, Leah Tsemel, tried to talk to the police officer to find out what happened, but he refused to inform the lawyer anything.

The family later learned that Salah would be deported to France if he was released from Hadarim prison on Sunday.

Israeli authorities had previously deported Salah’s wife, who was pregnant in 2016, to France.

Palestinian human rights activists are concerned about Israel’s resumption of the deportation policy against Palestinians after it had been halted for many years.

Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News in a phone interview that deportation is the “harshest deterrent punishment practiced against Palestinian prisoners and citizens.

“Al-Hamouri is not accused of practicing violent acts against Israel, but rather he is a human rights activist and an administrative detainee without a specific charge. If such a person is expelled, what about the rest of the Palestinian prisoners?” 

Activists say 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons, while the number of Palestinians detained in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has reached 6,300 since the beginning of the year.


Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

  • "An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case," Gilan province's prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said
  • Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations

TEHRAN: Iran said on Thursday it had opened an investigation into the death of a man who was shot while celebrating Iran’s World Cup defeat to arch enemy the United States.
The loss eliminated Iran’s national football team from the tournament in Qatar on Tuesday night, drawing a mixed response from pro- and anti-government supporters.
Following the match, “a person named Mehran Samak died suspiciously after being hit by shotgun pellets in the city of Bandar Anzali,” Gilan province’s prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said, quoted by the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
“An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case,” he added.
Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations that followed Iran’s loss to the United States.
The result sparked both scenes of joy and despair among Iranians in a country divided by protests that flared over the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after falling into a coma following her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday Iran’s enemies had influenced youths who were happy with the football result.
“Today, they (the enemies) are all trying to sow the seeds of despair in the hearts of young people and some of them even showed their satisfaction afterwards and that they are happy with the elimination of the national football team,” he said.
“We must take measures to serve the people, because poverty and misery are also among the enemies of the country,” Salami said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest sparked by Amini’s death.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”


Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

Updated 01 December 2022

Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

  • Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar: ‘The US asked us to re-evaluate; we emphasized that they should understand us’
  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his ‘strong opposition’ to a new Turkish military operation in Syria

ANKARA: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the United States on Thursday to show understanding over a possible new Turkish military operation in Syria, after Washington voiced its “strong opposition” to such a move.
Turkiye has been threatening a new incursion into northern Syria for months, and stepped up preparations last month after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul it blamed on a Kurdish militants.
“The US asked us to re-evaluate. We conveyed to them our sensitivities and thoughts, and asked them to keep their promises. We emphasized that they should understand us,” Akar told reporters.
Turkiye also asked allied countries that have a military presence in Syria not to allow local militias to use their flags and uniforms, Akar added. “We are reminding them that they should keep terrorists away from themselves and eventually they should cut their ties with terrorist organizations,” he said.
Turkiye sees the Kurdish YPG militia, the leading presence in the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the Syrian wing of the PKK militant group and labels both of them as terrorist organizations.
The PKK is also considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
The PKK and SDF have denied involvement in the Nov. 13 bombing of a busy pedestrian avenue in Istanbul.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his “strong opposition” to a new Turkish military operation in Syria and voiced concern over the escalating situation in the county.

Related


Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

Updated 01 December 2022

Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

  • The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss
  • Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran's clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers

BAGHDAD: Iran’s national soccer team received a subdued welcome home after their World Cup defeat against the United States, a match played against the backdrop of ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.
One Iranian man was shot dead celebrating the American victory.
The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss. Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran’s clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers.
One man was shot dead by Iranian security forces in northwest Iran for honking his car horn in support of the US victory, the Oslo-based rights monitor Iran Human Rights reported on Thursday.
Iran’s treatment of the players will likely be scrutinized because they refrained from singing the Islamic Republic’s national anthem during their opening World Cup match. Many considered the move a show of solidarity with the protests. The team did sang the anthem in subsequent matches.
A few dozen fans greeted the national team’s return at Tehran’s international airport late Wednesday, with people cheering and waving the Iranian flag.
Yet the players have faced biting criticism from anti-government protesters who have blamed the team for not being more vocal about the security force’s violent put down of the demonstrations. Human rights groups say over 400 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, with thousands more arrested.
An image of players bowing in the presence of President Ebrahim Raisi before setting off to the tournament was widely criticized by activists on social media. A hard-line cleric, Raisi has likened protesters to “flies” and dismissed the movement as a foreign plot, without offering any proof.
Mehran Samak, 27, was shot dead after honking his car in support of the US win after Tuesday’s match in the city of Bandar Anzali in northwest Iran. Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported he was “shot in the head by state forces when he went out to celebrate the Islamic Republic’s loss.”
Samak is also a childhood friend of Iranian midfielder Saeed Ezatollahi, who mourned his death on his social media. But again he received criticism from activists for not explicitly stating Samak was killed by government forces.
Many Iranian celebrities have however been targeted by the government with arrest or other measures for speaking out on behalf of the protesters.
Iranian officials acknowledged but downplayed compatriots celebrating the US win. Gen. Hossein Salami, chief of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, said those who had celebrated were doing so on “behalf of the enemies,” adding “it is not important to us.” His comments appeared in the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
A former culture minister and editor-in-chief of the Ettelaat newspaper, Abbas Salehi, who has close ties with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted: “Iran’s defeat in the game against America was bitter, but even more bitter was the happiness of some people.”
Iran was eliminated from the tournament in Qatar following the loss to the US on Tuesday that saw the players scrambling to score a goal in the last remaining minutes of the game. Striker Sardar Azmoun told reporters he was not satisfied with his performance in the last match.
It was the sixth time Iran has participated in the World Cup.
Anti-government protests first erupted in September, following the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in the capital, Tehran. The protests quickly grew into the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since its establishment in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.