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Posts tagged ‘Islamic Emirate of Lebanon’

Suicide bomb attacks target refugee camps in Lebanon

2017-06-30

BEIRUT – Seven Lebanese soldiers were wounded on Friday as five militants blew themselves up and a sixth threw a grenade during raids on two refugee camps near the border with Syria, the army said.

The civil war, which has raged in Syria since March 2011, has triggered an exodus of more than 1.1 million refugees into neighboring Lebanon and has repeatedly spilt over.

Four of the suicide bombers struck in one camp near the border town of Arsal, wounding three soldiers, the army said.

Troops recovered four explosive devices during the raid on the Al-Nur camp.

One militant blew himself up in a second camp near the town — Al-Qariya — while another militant threw a grenade at troops wounding four of them.

The raids, which are aimed at “arresting terrorists and seizing weapons,” were still continuing in mid-morning, the army command said.

A military source said that troops made a number of arrests.

“The objective of the operation was to arrest a wanted man and it was this man who was the first to blow himself up,” the source said.

There have been multiple clashes along the border between the Lebanese army and jihadists of the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda.

In August 2014, the army clashed with jihadists of IS and Al-Qaeda’s then Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front in the Arsal region, with militants kidnapping 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen as they withdrew back along the border.

After long and arduous negotiations, 16 of the kidnapped men were released in December 2015 in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jail.

The jihadists executed four of their hostages while a fifth died of wounds he suffered in the initial Arsal clashes, leaving nine members of Lebanon’s security forces still in their hands.

Since 2014, both the Lebanese army and Shiite militant group Hezbollah have carried out attacks on Syria-based jihadists in eastern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has intervened in the war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, sending tens of thousands of fighters.

Its strongholds in Lebanon have been hit by several deadly attacks claimed by IS.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83713.

Lebanon’s grocery business booming thanks to refugees

2017-06-28

BEIRUT – In three years, Lebanese grocer Ali Khiami hired six staff, invested in property and funded his children’s university education. Business is booming — thanks to Syrian refugees using UN debit cards.

Displaced Syrian families in Lebanon are using electronic cards, topped up each month by the United Nations’ World Food Program with $27 (24 euros) per person, for their grocery shopping.

The WFP scheme has both helped refugees and delivered a windfall to cash-strapped Lebanese shop owners.

“This program changed my life. I bought an apartment in Beirut and I paid for my three children’s college degrees,” said Khiami.

Since registering with the WFP, he has seen his personal income skyrocket from $2,000 per month to $10,000, allowing him to pay off a long-standing debt.

“I used to sell goods worth about 50 million Lebanese pounds (around $33,000) per year. Today, my turnover reaches 300 million pounds,” said Khiami.

A small blue sticker in the window of his cosy store in southern Beirut identifies it as one of the 500 shops taking part in the WFP scheme.

Lebanon, a country of just four million people, hosts more than one million refugees who fled the conflict that has ravaged neighboring Syria since 2011.

The influx has put added strain on Lebanon’s already frail water, electricity, and school networks.

The World Bank says the Syrian crisis has pushed an estimated 200,000 Lebanese into poverty, adding to the nation’s one million poor.

– Changing perceptions –

With 700,000 Syrian refugees benefiting from the program, the debit cards are offsetting at least some of that economic pressure.

When they buy from Lebanese shops, the country’s “economy is also benefiting from WFP’s program, not just Syrian refugees,” WFP spokesman Edward Johnson told AFP.

The UN agency says Syrian refugees have spent $900 million at partner shops in Lebanon since the program was launched in 2012.

It selects stores based on their proximity to gatherings of Syrian refugees in camps or cities, as well as cleanliness, prices and availability of goods.

Umm Imad, a Syrian customer at Khiami’s store, said shopping with the card makes her feel much more “independent” than with the WFP’s previous food stamp program.

“Now I can buy what I need at home,” she said.

The scheme has also changed perceptions.

Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, shopkeepers like Khiami see them as potential customers to be won over.

He has begun stocking items favored by his Syrian customers, such as clarified butter, halwa — sweets made of sesame, almonds, and honey — and plenty of tea, “which Syrians love”.

“Syrian customers have bigger families, so they buy more than Lebanese customers,” he said.

– ‘We sell more’ –

Ali Sadek Hamzeh, 26, owns several WFP-partnered shops near Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where dozens of informal refugee camps have sprung up on farmland.

“In eight months, I rented three new locations to stock merchandise and opened up a new fruit and vegetable store,” Hamzeh told AFP.

He said Syrian refugees make up around 60 percent of his customers, but he has also attracted new Lebanese clients with his lower prices.

The debit card scheme is set to scale up after three large supermarket chains signed contracts with the WFP.

They include the United Company for Central Markets (UCCM). Its 36 stores across Lebanon are even offering a seven percent discount on purchases made using the cards.

“At the end of the day, we’re a business and we’re here to make a profit, but we also want to help out the WFP,” the company’s Sleiman Sleiman told AFP.

“We sell more, so we buy more from our suppliers. All this generates economic activity,” he said.

But for some shop owners, partnering with the WFP has had a downside.

Omar al-Sheikh manages a shop in Nuwayri, a district of western Beirut.

Since he registered his store with WFP in 2013, his monthly profits have nearly doubled from $5,000 to $8,000 — but at a price.

“My profits went up, but I’ve lost about 20 percent of my Lebanese customer base. Lebanese customers don’t like it when it’s busy, and maybe they have some racist views,” he said.

Sheikh, 45, said a Lebanese shopper was annoyed one evening last week when he found the store’s bread supply had run out.

“You’re just here for the Syrians, you only work for Syrians now!” the customer said.

But Sheikh said he would continue to serve his Syrian customers.

“These are human beings. Their country is at war and we should help them.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83687.

For Palestinians in Lebanon, 69 years of despair

May 14, 2017

SIDON, Lebanon (AP) — Ahmad Dawoud recalls the day 10 years ago when a Lebanese soldier asked to search his taxi. Then 17, the Palestinian didn’t wait for the soldier to find the weapons hidden in the trunk.

He jumped from the car and fled into the nearby Palestinian refugee camp, where the Lebanese army has no authority. But it was not long afterward that Dawoud, who once admired the radical groups that have sprouted in the camps in Lebanon, decided he was tired of running. That same year, in 2007, he surrendered to authorities and spent 14 hard months in jail.

Although he was released without a conviction, he couldn’t erase the biggest strike against him: As a Palestinian in Lebanon, he is a stateless, second-class resident in the only country where he’s ever lived.

On Monday, Palestinians mark 69 years since hundreds of thousands of them were forced from their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. Many settled in the neighboring West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

As refugees, various U.N. charters entitle them and their descendants to the right to work and a dignified living until they can return to their homes or such settlement is reached. But Palestinians in Lebanon suffer discrimination in nearly every aspect of daily life, feeding a desperation that is tearing their community apart.

Many live in settlements officially recognized as refugee camps but better described as concrete ghettos ringed by checkpoints and, in some cases, blast walls and barbed wire. The U.N. runs schools and subsidizes health care inside.

In Lebanon, there are 450,000 refugees registered in 12 camps, where Lebanese authorities have no jurisdiction inside. “Our lot is less than zero,” Dawoud said in a recent interview outside Ein el-Hilweh, the crowded camp in Sidon that is one of the most volatile.

On peaceful days, children play in the damp alleys and merchants park their carts of produce along the camp’s main streets. But the place feels hopelessly divided along factional and militant lines, and it frequently breaks down into fighting between Palestinian security forces and militants or gangs that capitalize on the general despair.

Last month, 10 people were killed in a flare-up that drove out thousands of the camp’s estimated population of 75,000. Palestinians are prohibited from working in most professions, from medicine to transportation. Because of restrictions on ownership, what little property they have is bought under Lebanese names, leaving them vulnerable to embezzlement and expropriation.

They pay into Lebanon’s social security fund but receive no benefits. Medical costs are crippling. And they have little hope for remediation from the Lebanese courts. Doctors are prohibited from working in the Lebanese market, so they find work only in the camps or agree to work for Lebanese clinics off the books, and sign prescriptions under Lebanese doctors’ names. That leaves them open to employer abuse, a condition normally associated with low-skill work.

“If a young boy gets in trouble because he is Palestinian, the prosecutor writes in his note to the judge, ‘He is Palestinian,’ meaning: ‘Do what you wish to him. Be cruel to him. Forget about his rights,'” said Sheikh Mohammad Muwad, a Palestinian imam in Sidon.

The crush of war refugees from Syria has made it even harder for Palestinians here to find work. Nearly six in 10 under age 25 are unemployed, according to the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, and two-thirds of all Palestinians here live below the poverty line.

UNRWA country director Claudio Cordone said they feel trapped in political limbo and see an “almost total lack of meaningful political prospects of a solution” to their original displacement from Palestine.

Lebanese politicians say that assimilating Palestinians into society would undermine their right to return. But Palestinians say they are not asking for assimilation or nationality, just civil rights.

“They starve us, so we go back to Palestine. They deprive us, so that we go back to Palestine. Well, go ahead, send us back to Palestine! Let us go to the border, and we will march back into Palestine, no matter how many martyrs we must give,” Muwad said.

For those in the camps, the line between hustling and criminality is often blurred. Unemployed and feeling abandoned by the authorities, many turn to gangs for work. Adding to this is a widely shared disaffection with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which many Palestinians now see as having sold out their rights with the failed Oslo Accords of 1994.

This has helped fuel the rise of radical Islam — a shift in the occupied Palestinian territories that is reflected by Hamas’ rising popularity, and one outside the territories in the meteoric trajectory of militant groups such as Fatah al-Islam in the volatile and deprived Nahr al-Bared camp.

Growing up in Nahr al-Bared, a camp much like Ein el-Hilweh, Dawoud felt a strong affiliation for Fatah al-Islam, his gateway to radical extremism. “They were the only ones who seemed honest,” he said. “Of course, later I figured out they were just like everyone else, too.”

In 2007, the Lebanese army razed most of Nahr al-Bared to crush Fatah al-Islam. By that time, Dawoud already was in Ein el-Hilweh, and his arrest was the beginning of a slow falling out with the gangs that once sheltered him and treated him like a brother. After his stint in prison, they began to feel they couldn’t trust him, and he was chased out of Ein el-Hilweh in 2013. Now, he can only enter the parts of the settlement firmly under PLO control.

With no job, no prospects and little wealth, Dawoud now runs errands for others in his white 1980s-era BMW — all done under the table, of course. Palestinians cannot apply for the red license plates that identify taxis and other commercial vehicles.

“I don’t even think about marrying and getting into those situations,” he said, waving off starting a family at age 27. His ambition now is to apply for a visa to leave Lebanon. But first he needs a travel document, and for that he needs to be on good terms with the Lebanese authorities.

Not all Palestinians live in camps, but even the most privileged among them endure discrimination. At a panel on Palestinian labor rights at the American University of Beirut, Muhammad Hussein asked a Lebanese Labor Ministry official why he was denied work even in sectors that are formally open to Palestinian employment.

The 22-year-old graduate showed the official an email he received from a marketing firm in Dubai refusing his job application on the grounds that the Lebanese office had to give priority to Lebanese workers.

“The problem isn’t finding vacancies,” Hussein said. “It’s getting the job.”

New Lebanese army chief warns against ‘Israeli schemes’

March 10, 2017

Joseph Aoun, Lebanon’s newly-appointed military chief, said Friday that the Lebanese army must remain on guard against “Israeli ambitions and schemes” in the region.

Addressing army officers in Beirut, Aoun cited perceived threats to Southern Lebanon.

“I have full confidence that you will… be prepared to protect our southern border from the Israeli enemy’s sabotage,” he asserted.

Aoun also stressed Lebanon’s readiness to cooperate with the international community with a view to applying UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was adopted following Lebanon’s 2006 conflict with Israel.

Resolution 1701 called on Israel to withdraw its forces from Southern Lebanon to allow the deployment of UN peacekeepers along the border between the two countries.

Aoun also said that the Lebanese military would continue to work for the release of nine Lebanese soldiers captured by the Daesh terrorist group three years ago.

In mid-2014, Daesh militants captured several Lebanese military personnel following clashes in the Lebanese town of Arsal on the Syrian border.

Aoun was made commander of Lebanon’s armed forces on Wednesday after being promoted to the rank of general.

Replacing General Jean Kahwaji at the post, Aoun is known to be close to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, although the two are not related.

Before assuming the post, Aoun had commanded the Lebanese Army’s 9th Brigade, which is deployed on Lebanon’s border with Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170310-new-lebanese-army-chief-warns-against-israeli-schemes/.

Aoun makes first Egypt visit as Lebanese president

2017-02-13

CAIRO – Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday started his first visit to Cairo since his election in October and held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“Hopes of the role that Egypt could play are high. An Egypt of moderation and openness… could launch an Arab rescue initiative based on a strategy to fight terrorism,” Aoun said at a joint press conference.

He said Egypt could “work on finding political solutions for the crises in the Arab world and especially Syria”.

The two sides “agreed on the need to stand together against the dangers of terrorism”, Sisi said, adding that Egypt was ready “to support the capabilities of Lebanon’s army and its various security bodies”.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was to meet later the same day with the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, and also hold talks with Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar, the highest institution of Sunni Islam.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese president is scheduled to meet Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary general of the Cairo-based Arab League.

Aoun, who was elected with the support of the powerful Iranian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah, visited Saudi Arabia last month on a mission to patch up relations with Riyadh.

A Lebanese official source said at the time that Saudi Arabia and Lebanon had agreed to hold talks on restoring a $3-billion military aid package that Riyadh froze last year.

Mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia, a fierce regional rival of Iran, froze the aid deal over what it said was Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanon.

Aoun’s election ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81415.

Le Pen refuses headscarf, nixes talks with Lebanon cleric

February 21, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused to don a headscarf for a meeting with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim cleric on Tuesday and walked away from the scheduled appointment after a brief squabble at the entrance.

Le Pen, who is on a three-day visit to Lebanon this week and has met senior officials, was to meet with the country’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian. Shortly after she arrived at his office, one of his aides handed her a white headscarf to put on. Following a discussion with his aides that lasted few minutes, she refused and returned to her car.

Le Pen has tried to raise her international profile and press her pro-Christian stance with her visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate. On Monday, she met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. She said Syrian President Bashar Assad was “the most reassuring solution for France,” adding that the best way to protect minority Christians is to “eradicate” the Islamic State group preying on them — not turn them into refugees.

Some Lebanese officials including, including Hariri, a Sunni, have taken umbrage at what is widely seen as her stigmatization of Muslims, who her followers claim are changing the Christian face of France. There was also apparent displeasure at her comments on Assad.

Christian right-wing leader Samir Geagea said after meeting with Le Pen on Tuesday that “terrorism has no religion.” He described Assad as “the biggest terrorist in Syria and the region.” Walid Jumblatt, a leftist politician in Lebanon, tweeted on Tuesday that Le Pen’s statements in Lebanon “were an insult toward the Lebanese people and Syrian people.”

After walking away from the meeting with the grand mufti, Le Pen said she had previously told the cleric’s office that she would not wear a headscarf. “They didn’t cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept the fact that I wouldn’t wear one,” she said. “They tried to impose it upon me.”

The office of Lebanon’s mufti issued a statement saying that Le Pen was told in advance through one of her aides that she would have to put on a headscarf during the meeting with the mufti. “This is the protocol” at the mufti’s office, the statement said. It said the mufti’s aides tried to give her the headscarf and that Le Pen refused to take it.

“The mufti’s office regrets this inappropriate behavior in such meetings,” the statement said. Le Pen said she had met in the past with Egypt’s Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the head of the Sunni world’s most prestigious learning institute, without wearing a headscarf. Photos of Le Pen with Ahmed al-Tayeb in 2015 in Cairo show her with the cleric with her hair uncovered.

Le Pen’s refusal on Tuesday to don a headscarf would be in line with her strong support for French secularism, and a proposal in her presidential platform. French law bans headscarves in the public service and for high school pupils.

Le Pen’s proposal aims to extend a 2004 law banning headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols in classrooms to all public spaces. While the 2004 law covers all religions, it is aimed at Muslims.

Later Tuesday, a group of Lebanese held a small protest in Beirut against Le Pen’s visit. One protester raised a drawing of Le Pen between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, with “Neo-fascists” emblazoned underneath.

Associated Press writers Andrea Rosa in Beirut and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

Lebanon, others in Mideast, bury victims of Istanbul attack

January 03, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon on Tuesday buried its citizens who perished in the Istanbul nightclub massacre on New Year’s Eve amid an outpouring of grief that has for days dominated local TV channels and discussions among the country’s politicians.

Lebanon — a Mediterranean nation of 5 million people — lost three nationals in the carnage in Turkey. The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, killed 39. Another six Lebanese nationals were wounded, according to local media.

Funerals were also held in Jordan and in Israel, which lost a citizen each in the assault. One of Lebanon’s victims Rita Chami, 26, had lost her mother to cancer only last July. She had taken time out of her university studies to care for her.

The other two — Haykal Mousallem, 34, and Elias Wardini, 26 — were both personal fitness trainers in Beirut. Wardini was engaged to be married; Mousallem got married four months ago. Both of their partners survived the attack.

Lebanon, accustomed to tragedy in the aftermath of its civil war and occasional bouts of violence, has treated its Istanbul victims as national heroes, their coffins draped in the Lebanese flag as they were brought back home.

In Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood, grieving relatives and friends set off fireworks on Tuesday morning as residents bid Wardini farewell. His funeral was attended by some of the country’s leading Christian politicians. Mousallem was buried in his native Chouf district, outside the Lebanese capital. Chami will be buried on Thursday.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked the Lebanese to stand still for five minutes in memory of the dead. But the local press went further than that. The country’s top TV stations sent reporters on intrusive assignments on Sunday, broadcasting live from the homes of the bereaved as they learned of the fates of their loved ones.

On Twitter, Hariri urged the outlets to leave the families in peace. The bodies were repatriated Monday night, sparking another media frenzy, first at the airport and then the hospital morgues where the remains were taken.

Wardini’s funeral was broadcast live on Tuesday on national TV, which called the victims “martyrs in every meaning of the word,” and condemned Islamic State militants as “enemies of God.” The New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina club also touched others across the Middle East. The IS said it targeted Christian revelers in response to Turkish military operations against the militant group in northern Syria — but most of the dead were foreign tourists from Muslim countries. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said nearly two-thirds of the victims in the upscale club, which is frequented by local celebrities, were foreigners.

In Jordan, hundreds attended the funeral ceremony Tuesday for 44-year-old businessman Nawras Assaf who died in the Istanbul attack. Assaf’s wife was among those wounded. In Israel, thousands attended the funeral Tuesday of 18-year-old Layan Nasser, an Arab Israeli killed in the Istanbul attack. She had gone to Istanbul to celebrate the New Year’s with three friends.

Mourners wept as they marched through the streets of Tira behind Nasser’s wooden coffin. The city’s mayor, Mamoun Abd El Hai, declared a day of mourning, with banks and municipal offices closed. “She had dreams to work, to progress, to study, to raise a family, but unfortunately the terror put an end to her dreams and ended her life,” the mayor told The Associated Press.

Another Israeli traveling with Nasser was wounded in the attack. Nasser’s father told Israeli Channel 10 TV that he had a bad feeling about his daughter’s trip to Istanbul. “I was very concerned about this trip,” Zaher Nasser said. “I asked her not to travel in light of the bad security situation there, but she insisted to go with her friends.”

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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