Friday, June 6, 2014

In hiding, Tripoli’s militiamen dream of fighting

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The afternoon sun beats down on a group of men as they construct the walls of a children’s playground by the seaside outside Tripoli. A sea breeze blows across the reclaimed land jutting out over the rocky shore.

It might sound like paradise, but the husky men here are wanted by security forces for their role in recent Tripoli clashes.

As they wait for fighting they claim will start anew, they are confined to this embankment property where they spend their days looking to the past, when they were free to roam the city.

“It was better when there were battles because there was work and action,” says Ali, a wanted militiaman. “Now, there’s no work and no money.” The plot of land Ali works on is owned by his militia’s leader, and he is helping to build a wall by spreading cement over large concrete blocks, his three sons playing on a carousel a few meters away.

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Inadequate net regulation sees Lebanon’s fishermen suffer

BEIRUT/SIDON/TRIPOLI: The saline scent of the Mediterranean hangs in the air as 69-year-old Adnan al-Oud stands looking out at his nautical bureau where he’s spent decades seafaring.

For years, the sea generously provided heaps of fish for fishermen like Oud, but the once-plentiful aquatic expanse is no longer as giving as it once was.“[Today], the fisherman does not have enough money to pay for his food and if he has kids in school he can’t pay for them,” he says, standing in a small harbor under Beirut’s Ain al-Mreisseh boardwalk.

Oud lets a cigarette dangle from his calloused left hand. Grey curly hair crawls out from the back of his brown Pirelli hat, covering his small squinting eyes from the sun. He wears a tattered long brown T-shirt, long navy blue shorts, and his comfortable Crocs.

In his youth, Oud would work 10 days straight as a fireman and would use his usual 20 days off at sea being a fisherman.

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Ethnic tensions erupt in Burj Hammoud

BEIRUT: The stout, gray-haired man, who says he is “bigger than the mukhtar” in the community, stares coldly and speaks with authority.

“The Kurds have no religion,” Serge says firmly, standing only a block away from where a Syrian Kurd put a local man in intensive care Saturday. “They have no Jesus, no God.”Serge is one of many in Beirut’s northeastern suburb of Burj Hammoud who harbors a flagrant resentment toward Kurds. Enmity between some runs so deep that tensions have even descended into gang warfare in the past.

That sentiment boiled over during the weekend after Lebanese citizen Elias Kalash was knocked unconscious by a gas canister thrown by a Syrian Kurdish man.

The ensuing tensions were only quelled Monday when local municipality figures and representatives comprising various security forces held a series of meetings aimed at preventing a recurrence of Saturday’s events. A representative from the Kurdish Lebanese Razgari Party was also in communication with the Burj Hammoud municipality in an attempt to further defuse ethnic and communal hostilities.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Wealthy Syrian refugees fill the gentrified former neighbourhood of Istanbul’s displaced Romanies & more

Wealthy Syrian refugees fill the gentrified former neighbourhood of Istanbul’s displaced Romanies
Parading around the derelict salon of this decrepit house, Polat, not old enough to know the life his ancestors lived, bangs his family’s gold drum with gusto. His father Ali watches and, despite guarding his emotions, lets slip a smile.

A few years ago, a distinct ­music and dance emanated from the streets of Sulukule in Istanbul, once Europe’s oldest continuous settlement for 3,500 of Ali’s people, the Romanies. But now, the echoes of Romany culture have been silenced as well-to-do refugees from neighbouring Syria have filled the wood-panelled duplexes built atop the paved-over ruins of the historic Romany ­settlement.
A family from Homs sits in the small backyard of one of the houses. They are unregistered refugees. “We came here because we knew people in the area,” says the matriarch, a middle-aged lady in modest attire. The family pay 1,100 Turkish lira (Dh1,949) each month in rent to their Turkish landlord. “The neighbours are fine,” she adds. “They don’t speak Arabic and we don’t speak their language so we just nod at each other."

Ali, 42, was once a proud landowner who made his living by playing music, a trade he hopes to pass on to his sons Vurgun, 8, and Polat, 6. Ali and his family now live in a crumbling one-storey house just outside a new luxury condo complex in Sulukule, the setting of his former residence. His new “home” is separated from the place he was born and raised by a rickety fence made out of tin sheets. The view from his doorway is a constant reminder of his loss.

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Tsunami drill: not so hypothetical?

BYBLOS, Lebanon: A response training exercise aimed at dealing with a hypothetical tsunami inflicting heavy casualties and structural damage was performed Thursday in the coastal city of Byblos, north of Beirut.
Yet, although many scoffed at the prospect that such a disaster could strike Lebanon, which is bordered by the calm MediterraneanSea, experts believe the country faces a serious threat.
“A tsunami is very likely and scientifically certain to happen in the future in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Ata Elias, a geology professor at the American University of Beirut.
Thursday’s exercise simulated an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale striking 200 km from the Lebanese coast and causing a tsunami to arrive 20 minutes later. Funded by the Swiss Development Agency through the UNDP, the training is part of a larger program run by UNDP’s Disaster Risk Management Unit in coordination with the prime minister’s office since 2010.

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No identification? Stand at the back of the line
HALBA/Lebanon: While Lebanon was holding its last official census in 1932, Marwan Warideh’s grandfather, a native of the Wadi Khaled region located on Lebanon’s northern outskirts, went to his local mukhtar’s office in order to apply for identification.
When he arrived, however, he was told the census worker was taking a break. Unable to register himself or his family, all of them were left without any type of formal identification, effectively stateless, for the next 60 years.
At the time, Warideh said, it wasn’t such a big deal. These days, however, it is.
In Lebanon, stateless people tend to have a bleak future. They are deprived of a number of rights, such as receiving National Social Security Fund payouts when they get ill, and their chances of having a proper career are slim.

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Mayor pokes hole in Beirut bike path bid

BEIRUT: Beirut’s first bike lane was cast into controversy Tuesday, when the local municipality ordered its organizers to remove the bright blue paint from the sidewalk of the seaside Corniche area.
The bike lane was painted under an initiative put into action by G Association, a non-governmental organization that focuses on the environment and energy, but Beirut’s Mayor Bilal Hamad told The Daily Star that the NGO had not received the permission necessary to start their project.
“[The project] was authorized by the previous governor without taking the OK from the [municipal] council ... which is against the law,” said Hamad, adding that the Beirut municipality had been studying a request by the NGO to mark the lane but had not yet given the go-ahead.
Power plant under fire as water pollution mars beach hotspot

JIYYEH, Lebanon: The sea surrounding a coastal power plant in Lebanon is being polluted, according to a statement issued by the Professional Divers Union.
The statement, released by union head Mohammad Sarji Tuesday, said a recent surge in pollution had come from the Jiyyeh power plant, south of Beirut, and accused those behind it of being “careless and irresponsible” about cleaning the plant’s machinery and smoke pipes and allowing the runoff to enter the sea.
Locals said large sections of the sea had been covered in an unidentified black substance, initially thought to be an oil spill, last Sunday.
“The sea and the shore were all covered in black,” said Malaz al-Ali, 30, an employee at a local cement factory, while he stood on the litter-strewn Jiyyeh beach. He added that the waves had washed the sea and shore clean since Sunday.
Locals interviewed near the power plant Wednesday said they first noticed the pollution Sunday, likening it to oil spills that once frequently plagued the coast in the area.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Civil defense criticized for Baabda fire response time

Efforts to fight a massive fire that engulfed swathes of forest area in the Baabda region Monday were called into question by locals who complained the response was slow and inefficient.
“We saw a small fire far away so we called the fire department and the municipality, but no one came to put it out,” said Elie Meshab, a resident of the area. “If they had come, it wouldn’t have grown as big as it did.”
Many residents said that Monday’s fire was the biggest they’ve seen in years. Plumes of thick, dark smoke and bright orange flames filled the air in the morning, burning through large sections of the thick, green forest of Betshai and leaving behind only piles of grey and black ash. Many residents temporarily left their homes to stay with relatives or in hotels, as firefighters and the Army’s engineering unit struggled to fight back the flames.
Cedars tracks hopes to raise awareness
Cedars: The Remix’ may not be topping the charts yet, but a new initiative hopes tracks produced using the rhythm of the ancient trees will raise awareness about the need to preserve conifers. “3,000 Years' is the first track in history created using a rhythm extracted from inside a Lebanese cedar tree. Composed by Beirut-based DJ ESC (Ribal Rayess), the track is the focal point of the 'Save the Music' campaign for cedar conservation in Lebanon,” reads the information on the website where three tracks, the original mix and two remixes, are available for download. The tracks were released by VL Records.
Experts: Prevention key to addressing drug abuse
Often cited by authorities and experts as the most effective defense against abuse and addiction among adolescents, methods of prevention are underfunded in Lebanon despite the rise in drug use among youths.“Experts suggest that when tackling substance use among adolescents primary prevention is the best choice,” read an assessment released in 2013 by Sagesse Universityin coordination with World Vision and Australian AID. “The earlier prevention is introduced into adolescents’ lives, the better chance they would have to stay away from substance use and other risky behaviors.”
 Citizens, like politicians, divided over president
With Wednesday’s parliamentary presidential election session looming, several Lebanese described to The Daily Star what qualities the next president should embody.As has been the case throughout Lebanon’s history, the population is divided over what characteristics President Michel Sleiman’s successor should possess. Most, however, agreed on one universal principle: The next president should be able to lead Lebanon away from instability.
“Everyone has his own opinion, but I think we need someone to stop the economic, security and political crises,” said Samir al-Asmar, a 62-year-old taxi driver from Hadath.
 The unusual suspects in the presidential race
While a known political figure is widely expected to fill the soon-to-be-vacant post of Lebanese president, the lack of selection criteria has given rise to a number of nonpolitical candidates as well, including a few looking for a change from the usual suspects. When a Lebanese citizen decides to run for Parliament, they must meet certain criteria. They must be a Lebanese citizen for more than 10 years, hold a clean judicial record and pay an LL10,000,000 registration fee to be eligible to run. The post of president however, only requires that the candidate be a member of the Maronite sect. If this prerequisite is satisfied, then the candidate only needs to hold a news conference to announce their candidacy.
Drug industry insiders allege dubious practices in sector
Pharmaceutical industry insiders say dubious business practices are widespread in the Lebanon’s drugs sector following an announcement by a British company that it was investigating bribery allegations in Jordan and Lebanon. GlaxoSmithKline is the United Kingdom’s largest drug firm and has recently been beset by controversy for allegedly bribing doctors in exchange for favoring their pharmaceutical products. Pharmaceutical industry insiders interviewed by The Daily Star said that while full-on bribery was uncommon in Lebanon, a number of shady strategies are employed by pharmaceutical companies to push their products both locally and abroad.
“I believe that at least 90 percent of pharmaceutical companies offer certain kinds of, I wouldn’t say bribes, but sponsorship,” said a nine-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, speaking on condition of strict anonymity. All industry insiders requested their names be withheld for fear of losing their jobs or hurting their chances at future employment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Claims of corruption add to Al-Qaa water woes -- & more

AL-QAA, Lebanon: On a warm spring day in the Bekaa Valley town of Al-Qaa, Hana Rizk stood outside his neighbor’s one-story house, a tired grimace on his face from coping with the town’s insufficient water supply.
“The water came for two hours today,” Rizk said with quiet anger. “The last time it was turned on was two days ago and now it probably won’t come for another two to three days. How much use can we get out of two hours of water?”
Many residents in Lebanon’s semi-arid Bekaa Valley have received what they say are inadequate amounts of water in recent months, a situation attributed to complications including the lack of precipitation this past winter and the torrential influx of refugees from neighboring Syria.
The water concern is magnified in Al-Qaa, a Greek Catholic town 10 kilometers from the Syrian border, by tales of mismanagement and accusations of corruption among the town’s municipal water committee.
The Bekaa Valley is Lebanon’s driest region and normally receives an average of up to 600mm of rainfall each year. And as summer rapidly approaches fears of drought are escalating because the region has only received 240 milimeters of rainfall, making 2014 the driest in 100 years.
Deadly fish thriving in Lebanon's waters

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At 1 p.m. on this sunny Thursday afternoon, Tripoli fishermen Ibrahim Shehade and Ishaac Sidawi should be out at sea. Instead, they sit forlornly watching cars pass by on the Mina sea road.
There is no work for them on the water, something they blame on the recent boom of rapidly spawning and lethal puffer fish – neffaykh in Arabic – in the sea their families have trawled for generations.
“There’s a war going on in Tripoli, both at land and at sea,” says Sidawi, 27, despondently.
Sitting next to him, the older, more pensive Shehade, 39, adds: “This puffer fish is causing us fishermen a lot of damage because it’s eating smaller fish and ripping our nets. On top of this, they say it’s poisonous, so we can’t sell it.”
The fish could also be described as opportunistic as it eats other fish caught in nets, effectively taking away the fishermen’s catch as well as ruining their gear.
Armenians mourn rebel take over of Kasab in Syria

BEIRUT: Seated outside the clothes shop in Burj Hammoud where he works, Syrian-Armenian Ararad Mahdesian gazes into the distance, reminiscing about the place he still calls home.
“I had beautiful days in Kasab. I was born there and I am from there,” the 25-year-old says solemnly, referring to a town in northwest Syria that was overrun by rebels less than two weeks ago while he wasn’t there.
Located on the border with Turkey, Kasab is a historical town with an ethnic Armenian population that dates back to the medieval Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Until the civil war, Kasab was a tourist destination mostly inhabited by farmers.
Now, like so many places in Syria, it has all changed.
Mahdesian says his 65-year-old father was one of the last people to leave Kasab, and that his relatives are now in Latakia with around 600 other families who all fled due to the rebel attack.
Chimp rescued from zoo after eight year struggle

 BEIRUT: An animal rights group confiscated Lebanon’s last imprisoned chimpanzee from a zoo over the weekend, nine years after it was smuggled into the country.
Accompanied by seven police officers and a court clerk, Animals Lebanon entered a zoo along the Nahr al-Kalb river Saturday and took Charlie the chimp into their care in a court-approved operation supported by the Agriculture Ministry that took around 30 minutes.
“Charlie, a 9-year-old chimpanzee, was smuggled to Lebanon in 2005 and sold from a pet shop before ending up in Animal City zoo,” said a press release from Animals Lebanon. “The Ministry of Agriculture declared in 2006 that Charlie was smuggled into Lebanon and that no permits have been issued for his importation. An attempted confiscation in early 2006 failed after the zoo removed Charlie the day before the confiscation was to take place.”
Central Beirut brought to standstill as politicians gather

BEIRUT: Roads in Beirut’s Downtown were blocked Tuesday for the first day of a three-day Parliament session, causing traffic jams, enraging motorists and debilitating nearby businesses.
Banks Street closed to motorists at 7 a.m. and remained closed until the end of the first legislative session in the late afternoon, with security forces cordoning off the perimeter of Downtown. Roads were also closed leading to Riad Solh Square, and a roadblock was set up by the An-Nahar building on the other side of Downtown.
Closure of roads in central Beirut is common when Lebanon’s Parliament meets, with many of the roads that pass through Downtown blocked off by security forces in a bid to minimize the possibility of terrorist attacks and political assassinations, making life hellish for the city’s commuters.
Seething and staring ahead at the traffic jam, Leah, 30, jested, “I want to kill [Parliament] for this.”

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Lebanese Border Town in the Middle of Syria's Civil War

Long before Syria's civil war broke out, the Lebanese border town of Arsal was known as a hub of smuggling activity. The surrounding mountainous terrain is perfect for sneaking contraband of all sorts between Lebanon and neighboring Syria — and that's why Arsal has become a focal point for Lebanese security agencies, Hezbollah, refugees, foreign jihadists, Syrian opposition fighters, and the Syrian regime.

This week, Syrian warplanes fired missiles at the outskirts of the town shortly before the Nusra Front launched grenades into Arsal from across the border in Syria. Arsal is the lone Sunni Muslim village in Lebanon’s predominately Shiite Bekaa Valley, and the local population of about 35,000 is sympathetic to opposition forces fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad — a combination that makes it a target several times over.

A man I meet named Abu Hussein is perched on a couch in his modest apartment in central Arsal, sitting on his feet while smoking a cigarette. Four of his brothers are currently in Yabroud, just across the border, fighting against Syrian forces with the Islamic Front’s Farouk Brigades. Hussein isn't avoiding the conflict, however — he's busy smuggling fighters in and out of Syria.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Christian villages on Lebanon-Syria border beef up security & other recent stories

Not much time to post stories to the blog lately so here are a few together:

Christian villages on Lebanon-Syria border beef up security

Hariri trial: Meet the judges, prosecutors and the accused

Lebanon’s security weakens as al-Qaeda enters the fray