A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For February 22-23/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 129th Day

39

A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For 22-23/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 129th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
February 23/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 22-23/20
Cana Wedding Miracle/The Forgiveness (Marfaa) Sunday/Elias Bejjani/February 23/2020
Aoun: Solving Economic Crisis is Government’s Top Priority
Public Outcry over Lebanon’s Failure to Suspend Iran Flights over Coronavirus
Lebanon Bans Export of Protective Equipment after Coronavirus Reveal
S&P Cuts Lebanon Debt Rating, Warns Further Cut Possible
Education Minister Circulates ‘Prevention Plan’ over Coronavirus
Protesters gather outside Jumblatt’s Clemenceau residence
Protesters gather in Verdun in rejection of banking policies
Ministerial Crisis Cell: Measures adopted against Coronavirus, flights suspended to China, Korea, and Iran
Health Minister from Nabatiyeh: No need to panic, no symptoms of Coronavirus in the two cases we examined
Information and Public Health Ministers hold joint press conference on Coronavirus
Abdel Samad: For a Media-Health Crisis Cell to counter Corona disease
Hassan: Anxiety is permitted, but excessive panic is harmful to usShiite Council: Decision to prevent religious visits falls within government’s jurisdiction
Akkar-Rahhal Hospital denies news of Coronavirus case
Lebanon hit by double rating downgrades as likely debt restructuring looms/Sarmad Khan and Massoud A Derhally/The National/February 22/2020
A Blackhole Swallows Lebanon/Rajeh Khoury/Asharq Al Awsat/February 22/2020
Serge Gelalian left, but his work for freedom will not/Dr.Walid Phares/February 22/2020
Iran, Hezbollah Stir Chaos in Syria’s Southwest/Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/February 22/2020
Beirut photo exhibition depicts perils to Lebanese heritage/Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly//February 23/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 22-23/2020
Cana Wedding Miracle/The Forgiveness (Marfaa) Sunday
Elias Bejjani/February 23/2020
Lent period starts with the Cana Holy Wedding Miracle and ends with the Holy Easter Day.
Lent in the Maronite Church rite starts this year on the ASH Monday, February 25/2020.
The Sunday that comes before the beginning of the lent period is called the raising (أحد المرفع) or forgiveness Sunday (أحد الغفران)
Fasting is a battle of spiritual engagement through which we seek to imitate Jesus Christ who fought Satan’s temptations while fasting in the wilderness.
He triumphed over Satan, and we faithfully endeavour during the Lent period to tame and defeat our earthly instincts and make our hearts, conscience and thinking pure, immaculate and pious
The lent period is a spiritual battle that we chose to fight our own selves and all its bodily and earthly instinctual pleasures in a bid to abstain from all acts and thoughts of sin
Lent in principle is a Holy period that is ought to be utilized with God in genuine contemplation, self humility, repentance, penances, forgiveness, praying and conciliation with self and others.
Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Jesus Who is the fountain of all love, forgiveness and mercy.
Lent is a pilgrimage in which Jesus Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty while sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter.
We fastand trust that the Lord is our loving Shepherd.
“Psalm 23:04: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me.”
Lent is ought to strengthen our hope and faith in a bid to fight Satan and to keep away from his ways of sin and despair.
Praying and contemplation teaches us that Almighty God is there to guard us and to lead our steps during the entire Lenten period.
Readind the Holy Bible and praying offers us God’s Word with particular abundance and empowers our souls and minds with His Word.
Mark 13:31: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”
By meditating and internalizing the Word Of God we learn precious and irreplaceable forms of prayer.
By attentively listening to God, who continues to speak to our hearts, we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism.
Prayers and fasting allow us to gain a new concept of time and directs our steps towards horizons of hope and joy that have no limits
When we fast and pray, we find time for God, to understand that his words will not pass away.
Through fasting and praying we can enter into that intimate communion with Jesus so that no one shall take from us the faith and hope that does not disappoint.

Aoun: Solving Economic Crisis is Government’s Top Priority
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 February, 2020
Lebanese President Michel Aoun stressed on Friday that addressing the country’s economic and financial situation will be one of the new government’s top priorities. During a meeting with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis at Baabda Palace, Aoun said one of the most important battles, which the cabinet will fight, is the war on corruption. The President assured the UN coordinator that Lebanese officials have been discussing with the International Monetary Fund delegation the appropriate measures to resolve the financial and economic crises. Aoun said any move by the government would aim to protect the treasury while preserving the rights of Lebanese citizens. He also expressed hope that the Syrian refugee crisis would be mentioned in the UN Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701. The Council will be briefed on the report at a session in early March. The President stressed that there was ongoing stability is south Lebanon, despite recent developments in Syria and Iraq. Kubis congratulated Aoun on forming the new government. He also affirmed the UN support for the reforms, which the cabinet intends to take, indicating that he would report the reality of Resolution 1701 to the Security Council. Kubis also said that he would visit numerous countries concerned with the Lebanese situation. This week, sources said Lebanon would invite eight firms to bid to be its financial adviser as it studies all options on its sovereign debt. The government is under growing pressure to decide on how to deal with fast-approaching debt payments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.

Public Outcry over Lebanon’s Failure to Suspend Iran Flights over Coronavirus
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 22/2020
Lebanese were up in arms on Saturday demanding a halt to flights from Iran one day after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran. “We have made contacts with Iranian authorities who assured that all necessary measures will be taken before a new flight arrives from Iran Monday. The same measures will be taken for all flights arriving from coronavirus infected countries,” said Health Minister Hassan Hamad. He added: “Protection procedures from the disease will be activated more and more,” noting that the “woman’s health is getting better.”A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated said that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable. Hamad also said that two other suspected cases in the southern town of Nabatieh were being “monitored closely.” Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities. The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday. The Minister’s statement that an Iranian flight bound for Beirut will be allowed to land in Lebanon has sent a wave of anger among Lebanese. Tehran has now confirmed a total 18 infections and four deaths by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December. On Friday, Iraqi and Kuwaiti authorities were on high alert after banning travel the previous day to and from Iran, where authorities say the death toll from the new coronavirus has hit four. Lebanese, already grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis, took to social media demanding a similar ban for flights from Iran. “We have enough crises on our plate,” one Lebanese said in a tweet, “We can definitely do without a novel problem whilst one that robs us our health.” “The government must stop all flights coming from Iran. Our health is more important than anything else,” another Lebanese tweeted. China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 — most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.

Lebanon Bans Export of Protective Equipment after Coronavirus Reveal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 22/2020
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme issued a decision on Saturday banning export of basic and critical medical supplies used to decrease infectious disease transmission, one day after Lebanon confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus. The Minister said the decision was taken “considering any negative impact that might affect citizens’ health due to the lack of necessary medical personal protective equipment, and given the recent increase in export of these materials.”He said the ban will include supplies such as rubber gloves, face masks or respirators, shoe covers, etc. On Friday, Health Minister Hamad Hassan confirmed the first case of the infectious disease saying that two other suspected cases were being investigated. The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran, he said. A medical source at the hospital where the woman is being treated told AFP that she returned from Iran with a high fever, but that her immunity was good and her condition stable. Hamad Hassan said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran had been contacted by the health authorities. He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine. The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday. Tehran has now confirmed a total 18 infections and four deaths by the SARS-like virus, which first emerged in China in late December. Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities. China on Friday raised the death toll to 2,236 — most of them in the province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected. More than 75,000 have now been infected in China and over 1,100 abroad.

S&P Cuts Lebanon Debt Rating, Warns Further Cut Possible

Naharnet/February 22/2020
Credit ratings agency S&P lowered Lebanon’s debt grade a notch on Friday, but warned a further cut is possible should the government miss a payment to creditors. S&P Global Ratings lowered the sovereign credit rating to CC from CCC with a negative outlook, the agency said in a statement. Lebanon’s debt burden had been among the largest in the world for some time but a liquidity crunch has brought the crisis home and banks have imposed tough restrictions on dollar withdrawals. The government in Beirut faces a $1.2 billion debt payment on Eurobonds that reach maturity on March 9. “We are lowering our ratings because we believe restructuring or nonpayment of Lebanon’s government debt is virtually certain, regardless of the specific time to default,” S&P said in a statement, citing “severe fiscal, external, and political pressures.” The rating could be cut further to selective default or ‘SD,’ “if the government signals that it will undertake a distressed exchange offer or if it misses its next interest or principal payment.” Lebanon’s sovereign debt rating slid into junk territory long ago, but investor confidence has fallen further since a wave of protests erupted in October in a major challenge to the political establishment.
The Lebanese pound, which has been pegged to the dollar since 1997, has plummeted on the parallel market, further crippling the import-dependent economy. Prime Minister Hassan Diab met this week with a delegation from the International Monetary Fund to discuss how to tackle the country’s spiraling economic crisis. The Lebanese premier asked the Washington-based crisis lender for advice, but has yet to ask for financial assistance. S&P said that may reflect the “political unwillingness to accept harsh adjustment policies such as exchange rate liberalization.” Economists, investors and government officials are divided over what to do with the March bond payment. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, an influential player in a country where political and economic power are mostly held by the same elite, advocated debt restructuring. S&P said that would be “tantamount to default.”Many analysts have argued that paying the bonds next month would only deepen the crisis by putting further strain on foreign currency reserves. SourceAgence France

Education Minister Circulates ‘Prevention Plan’ over Coronavirus
Naharnet/February 22/2020
Education Minister Tarek Majzoub on Saturday circulated a national plan of preparedness to respond to the deadly coronavirus outbreak should cases start to proliferate in Lebanon, the National News Agency reported. “The Ministry of Education and Higher Education has prepared, in cooperation with related authorities, international organizations and local institutions, a national plan of action to prevent spread risks of Coronavirus,” the circular said. It noted that “the health official charged with carrying out the task will be responsible for the plan implementation and will organize awareness-raising meetings with parents, individually or collectively, according to the requirements of the situation.” Members should dedicate 20 minutes of information on how to prevent coronavirus with a focus on appropriate hygiene standards, such as sneezing hygine, hand-washing, and correct behavior using disposal methods. The circular also called on parents “not to send any student complaining of symptoms, such as a fever (38 ° C or higher), coughing, and shortness of breath.” The circular indicated that it was necessary for students, school employees and parents to contact the Ministry of Education on its hotline instantly (01772186) in confirmed cases. The outbreak which began in December has already killed more than 2,200 people and infected more than 75,500 in China. Lebanon recorded its first case on Friday in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran.

Protesters gather outside Jumblatt’s Clemenceau residence
NNA/February 22/2020
Demonstrators participating in today’s protest march staged a sit-in outside the residence of Progressive Socialist Party Chief, Walid Jumblatt, in Clemenceau this afternoon, where they chanted slogans condemning Jumblatt and his participation in power over the past years, NNA correspondent reported.

Protesters gather in Verdun in rejection of banking policies
NNA/February 22/2020
A group of activists started to gather nearby Concorde Square in Verdun this afternoon, facing BLOM Bank’s head office, in preparation for marching towards Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut, with stop-overs in front of “Fransabank” and ‘Bank du Liban” on Hamra Street, as well as “Mediterranean Bank” and “Bank Audi” in Bab Idriss, to protest the banking policies targeting small depositors, NNA correspondent reported.

Ministerial Crisis Cell: Measures adopted against Coronavirus, flights suspended to China, Korea, and Iran
NNA/February 22/2020
The Ministerial Crisis Cell, which convened this afternoon at the Grand Serail under Prime Minister Hassan Diab, to look into the Coronavirus issue following the recent confirmed case in Lebanon, took a series of decisions based on the recommendations of the “Follow-up Committee on Preventive Measures and Procedures for the Coronavirus”.
In details, the adopted decisions include:
1- Isolation of individuals showing symptoms of infection, and passengers arriving from areas where infected cases have been reported, at the Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital
2- Ministry of Interior to commission local authorities (municipalities) to supervise the implementation of the procedures for self-isolation of passengers returning from areas that have registered infected cases, and who did not show symptoms of infection, including all persons sharing their residence
3- Ministry of Health to generalize the self-isolation procedures mentioned in item 2 to citizens and relevant authorities4- Preventing Lebanese citizens and other residents of Lebanon from traveling to the areas that have witnessed Coronavirus cases, and mandating the Follow-Up Committee to provide the Public Security General Directorate with a list of such areas to implement this ban in all land and ports, and at the Rafic Hariri International Airport
5- Stopping campaigns and trips to isolated areas in the following countries: China, South Korea, Iran and other countries, with the exception of necessary travel cases (medicine, education, business), and instructing the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Defense to supervise the implementation of these standards in coordination with the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, the Public Security General Directorate and the Rafic Hariri International Airport Authority
6- Commissioning the Foreign Affairs Ministry, in coordination with the Ministries of Tourism and Public Health, alongside the Public Security General Directorate, to contact Lebanese nationals residing in the affected areas, monitor their health conditions, and coordinate with the local authorities to secure the required treatments and provide them with the necessary guidance
7- Commission the Ministries of Economy and Public Health to prevent the export of individual medical protective equipment (PPE), provide a count of local stock available and secure the import of necessary quantities
8- To spread awareness in sports clubs, schools, nurseries, universities, airport, airplanes and other places of crowded gatherings, of the obligation to implement health protection measures and frequent sterilization, in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Public Health
9- Commissioning the Ministry of Public Health with allocating a government hospital in each governorate/province to be an exclusive center for receiving any case of corona infection and providing it with the necessary specifications and equipment
10- Assigning the Ministry of Information, in coordination with the Disaster Risk Management Unit of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Public Health, to keep the Lebanese public opinion well-informed, transparently and periodically, of all procedures, decisions, and developments in this respect, in cooperation with the audio-visual and written media outlets and social media websites
11- Restricting the transfer of infected or suspected cases solely with the Lebanese Red Cross Association.

Health Minister from Nabatiyeh: No need to panic, no symptoms of Coronavirus in the two cases we examined
NNA/February 22/2020
Minister of Public Health, Hamad al-Hassan, visited the Nabih Berri Governmental Hospital in Nabatiyeh this afternoon, to follow-up on the issue of the two coronavirus suspected cases there. Hassan was received by Hospital Director, Dr. Hassan Wazneh, where both men held a closed meeting in the presence of the concerned doctors to discuss the details of both cases, where it was confirmed that no medical symptoms of the Coronavirus were detected. Both cases are currently placed under home quarantine, in coordination with the Prosecutor General of Nabatiyeh and the Kfarreman Municipality Police. After the meeting and the inspection tour in the section intended to be equipped as a wing for quarantine, Minister Hassan spoke to attending newsmen, saying: “Three constants must be emphasized: First, when there is an infection, we announce it in public and with full confidence relying on close examination. Secondly, the measures adopted by the Public Health Ministry in all land, sea and air ports are serious, and yesterday the World Health Organization made reference to the strict procedures taking place at Beirut International Airport, and this is a matter of pride. As for the third point which I would like to emphasize, it is the need for the media’s commitment, and today we shall meet with the Information Minister to affirm that the media is the responsible partner.” “There are procedures and guidelines that ought to be adhered to accurately, and fully implemented, and we must prevent certain sides, particularly on social media sites, from circulating malicious rumors that cause a general state of panic,” Hassan underlined.”A section in the Nabatiyeh Governmental Hospital has been equipped to receive any confirmed case to be quarantined, and to take samples to be sent to our center in Beirut to analyze the result within 24 hours,” Hassan added, urging people “not to panic, since there is only one confirmed case at Beirut Governmental Hospital while all those who were on board the plane did not show any symptoms till this moment.” “There is no antiviral treatment. The treatment is preventive and does not call for panic. We must be aware of the rumors spread on social media because we are carrying out all the procedures at the borders and at the ports, which allowed us to discover the case early,” Hassan went on, commending the epidemiological surveillance unit in this respect. He finally called on the municipalities to “take all necessary steps and coordinate with the health apparatuses and security forces to confront any emergency in this regard.”

Information and Public Health Ministers hold joint press conference on Coronavirus
Abdel Samad: For a Media-Health Crisis Cell to counter Corona disease
Hassan: Anxiety is permitted, but excessive panic is harmful to us

NNA/February 22/2020
Minister of Information, Dr. Manal Abdel Samad Najd, and Minister of Public Health, Dr. Hamad al-Hassan, held a work meeting and joint press conference at the Ministry of Information this afternoon, to shed light on the Coronavirus issue and the necessary and responsible awareness needed in this regard.
Attending the meeting were: Civil Aviation Director General Fadi al-Hassan representing the Minister of Public Works and Transport; Advisor to the Prime Minister for Health Affairs and Social Security, Dr. Petra Khoury; Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for National Defense, Major General Mahmoud al-Asmar; Information Ministry Director General, Dr. Hassan Falha; President of the National Council for Audiovisual-Media, Abdul Hadi Mahfouz; National News Agency Director, Ziad Harfouche, and representatives of the audiovisual and written media outlets.
Abdel Samad began the press conference with a word on national responsibility, saying: “Now that the first infection with the Coronavirus has been detected in Lebanon, national responsibility requires us, politicians, media people, citizens, schools and universities, to deal with the emerging crisis with full awareness. At the same time, this awareness requires us not to panic and not to underestimate.””In light of the double responsibility borne by the media in crises, we held a work meeting today with all the concerned, and there was consensus on the need to establish the awareness footprint of the media, in order to fully assume its national, professional and ethical roles,” Abdel Samad added. “We agreed that, what the citizen mostly anticipates in this circumstance, is the accurate medical information derived from its sources, i.e. the Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization, and periodic educational leaflets published in all media outlets, of all kinds, and across digital platforms,” she said.
Abdel Samad continued to outline today’s meeting guidelines, indicating that the attendees have stressed on the role of the Information Ministry and the National Media Council in this framework as being an “integrated, coordinating and guiding role, in cooperation with the media, to reduce the possible panic, shedding light scientifically and quietly on ways to prevent a virus, which can easily be eliminated with a little caution and a lot of awareness.”
“Let us all join the national, media and health crisis cell, with its deanship: the Ministry of Information with its directorates, the National Media Council, Lebanon TV, the Ministry of Public Health with its medical apparatus, and the printed, audio, visual and digital media,” declared Abdel Samad.
“The adoption of the National News Agency as a single and main source of information about Corona, wards off false and exaggerated news, and contributes to protecting health and social security, rather than rushing to spread the news without validation,” the Information Minister corroborated.
Moreover, Abdel Samad disclosed that the conferees also agreed that it would be beneficial under the current circumstances, to intensify awareness programs and broadcast periodic instructions in all media outlets, to help everyone overcome the crisis. It was also decided to coordinate between the relevant ministries, such as the Information, Justice, Interior and Public Works Ministries, in order to keep pace with the arising situation; maintaining the need to move quickly to combat false news which causes panic in society, and to hold accountable all those who contribute to the circulation and promotion of incorrect/ fabricated news.
For his part, Public Health Minister Hassan referred to the “sensitive circumstance” we are going through, underlining the need “for everyone to adopt the greatest sense of responsibility.” He added: “Anxiety is permitted, but excessive panic is harmful to us all, including state institutions, ministries, and public administrations.” “Today, we conducted a field tour, which we began from the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, all the way to Sidon Governmental Hospital, and then to Speaker Nabih Berri’s University Hospital in Nabatiyeh. We confirmed the readiness of the hospitals, and we followed-up on some cases that were promoted by the media yesterday, especially on social media and some television stations, and which were considered to be undocumented cases that might be the cause of virus spread. In this context, we affirmed that these cases are within control and have shown no disease symptoms, and are being followed-up periodically by the epidemiological surveillance unit in the Ministry of Public Health,” stated Hassan.
“The reassuring news today is that we examined 11 cases in the laboratory of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, and it was found that they do not carry the Coronavirus,” the Health Minister asserted. “These cases had symptoms, some who came to report their conditions individually on their own, and others who were transferred to hospital in coordination with the Lebanese Red Cross, from some regions,” Hassan went on, noting that “they had been visiting in Iran and some Arab countries.””These cases reveal the great awareness in our society, since the patients were the ones to initiate contact with the Ministry,” he said. Hassan concluded by deeming this as “reassuring” and must be “accompanied by reliable and verified news, with a responsible media, so that we can live up to our hopes, our aspirations, and our national responsibility at this stage.”
In turn, Minister Abdel Samad added to Minister Hassan’s concluding statement, by saying that “this is a shared national responsibility, for we are facing a problem that concerns all of us, not just the government, and we have to stand together to reach solutions…Every party must play its role, whether in terms of awareness, prevention, or refraining from publishing, transmitting or circulating incorrect news before verification, because any news can harm society and affect social and health security.” Abdel Samad hoped for “great care and responsibility by all sides, and mutual benefit for all if we manage to overcome this crisis.” “We cannot say that it is impossible to prevent such a crisis in Lebanon, but we can say that we can mitigate its risks, and play a role in reducing its negative consequences, which can be reflected across society as a whole,” she emphasized.
In response to a question, the Information Minister reiterated that the accuracy of news is more important than its speed. “We have to refer news to the Ministry of Public Health, the competent authority to verify its authenticity, which in turn refers it into the National News Agency, which circulates it to everyone. Accuracy remains the most important factor in this matter.”In turn, and responding to another question on the virus examination, Minister Hassan explained that “the examination is available, and the World Health Organization has provided us with the necessary materials in terms of number and quantity required, but not everyone wants to undergo this test, possibly for being costly…but we are talking here about health security, and when the examination is required and requested by the treating physician, we run it for free whenever necessary.” Asked about the other plane which is expected to arrive on Monday from Iran, Hassan explained: “The same measures will be taken, and they are adopted in all international airports; therefore, there is no need for any additional measures.”

Shiite Council: Decision to prevent religious visits falls within government’s jurisdiction
NNA/February 22/2020
Head of the Pilgrimage Section at the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council, Mufti Sheikh Hassan Sharifa, said in a statement on Saturday that “in wake of several contacts received from different parties, on the need to issue a circular to prevent visits to the countries in which infected Coronavirus cases have been announced, the Council affirms that its office has no authority to prevent any visitor from traveling to any destination, whether to visit Iran or Iraq, or to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages in the Saudi Kingdom, or to visit any other place.”
The statement added that “the issue is a general Lebanese matter and the instructions and decisions declared by the Lebanese government include us, like other citizens.”

Akkar-Rahhal Hospital denies news of Coronavirus case
NNA/February 22/2020
The Akkar-Rahhal Hospital administration denied, in an issued statement on Saturday, the “recent rumors and circulated news through certain social media networks and websites about the presence of a coronavirus infected case in the hospital.”The statement urged all sides “to practice caution and accuracy when it comes to publishing news and information.”

Lebanon hit by double rating downgrades as likely debt restructuring looms
Sarmad Khan and Massoud A Derhally/The National/February 22/2020
Both Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global cut the country’s ratings as restructuring appears more likely to happen given fiscal and external pressures
S&P Global and Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Lebanon deeper into junk territory, as the country facing its worst economic crisis in three decades, is on the edge of default and will most likely have to restructure its debt.
S&P lowered Lebanon’s ratings to CC/C from CCC/C with a negative outlook.
“We are lowering our ratings because we believe restructuring or non-payment of Lebanon’s government debt is virtually certain, regardless of the specific time to default,” said Zahabia Gupta, S&P’s primary credit analyst. “The government’s funding model has collapsed following substantial deposit outflows from the banking system.”
Lebanon was able to escape the 2008 global credit crisis relatively unscathed due to a high interest rate regime, which lured more than $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a month in capital flows that financed its fiscal and current account deficits. The country’s economy, which has long suffered due to domestic politics, rapidly deteriorated following the outbreak of war in neighbouring Syria in 2011, which slowed the flow of funds and led to negative deposit growth at Lebanese lenders.
“The deposit dollarisation rate rose to 76 per cent at year-end 2019, from 71 per cent a year earlier, as residents sought to convert local currency to dollars amid evaporating confidence in the financial system and the currency peg,” S&P Global said. “The run on deposits could have been more severe, if not for the restrictions on FX [foreign currency] withdrawals and transfers imposed by banks.”
Moody’s cut Lebanon’s government issuer rating on Friday to Ca from Caa2. The rating agency also downgraded Lebanon’s senior unsecured medium term note programme rating to (P)Ca from (P)Caa2. The country’s long-term foreign currency bond and deposit ceilings have both been lowered to Ca from Caa1 and Caa3, respectively.
The downgrade further into non-investment grade or junk territory reflects expectations that “domestic and external private creditors will likely incur substantial losses in what seems to be an all but inevitable near-term government debt restructuring”, Moody’s said. Rapidly deteriorating economic and financial conditions are increasingly “threatening the sustainability of the government’s debt and [the country’s] currency peg”.
Moody’s estimates the restructuring would likely entail losses for private domestic and external creditors in the 35 per cent to 65 per cent range. The agency’s stable outlook classification for Lebanon reflects its assumption so far that a debt restructuring may happen in coordination with creditors and under the umbrella of an economic adjustment programme agreed with the International Monetary Fund, which sent a team to the country over the weekend.
Fitch Ratings on Tuesday also said Lebanon’s financial position points to a likely restructuring of its debt and the country’s financial sector.
The Lebanese economy has entered its third consecutive year of negative growth and its public debt has risen to unsustainable levels. In the period from 2011-19, real GDP growth averaged only 0.5 per cent, the current account deficit exceeded 21 per cent of GDP and the fiscal deficit reached 9 per cent of the economy’s output.
Public debt increased from 131 per cent of GDP in 2012 to 164 per cent of GDP at end-2019, according to the latest estimates from the Institute of International Finance. The country’s public debt increased 7.6 per cent to $91.64b year-on-year as of the end of December 2019.
The Lebanese pound has already lost more than a third of its value against the US dollar in the black market amid mass protests against the government that began in October last year as lenders implements capital flows and restricted the withdrawal of dollars. Last month, the IIF estimated Lebanon will require at least an $8.5bn bailout package from the IMF to break its economic impasse, help it meet financing needs and restore growth. However, the political elite of the country is against an IMF bailout package that may require a devaluation of the currency and the implementation of taxes along with a string of other measures.
An IMF team is in Lebanon until February 23 for technical consultations to gauge the policy response to the ongoing crisis, although the country has so far not formally asked for a bailout from the IMF. Lebanon reached out to the fund earlier this month seeking technical advice as it faces a looming deadline to repay $1.2bn in eurobonds that hit maturity on March 9. Another $700 million is due in April and a further $600m in June.
If the current crisis continues for another six months, the government may not have a choice but to ask for a bailout, Garbis Iradian, chief economist for the IIF said in Riyadh on Friday.
Despite the informal capital controls implemented by commercial banks starting November, bank deposits at the end of last year had declined by $15.7bn – almost 30 per cent of GDP – from a year earlier, of which $11.4bn in the last quarter alone.
The country’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen below $30bn and Moody’s estimates only about $5bn to $10bn of the total are usable reserves to meet future foreign currency debt servicing requirements at $4.7bn in 2020, followed by over $4bn in 2021 including the country’s eurobond maturities.
“Given that Lebanon’s debt is mostly held by residents, a potential debt restructuring will have ripple effects across the domestic financial system, including depositors, and the economy,” S&P said. “We expect that social unrest, a contracting economy, and intensifying liquidity pressures in the private sector will make it politically difficult to repay creditors in 2020 … deep sectarian divisions in the political system and high regional security risks will continue to hamper policymaking, in our view.”

A Blackhole Swallows Lebanon!
Rajeh Khoury/Asharq Al Awsat/February 22/2020
This February 4, and after the Iranian regime repeatedly denied that the US sanctions have affected their economy, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that Iran is unable to transfer any money because of the financial sanctions.
He told ISNA News Agency that the US is not allowing them to transfer a single dollar, even from Iranian money abroad. It is indeed known that countries are forced to fully commit to any sanctions the United Nations imposes, but US sanctions are often more important and harsher. Naturally, officials in Lebanon, which are suffering from a suffocating economic and financial crisis know that the economic situation in Iran is suffocating.
Strangely, however, this did not stop the Speaker of the Parliament of Iran, Ali Larijani -who suddenly landed in Beirut last Monday – after meeting President Michel Aoun, from announcing that Iran supports the new government. This new cabient was born out of Hezbollah’s womb. Larijani stated that “Iran is ready to work to improve the economic situation in Lebanon”. This has reminded some of the saying “The blind cannot lead the blind, otherwise both will fall in a hole”.
The joke does not stop at an offer by those who have nothing to offer, but the Iranian visit came at a time that Beirut was swamped by reports from European countries and the US, which have increased pessimism by affirming that a group of factors make offering aid to Lebanon impossible and that the worsening crisis is lighter and easier than what is coming.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab rushed to hold a meeting with European ambassadors in Beirut, revealing that Lebanon needs urgent aid at all levels by saying that the government has put a plan of reforms that are compatible with the CEDRE Conference program.
The European countries that have always heard such promises by Lebanese officials, however, were astounded by the government’s statement, particularly on electricity, which represents the black hole that has swallowed more than 52 billion dollars, more than half of the public debt that has reached 100 billion dollars, a consistent waste of money that has destroyed the Lebanese economy.
Naturally, the International Support Group for Lebanon emphasized the importance of regaining the trust of the Lebanese people and the international community to activate future international aid to the country, affirming that the only way to do this is putting a serious program that is clear in supporting reforms, which fall in the interest of the nation and the people.
From this, some questions arise: Where is the interest of the Lebanese people which has been rebelling since October 17 against corruption and the political class and has yet to touch on any real step towards reform? On the contrary, they have found themselves begging for 200 dollars from their savings at the doorstep of banks, amid reports about hundreds of billions of dollars being transferred to European countries by a group of politicians who own around 40% of Lebanese banks.
Perhaps the worst part is that while the country stands at the brink of collapse with the Eurobonds’ due date nearing at the beginning of next month, at 1.2 billion dollars, and after the value of the Eurobond dropped to 17 cents for each dollar and bank owners purchased them at a declining price, they are now pressuring the central bank to pay its dues on time to make unbelievable profits under the guise of maintaining Lebanon’s reputation in the world.
Others, on the other hand, are calling for a rescheduling of the debt based on a real reform program with a timeframe to close down on wasting resources, at the front of which is electricity which has taken Lebanon to near bankruptcy. The International Support Group is now imposing conditions that begin with deep-reaching reforms especially in electricity and fighting corruption and tax evasion, as well as adopting a national strategy to stop the wild corruption in the country. Also, reforming the judiciary and implementing an accountability program.
However, they all go back to emphasizing the right to protest, which sounds like fully adopting the demands of the Lebanese people. This is what the UN representative in Beirut, Jan Kubis, repeated to high-ranking officials! More importantly, the international group demanded that Lebanon implement Security Council’s resolutions including 1701 and 1559 that stipulate limiting weapons to the state, respecting the Taef Agreement and announcing a dissociation policy. Larijani’s visit implied that it is impossible to implement these resolutions under a one-sided government and that it is impossible to be neutral considering the accusations by the Gulf countries, with Hezbollah’s continued involvement in battles and Iranian intervention in the region.
Despite this, the Prime Minister is repeating that he is planning an Arab tour that will start in Saudi Arabia, and that’s why the Iranians have tried to imply through Larijani’s visit that they are putting their fingerprints on the Lebanese authorities through a one-sided government and that they are the military decision-makers through Hezbollah’s weapons.
Consequently, it would be strange for the Gulf countries to concede to the new government’s request for aid. What is required is reforming relations on the grounds that Lebanon is an Arab country and that it is not allowed to slip under Iranian policies because an imbalance towards Iran’s interest alienates Saudi Arabia from Lebanon. The proof is that it decided to reduce its diplomats in Beirut after Hezbollah decided to form this government.
Returning to the point on the electricity black hole that has swallowed half of the public debt, it seems that the government is now facing a storm of disagreements and deep internal divisions, especially after the government statement adopted the policies of the previous governments from 2010 to 2019.
A few days ago, Speaker Nabih Berri made this clear by saying that he is headed toward “announcing war and that his target is the electricity battle, and that nothing is more important than the electricity battle, as fast and as cheap as possible”. Refuting the government statement, Berri stated that the best solution is constructing two power plants. Out of irony and for the sake of comparison, Egypt is 95 times larger than Lebanon and the population is 20 times that of Lebanon, and Egypt was nevertheless able to construct two power plants producing 14,400 megawatts with 7 billion euros. Lebanon, on the other hand, only needs 3,000 megawatts and has not been able to secure half with 51 billion dollars!

Serge Gelalian left, but his work for freedom will not
Dr.Walid Phares/February 22/2020
د.وليد فارس: رحل صديقي سارج كاليليان ولكن انجازاته لكل ما هو حرية هي باقية
Serge Gelalian, a friend, a cultural expert, historian, linguist, mathematician, and father and husband, passed away this morning at Rizk Hospital, Ashrafie, Beirut. Lost to cancer, after a long battle, Serge Gelalian’s passing is a loss to Lebanon even if most Lebanese today, do not know who he was and what role he played over the decades..
Of Armenian descent, this Beirut born intellectual has been active in his homeland Lebanon for the cause of freedom and change for forty years. In his younger years, throughout the 1980s, he was a scout, a social artist, a comedian and a satirical genius who was a member of the “Chansonniers de la Route,” the popular singers’ group, among the pioneers of the democratic revolution in Lebanon.
After the Syrian invasion of 1990, Gelalian lived a modest life under the “Taef Republic,” raising a family and working hard as a translator, social commentator, professor of linguistics at Saint Joseph University and lately an author of essays and books.
He was a faithful personal friend since the times we formed a social democratic network in Beirut (PSDC) in the early 1980s. His intellectual contributions to our debates were cunning, smart and enriching. Serge was a specialist of civil society, particularly the forces of change. Like other members of group, he was too early for the times we lived. The ideas he -and his colleagues- have advanced were prescient for the era. Those ideas, expressions and aspirations waited forty years before a third generation rose with them from Beirut to Tripoli last October.
Over the past couple decades, particularly since Facebook and other social media platforms were disseminated in Lebanon, Serge -known also as “The Baron”- assisted in letting us understand and appreciate the social evolution of the mother country. A prime observer of the minute moves inside that society, he offered (here in the US and the diaspora) very informed assessments of the cultural evolution inside Lebanon.
He emerged from the same root background I was raised in: multiple languages, books, university, neighborhood, resilience, We shared most cultural interests including even comics (bandes dessinees), songs, and sophisticated jokes. Serge’s legacy, like many unknown, or less known, intellectuals in Lebanon and the Levant, will be unveiled fully when his country will be freer or fully freed.
Serge left us and left behind a wonderful family, and many afflicted friends. But his work didn’t leave. It is a small part of a great quest for freedom. So long friend…

Iran, Hezbollah Stir Chaos in Syria’s Southwest
Jonathan Spyer/The Jerusalem Post/February 22/2020
جوناثان سباير/جيروزاليم بوست: إيران حزب الله يثيران الفوضى في جنوب غرب سوري
http://eliasbejjaninews.com/archives/83418/%d8%ac%d9%88%d9%86%d8%a7%d8%ab%d8%a7%d9%86-%d8%b3%d8%a8%d8%a7%d9%8a%d8%b1-%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b2%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%8a%d9%85-%d8%a8%d9%88%d8%b3%d8%aa-%d8%a5%d9%8a%d8%b1%d8%a7%d9%86-%d8%ad%d8%b2/
The global spotlight has currently returned to Syria because of the Assad regime’s current bloody offensive in Idlib, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The regime is trying to reduce the last enclave held by Sunni Arab rebels in the country’s northwest.
The assault has precipitated one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the bloody, nine-year war. Eight hundred thousand people have left their homes to flee the advance of regime forces and the relentless, indiscriminate bombing of Assad’s Russian allies.
Far to the south of Idlib, however, and largely ignored by the global media, events are under way that may offer a clue to the future direction of Syria. These events are of direct interest to Israel.
The regime is currently seeking to consolidate its presence in Deraa and Quneitra provinces in Syria’s southwest. Assad’s army completed its “conquest” of these areas in the summer of 2018.
The Syrian regime reconquered the southwest in 2018, but the region is still not silenced.
Observation of the current situation on the ground in these areas suggests, however, that the situation remains far from a return to the repressive and stifling order of the pre-revolt days.
Rather, the situation is characterized on the one hand by extensive Iranian and Hezbollah activity within the empty shell of the government’s structures, and on the other hand by an ongoing, armed resistance to that government. The precise organization, origins and nature of this resistance remain somewhat mysterious. But the tempo of attacks on regime positions and facilities is relentless, and increasing.
Hezbollah forces stationed at Juroud Arsal along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Deraa is where the Syrian rebellion broke out, in distant early 2011. Nine years on, it is not yet silenced. Rather, the area and its environs increasingly constitute Syria’s wild southwest.
Regarding Iranian and Hezbollah activity, the extensive human infrastructure maintained by Iran and its proxy in southwest Syria has been well documented.
In a recent report produced by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shimon Shapira and Col. (ret.) Jacques Neriah noted that since the return of the area to regime control, Hezbollah has been actively recruiting. The recruits come from among the area’s impoverished Sunni communities. They are tempted into the ranks by financial inducements. Hezbollah pays $250 a month, according to Shapira and Neriah. Three thousand five hundred local Syrians have been recruited in this way since mid-2018, according to the report.
Hezbollah commanders are recruiting impoverished Sunnis in the Golan Heights.
They further note that the Hezbollah commander behind these efforts is 50-year-old Munir Naima Ali Shaito, known as Haj Hashem. Shaito is a veteran and senior Hezbollah operative, and is former deputy commander of the elite Badr unit within the organization.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition but generally reliable source, reported this week that Iran-backed militia commanders have begun to offer financial incentives to the mukhtars of villages in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan, in return for their cooperation in recruiting village youth to the militias’ ranks. Among the villages named by the observatory are al-Habiriyah and Sultanah.
Iranian efforts in this area are not taking place in isolation from the official regime structures. Rather, in the manner Tehran favors, its operatives both cooperate with regime forces and operate from within them.
The powerful Air Force Intelligence Directorate and the 4th Armored Division, commanded by Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ chosen partners in southwest Syria. Hezbollah maintains an intelligence gathering facility within a base of the Syrian Arab Army’s 90th Brigade in the Hadr area, very close to the border with Israel, according to the JCPA report.The implications of this information are significant. The notion that an unproblematic return of the antebellum status quo and of the strong prewar Baathist state is taking place in areas where the regime has replanted its flag needs to be complicated. What is returning is something different – namely, the shell of the prewar regime, within which Iran and its allies appear to have unfettered freedom of action.
They are not having things all their own way, though. Since June 2019, according to the observatory, more than 300 attacks have taken place on regime and allied forces in the Deraa area. These have included shootings, and detonations of IEDs and mines. One hundred ninety-two people have been killed in these attacks, including 36 civilians and 100 members of the regime forces, and its “loyalists and collaborators,” according to the observatory.
Attacks on regime forces and facilities in the southwest have increased since June 2019.
The latest attacks came this week, when unidentified gunmen fired on an Air Force Intelligence checkpoint at the southern entrance to al-Musayfirah town in Deraa’s eastern countryside.
The precise figures produced by the observatory should be treated with some skepticism. Southwest Syria is closed to media coverage and so there is no way of verifying these. But the ongoing attacks on regime forces and facilities are confirmed from other sources and are not in doubt.
So what is behind these actions?
Haid Haid, a respected Syrian researcher on the war, notes that the regime’s continued arrests and violations of amnesty agreements with locals may be motivating the return to resistance.
An organization calling itself Popular Resistance (Al-Muqawama al-Sha’abia) has emerged and has begun to claim responsibility for the attacks. The group, as reported by Haid, gave an interview to an Arabic news site in November, declaring war on the regime and its associated militias. In the interview the spokesman, calling himself Saif al-Horani, said that the group has no affiliation with any foreign state or entity.
Haid notes, however, that no further information is available on this group. Doubts have emerged whether it exists at all, or whether it is simply an effort to take credit for acts committed by others. There is also the possibility that the overt “leadership” of Popular Resistance is an attempt by the regime to draw its opponents in Deraa into the daylight, so that they can be neutralized.
Identifying those behind Popular Resistance is important. A question of particular interest will be the role of Sunni jihadis affiliated with Islamic State or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in these actions. No evidence of either has emerged as yet. The perpetrators remain shrouded in mystery. But the attacks are continuing and increasing.
In the southwest, a failed state penetrated by outside powers faces an inchoate but deadly insurgency.
Events in Syria’s southwest matter for Israel because the chaos and the continued weakness of the Syrian state allow Iran to advance by stealth, organizing in the direction of Israel’s border.
More broadly, Deraa and Quneitra are worth watching with care, because they show that contrary to the impression conveyed in regime and Russian propaganda, normality is not returning to Syria with the advance of the regime’s flag.
Rather, in Syria’s wild southwest, what exists is a chaotic failed state, thoroughly penetrated by outside powers, and facing an ongoing, inchoate but deadly insurgency at the hands of those it claims to have vanquished.
*Jonathan Spyer is director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum and at the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy.

Beirut photo exhibition depicts perils to Lebanese heritage
Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly//February 23/2020
BEIRUT – Alice Mogabgab Gallery in Beirut will mark the centenary of the creation of Greater Lebanon through a series of exhibitions by photo artist Houda Kassatly, who documented Lebanese heritage, nature and traditions that have been damaged and abused by wars and post-war developments.
The series “From the End of Civil War till the Hirak; the Abused Heritage; Architecture, Environment, Refugees” covers 40 years of Kassatly’s work through 365 photos spread across five exhibitions.
The works revisit the architectural splendours of Beirut and Tripoli, the ecological wealth of remote Lebanese regions to the rocky beach of Dalieh in Beirut and the tragedy of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in their harrowing daily life in Lebanon camps.
“I wanted to convey a message of hope through Houda’s work,” said gallery owner Alice Mogabgab. “The photos of old houses and the nature that have been damaged from neglect and erratic development are not meant to make people sad but to show the people that we have treasures and we need to do something about preserving them.”
“It is a wake-up call, in line with the national awakening that swept Lebanon since mid-October. Houda has been conveying this message for the past decades through her photo exhibitions and the books that she has published.”
Since the start of her photography career in 1978, Kassatly has made it her mission to highlight Lebanon’s cultural and environmental heritage, both of which face constant bullying and degradation.
“The gallery has accompanied the artist in her many fights against orchestrated amnesia, overwhelming and devastating corruption, massive destruction of the heritage — all scourges that dominated the daily lives of Lebanese in (the) past three decades, against which they are revolting today,” Mogabgab said.
“It is a fact that the work of this artist constitutes an essential testimony, on both scientific and artistic levels, a work that deeply questions, challenges and disturbs a public, surrendered to the euphoria of reconstruction.”
The first exhibition, running through March 21 under the theme “Dalieh the Threatened Shore,” depicts the beautiful rocky beach, a prominent landmark on the main coastal promenade of Beirut, which was threatened by potential development plans. The plans were thwarted by strong activism on the part of civil society groups.
“The project on Dalieh is part of the work on Beirut that I started at the age of 20,” said Kassatly. “The diversity of the place was a great inspiration.
“It is about the only public coastal stretch in the city that is accessible for free. We find all kinds of people doing different activities from yoga in the morning to fishing, swimming and picnicking. All this panoply of people and the bustling life around this small piece of land was very inspiring.”
The area has a considerable natural interest because of its complex shoreline ecosystem, fossil-bearing rocks and plant life in a city with very little vegetation, Kassatly said.
In exhibitions titled “Tripoli of the Orient; Plural City” and “Beirut the Iconography of an Absence,” Kassatly focused on the waning architectural and social heritage.
“I have been documenting the old houses in Beirut right from the beginning because I could preview that they would disappear with all the developments taking place or fall into ruins from neglect,” she said. “It helped raise public awareness and encourage people to rediscover the city.
“The work on Tripoli, such a diverse and rich city, is meant to warn against harming the city in the same way Beirut’s old features were harmed. The old souks of Tripoli and the traditional artisanship are still alive. It is about the only city in Lebanon where you feel it is the Orient.”
In “Sacred Trees, Sacrificed Trees,” the artist raises the challenges made to the environment, which has been badly damaged. In addition to photos of the environment from different parts of Lebanon, Kassatly depicted street art filling protest hubs in which the cedar tree, Lebanon’s national symbol, was highlighted.
One exhibition featured the tragedy of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in their daily life in Lebanon camps.
“Each exhibition raises essential questions related to Lebanon,” Kassatly said. “All these questions are being raised now by the protest movement such as the environment, heritage, the fate of the refugees et cetera. But the main message that applies to the five exhibitions is a call to act and to change things.”
Mogabgab said the unprecedented five-part exhibition is meant to show that “the creative power of art will always triumph over the destructive forces of evil, notably politics.”
“In 2020, the country is far away from the initial vision of its founding fathers 100 years ago. This very sharp contrast, between today’s grieving reality and celebrated past, is feeding the rejection by the young generation who are in protest and cross swords with the all-powerful coalition of former militias, in power since 1990.”
*Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.