A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For March 25-26/2020 Addressing All That is happing In the Iranian Occupied & Oppressed Lebanon


A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For March 25-26/2020 Addressing All That is happing In the Iranian Occupied & Oppressed Lebanon
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
March 26/2020

Picture Enclosed With This News Bulletin: Our Lady of Lebanon Statue at Harissa Shrine lit with the colors of the Lebanese flag

Our Lady of Lebanon: Pray & Interced For Lebanon & The Lebanese
LCCC/March 25/2020
On the occasion of the Annunciation Day, the statue of Virgin Mary in the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon – Harissa was lit, with the colors of the Lebanese flag, on the intentions of Lebanon and the healing of all those sick with the Corona virus. Father Fadi delivered a homely of repenting in which he asked The Virgin Mary, who rises like a cedar on this hill, to intercede and supplicate with her son Jesus, as she did in the wedding of Cana of Galilee to save your children in Lebanon, for today we are in a feast of your gospel. He added, we are living a painful event and the danger of a pandemic rampant in the world and in Lebanon, we are waiting for you to ask your son Jesus to save us. We put our country and people in your heart Our Mother Virgin Mary, and we pray with you to your son Jesus to heal our sick people who have been afflicted by the epidemic, and to touch our country and its people. 

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 25-26/2020
Our Lady of Lebanon: Pray & Interced For Lebanon & The Lebanese
Lebanon’s Ministry of Health confirms new Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
Hasan: Rise in Coronavirus Cases Not Catastrophic, Quarantine is Inevitable
Lebanon’s Health Ministry holds quick tender to purchase 70 ventilators for government hospitals
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti: Our measures are strict, and time is not right for speculations or increasing concerns
Aoun on Annunciation Day: Stay Home and Pray
Berri, Diab Discuss Repatriation of Lebanese from Europe, Africa
Diab Marks Annunciation Day, Prays for Lebanon’s Salvation
Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council to Convene Thursday
Spanish Minister to Hitti: We asked for a European aid program for the southern Mediterranean countries, specifically Lebanon
Hitti: We dedicated a hotline to our embassies abroad to help the stranded Lebanese, We did not reject any Iranian assistance
Report: Lebanon’s Parliament to Hold Online Legislative Meetings
Two Guards of MP Sami Gemayel’s House Have Coronavirus
Fahmi greets the Lebanese on Annunciation Day
Moucharafieh meets with Health Committee: We seek to provide sustainable aids
Geagea, Fahmy discuss assassination of Antoine al-Hayek
Calls to Declare State of Emergency in Lebanon Spark Political Disputes/Khalil Fleihan and Asharq Al-Awsat/March 25/ 2020
Anger in Lebanon as insolvent banks donate $6 million for coronavirus/
Jacob Boswall, Al Arabiya English/March 25/2020
Lebanese taxi driver burns car after being fined in coronavirus lockdown/Emily Lewis, Al Arabiya English/March 25/2020
Jumblatt: Chloroquine challenges the monopoly of drug groups and their profits
Survivors of Lebanon, World Conflicts Offer Perspective amid Pandemic/Associated Press/Naharnet/March 25/2020
Lebanon: coronavirus is showing corrupt elites the scale of the damage they have caused/Michael Young/The National/March 25/2020
Hezbollah and Its Friends/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 25-26/2020
Coronavirus cases in Lebanon
NNA/March 25/2020
The Ministry of Public Health announced, in a statement on Wednesday, that “twenty-nine new laboratory-confirmed cases infected with the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been registered, including the cases diagnosed at the Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital, and those reported from other university hospitals accredited by the Ministry.” “The total number of confirmed Corona patients until today, March 25, has reached 333 cases,” the Ministry’s statement added. “These figures indicate the start of the outbreak phase of the disease, and accordingly the Ministry emphasizes the crucial need to implement of all preventive measures,” the statement underlined. The Health Ministry, thus, reminded all citizens to strictly remain at home, stressing that “this has become a moral individual and social responsibility and the duty of each and every citizen, for any negligence in this regards will expose citizens to legal liability.”

Lebanese Coronavirus Patient Dies as Four Recover
Naharnet/March 25/2020
A Lebanese coronavirus patient died on Wednesday as four others recovered, the state-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital announced.
The fatality raises the country’s death toll from the pandemic to six. Twenty patients have recovered until the moment according to a statement issued by RHUH. All the other patients at the hospital are in stable condition except for three who are critical, the hospital added.
MTV meanwhile identified the sixth fatality as a 46-year-old man who owns a shop in Bourj Hammoud, saying he had several health problems prior to his infection with coronavirus. A statement issued at noon by the Health Ministry said the country’s virus cases had surged to 333 after the confirmation of 29 cases over a period of 24 hours.

Hasan: Rise in Coronavirus Cases Not Catastrophic, Quarantine is Inevitable
Naharnet/March 25/2020
Health Minister Hamad Hasan noted on Wednesday that home quarantine is inevitable in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, adding that the government could consider a lockdown extension. In a statement he made after the introduction of coronavirus PCR examination device to the Baalbek Governmental Hospital, he assured that an increase in the number of people detected with coronavirus is normal until the quarantine ends. “The rise in the number of coronavirus cases is normal, it is not catastrophic. We will receive cases according to the available capabilities and our plan is set with a very realistic level,” he assured. However, the Minister stressed that “home quarantine is inevitable. It is the first line of defense and without it all other things will fall apart.”The two-week general mobilization state announced by the government to confront the spread of the virus ends on March 29th, “the government collectively takes a decision to extend it based on field data and based on the report of the Ministry of Health after calculating the number of cases,” concluded Hasan. President Michel Aoun marked Annunciation Day on Wednesday calling on the Lebanese people to stay safe at home and raise prayers so that Lebanon is able to overcome the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Make the Annunciation Day an occasion for prayer with the aim of consolidating our national unity after it was proven to all that our national unity is our shield in distress and hardship,” said Aoun. He pointed out that “this initiative is a global Muslim-Christian message that we are raising from Lebanon, in order to ward off the threat of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, so that the life cycle will return to normal soon.”The President also urged the Lebanese to abide by home quarantine and not to leave home to contain its outbreak.
Lebanon has so far confirmed 304 coronavirus cases among them four deaths and eight recoveries. It has declared a so-called state of general mobilization in bid to limit the spread of the virus.

Lebanon’s Health Ministry holds quick tender to purchase 70 ventilators for government hospitals
NNA/March 25/2020
The Ministry of Public Health announced, on Wednesday, that it is inviting tender quotations for the first phase (short term) of the process of securing the necessary medical equipment to combat the emerging corona virus. In this context, the Ministry asked all those interested to submit immediate bid offers for seventy artificial respiration apparatuses [ventilators] by next Tuesday afternoon, March 31, 2020 at the latest. For more information, the Ministry asked bidding sides to visit its website, www.moph.gov.lb, or to send their inquiries to the following e-mail address: LHR.PROC@moph.gov.lb. Offers are to be sent to the email: LHR.COVID19@gmail.com.

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti: Our measures are strict, and time is not right for speculations or increasing concerns
NNA/March 25/2020
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told National News Agency correspondent in Tyre, on Wednesday, that “UNIFIL is implementing strict measures in dealing with the emerging Corona virus disease,” highlighting the need “to act responsibly so we can fight against the virus together.”This came in response to a question over contradictory reports in the Lebanese media regarding UNIFIL’s actions in dealing with the Corona virus. Tenenti said: “Since the Corona virus outbreak began in Lebanon, UNIFIL has directed its efforts to prevent any spread of the highly contagious disease among its military and civilian personnel, as well as host communities. We have taken all necessary precautions. All these measures were taken in close coordination with the relevant Lebanese authorities and following strict, and sometimes stricter, policies and guidelines issued by the Lebanese authorities and the World Health Organization.”He added: “With regard to the United Nations peacekeeper whose results were positive, the mission was transparent from the beginning, and carried out all the needed medical procedures,” noting that the test results of all peacekeepers who were in contact with the patient came out negative. Tenenti stressed that “the recent exchanges taking place were not the result of a new decision, but rather are continuous exchange operations that started prior to the emerging circumstances that we are now facing.”“The precautionary measures that we have taken apply to all incoming individuals, both military and civilian,” he added. “All UNIFIL personnel returning from vacation or from abroad are placed in a two-week preventive quarantine,” Tenenti asserted.
He also affirmed that “despite the new situation, UNIFIL continues to carry out all its activities in its area of operations and along the Blue Line and at sea, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These activities are coordinated with the Lebanese Armed Forces.” “UNIFIL also reviewed the roles of all its civilian staff and implemented alternative measures, including home-based work. Additionally, and as a precaution, we measure the temperature of everyone entering our bases, including UNIFIL personnel, whether military or civilian,” the UNIFIL spokesperson reassured. Tenenti concluded by emphasizing that “we all have very important responsibilities in terms of transmitting information in a realistic and transparent manner. The time is not appropriate for speculations or for increasing concerns, but to act responsibly so we can fight against the Corona virus together.”

Aoun on Annunciation Day: Stay Home and Pray
Naharnet/March 25/2020
President Michel Aoun marked Annunciation Day on Wednesday calling on the Lebanese people to stay safe at home and raise prayers so that Lebanon is able to overcome the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Make the Annunciation Day an occasion for prayer with the aim of consolidating our national unity after it was proven to all that our national unity is our shield in distress and hardship,” said Aoun. He pointed out that “this initiative is a global Muslim-Christian message that we are raising from Lebanon, in order to ward off the threat of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, so that the life cycle will return to normal soon.” The President also urged the Lebanese to abide by home quarantine and not to leave home to contain its outbreak. Lebanon has so far confirmed 304 coronavirus cases among them four deaths and eight recoveries.
It has declared a so-called state of general mobilization in bid to limit the spread of the virus.

Berri, Diab Discuss Repatriation of Lebanese from Europe, Africa

Naharnet/March 25/2020
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Hassan Diab held talks Wednesday in Ain el-Tineh that focused on the issue of repatriating some Lebanese citizens from Europe and Africa over the coronavirus crisis. In this regard, Berri stressed that “the government must ensure all the requirements of care and protection for Lebanese expats as well as residents in terms of everything related to their health, social and financial security, wherever they may be.”The government “must exert utmost effort to return them to their country as soon as possible,” the Speaker urged. Diab for his part expressed willingness for cooperation, according to Berri’s press office, noting that he will seek technical advice from the country’s national anti-coronavirus committee on the issue of the stranded expats. “The meeting was also an opportunity to evaluate the measures that have been taken by the government and means to activate them and be stricter in implementing them at the national level in order to limit the threats of the pandemic,” the press office added. The two leaders also discussed the general situations, especially the financial and economic ones.

Diab Marks Annunciation Day, Prays for Lebanon’s Salvation

Naharnet/March 25/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab marked Annunciation Day on Wednesday praying that Lebanon overcomes its crises as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic. In a tweet, Diab said : “All hope is that the Feast of Annunciation will be a near rescue for Lebanon from its crises, and the nightmare of coronavirus pandemic be lifted with the help of the Lebanese themselves…We pray to the Lord Almighty to grant us a message of goodness.”Lebanon has so far confirmed 304 coronavirus cases among them four deaths and eight recoveries. It has declared a so-called state of general mobilization in bid to limit the spread of the virus.

Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council to Convene Thursday
Naharnet/March 25/2020
The Higher Defense Council will convene Thursday at 10:00 am at the Baabda Palace, the National News Agency said. The meeting will be presided by President Michel Aoun, at his invitation, and attended by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the permanent members and other officials. The Council had recommended the declaration of general mobilization over the coronavirus crisis, a recommendation that was endorsed by the government in the fight against the pandemic. The government has also ordered a lockdown until March 29 that includes the closure of all non-essential public and private institutions and the country’s ports of entry.

Spanish Minister to Hitti: We asked for a European aid program for the southern Mediterranean countries, specifically Lebanon
NNA/March 25/2020
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Nassif Hitti, was informed during a call on Wednesday with the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Arancha González Laya, that the government of Spain has asked the European Union Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy, Olivér Várhelyi, who is concerned with the countries of the southern Mediterranean, to develop a program that includes various aids to neighboring countries, specifically Lebanon. The Spanish Minister expressed the importance of supporting Lebanon at this stage, while Minister Hitti thanked Spain for this initiative.
The phone call was also a chance to explore ways to confront the threat of the spread of the Corona epidemic and what countries are doing, as well as the current prevailing situation in Europe. In the same connection, Hitti also contacted today Commissioner Várhelyi to thank him and discuss the material and qualitative assistance that the European Union can provide to Lebanon in this delicate circumstance. Both men agreed that Minister Hitti would provide Várhelyi tomorrow with a list of priorities that Lebanon needs, so that the EU Commissioner can, in turn, prepare a list of what the European Union can extend to Lebanon within the framework of the neighborhood policy and the bilateral cooperation between Lebanon and the European Union.

Hitti: We dedicated a hotline to our embassies abroad to help the stranded Lebanese, We did not reject any Iranian assistance
NNA/March 25/2020
Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Minister, Nassif Hitti, confirmed in an interview with “Lebanon TV” on Wednesday, that he is conducting ongoing contacts to ensure the necessary and urgent economic and social assistance for all Lebanese citizens.
In this context, Hitti disclosed that a hotline has been established with Lebanon’s embassies aboard to help all stranded Lebanese, adding that information is also available on the website of the embassies that are in contact with associations, clubs and communities to assist the Lebanese abroad. “The work of our embassies with friendly countries is not incompatible with the work of the World Health Organization,” he explained. “We have contacted governments and communities in all countries to help the Lebanese abroad and provide them with all possible assistance,” added Hitti.
“I understand the feelings of every Lebanese citizen outside Lebanon who wants to return and is unable to do so, because the airports are closed due to the risk of movement during this health crisis,” the Foreign Minister went on. “We appeal to our people in Lebanon and abroad to stay home and not to go out unless absolutely necessary,” he reiterated.
“We are working with the Ministry of Information to provide all reassurance to the Lebanese, whether inside or outside Lebanon, and to ensure their protection in light of the Corona virus outbreak,” the Minister continued to emphasize. “We want the Lebanese who are currently abroad to return under safe health circumstances and according to objective conditions, most prominently the availability of the PCR test, so that we would be able to subject them to it and confirm that they do not have the virus, and hence, ensure their safe entry into Lebanon and their home quarantine,” Hitti said.
“Ever since the beginning of the crisis, I have met and contacted all ambassadors and representatives of international organizations accredited in Lebanon to urge them to provide assistance to Lebanon,” the Minister disclosed. “Several countries have responded to our calls, including France, which responded to my request when I visited it before the crisis erupted, and Britain and China, which will send second aids soon. We count on friendly countries, international organizations and the United Nations in particular. We spare no effort to hold contacts, and we thank in advance the countries that want to help,” Hitti maintained. In response to a question about the Iranian Embassy’s willingness to assist Lebanon and the claims that the Foreign Ministry has refused this help, Hitti said: “Every embassy whose country wishes to contribute is welcome, and we do not politicize this matter. Yet, there are countries that need help, and those who claim that the Foreign Ministry has turned down help from Iran have to prove their allegations with evidence.” Commending the Ministry of Health for all its efforts, Hitti said: “We work in the government as a team of solidarity and integration on more than one front, and many ambassadors have praised our approach….We were the first to deal with the emerging corona virus and we are working to present a project with a different economic vision to get us out of the crisis.” He also stressed the need for the Foreign Ministry to move forward in the interest of the nation, noting that there are aids from countries that will accompany the government’s economic plan. “During the storm of corona and in the face of the economic challenges, we must be join together hand-in-hand,” concluded Hitti.

Report: Lebanon’s Parliament to Hold Online Legislative Meetings
Naharnet/March 25/2020
Speaker Nabih Berri has said that the Parliament will be holding online legislative and supervisory meetings as the nation witnesses a two week lockdown over coronavirus fears, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. The daily quoted the Speaker as saying that “the meetings will be held through video conferencing technology and through specialized institutions, which saves time and cost.”The Information Technology team of the official Parliament website communicated with MP Nadim Gemayel, in his capacity as Chairman of the Information and Technology Committee, initiating work on organizing an electronic application program for the purpose, added the daily.

Two Guards of MP Sami Gemayel’s House Have Coronavirus
Naharnet/March 25/2020
Two guards of the house of Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, the party said on Wednesday. Noting that the two guards belong to the Internal Security Forces, Kataeb said one of them contracted the virus from his sister, who is a nurse at the Notre Dame des Secours hospital in Jbeil, before infecting his colleague. “They are both being quarantined at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital,” the party added. “Consequently, all the necessary measures to prevent infections among the security detail were taken,” Kataeb went on to say, noting that everyone tested negative for coronavirus.“Gemayel and all his family members are in good health and he is staying home where he is working in line with the requirements of the current situation,” the party added.

Fahmi greets the Lebanese on Annunciation Day
NNA/March 25/2020
“Our Lady has her place in the Bible and the Holy Qur’an, and has made the rapprochement between Christianity and Islam in more than one event in history,” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi, said Wednesday via his Twitter account. He added: “On this blessed day, we pray that Lebanon and the whole world will overcome this ordeal.

Moucharafieh meets with Health Committee: We seek to provide sustainable aids
NNA/March 25/2020
Minister of Social Affairs, Ramzi Moucharifieh, met today at his Ministry office with the members of the Public Health, Labor and Social Affairs Committee, headed by MP Assem Araji, with social and health developments topping their discussions. After the meeting, Araji said: “We visited the Minister of Social Affairs today to discuss developments. We learned about the Social Ministry’s assistance plan in coordination with other ministries, in light of the difficult circumstances we are going through, especially since there are many workers who have become jobless and part of them are receiving half their salaries, in addition to the daily-workers who are now without income. The living conditions have become hard for a large number of Lebanese, and the poverty rate has increased significantly.”Araji indicated that Minister Moucharaieh has put a quick response plan into effect in wake of the emerging Coronavirus disease, which includes parcels of food items and sterilizers, compiled in cooperation with the Industrialists Association and the Food Bank, to be distributed to 100 thousand families, costing the state 18 billion Lebanese pounds. He also revealed that there will be a set plan to extend monetary deadlines, due to the inability of citizens to pay their taxes or loans. As for the displaced Syrians, Araji reported that Minister Moucharafieh has agreed with the UNHCR to set up tents for isolation, adding that work is underway to contract with private hospitals to receive Corona patients when needed, in addition to arranging with UNRWA to take care of Palestinian refugee affairs. The MP reiterated his appreciation to the Minister of Social Affairs, “who is exerting all efforts with the various ministries concerned, to pass this stage.”Minister Moucharafieh, in turn, hoped that “the crisis will not be for long,” stressing that “the government seeks to provide sustainable aid to citizens, not only for a short period of time, in cooperation with the Parliament Council to alleviate the burdens off all citizens.”

Geagea, Fahmy discuss assassination of Antoine al-Hayek
NNA/March 25/2020
The Press Office of Lebanese Forces Party Head, Samir Geagea, announced in a statement on Wednesday, that “Geagea contacted this morning Interior and Municipalities Minister, Brigadier General Mohamad Fahmy, with whom he discussed the assassination of Antoine Al-Hayek last Sunday, whereby Fahmy assured Geagea that he has accorded this crime the utmost attention and follow-up from the start, in order to unveil its circumstances.”In turn, Geagea appealed to the Interior Minister to personally follow-up on this issue due to its sensitivity and its impact on coexistence between the Lebanese in general, and in the South in particular.

Calls to Declare State of Emergency in Lebanon Spark Political Disputes
Khalil Fleihan and Asharq Al-Awsat/March 25/ 2020
Political tensions emerged in Lebanon amid criticism by some party leaders over how the government has responded to the coronavirus outbreak, driving many officials to call on authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri advocates the need to impose a state of emergency and had pressed Prime Minister Hassan Diab to announce it. However, Diab refused. Instead, his cabinet declared a general mobilization, including the increase of army patrols, as part of its containment measures.
Contacted by Asharq Al-Awsat, sources from the government refused to comment in what was interpreted as Diab’s refusal to become embroiled in an open dispute with Berri. They instead implied that the constitution does not necessitate declaring a state of emergency to confront health crises, no matter how severe they are. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and member of the parliamentary health committee MP Qassem Araji had also called for a state of emergency.
Constitutional experts explained that major differences exist between a state of emergency and general mobilization. They said that the national defense law stipulates that the government may declare general mobilization when a threat is endangering the population.
“A state of emergency is completely different from a general mobilization mainly because it has a military nature,” former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told Asharq Al-Awsat. A state of emergency ultimately means that control of the country would be transferred to the army.
On Monday, demands to declare a state of emergency increased amid President Michel Aoun’s continued refusal. He denied claims that his rejection is driven by political reasons, after some media said he does not want to hand over control of the country to the army.
A statement from the presidency said such allegations were aimed at driving a wedge between the president and military. The government’s decision to announce general mobilization was based on the Higher Defense Council recommendations and an objective assessment of the situation in Lebanon amid the virus outbreak. Opposition sources said that the Army Command has never proposed, directly or indirectly, the issue of the state of emergency. “The army is not part of the political dispute in the country,” they said.
The sources warned that the general mobilization contributed to the return of the phenomenon of regions adopting their own security measures whereby some municipalities set up checkpoints to control the movement of citizens, prompting the army to interfere and remove them.
Jumblatt wrote Tuesday on his twitter account: “Some municipalities have been blocking roads and setting up barriers, which is a form of self-security; however, this may cause many problems. The best solution is for the security forces and Lebanese army to take over these roads and implement the necessary measures against those who violate the curfew.”He also reiterated calls for declaring a state of emergency and ensuring the basic needs of citizens.

Anger in Lebanon as insolvent banks donate $6 million for coronavirus
Jacob Boswall, Al Arabiya English/March 25/2020
The Association of Banks in Lebanon’s decision to donate $6 million to government hospitals battling coronavirus has drawn criticism from angry depositors. “[ABL Chairman] Salim Sfeir is donating to the government – but from where?” one Twitter user demanded in Arabic.“One minute he is donating our money and the next he has used Corona as an advert for his poisoned [banking] sector,” another observed. Another Arabic user likened the ABL’s gesture to “giving an HIV patient a cup of camomile tea.”The money from the ABL will purchase 120 respirators for use exclusively on corona patients across Lebanon, according to a statement from Sfeir’s office. “Our initiative is a national obligation. It is only the beginning and will be followed by many more in the upcoming days,” Sfeir said in a press conference announcing the donation. He added that the banking sector will continue to be on the front line of the fight against coronavirus.
Dr Naji Aoun, an Infectious Control Physician at Clemenceau Medical Centre, believes that the ABL’s donation would only make a difference if cheap treatment and testing becomes available soon. “We don’t need money in private hospitals. What we need is the support of our government to open airspace and shipping routes to import medication and rapid testing kits.”Rapid testing kits, which are cheap and quick to deploy, are not currently approved by Lebanon’s Health Ministry. This has left many importers unable to bring much-needed supplies such as testing kits into the country, Dr Aoun explained.
Healthcare struggling but capital controls unpopular. The ABL’s donation is desperately needed. Coronavirus cases in Lebanon have almost doubled in the last four days, bringing the total to just over 300. Human Rights Watch warned Tuesday that the country’s financial and economic crisis has led to a shortage of medical supplies, pointing out that the government owes private hospitals around $1.3 billion in unpaid bills. But the angry public response was hardly surprising at a time when public trust in the Lebanese banking sector couldn’t be lower. The ABL fell foul of Lebanese citizens last year after banks imposed informal capital controls on depositors in response to Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis. Many depositors feel that the capital controls were imposed unfairly, allowing those with influence to send their money abroad when banks were supposedly closed. Estimates of the illegal capital flight range from $800 million to $11 billion. Many prominent Lebanese politicians have also made donations in recent days including Druze leader Walid Joumblatt. Last weekend, Joumblatt pledged $500,000 to Rafiq Hariri Hospital – the largest public hospital in Lebanon and the only one to offer free testing for coronavirus – and $100,000 to the Lebanese Red Cross. “With the outbreak of the epidemic, new measures must be taken, including a national fund to look after hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs,” Joumblatt added during an appearance on a local TV show.

Lebanese taxi driver burns car after being fined in coronavirus lockdown
Emily Lewis, Al Arabiya English/March 25/2020
A Lebanese taxi driver set his car alight on the main road leading to Beirut’s airport Tuesday after being fined by police for not complying with measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Videos that circulated on social media showed a white Renault vehicle engulfed in flames while Lebanese Army soldiers tried to hold back the driver, who was shouting in clear distress. Over the weekend, Lebanon’s military and security forces stepped up their crackdown on members of the public violating orders to remain at home except in cases of “extreme necessity” to curb the COVID-19 coronavirus. The total number of coronavirus cases in Lebanon rose to 304 Tuesday, according to the Health Ministry. Four people have died from the disease so far. The ramped-up measures included setting up checkpoints on key roads, army patrols touring the streets and Internal Security Forces handing out hundreds of tickets every day.
Taxi drivers condemn government fines
Taxis travelling with more than two passengers are subject to fines of upwards of 50,000 Lebanese lira. A local committee for public transport drivers, including taxi drivers, issued a statement Tuesday condemning the fines, as they are being imposed on people who take key workers such as nurses and bakers to and from their jobs. “The committee calls on the government to find rapid alternative solutions to ensure drivers have a minimum decent standard of living in these difficult circumstances,” the statement added. Taxi drivers are among the thousands of workers in Lebanon who rely on day-to-day earnings and do not have a social safety net to fall back on. According to a 2019 International Labour Organization survey, these informal workers make up around 55 percent of Lebanon’s workforce. Despite the government-imposed lockdown and the significant risk of contracting the coronavirus, many of these people continue to go out to work simply to earn enough money to provide for their families. A GoFundMe page was set up just hours after the incident to raise $10,000 to enable the taxi driver to buy another car and “get back the source of his income.”

Jumblatt: Chloroquine challenges the monopoly of drug groups and their profits
NNA/March 25/2020
Progressive Socialist Party Chief, Walid Jumblatt, wrote a French tweet today on the Coronavirus treatment, which was circulated by the Party, translated as follows: “One of the reasons for the controversy triggered by Professor Didier Raoul over the use of Chloroquine to combat the Corona virus, is that it challenges the monopoly of large drug groups and their enormous profits.”PSP indicated that Raoul is a French physician who runs the University Hospital Institute in Marseille, and who has revealed that Chloroquine treatment proved to be effective in reducing the proliferation of four types of the emerging Coronavirus epidemic in the patient’s cells.

Survivors of Lebanon, World Conflicts Offer Perspective amid Pandemic
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 25/2020
As Western countries reeling from the coronavirus pandemic awaken to a new reality of economic collapse, overwhelmed hospitals, grounded flights and home confinement, it’s tempting to think the end of days is at hand.
But for millions across the Middle East and in conflict zones farther afield, much of this is grimly familiar. The survivors of recent wars, too often dismissed as the pitiable victims of failed states, can offer hard-earned wisdom in times like these.
The comparisons with wartime lockdowns only go so far, as those who have lived through both readily acknowledge.
Hanaa al-Yemen, a 55-year-old mother of three in Lebanon’s port city of Sidon, lived through her country’s 1975-1990 civil war and various other bouts of violence, including the 2006 war between Israel and the Hizbullah group.
But she said the coronavirus pandemic, and the countrywide lockdown imposed to contain it, is like nothing she’s ever experienced.
“We used to be so scared of the warplanes and the random shelling, but we could still go out at times and work,” she said. “Today there is an enemy and a danger that we don’t know, we can’t see or touch it, and it can strike us or a member of our family at any time.”
Few have more experience with lockdowns and closures than the Palestinians. During the uprising known as the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, Israel shut down parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza for weeks on end, using checkpoints and curfews to try to quash it.
In 2002, Israel imposed an around-the-clock curfew in Bethlehem for weeks as troops battled Palestinian militants holed up in the Church of the Nativity, built on the site revered by Christians as Jesus’ birthplace.
Jamal Shihadeh remembers being stuck in his home for 25 days before he slipped out and fled to a nearby Jewish settlement in order to work. He ended up sleeping in the factory until the closures were lifted.
Now he is stuck at home again. Israel and the Palestinian Authority sealed off Bethlehem and severely restricted movement after several residents and tourists tested positive for the coronavirus.
The virus causes only mild symptoms in most patients, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems. “A virus outbreak is much more serious than an Israeli invasion,” Shihadeh said. “You can stay away from the soldiers, but I’m not sure you can stay away from a virus.” Now he and his wife and sons, who have been stuck at home since March 5, live much the same way he did in 2002. They watch the news and Arab soap operas on TV, they play cards and socialize, and they wait for the situation to improve.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. Travel in or out is heavily restricted, and many Palestinians were trapped in their homes for days or weeks at a time during the three wars Hamas has fought with Israel.
During the 2008-2009 war, Mohammed al-Attar awoke one morning to the sound of tanks, aircraft and gunfire. By then, much of his extended family had gathered on the ground floor, with about 80 people sleeping in the living room, kitchen and other areas away from outer walls or windows. The family had stocked up on mattresses and basic goods, but after five days they raised white flags and were evacuated to a school that had been turned into a shelter.
“We were just praying for it to stop and that we would stay alive,” he said. “Other things were not important.”
Gaza has only reported two coronavirus cases, but there are fears that even a small outbreak could overwhelm its health care system. There are only about 60 ventilators in the territory of 2 million, and most of the breathing machines are already in use by patients with other ailments.
Long before the pandemic, Gazans were forced to adapt to daily hardships. Most only have a few hours of electricity a day, the tap water is undrinkable, and the unemployment rate is about 50%. It’s almost always been difficult to leave, even for those who can afford it, and now the borders with Israel and Egypt are sealed.
In Sarajevo, the lockdowns have revived painful memories of when the city was besieged for 46 months during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
Bosnian Serb fighters were deployed on the surrounding hillsides and pounded the city with artillery fire. There were severe shortages of food, water and electricity, and snipers gunned down those who ventured out.
It was the kind of thing you hear about on the news, the kind of thing that happens in faraway countries. That’s what the people of Sarajevo thought.
And then it happened to them.
Aida Begic, a filmmaker who was a teenager at the time, recalls how even after fighting began in other parts of the country, no one in Sarajevo thought it would reach them.
“Then it happened, and it lasted for three and a half years,” she said. “When something like this (pandemic) is happening, we do not doubt that it will happen to us. We expect it to happen to us. We are certain that it will.”Now, many are drawing on lessons from the war. Some are buying wood-burning stoves, seed potatoes and onions. Begic knows people who have bought up to 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of flour.
“Someone who hasn’t had our experience may not remember that they must buy extra face cream and other similar everyday products,” she said. “We remember the things we missed during the war.”
In Cuba, which is under a 30-day lockdown, many have become masters of self-sufficiency through decades of U.S. sanctions and several periods of severe stagnation in the centrally planned economy.
“We’re always storing things,’’ said Taimy Martinez, a 41-year-old administrator in a state-run business. “If we have chicken, we use it little by little. If we have money to buy canned food, we do. Sugar, a bit of bread to make toast, we make it last.”
“I can endure a three-week quarantine if we start today,” she said.
In the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, lockdowns have been a fact of life for decades. Pakistan and India have split the region in two, each claiming it in its entirety, while residents have long demanded independence or union with Pakistan.
Last August, India stripped the region of its semi-autonomy. Fearing mass protests or a full-blown uprising, it ordered the region’s 7 million people to stay indoors for months and imposed an information blackout, cutting off internet and even phone service. Indian troops arrested thousands in anticipation of protests.
It’s happened before, and Kashmiris have learned to make the best of it.
“I can enumerate at least half a dozen things which curfews and security lockdowns have taught us,” said Sajjad Ahmed, a schoolteacher.
He says volunteers have mobilized to help the elderly and infirm. Parents have learned to home-school their children, and nearly everyone has mastered basic first aid, often by treating those wounded in clashes with security forces.
When extended families are stuck inside for weeks or months at a time, they share stories, imparting a sense of history that can provide strength in times of turmoil.“It helped us to rediscover the family and social talk,” Ahmed said.

Lebanon: coronavirus is showing corrupt elites the scale of the damage they have caused
Michael Young/The National/March 25/2020
As the Lebanese lock down, Beirut is being forced to realise how unsustainable its political and economic choices have been
Lebanon is a country that has received little attention during the Covid-19 crisis. As of Monday, the country officially had over 250 coronavirus cases, with four confirmed fatalities. People in Beirut estimate the real number of infections to be four to five times that number, and the government’s decision to deploy the army to prevent people from violating quarantine rules reinforces that view.
For now, the disease still appears to be under control. However, the fear is that if things were to get out of hand, the public health system would be overwhelmed. What makes Lebanon more vulnerable than many other places is that the country is going through a major economic crisis. The state is bankrupt and its ability to withstand a long lockdown, or to import material to address the health emergency, is limited.
The shutdown, which began in mid-March and involves people remaining at home while most commerce is suspended, will also have severe consequences for a county that cannot afford to be idle. In the past five months, Lebanon’s economy has been in free fall, with banks reacting by severely limiting withdrawals or transfers abroad. This has forced many businesses to close, leaving tens of thousands unemployed.
The downward slide began last October, when demonstrations took place against the corruption of the political class and increasingly stringent economic measures. As protests continued, banks introduced de facto capital controls in the realisation that the angry mood had undermined the system the state had set up to finance its ballooning public debt. Many refer to it as a Ponzi scheme that has come to an end. Banks had offered interest rates on deposits that were much higher than the global average, paying these off by attracting new deposits into the system. With confidence gone, the banks feared account holders would rush to withdraw money, leading to the banking system’s collapse.
oreign assistance to Lebanon has been conditional upon the introduction of reforms. Yet the country’s political class has resisted this, as it would reduce their share of the rents they are extracting from the state. Indeed, Hezbollah was one of the parties initially opposed to a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The party feared that this would cut into its own revenues, while also weakening the political class it has propped up to solidify its position in the country.
In recent weeks, however, Hezbollah had walked back its resistance to IMF funding, understanding that Lebanon has no other source of hard currency available to help it out of its predicament. For a country whose foreign currency reserves have reached alarmingly low levels, and that imports most of its food and medicine as well as all of its fuel, refusing an IMF bailout would be suicidal.
The Covid-19 pandemic makes recourse to the IMF even more probable, limiting the latitude of politicians to sideline economic reform. Because of the freezing of economic activity since October, and particularly since the coronavirus outbreak, the state’s revenues have fallen precipitously. This will ensure a larger budget deficit than the government had anticipated, requiring drastic spending cuts the politicians would have preferred to avoid, or delay.
These cuts will impose painful trade-offs on the state. More importantly, they will place the politicians in a dilemma. On the one hand, spending cuts will mean that more people suffer, making resistance to the IMF and its menu of austerity easier. On the other hand, it would make a recourse to the organisation to help Lebanon manage its debt even more urgent, with politicians less able to prevent it.
The reality is that many Lebanese are of two minds about the IMF. While they do not want the burden of reform to be placed upon their shoulder, many would welcome the international organisation providing liquidity to help revive the economy and reduce unemployment. They would also welcome seeing the political class cornered by an outside actor into introducing necessary reforms, such as in the highly corrupt, expensive, and inefficient electricity sector for instance.
In addition, the increased expenses from treating the coronavirus outbreak – which may include importing medicine, equipment and other necessities from the international market – could run down foreign reserves more rapidly than expected. This would also increase pressure on the state to go to the IMF.
Yet the international economic environment is something of which the Lebanese should be wary. Most countries will suffer from the aftershocks of Covid-19. This means that international interest in Lebanon’s well-being – never high in the first place – may disappear. In other words, the country will have to show seriousness if it wants to compete for IMF assistance against a rapidly expanding field of countries in distress. To be blunt, today Lebanon is a priority to no one but the Lebanese.
It may be dawning on Lebanon’s politicians that the system they plundered so recklessly for decades is falling victim to Covid-19. The unsustainable nature of that system was evident months ago, but the virus may have just made the efforts of the political class to keep it alive all but impossible. When a system is rotten to the core, a complete rebirth is often the only remedy to resolve things.
*Michael Young is editor of Diwan, the blog of the Carnegie Middle East programme, in Beirut

Hezbollah and Its Friends
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/March 25/2020
The most noteworthy aspect of Hezbollah’s general-secretary’s last speech was the shift from denial to affirmation.
Denial reflected an image of the party as one that is fighting for justice and truth, a battle that disregards the balance of power in its path to fulfill its “honest promise”.
This allowed the party to speak in the name of the Lebanese people and threaten its enemies, whom it would frame as the enemies of the Lebanese. It also allowed it to attract countless remains of parties, ideologies, and defeated dreams which count on the party to bring them back from oblivion.
Affirmation refers to admitting to the Lebanese, though with circumlocution, that the party is subject to certain balances of power and that there are things it can and cannot do. This affirmation, by extension, confirms the following: The balance of power has shifted slightly against it after the US sanctions hit the party and Iran and Lebanon as well because of it. It also shifted because the economic difficulties facing Hassan Diab’s government became clear. In addition, the revolution showed that the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese do not favor the same choices as those of Hezbollah.
Even before their position was recently weakened, there had been many instances throughout the party’s history in which it demonstrated that it succumbs to the balance of power: From the “April Understanding” in 1996 to the Security Council Resolution 1701 after the 2006 war, and in between, “the understanding” with those who had been denounced as “agents of America and Israel” by the media of the axis of resistance. This “understanding” with the Aounists was reached to break the political blockade of Hezbollah that had sprung up after the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
This “understanding” did not cheat anyone: its sixth clause states: “Based on both sides’ conviction that the presence of Lebanese citizens in their homeland is better than their presence on enemy territory, the resolution of the question of the Lebanese residing in Israel requires swift action to ensure their return to their country, taking all the political, security and livelihood circumstances surrounding the matter into consideration. Thus we call on them to promptly return to their country in compliance with the call issued by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah following the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon and the speech delivered by General Michel Aoun in the first parliamentary session.”
Retired Brigadier General Fayez Karam was one of the beneficiaries of this clause. It was agreed that sentences for collusion with the enemy would be suspended.
Of course, contrary to what was claimed in the speech, Hassan Nasrallah knew that Amer Fakhoury would be smuggled out. However, Hezbollah cannot bear making that kind of affirmation, for it would not just contradict its narrative about itself and its cause; it would shock its followers who grew up on this narrative, on denial. Nasrallah, though, cannot name any political faction that facilitated Fakhoury’s escape, since losing allies who make his missions in Syria and abroad easier would shift the balance of power further against the party.
What is happening cannot be unlinked from Iran’s simultaneous release of Michel White over “humanitarian and health reasons.” White is a US citizen who had been detained since 2018. Iran also asked for an emergency loan of 5 billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund and has perhaps reached new understandings with the Americans concerning Iraq.
In other words, Hezbollah acted in “Lebanized” fashion. Its secretary-general, aware of the balance of power in the country and the region, almost repeated the phrase of the Kataeb Party founder Pierre Gemayel: Lebanon’s strength is in its weakness.
Naturally, it was a painful blow that Nasrallah could not evade. This is why we saw him directing his speech at friends rather than enemies whom he normally threatens. Instead of the customary screaming, he seemed noticeably dejected by the “kin” and those who are kept close, a dejection that was accompanied by two firm warnings: We do not allow you to call us traitors nor do we allow you to insult us.
He addressed his friends as political leaders and pragmatists address their purist ideological comrades whose tongues precede their minds, while their responsibility is limited to declaring a rhetorical position. He addressed them to explain what they had not been aware of, what cannot be spoken of publicly to them or others. If we put various intentions and personal calculations aside, it seemed that these friends had not known much: They are ignorant of the balance of power in the country and the region and don’t know that the times are changing, that we are not in the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Palestinian resistance or the Socialist camp. Most critically, they are unaware that Hezbollah, which does not exist to serve their ends, does not present itself with any of the apocalyptic liberation scenarios that failed at the time, and have kept on failing since.
So, neither their reality nor their notion of time are real; Hezbollah itself is not what they imagine it to be. Given all of this, Nasrallah might have repeated to himself the old aphorism: With friends like mine, who needs enemies.