DUBAI: The United Nations said Friday it is seeking nearly $80 million for an emergency operation to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Red Sea off war-ravaged Yemen.
The 45-year-old tanker FSO Safer, long used as a floating oil storage platform with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, has been moored off the militia-held Yemeni port of Hodeidah since 2015, without being serviced.
“The Safer is at imminent risk of a major spill, which would create a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe centered on a country already decimated by more than seven years of war,” the United Nations said in a statement.
“International support — including funding — is needed now to implement the UN-coordinated plan to address the threat before it is too late.”
The UN said that the emergency part of the two-stage operation would see the toxic cargo pumped from the storage platform to a temporary replacement vessel at a cost of $79.6 million.
In the second phase, a replacement platform would be installed at a cost to be finalized over the coming week.
“Implementation of the plan cannot begin without donor funding,” the UN said, adding that the Netherlands will host a donor meeting.
It said “rapid donor commitments of funds” were needed to begin work by the second half of May.
“Waiting beyond then could mean delaying the start of the project by several months, leaving the timebomb ticking.”
Yemen’s Houthi militia already agreed a “framework for cooperation” with the United Nations on the issue last month.
The UN has said an oil spill could destroy ecosystems, shut down the fishing industry and close the lifeline port of Hodeida for six months.
GAZA CITY: Struggling restaurants in the Gaza Strip, many still counting the cost of pandemic curfews and now facing a worsening economic crisis, are counting on Ramadan to provide a much-needed boost in revenue.
The holy month is traditionally the busiest time of the year for Gaza’s hundreds of eateries, with the number of diners up by as much as 50 percent.
Local businesses and institutions also provide banquets for employees and sometimes beneficiaries, adding to restaurant trade.
Despite the difficult economic conditions, Gaza residents are returning to restaurants during Ramadan, while restaurant owners are looking forward to the added custom to improve facilities and restore activity.
According to Imad Al-Rayes, manager of the Lighthouse Restaurant on the Gaza beachfront, business during the holy month increases by 40-50 percent compared with normal days.
During the two-year pandemic, the month of Ramadan was the worst ever. Restaurants were closed and we were not allowed to work. But this year seems different — there is increased activity and more work in the restaurant.
Imad Al-Rayes, Manager of the Lighthouse Restaurant
“Since 2018, the economic situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened and there has been a sharp decline in the restaurant’s revenues,” he said
“During the two-year pandemic, the month of Ramadan was the worst ever. Restaurants were closed and we were not allowed to work.
“But this year seems different — there is increased activity and more work in the restaurant.”
The Lighthouse Restaurant employs about 50 staff, but this was cut to about 30 during the pandemic. Now, employee numbers have returned to normal.
Customers during Ramadan are made up mainly of groups from charitable institutions, those looking to enjoy an open buffet, and individuals eating iftar alone by the seashore.
Gaza’s deteriorating economic situation and pandemic lockdowns in recent years forced a number of restaurants to close or scale back their business.
The Gaza Strip suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment as a result of an Israeli blockade imposed in 2007. Up to 80 percent of the population receives food aid, according to the UN.
Nevertheless, thanks to Palestinians’ generosity, many restaurants are serving large numbers of meals during Ramadan for those organizing banquets for family and friends.
“Ramadan is a good season for everyone,” said Said Kuhail, whose eatery specializes in oriental meals such as rice and grilled chicken, as well as qidra, a traditional Palestinian dish of spiced rice with lamb, chickpeas and garlic.
“Our work increases greatly, as a result of the feasts that Palestinians organize in their homes or in open places for their relatives.”
Kuhail said that on normal days, he hires about 10 workers. “Now, during Ramadan, I have more than 20 workers because of pressure at work.”
The restaurant owner said that he also struggled over the past two years because of pandemic lockdowns and curfews.
Jamil Dahman, 58, said that he invites his extended family, including his brothers, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, to a feast during Ramadan.
“This is the month of mercy, and there is a great reward for inviting fasters during Ramadan. Inviting their relatives is a tradition for most people. Iftar is prepared by specialized restaurants, and usually we cannot prepare food at home because of the large number of invited guests,” Dahman said
Iman Awad, vice chairman of the local restaurant and tourist establishments association, said that he was hoping for the tourism sector, especially restaurants, to recover from the losses of previous years.
“Ramadan is the month of recovery for restaurants, a month of continuous work. The losses have been going on for almost two years, but this year there is hope that restaurants will get back to normal,” she said.
TEHRAN: Iran on Friday buried a second Shiite cleric killed in a suspected jihadist attack at a revered shrine in the country’s north, state television reported.
Sadegh Darai, a middle-ranking cleric, died on Thursday from wounds sustained in the stabbing attack earlier this week in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Another cleric, Mohammad Aslani, also died in the knife attack, while a third, Mohsen Pakdaman, is in stable condition in hospital, state television said.
The assailant struck on Tuesday — Iran’s third day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan — as large crowds of worshippers had gathered in the courtyard of the shrine of Imam Reza, one of the most revered figures among Shiites.
Darai was buried in a plot reserved for “martyrs” in the sanctuary’s courtyard, next to Aslani, who was buried Thursday.
Local media outlets have identified the assailant as Abdolatif Moradi, a 21-year-old Sunni extremist and ethnic Uzbek who had entered Iran illegally via the Pakistani border a year ago.
They said authorities had arrested six suspected accomplices, including the chief suspect’s two brothers.
Official news agency IRNA said the three victims were involved in religious and charitable activities in Mashhad, a city home to more than 3 million people.
President Ebrahim Raisi has blamed the knife attack on the influence of US-based “takfiri” groups — a term used for Muslims who brand others as apostates, condemning them to death, and usually referring to Sunni extremists.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Thursday denounced a “hateful terrorist operation” and warned that those promoting “takfiri” ideology would be “severely punished.”
The stabbings on Tuesday followed a separate attack targeting clerics earlier this week.
On Sunday, two Sunni clerics were shot to death in a mosque in the northern town of Gonbad Kavus.
Authorities did not offer a motive for that incident, either.
BEIRUT: The Saudi and Kuwaiti ambassadors to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari and Abdul-Al Sulaiman Al-Qenaei, have returned to Beirut, arriving on Friday afternoon amid a resurgence of hope for a reset in diplomatic relations for the beleaguered country.
They landed at Beirut airport less than 24 hours after the Kingdom and Kuwait announced that their envoys would return to Lebanon, sparking optimism about a fresh start with the Arab Gulf states after a five-month diplomatic boycott.
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian said: “This decision establishes a new phase of hope and confidence in Lebanon’s Arab future, identity, belonging and cooperation with the Gulf countries and the rest of the brotherly Arab states.”
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states recalled their ambassadors from Lebanon in October 2021 in protest against insulting statements made by former Information Minister George Qordahi regarding the war in Yemen.
On Thursday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced Bukhari’s return to Beirut. The ministry said the move was made in response to the “calls and appeals of moderate national political forces in Lebanon, and in confirmation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s statement of the government’s commitment to take the necessary and required measures to enhance cooperation with the Kingdom and GCC countries and to stop all political, military and security activities affecting the Kingdom and GCC countries.”
The ministry stressed the importance of Lebanon’s return to its Arab origins, represented by its national institutions and agencies, in order for the country to enjoy peace and security, and for its people to enjoy stability.
On Friday, the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry announced the return of its ambassador to Beirut in response to “the Lebanese government’s commitment to stop all aggressive activities and interventions offensive to Arab countries.”
Mikati stressed in a tweet that Lebanon is proud of its Arab affiliation. “Lebanon is committed to the best relations with the Gulf states, which were and will remain a support to us,” he noted.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam telephoned Bukhari, praising “the distinguished brotherly role that the Kingdom has played and continues to play toward Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said: “Saudi Arabia has proved that Lebanon is in its heart and conscience, and it will never leave it.”
The Future Movement said that it hoped that the decision would constitute a step on the way to opening a new page in Lebanese-Gulf relations, stressing the necessity of not using Lebanon as a political, security and media platform to insult the Gulf states and leaders.
The return of Gulf diplomatic ties coincided with the announcement of a staff-level agreement between Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund, which has also contributed to a sudden wave of positivity.
On Friday, the IMF published the full text of the draft agreement with the Lebanese government.
Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Al-Shami said: “A preliminary agreement has been reached for a four-year extended fund facility. This economic and financial reform program aims to stimulate growth and provide job opportunities and put Lebanon on the path to recovery after the economy shrunk by more than 60 percent during the past two years, the local currency collapsed, inflation reached very high levels, and poverty hit unprecedented rates.”
The agreement needs the approval of the IMF, the Lebanese government and parliament, especially with regard to urgent laws that must be approved before obtaining the final approval of the IMF’s board of directors for the program.
Al-Shami noted: “This program is based on providing an environment conducive to economic activity by implementing the necessary structural reforms to restore growth and secure job opportunities, restructure the banking sector to be able to restore its role in financing the economy and improve public finances to secure debt sustainability while increasing expenditures on social sectors and infrastructures.”
He added: “It also revolves around reforming the public sector and its institutions, especially the electricity sector, to secure better electricity supply, which helps in easing the burdens on citizens and reviving the economic movement, in addition to unifying the exchange rate, improving governance and fighting corruption with technical assistance from the IMF.”
“The longer we delay in implementing the required reforms, the higher the cost will be on the national economy and, consequently, on citizens,” Al-Shami warned.
“We hope that the prior conditions set by the IMF are met in order to have a program approval,” Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh told Reuters, describing the agreement as “a positive event for Lebanon that will contribute to the unification of the exchange rate,” noting that the Central Bank cooperated and facilitated the mission.
Speaking to the Middle East News Agency, Salameh said: “The gold reserves at the Central Bank amounted to $17.547 billion as of February, so Lebanon maintains its position with the second-largest gold reserves in the Arab region, with a wealth estimated at about 286 tons of gold.”
He added: “As of February, the total cash reserves of foreign currencies amounted to $12.748 billion and the stock portfolio amounted to $4.197 billion and includes Euro bonds, a slight increase from January.”
Salameh said: “The remittances of Lebanese working abroad amounted to about $6.4 billion in 2021.”
He added: “The crisis that hit the financial sector in Lebanon is being addressed in the recovery plan that is being prepared by the Lebanese government in cooperation with the IMF.”
Salameh said: “Rumors about the Central Bank going bankrupt are false; the bank is exercising its role entrusted to it under Article 70 of the Code of Money and Credit and will continue to do so, despite the losses that afflicted the financial sector in Lebanon.”
RAMALLAH: About 50,000 Palestinians peacefully performed the first Friday prayer of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque amid tightened Israeli security procedures in the wake of Thursday’s Tel Aviv violence that left two Israelis killed.
Four of the 15 people injured in the attack are in a serious condition, according to Israeli medical sources.
Thousands of Israeli citizens and Palestinians from the West Bank flocked to the mosque early in the morning after passing through Israeli military checkpoints at the entrances to Jerusalem.
About 3,000 Israeli policemen were deployed throughout East Jerusalem, the Old City and at the gates leading to the mosque. There was no untoward incident.
Ikrima Sabri, the imam at Al-Aqsa, praised the worshipers who came to the mosque from far away places facing Israeli checkpoints and urged Muslims to pray at Al-Aqsa regularly, with special emphasis on the nightly taraweeh prayer.
President Abbas said the cycle of violence confirms that ‘permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest and correct way to provide security and stability for the Palestinians, Israelis and people of the region.’
Ibrahim Al-Anbawi, 53, from the Anata refugee camp near Jerusalem, told Arab News that the prayer took place “quietly and without tension.” There were fewer worshippers because of Thursday’s Tel Aviv attack and fears of consequences, he added.
Al-Anbawi, who offers Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa every week, said the sermon was confined to religiosity, without any reference to the current political situation to avoid stirring up feelings.
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv shooting attack in which a Palestinian gunman shot dead two people at a bar continues to cast a shadow over life in both the West Bank and Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack and stressed the dangers of “continuing the repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative actions of extremist settler groups.”
However, the attack was praised by several Palestinian factions and much of the public.
The officers found the shooter hiding near a mosque in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said. During an exchange of fire, the attacker was killed, the agency added.
A son of a retired Palestinian security officer, attacker Ra’ad Hazem, 29, was from the Jenin refugee camp in the north of the West Bank.
A high-ranking Palestinian security officer, who preferred anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, told Arab News that the recent attacks in Israel constituted a “pivotal shift,” with attackers switching from knives to guns, “which causes more victims and spreads a state of terror in the Israeli street.”
He said these attacks “reflect the state of anger in the hearts of the Palestinians against the continued Israeli oppression and the absence of any political or economic horizon.”
Palestinian factions said the Tel Aviv attack represented a natural response to the “crimes of the Israeli occupation and the continuation of its violations in occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Thirteen Israelis have been killed, and more than 20 others wounded in four attacks carried out by Palestinians in less than a month.
The Israeli Channel 12 said the demand for psychological help in the country has increased tenfold over the past two weeks after the Beersheba and Tel Aviv strikes.
Condemning the attack, Israeli Premier Naftali Bennett said: “Our war on deadly terrorism is long and difficult, but we will win it.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: “We will fight terrorism together, strike the resistance fighters wherever they hide, find their senders and collaborators anywhere, and not rest until calm returns to the streets.”
In contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “We will expand our operations against the wave of attacks. The price we will exact from the perpetrators of the attacks and their senders will be heavy.”
Gantz said that Israel arrested 200 Palestinians, and “if necessary, we will arrest thousands more.”
Abbas said the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians “only leads to a further deterioration of the situation, as we all strive to achieve stability, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, and the upcoming Christian and Jewish holidays.”
Abbas warned against “exploiting this condemned incident to carry out attacks against our Palestinian people.”
He stressed “the danger of the continued and repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa and the provocative actions of extremist settler groups everywhere.”
He said the cycle of violence confirms that “permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest and correct way to provide security and stability for the Palestinians, Israelis and people of the region.”
Gantz praised Abbas’s condemnation of the attack.
RIYADH: Chairman of the newly formed Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen Rashad Al-Alimi pledged on Friday to end the war and establish a comprehensive and urgent peace process.
Speaking a day after he was appointed to lead the council, Al-Alimi affirmed full commitment to the Gulf initiative, the Riyadh Agreement, and the Yemeni national dialogue.
“We will work to achieve the demands of Yemenis without exception or discrimination,” he said, calling on all Yemenis to rally around restoring state institutions.
He also said that the council would stand as “an impenetrable bulwark in the face of terrorism,” and would work to prioritize the national interest of the country.
Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi launched the council on Thursday and transferred his powers to it, saying it was established to complete the implementation of the transition phase and will have the authority to negotiate with the Iran-backed Houthi militia to end the years-long conflict afflicting the nation.
Al-Alimi also urged Yemenis to confront Iran’s “project” to destabilize the country and praised everyone who stood against the coup and the Iranian regime.
Al-Alimi thanked the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen and Saudi Arabia “for their unlimited support to the Yemeni government and people in various political, economic and humanitarian fields, as well as for their continuous efforts to bring about comprehensive permanent peace in our country.”