• Jean AbiNader

2018 Starts Off Much Like 2017 – Garbage, Mending Fences, and Syrian Refugees Top Agenda

An ill-wind brought trash to beaches north of Beirut that once was part of a landfill near the town of Jiyyeh. A major storm washed the garbage out to sea and then returned it to cover Zouq Mosbeh beach. Members of Parliament are crying foul and condemning a system that has been broken for years, causing the 2015 garbage crisis, and subsiding only with promises from the government that have yet to be implemented. The waste management issue is still before the government and perhaps this latest round of trash terror will bring about some sustainable results.

Aoun visit to the Gulf

President Michel Aoun made his first trip to the Gulf as the head of state, visiting “brotherly” Kuwait, discussing economic support and cementing agreements on several issues. According to various sources, President Aoun had very productive meetings and was accompanied by Gebran Bassil, Jamal Jarrah, Ayman Choukair, Inaya Ezzeddine, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, and Abdul-al Al-Qena’i, Lebanon’s representative in Kuwait.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development would issue an aid package “in support of Lebanon” aimed at enhancing the country’s economy. Kuwait’s support is key both for Lebanon’s economic development and also dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis.

Since PM Hariri’s resignation last year forced an earlier planned visit to be postponed, Aoun’s visit is seen as important to rebuild Lebanon’s relationship with Kuwait. The emirate has attempted its own “dissociation” policy on several regional concerns such as Qatar and the Saudi Arabia-Lebanon tension around Hezbollah, which it has accused of setting up a terror cell in Kuwait.

News reports mentioned that “The two leaders agreed on the need for a unified Arab stance “in the face of Arab and regional developments because the unity of Arabs is primary in this case.” Both Aoun and Sabah reiterated condemnation of the recent US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Aoun also lamented what he said was the United Nation’s inability to enforce its decisions.

Aoun asked Emir Al-Sabah to participate in the three upcoming conferences on Lebanon in Rome, Paris, and Brussels to deal with refugees, security, and the refugee situation in Lebanon. Kuwait’s emir believes his country’s current membership of the UN Security Council “can help highlight the rightness of Arab causes.”

Refugees weathering a difficult winter with various press stories recounting deaths due to freezing, limited or no adequate shelter from the snow and cold temperatures, with worse weather expected in the Beqaa Valley and elsewhere. Many refugees have gone through this before, some who fled to Lebanon as long as six years ago.

Being better prepared carries its own drawback since the bulk of the housing supplies goes to those who are most in need. Recently, a shipment of stoves arrived from the UAE but with at least a million Syrian refugees in need, it’s a small comfort for those who are not at the distribution sites.

With limited assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), access to medical supplies and cash subsidies are also in short supply, going to the most vulnerable. But the UNHCR is not slowing down its efforts. It distributed cash assistance of between $225-375 to families totaling some 780,000 people in November, although the program is not guaranteed to continue through the winter months.

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