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Lebanese cancer patients struggle to find medicines amid crisis

For those who are unable to pay for their medicines, they have to stop their treatment, which could have a detrimental effect on their health…writes Dana Halawi

Abbas Nasreddine, a Lebanese citizen in his 60s, has been battling lymphatic cancer for more than two years. But four months ago, he was forced to stop treatment temporarily due to a lack of cancer medicines in Lebanon.

Nasreddine, who was prescribed Imbruvica for life, was finally able to purchase his medicines from the local market recently. Still, he is not sure if he could buy it in future as Lebanon’s lingering financial crisis has made it increasingly difficult to obtain such medicines.

“I am very worried, because I do not know if my treatment could continue or not,” he said.

Since Lebanon was hit by a financial crisis in 2019, the value of the Lebanese currency against the U.S. dollar has decreased by more than 90 percent. Lebanon’s central bank has steadily reduced subsidies for a variety of commodities that were pegged to a fixed exchange rate, Xinhua reported.

Lebanon still subsidizes patients suffering from a number of chronic diseases, such as cancer. However, due to a lack of medicines, wealthier patients have to buy medicines either on the black market or from other countries through family or friends at higher prices.

For those who are unable to pay for their medicines, they have to stop their treatment, which could have a detrimental effect on their health.

Mohamed Jaber, a pharmacist and secretary-general of the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon, blamed the drawn-out procedure of Banque Du Liban (BDL), Lebanon’s central bank, for the medicine shortage.

Due to the financial crisis, the BDL asks medicine importers to obtain prior authorization. Such authorization is necessary for BDL to open letters of credit, which is required to import subsidized medicines, said Jaber.

The procedure usually takes a long time and delays the delivery of new shipments, sometimes making it difficult for patients to receive what they need, he said.

The shortage of cancer medicines has forced a big number of patients to stop their treatment, which has led to the deterioration of their health, said Nizar Bitar, a hematology and oncology medicine professor at the Sahel hospital in Beirut.

“Cancer patients have to take their medicines regularly, on time and in accordance with specific guidance. Because of a lack of medicines, we were sometimes obliged to provide outdated or less effective treatments to patients rather than new ones that would have improved their quality of life,” Bitar said.

Bitar said that some treatments involve the prescription of several medicines, but when one of them is unavailable, the doctor is compelled to change the treatment without being able to evaluate its consequences properly.

Some cancer patients in Lebanon have expressed their worry and concerns over the country’s failure to ensure necessary treatments for patients with cancers and other chronic diseases.

Fawzia Fayad, a woman who failed to survive cancer under the medicine shortage, was among one of a few outspoken Lebanese to voice concern about the country’s medicine shortage. She passed away on March 3 at 24, after failing to get proper medication.

In the past few months, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has on many occasions called on international bodies and donor countries to support Lebanon’s cancer-fighting patients amid the current economic crisis.

At a parliamentary health committee meeting on Monday, he promised to allocate more funds for cancer medication.

However, Jaber believed that the Lebanese government wouldn’t be able to resolve this problem anytime soon because of the severe financial crisis.

The best solution now is to allow importers to bring in non-subsidized cancer medicines to ensure they are available on the local market, even if at higher prices, he added.

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Lebanon seeks common market to boost Arab food security

The Lebanese President’s remarks came during his meeting with Agriculture Ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, who attended the Arab Agricultural Ministerial Conference in Beirut, reports Asian lite News

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for launching a common market to address the food shortage in the Arab region in light of the global crisis caused by the Ukraine-Russia war.

“Arab countries must cooperate to secure food and agricultural products for our people amid the current crisis,” Aoun was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Presidency.

The President’s remarks came during his meeting with Agriculture Ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, who attended the Arab Agricultural Ministerial Conference in Beirut to discuss the potential of cooperation among regional countries to achieve food security, reports Xinhua news agency.

Aoun emphasised the need to launch a joint calendar for agricultural production and distribution in the region, which would allow Arab countries to better export their products.

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan said that this country, Syria, Jordan and Iraq agreed to sign a quartet agreement to achieve agricultural integration by removing trade obstacles, which would encourage other countries in the region to follow suit.

Arab Agricultural Ministerial Conference

Meanwhile, Syrian Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform Mohammed Hassan Qatana said that the four countries agreed to unify standard specifications and various technical and administrative procedures to facilitate agricultural trade among these countries.

Qatana said that “our ambition is to include the largest number of Arab countries in this alliance and to strengthen relations at the agricultural level”.

Jordanian Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hneifat stressed the importance of the Arab countries tackling the challenges in the agricultural sector as well as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic in a collective manner.

ALSO READ: UAE, Kenya to begin FTA talks

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Israel warns Lebanon over Hezbollah actions

Gantz warned that Israel is “prepared in all areas — land, sea, air and cyber,” if attempts by Iran or its allies will continue…reports Asian Lite News

Israel has warned Lebanon that actions by Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based armed group and party, can spark a regional escalation.

“Israel is prepared to act against any threat,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a tour at the Lebanese border on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported, citing a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.

Lapid and Defence Minister Benny Gantz took the tour a day after the Israeli army intercepted what it said was a drone sent by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group that crossed into the country from Lebanon.

“We do not seek confrontation but whoever tries to attack our sovereignty or Israeli citizens — will learn very quickly that they have made a serious mistake,” Lapid said.

Gantz warned that Israel is “prepared in all areas — land, sea, air and cyber,” if attempts by Iran or its allies will continue.

“We see the crisis in Lebanon, which is hurting its citizens,” he said. “Lebanon and its leaders know very well that if they choose the path of confrontation — they will be hurt and get burned severely. If they choose the path of stability — they will be helping the Lebanese people,” he said.

Hezbollah has sporadically sent drones into Israeli airspace, defining them as reconnaissance missions.

Hezbollah earlier said it launched three unarmed drones on July 2 on a reconnaissance mission toward the Karish gas field in Eastern Mediterranean, which were all downed by the IDF.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday on an occasion to mark the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war that his party will take the necessary military measures to prevent Israel from infringing on Lebanon’s rights.

Recently, Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged the US to activate its mediation in the indirect border demarcation negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.

“It is not acceptable to delay the process of demarcating the southern maritime borders,” Aoun was quoted as saying in a statement on Monday released by Lebanon’s Presidency.

He stressed the need to activate the American mediation carried out by US Energy Envoy, Amos Hochstein to reach a quick conclusion, which he believed would “enable Lebanon to benefit from oil and gas in its water while maintaining stability on its borders”.

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Lebanon seeks FAO’s help in exporting agri products

Aoun and Ourabah also discussed the management of Lebanon’s natural resources in order to ensure food security and the sustainability of the country’s food system…reports Asian Lite News

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has urged the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to help promote and export Lebanon’s agricultural products to mitigate the impact of the country’s deep financial crisis.

Aoun made the remarks on Monday in a meeting at Baabda Palace with Nora Ourabah Haddad, the newly appointed FAO Representative in Lebanon, to discuss cooperation between Lebanon and FAO, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Lebanon attaches great importance to the agricultural sector because it is an essential part of the productive economy. We were dependent for years on the rentier economy, this must change today considering that the land is the most important thing for man, and that stability in life comes from the land,” the President was quoted as saying in a statement released by Lebanon’s Presidency.

Ourabah emphasised the need to formulate an emergency plan to support the country in achieving food security while focusing on increasing the country’s production, especially wheat, which could generate a high return for the country.

Aoun and Ourabah also discussed the management of Lebanon’s natural resources in order to ensure food security and the sustainability of the country’s food system.

After an unprecedented financial crisis hit Lebanon, the President encouraged the expansion of several sectors, including manufacturing and agriculture, in a bid to increase the country’s revenue.

Earlier this month, President Aoun had urged Arab leaders to unite in order to tackle the various challenges now facing the Arab world.

“We must work together to address different challenges, including defending the Palestinian cause and rights of Palestinian people, putting an end to wars in our countries, and not sparing efforts to fight against terrorism in addition to dealing with the biggest waves of displacement in modern history,” Aoun said.

The President made the remarks during his meeting at Baabda Palace with Arab Foreign Ministers who had arrived in Beirut for the consultative ministerial meeting of the Arab League (AL).

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Arab News

Lebanese state media employees strike over worsening conditions

The employees from Lebanon’s two state-run media outlets have launched a two-day strike in protest against the deteriorating working and living conditions…reports Asian Lite News

The employees of the National News Agency (NNA) and Radio Lebanon, both affiliated to the Ministry of Information, were joined by some staff members of the Ministry in the strike which was observed on Thursday.

They declared in a statement that the strike would continue and the rest of the Ministry’s employees would also join them on July 22, if those concerned failed to take positive steps to solve their problems, Xinhua news agency reported.

A general assembly was called on Thursday to discuss the worsening living conditions and find solutions that would allow state media employees to fulfill their duties in light of their straitened economic conditions, the NNA reported.

The assembly was held in the presence of caretaker Information Minister Ziad Al-Makary, and Heads of the Ministry’s units, departments and directorates.

Al-Makary advised that a committee be established to represent all of the employees and meet with the concerned officials to find solutions.

ALSO READ:Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon

Since 2019, Lebanon has been suffering from an unprecedented financial crisis that resulted in the collapse of the local currency. Hit by intertwined political, economic and health crises, Lebanon’s poverty rate now has risen to more than 74 per cent, according to the World Bank.

Earlier this month, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi said in Beirut that Lebanon’s crisis was affecting everyone, everywhere across the country.

She said that almost one-third of Lebanon’s labour force is unemployed, and that the minimum monthly wage in the country has currently become less than $25, resulting in a significant decline in income and purchasing power.

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Arab News

Lebanese PM opposes unofficial actions to settle maritime border dispute with Israel

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati expressed his opposition in taking unofficial actions to deal with the maritime border demarcation issue with Israel…reports Asian Lite News

“Lebanon considers that any action outside the diplomatic context pursued by the government to settle maritime border demarcation with Israel is unacceptable and exposes the country to unnecessary risks,” a statement issued by the Council of Ministers quoted Mikati as saying during a meeting on Monday with Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib.

The Prime Minister-designate made the remarks after Hezbollah launched three unarmed drones on July 2 on a reconnaissance mission toward the Karish gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, which Israel claims is within its economic zone while Beirut says it is located in disputed waters.

The Lebanon-based militant group said it sent the drones to convey a message that the Shia group has the “military and logistical capacity” to prevent Israel from extracting gas from the gas field.

In his remarks on Monday, Mikati called on all parties to “show a spirit of great national responsibility and abide by the state’s negotiation procedure”.

He also reaffirmed Lebanon’s support for US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein’s efforts to reach a solution on maritime border demarcation with Israel that protects his nation’s full rights.

ALSO READ:Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon

Lebanon and Israel are embroiled in a maritime border dispute that has lately intensified after Israel sent a vessel operated by Energean, a London-based oil and gas production company, to the Karish field on June 5.

Lebanese authorities are currently seeking to revive indirect talks with Israel on maritime border demarcation, which were halted after Beirut expanded its claim in territorial waters to include at least a part of the Karish oil field.

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Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon

He told a press conference that the meeting had discussed the preparations, timing, and attendees of the upcoming Arab League summit…reports Asian Lite News

Arab foreign ministers pledged their support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process, following an Arab League meeting held in Beirut.

They said their presence in Lebanon amid its “significantly difficult” economic and political circumstances signaled that Arab countries supported stability and stood by the country’s negotiations with the IMF and the reform process.

Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “We came to say that there’s a problem and you must seek to resolve it.”

He told a press conference that the meeting had discussed the preparations, timing, and attendees of the upcoming Arab League summit.

“We just held some discussions and exchanged views to be decided upon in the appropriate place. We also went over the Ukrainian war, food, energy, and the topic of Somalia, where millions of Somalis might be at risk of starvation.

“We also discussed the Palestinian cause amid the American-Israeli moves and how we react to these events. We did not agree on anything because they are mere discussions that we will not reveal.

“Everyone supports ending the pressure of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese state provides them with care but, when decisions similar to agreeing on their return to their country are taken, some specific circumstances should be present.”

He said there was a civil war going on in Syria and “huge” destruction.

“At least $500 million is needed to rehabilitate the Syrian infrastructure,” he added. “These are very complex issues that cannot be resolved with a simple decision. But the international community has the will to end the Syrian war and is still exerting pressure when it comes to the matter of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries.”

Lebanon, which was represented by caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, chaired the ministerial meeting.

Algeria will host the Arab League summit in early November after it was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Saturday’s meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, the Comoro Islands, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, the deputy foreign minister of Egypt, and the league’s permanent representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Djibouti, Iraq, Morocco, Oman, Libya, a representative from Mauritania, and the Bahraini ambassador to Syria.

The Arab ministerial delegation met Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who expressed the importance of regional relations in the “critical circumstances the Arab world is going through, the challenges it is facing, and that requires the utmost consultation and cooperation.”

He talked about the crises facing Lebanon and the burden of Syrian refugees in the country which, he said, was “no longer capable of handling this reality.”

“We seek to reach an agreement with the IMF. There’s an American mediation to demarcate the southern maritime borders of Lebanon,” he said, adding that Lebanon retained its water, oil, and gas resources.

Responding to media questions about revoking the suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said: “We didn’t support its membership suspension because Syria is a founding member of the league. The Syrian foreign minister will visit Algeria and we will go over this point with a high sense of responsibility.”

The Arab ministerial delegation also met Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said Lebanon was now requesting that its “Arab brothers come and get to the core of its suffering.”

He told his guests that the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, with US mediation, to demarcate the maritime borders in preparation for gas extraction were advancing.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati met the delegations on Friday night.

He reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to implementing all the resolutions from the UN Security Council and the Arab League in a way that reinforced the dissociation policy toward any Arab dispute, extending the state’s sovereignty over all its territory, and preventing offense to any Arab state and threats to its security.

Aboul Gheit received a political letter from the Sovereign Front for Lebanon opposing Hezbollah and Iran’s role in Lebanon.

The letter demanded “the activation of Lebanon’s right to be free from the Iranian dominance that uses Lebanon and its territories as a platform to conduct hostilities, putting the country in danger and exposing it to attacks from all sides.”  

It highlighted “the persistence of illegal weaponry represented by Hezbollah’s organized armed militia, which receives support, orders, and funding from Iran.”

ALSO READ-Lebanese Prez urges Arab leaders to unite to tackle challenges

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Arab News

Lebanon compelled to return refugees to Syria due to lack of int’l plan

Lebanon Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib has said that Lebanon will be compelled to act in accordance with its own national interests for sending the Syrian refugees to their homeland in the absence of a clear international plan…reports Asian Lite News

He made the remarks on Saturday during a consultative ministerial meeting of the Arab League (AL) in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, the National News Agency reported.

“The international community does not have a roadmap for the return of the displaced Syrians, which will force Lebanon to act according to its own national interests in this matter,” Bou Habib added.

“The Lebanese government sees the need for the return of the displaced to be financed by the international community, instead of financing their stay in Lebanon,” he said.

ALSO READ:Lebanon’s Hezbollah flies drones to Mediterranean gas field

Lebanon will not accept the establishment of camps for displaced Syrians in Lebanon on the Lebanese-Syrian border, Bou Habib added at a joint conference with AL Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, according to Elnashra news website.

Meanwhile, Aboul-Gheit said the international community is keen to end the pressure caused by the displaced Syrians, but certain conditions must be met to decide on the return of the refugees, given that Syria’s reconstruction will cost at least $500 billion, Xinhua news agency reported.

A significant number of Syrian refugees have been living in Lebanon, adding to the nation’s already severe financial situation and straining its infrastructure and economy.

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Arab News

Lebanese Prez urges Arab leaders to unite to tackle challenges

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has urged Arab leaders to unite in order to tackle the various challenges now facing the Arab world…reports Asian Lite News

“We must work together to address different challenges, including defending the Palestinian cause and rights of Palestinian people, putting an end to wars in our countries, and not sparing efforts to fight against terrorism in addition to dealing with the biggest waves of displacement in modern history,” reported a statement by Lebanon’s Presidency quoted Aoun as saying on Saturday.

The President made the remarks during his meeting at Baabda Palace with Arab Foreign Ministers who had arrived in Beirut for the consultative ministerial meeting of the Arab League (AL), Xinhua news agency reported.

During the meeting, which was chaired by Lebanon, Aoun urged Arab countries to help his country secure a safe return of Syrian refugees to their homeland as Lebanon is suffering from a number of crises and can no longer support a big number of displaced refugees on its territory.

ALSO READ:Lebanon remains committed to UNSC Resolution 1701

Lebanon is determined to resolve its multiple crises, the President said, adding the country has successfully held parliamentary elections and is now forming a government and seeking to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to prevent the country from collapse.

For his part, AL Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said the AL would support Lebanon, the Lebanese government and its people.

The AL’s Council of Foreign Ministers meets twice a year, in July and September, to discuss issues that concern the Arab nations.

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Arab News

Lebanon’s Hezbollah flies drones to Mediterranean gas field

Hezbollah announced in a statement that it launched three unarmed drones on a reconnaissance mission toward the Karish gas field in Eastern Mediterranean…reports Asian Lite News

Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli military said it shot down three Hezbollah drones flying toward the Karish gas field.

Israel has long claimed the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea as its own property, but Lebanon expanded its claim in territorial waters, which would include at least part of the gas field.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed powerful Shiite political party and militant organisation, has threatened to use “military and logistical capacity” to prevent Israel from extracting gas from the Karish field, Xinhua news agency reported.

ALSO READ:Lebanon remains committed to UNSC Resolution 1701

The maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel has been growing since Israel sent a vessel operated by Energean, a London-based oil and gas production company, to the Karish field on June 5.

Lebanon is seeking to revive indirect negotiations with Israel to determine their maritime border that began in 2020 but have mostly halted since Lebanon expanded its claim to include at least part of the Karish field in April 2021.