Demonstrators block the highway in Jal al-Dib on Tuesday during a protest against mounting economic hardships. (Credit: Issam Abdallah/Reuters)
As protesters blocked roads across much of Lebanon for the eighth day running, some health officials warned that the closures have been delaying crucial oxygen supplies. Firass Abiad, the director of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, wrote on Twitter that his hospital and others were running “dangerously low” on oxygen needed for COVID-19 patients. The Civil Emergency Authority said in a statement that it had heard “more than one warning” about decreases in hospital stocks due to blocked roads and called on the protesters, who are frustrated with authorities and the country’s spiraling recession, to open the streets and facilitate the delivery of oxygen to hospitals. The army this morning issued a statement saying it had begun to reopen closed roads “in order to preserve the safety of citizens.”
Amid a crackdown on money changers selling at the black market rate, including arrests by security forces of exchangers operating illegally, many exchange shops closed their doors Tuesday, although not all actually ceased operating. In some cases, exchangers stood next to their shuttered shops and offered stealthy exchanges to customers, while others continued to operate by phone with known customers. Meanwhile, a group of exchangers blocked roads in Chtoura with burning tires to protest the crackdown. The crackdown was spurred by the deterioration of the lira’s market value to a rate of more than LL10,000 to the dollar, which has set off widespread unrest in the country.
Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon after meeting with Sergey Lavrov during a trip to Abu Dhabi. Lebanon’s premier-designate and Russia’s foreign minister discussed “how to put an end to the tense situation in Lebanon … with emphasis on the importance of rapidly ending the social and economic crisis by forming a capable, mission-driven government of technocrats,” Hariri’s office said in a statement. Hariri has been making a series of overseas visits in an attempt to drum up international support, while he and President Michel Aoun have remained at loggerheads over the number of seats and distribution of portfolios in the new government. Meanwhile, Aoun issued a statement denying media reports that he was planning to push Parliament to rescind Hariri’s October nomination to the premiership due to his failure to form a government.
Delegations from Hezbollah and from the Maronite patriarch met and discussed the need to speed up government formation and revive the economy, Hezbollah said in a statement. The meeting comes amid rising tensions over Bechara al-Rai’s calls for Lebanese “neutrality” in regional conflicts, which Hezbollah supporters see as a step toward removing the party’s weapons and toward normalization with Israel, and over his calls for an international conference to be convened under the auspices of the United Nations to discuss the issue. Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah has said that a call to internationalize Lebanon’s internal political issues would amount to a “declaration of war.” The parties agreed to continue talks about Rai’s calls for “positive neutrality” at future meetings, the statement said.
Lebanon reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases in more than a month Tuesday, with 3,939 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest count since Jan. 23. The country headed into a new phase in its reopening from lockdown this week, with most businesses apart from restaurants and bars now permitted to open. More than 80 percent of the country’s ICU beds are still full.