UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday welcomed the departure of the first ship from the Ukrainian port of Odesa, carrying grain under the landmark deal signed by Ukraine, Russia and Türkiye, overseen by the UN.
The Razoni, carrying a cargo of 26,527 tonnes of corn, is the first cargo ship to leave a Ukrainian Black Sea port since February 26, just a few days after the Russian invasion began.
It is bound for the Mediterranean port of Tripoli, in Lebanon.
In a statement issued by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Guterres said that ensuring “existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative.
” The deal dubbed a “beacon of hope” by Guterres when it was signed in the Turkish city of Istanbul on July 22, is a “collective achievement” of the newly-established Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) set up in Istanbul.
It was set up under the auspices of the UN, by representatives from the three governments who inked the deal, known officially as the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
In a statement, the JCC said it had agreed the specific coordinates and restrictions for what it termed the Safe Humanitarian Maritime Corridor, and has communicated those details in accordance with international navigation procedures.
“The JCC has requested all its participants to inform their respective military and other relevant authorities of this decision to ensure the safe passage of the vessel.
” The plan also paves the way for Russian food and fertiliser to reach global markets, all of which it is hoped will help reduce soaring food prices worldwide, and avert the possibility of famine afflicting millions in the months ahead.
Since the deal was signed, the parties involved “have been working tirelessly” to begin the process of shipping grain and cereals out from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
“The Secretary-General salutes their efforts, and he is grateful to Türkiye for its leadership,” the statement said, just after the vessel left port.
“Guterres hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the Initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts.
” The UN emergency food agency, WFP, which is a major customer of Ukraine’s grain and cereals, was planning to buy, load and ship an initial 30,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine, on a UN-chartered vessel.
Addressing correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York on the shipment, Guterres said the ship was loaded with two commodities in short supply, “corn, and hope.
” “People on the verge of famine need these agreements to work, in order to survive.
Countries on the verge of bankruptcy need these agreements to work, in order to keep their economies alive.
” While the “tragic war continues to rage”, the UN chief said, the UN would continue working every day to bring relief to the people of Ukraine, and to those suffering the effects of the conflict around the world.
He said that the war must end, and peace must be established, in line with the Charter of the United Nations and international law.
“I hope today’s news can be a step towards that goal, for the people of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and for the world.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday said Lebanon will not give up on its maritime rights and claims on natural resources in the indirect negotiations on border demarcation with Israel.
“This is aimed at preserving Lebanon’s rights and reaching a solution, in cooperation with the American mediator, that would protect our wealth,” the president said in a speech to mark the Lebanese army’s 77th anniversary.
The president remarks came a day after U.
S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut to mediate the indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel.
Hochstein told reporters he “remained optimistic about making progress towards a deal” after meeting with top Lebanese leaders including the president.
Aoun said the conclusion of the negotiations constitutes an opportunity for Lebanon to explore its oil and gas wealth and improve its economic situation.
According to the president, Lebanon is also keen to maintain calm and stability on its southern borders, a mission carried out faithfully and professionally by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and in cooperation with the Lebanese army.
The first shipment of Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on Monday morning, Turkey announced, as Kyiv said the “brutal” shelling by Moscow of the southern city Mykolaiv had killed an agriculture tycoon.
The blockage of deliveries from warring Russia and Ukraine — two of the world’s biggest grain exporters — has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard.
Last month both sides signed a landmark deal with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at relieving the global food crisis.
“The ship Razoni has left the port of Odessa bound for Tripoli in Lebanon,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.
“It is expected in Istanbul on August 2.
It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul,” the statement added.
Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, it said.
The Joint Coordination Centre, the organisation overseeing the grain exports, said the Razoni is carrying “over 26,000 metric tonnes” of maize.
Tycoon killedWhile the much needed grain exports will be welcomed, the war in Ukraine rages on.
AFP journalists witnessed intense Russian bombardment of the eastern town of Bakhmut after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for civilians to leave the frontline Donetsk region bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s offensive.
Authorities in Mykolaiv said Sunday that widespread Russian bombardments overnight killed at least two civilians.
“Today, one of the most brutal shellings of Mykolaiv and the region over the entire period of the full-scale war took place.
Dozens of missiles and rockets,” Zelensky said in an address.
“I want to thank every resident of Mykolaiv for their indomitability.
” Ukrainian agricultural magnate Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, and his wife Raisa were killed when a missile struck their house, authorities said.
Vadatursky owned major grain exporter Nibulon and was previously decorated with the prestigious “Hero of Ukraine” award.
Zelensky offered condolences and paid tribute to Vadatursky in his Sunday address.
Mykolaiv — which has been attacked frequently — is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv’s forces are looking to launch a major counter-offensive to recapture territory lost after Russia’s February invasion.
Drone attackRussian authorities in the Crimean Black Sea peninsula — seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 — said a small explosive device from a commercial drone, likely launched nearby, hit the navy command in Sevastopol.
The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack that forced the cancellation of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.
But Ukraine’s navy accused Russia of staging the attacks as a pretext to cancel the festivities.
The claim and counterclaim came as the dispute over which side struck a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka rumbled on.
Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday it had invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations to visit the site “in the interests of an objective investigation”.
But the ICRC said Sunday it had yet to receive approval to enter the site.
Russia’s military said 50 Ukrainian servicemen died, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of resisting the bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.
Ukraine says Russia was behind the attack, with Zelensky accusing Moscow of the “deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”.
Intense bombardmentsAFP journalists on Sunday saw one wounded man collected by an ambulance after a ferocious bombardment of the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
Zelensky warned on the weekend that thousands of people, including children, were still in Donetsk’s battleground areas.
He urged people to leave the besieged region, echoing calls from the authorities in recent weeks to evacuate.
“Leave, we will help,” Zelensky said.
“At this stage of the war, terror is the main weapon of Russia.
” Official Ukrainian estimates put the number of civilians still living in the unoccupied area of Donetsk at between 200,000 and 220,000.
A mandatory evacuation notice posted Saturday evening said the coming winter made it a matter of urgency, particularly for the more than 50,000 children.
Kateryna Novakivska, a deputy commander of a Ukrainian unit, said she was fighting so her comrades could be reunited with their families.
“The morale of our servicemen is at a high level now, but everyone wants to visit their homes, see their relatives and loved ones,” she said.
Russia has welcomed the first shipment of grain from the port of Odesa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast as a “positive’’ development.
“This is a good opportunity for testing the effectiveness of the functioning of mechanisms that were agreed during the negotiations in Istanbul,’’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said.
This is according to the Interfax news agency as saying on Monday.
“We hope that the agreements will be fulfilled by all sides and that the mechanisms function effectively,’’ Peskov said.
The Razoni freighter carrying a cargo of 26,000 tonnes of maize under a Sierra Leone flag was headed for Lebanon.
It was scheduled to make a stop at Istanbul on Tuesday where it would undergo inspection.
Parts of Beirut’s grain silos collapsed on Sunday, just days before the second anniversary of a catastrophic explosion at the Lebanese capital’s port that ravaged the stores and parts of the city.
AFP correspondents said a cloud of dust covered Beirut’s port, while local media reported that two towers fell in the heavily damaged silos’ northern section, where a fire has been burning for more than two weeks.
Footage of the incident showed part of the silo crumbling and a large cloud billowing up after debris hit the ground.
The structure had absorbed much of the impact of the devastating explosion on August 4, 2020, at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 6,500.
The silos shielded large swaths of the city’s west from the devastating effects of the blast, which was caused by haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate fertiliser catching fire.
Sunday’s partial collapse came around two weeks after a fire erupted in the port’s northern silos due to the fermentation of remaining grain stocks along with soaring summer temperatures, according to authorities.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister this week warned they could fall.
“The northern group of silos are now in danger of falling,” Najib Mikati said Wednesday in a statement, which added that the silos still contained thousands of tonnes of wheat and corn.
He told the army to be prepared and warned workers, civil defence members, and firefighters to keep a safe distance from the site.
Once boasting a capacity of more than 100,000 tonnes, an imposing 48-metre (157-foot) high remnant of the silos has become emblematic of the catastrophic port blast.
The government in April ordered their demolition due to safety concerns, but that move was suspended amid objections, including from relatives of blast victims who want the silos preserved as a memorial site.
The Lebanese investigation into the blast has faced systematic and blatant political obstruction from day one.
Authorities were unable to unload around 3,000 tonnes of wheat and corn stuck in the silos because doing so might accelerate their collapse, this week’s statement said.
The environment and health ministries advised the public to evacuate the port area and use masks in the vicinity of the silos in case they collapsed.
The Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN), Ondo State Chapter, has called on Nigerians to retrace their steps to the era when leaders and the led reciprocated total trust, mutual understanding and empathy.
This was contained in a statement on Sunday by Mallam Issa Olatunji and Alhaja Fatima Muraina, Chairman and General Secretary of the MMPN state council, to mark the Islamic New Year, Hijrah 1444. The MMPN said the time had come for self evaluation, soul searching and stock – taking as individuals, families, groups or entire societies.
It said Hijrah, among others, was one of the numerous lessons for a country in dire need of moral rebirth and socio-political overhauling.
It also said sincerity of purpose could not be more elucidated elsewhere than the story of migration from Makkah to Madinah, with the noble prophet of Islam as the arrowhead of servant leadership, while his followers too reciprocated by trusting him without any cause to doubt his truthfulness.
“As we mark Hijrah 1444, it should be borne in mind that Nigeria must retrace its steps to the era when both the leaders and the led have total trust, mutual understanding and empathy for each other.
“Undiluted perseverance is needed at this point in time more than ever before in our national history with the myriads of challenges manifested in insecurity, widespread corruption, economic upheavals and political desperado.
It’s “Just like the emigrants abandoned their place of birth, loved ones and what could generally be seen as “familiar terrain” for the unknown environment in the scorching heat of the desert.
“All Nigerians must, as a matter of urgency, be ready to forsake our individual and collective comfort zones to redirect the ship of the nation from poverty to prosperity, impunity to probity, greed to selflessness.
“We must note that there is no shortcut to tangible breakthrough and one cannot put something on nothing.
“Dignity of labour should not only be preached but be promoted and encouraged by concerned authorities so as for millions of Nigerians to have a firm belief that a brand, new nation is possible,” The MMPN said.
The MMPN appealed to religious, traditional, political leaders, and other opinion moulders, as a matter of urgency, to shun any ember of discord which could only spell doom for the most populous black nation on earth.
It said that unity in diversity, otherwise known as multi-culturalism, made it possible for Muslims, Christians, Jews and Pagans to coexist for the evolvement of an economically flourishing and politically stable city-state in Madinah.
According to the MMPN, “we should be ready to jettison religious fanaticism, ethnic bigotry and other forms of intolerance, which pervade our national atmosphere today after sixty years of independence.
“As we approach another election year, it is incumbent we steer away from utterances, behaviours and endeavours that promote segregation, but rather understand the fact that the popular maxim ‘united we stand divided we fall’, is not a myth.
“Because nations like Bosnia Herzegovina, Sudan, Lebanon and lately Ethiopia, have tasted the bitter pills of war which arose from ethnic or sectarian differences.
“Nigeria is endowed with the human and material resources and the path to progress or perdition lies ahead of us, like the story of hijrah; the choice is ours to make”.
The MMPN wished Nigerians a fulfilling and rewarding new year, 1444 After Hijrah, saying “may we all be the very change we desire to see in our beloved country”.
In bankrupt Lebanon, Khalil Mansour has to queue for hours every day just to buy bread for his family, and some days he can’t afford any.
In a country that once boasted the nickname “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its thriving banking sector before the financial crisis hit in 2019, the chronic shortage of the staple of the Lebanese diet has been hard to take.
Lebanon defaulted on its national debt in 2020 and its currency has lost around 90 percent of its black market value.
The World Bank has branded the financial crisis one of the worst since the 19th century while the United Nations now considers four out of five Lebanese to be living under the poverty line.
Faced with demands from international creditors for painful reforms in return for the release of new aid, the embattled government has been forced to end subsidies on most essential goods — although not so far on wheat.
The price of subsidised bread has gone up, although by less than if there were no subsidy, but bakeries have started rationing the staple.
A bag of flat Arabic pitta-like bread now officially sells for 13,000 Lebanese pounds (43 US cents).
On the black market, it costs more than 30,000.
“Last week I went without bread for three days because I cannot afford to pay 30,000,” said Mansour, 48.
For Mansour and most Lebanese, buying bread means standing for hours in long queues outside bakeries, and sometimes, when their turn comes, the bakeries have run out of bread.
“Today I queued for three hours, yesterday two-and-a-half.
” Mansour said on Friday outside a Beirut bakery.
“I have to feed my family.
What else can I do?
” asked Mansour, who earns the equivalent of $50 a month working in a pastry shop.
– ‘Wild West’ –Most bakeries limit the sale of bread to one or two bags per customer, and each bag contains six flatbreads.
Subsidised bread is often bought in large quantities and sold again on the black market by unscrupulous dealers.
“The queues have become worse over the past two weeks,” said bakery owner Mohammed Mehdi.
“We are facing huge shortages.
” The 49-year-old said the bakery business had become like the “Wild West”.
“Some customers come armed with guns and knives,” he complained.
Lebanese media carry frequent reports of fights breaking out at bakeries, and even shots fired by customers demanding more bread.
In Taalbaya, in eastern Lebanon, a customer stormed a bakery on Tuesday furious he could not buy more bread, one report said.
The client shoved an employee and then ransacked the bakery, forcing the army to intervene, it added.
“What is happening is an insult… and it is even more difficult than the petrol shortage” that gripped Lebanon last year, Mehdi said.
– ‘Incitement’ –Lebanon imports 80 percent of its wheat from war-torn Ukraine, according to industry figures.
But the country’s capacity to store wheat took a heavy blow when a deadly blast at Beirut port in August 2020 severely damaged the country’s main grain silos.
The government and bakeries have traded blame for the bread shortage.
Bakeries accuse cash-strapped authorities of failing to provide enough subsidised flour.
The economy ministry denies the claim and has accused bakeries of hoarding subsidised flour to use in unsubsidised products such as sweets.
Authorities also claim that the presence in Lebanon of more than one million refugees from war-torn Syria is partly to blame for Lebanon’s economic collapse.
Some Lebanese have even gone as far as accusing Syrian refugees of buying subsidised bread to sell on the black market, fuelling resentment against the refugees and demands for them to go home.
There have been reports of some bakeries imposing separate queues for Lebanese and Syrians.
This has prompted the UN refugee agency to voice its concern.
“Lebanon is witnessing an increase in tensions and incitement between different communities, leading to localised violence in the streets, including against refugees,” the UNHCR warned on Friday.
A Lebanese prosecutor ordered the seizure Saturday of a Syrian-flagged ship that docked at a northern port with a cargo of Ukrainian grain Kyiv’s embassy in Beirut said was “illegal”.
Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat instructed police to investigate the Laodicea, which docked in Tripoli earlier this week, a judicial official said.
Oueidat “ordered the seizure of the ship until the investigation is completed”, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Lebanese police were also instructed to consult Ukraine’s embassy after it claimed that the grain aboard the Syrian-flagged ship was loaded from a region occupied by Russian forces.
Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February, has regularly accused Moscow forces of ransacking its grain warehouses.
According to the Lebanese foreign ministry, the “Syrian-flagged ship is carrying barley and flour”.
Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Ostash told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday that “illegal barley from occupied Ukrainian territory” was on board the ship.
Preliminary reports indicate that the owner of the shipping company is a Turkish national and the grain belongs to a Syrian merchant, the judicial official said.
Part of the cargo was due to be unloaded in Lebanon and the rest shipped to Syria, the official added.
A customs official told AFP that the vessel’s documents were “all in order and there is no proof that the merchandise was stolen”.
“The ship travelled through Turkey, and would have been seized by Turkish authorities if the vessel was under sanctions,” said the official who declined to be named.
According to some media reports, the US sanctioned the Laodicea several years ago as part of measures taken against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The incident came as Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, prepares to resume grain exports following a UN-backed deal.
Millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain are stranded by a Russian naval blockade and Ukrainian mines laid to avert an amphibious landing on the Black Sea coast.
The seizure of the Laodicea comes as Lebanon, which is struggling with one of the world’s worst financial crises, is also facing a major bread shortage.
A senior UN official on Friday urged “everyone” to refrain from fueling the media and social media with negative sentiments and hatred towards Syrian refugees.
This is coming after a recent plan by the Lebanese government to return 15,000 Syrian refugees monthly to their homeland.
“I call on everyone to refrain from fueling the media and social media with negative sentiments and hatred.
“I count on all to continue to display the spirit of solidarity and mutual respect in these difficult times,” Najat Rochdi, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, said in a statement released by the United Nations Information Centre.
She said that the UN and its partners remained committed to supporting the most vulnerable populations based on needs, regardless of their nationality, disability, religion, gender, sexuality, or place of origin.
She also recalled Lebanon’s commitment to the principle of ensuring the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees.
Rochdi also recalled that the humanitarian community, including the UN, has ver the past few years, increased its support to the Lebanese people, families, communities, and public institutions to lessen the impact of the multiple crises and meet the dire needs of the most vulnerable.
Lebanon launched a strategy earlier this month aimed at securing the return of 15,000 Syrian refugees to their homeland on a monthly basis as the country can no longer bear the burden of hosting a big number of displaced people amid its current financial crisis.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday will sign a joint agreement pledging to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon on the second day of Biden’s Middle East trip.
A senior Biden administration official, describing the joint declaration for reporters in a conference call, said the agreement will expand on the long-standing security relationship between the United States and Israel.
“This declaration is pretty significant, and it includes a commitment to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and to address Iran’s destabilising activities, particularly threats to Israel,” the official said.
Biden, on his first Middle East trip since taking office in early 2021, arrived in Israel on Wednesday and has talks with Israeli leaders on Thursday.
He will appear at a joint news conference with Lapid.
Biden will meet Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank on Friday and hold talks with leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies in Jeddah on Saturday.
Biden faces an uphill battle persuading Iran to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement that his predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.
Biden is likely to face questions from Israel and from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the wisdom of reviving the Iran nuclear deal and what the United States will do to counter Iran’s regional actions, regardless of whether the deal is resurrected.
In an Israeli television interview on Wednesday, Biden said the deal represented the best chance of holding up Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The only thing worse than the Iran which exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons and if we can return to the deal, we can hold them tight,” he said.
Asked if the United States could use force if needed, he said: “If that was the last resort, yes.”
Some Israeli, as well as Gulf Arab officials, believe the deal’s sanctions relief would provide Iran far more money to support proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
They are also skeptical about whether the Biden administration will do much to counter Iran’s regional activities.
Iran denies that its nuclear programme is aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons.
The U.S. official, asked if the declaration is about buying some time with Israel as Washington pursues negotiations with Iran, said: “If Iran wants to sign the deal that has been negotiated in Vienna, we have made very clear we’re prepared to do that.
“And, at the same time, if they’re not, we will continue to increase our sanctions pressure, we will continue to increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation.”
The official said the joint agreement will pledge ongoing U.S. military aid for Israel and will emphasize support for the Abraham Accords, the agreements between Israel and a handful of Arab states that the Trump administration helped broker.