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Lebanon urges Saudi Arabia to lift fresh produce ban

By AFP - Apr 26,2021 - Last updated at Apr 26,2021

BEIRUT — Lebanon on Monday urged Saudi Arabia to rethink a ban on Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports, a day after the suspension came into force over alleged drug smuggling.

Riyadh on Friday announced the suspension of the fresh produce shipments from Lebanon, saying they were being used to hide drugs and accusing Beirut of inaction.

The decision deprives Lebanese growers of one of their top export destinations, in a country already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun headed a meeting on Monday to discuss the ban.

"Those attending hoped Saudi Arabia would review the decision to forbid Lebanese agricultural products entry to Saudi Arabia," the presidency said in a statement afterwards.

The Saudi news agency reported on Friday that customs officials in the Red Sea port of Jeddah seized 5.3 million banned captagon pills hidden in a consignment of pomegranates from Lebanon.

The head of the Lebanese fruit and vegetable exporters and importers syndicate however claimed it was a shipment from Syria that had transited through the country.

"Lebanon categorically rejects being associated with such crimes, as a route or passageway," the presidency said.

Security forces would be ordered to double down to prevent all smuggling from Lebanon, especially to the Gulf, it said.

Saudi Arabia was the top destination for Lebanon's exported agricultural products in 2019, accounting for 22.1 per cent of those exports, a government report found last year.

Arab countries — mainly Gulf nations — accounted for 77.8 per cent of Lebanon's total exports.

The agricultural sector had been struggling for years before the latest financial crisis hit in late 2019.

Main overland trade routes to the Gulf and Iraq were disrupted due to the war that broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011.

Captagon is an amphetamine manufactured in Lebanon and probably also in Syria and Iraq, mainly for consumption in Saudi Arabia, the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction says.

Lebanon regularly carries out drug busts on its soil.

In February, Lebanese customs seized five million captagon pills at Beirut's port.

In 2015, a Saudi prince was detained as he tried to smuggle out two tonnes of the amphetamines on a private plane from Beirut airport.

Saudi Arabia has taken a step back from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah, which is backed by Riyadh's rival Tehran.


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