Health

Donated COVID-19 gear helps Lebanese security forces maintain rule of law

By Nohad Topalian

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A member of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces wears a mask to protect against COVID-19 as he performs his duties on the street. The United States has supplied the ISF with protective gear and equipment valued at more than $400,000. [ISF Public Relations Division]

BEIRUT -- Policing in Lebanon has become even more challenging amid the coronavirus pandemic, with security personnel requiring an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 -- an invisible and deadly adversary.

On the streets and in other areas where the law of the land is upheld and enforced -- such as prisons -- security personnel have needed additional equipment to do their jobs safely: masks, sanitisers and disinfecting equipment.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the United States has been providing the Internal Security Forces (ISF) with in-kind assistance via the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

To date, this assistance -- which came in response to a request from the Ministry of Interior -- has included more than $400,000 worth of preventive and personal protection equipment (PPE kits) to protect against COVID-19.

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A member of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces wears a protective mask against COVID-19 as she inspects items on a security belt. [ISF Public Relations Division]

This is part of $55 million in COVID-19 assistance the United States provided to the people of Lebanon in fiscal year 2020.

In August 2021, the United States announced almost $100 million in new humanitarian assistance for Lebanon to help people affected by the pandemic and its compounding socioeconomic impacts.

The funding, from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), also supports Syrian refugees sheltering in Lebanon.

The first shipments to the ISF, which began to arrive in May, included individual masks and gloves, protective suits, hand sanitisers, electrical sanitising sprayers and disinfecting equipment, the US Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement.

The donation "aims to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and detainees of prisons and other holding facilities, as well as ISF correctional staff", the embassy said.

As of Monday (November 22), Lebanon has had 659,000 cases of COVID-19 infections, including 8,645 deaths.

Front line protection

The US support "helped protect ISF personnel from the virus, especially as they were, and still are, on the frontlines with citizens in the streets, at police stations and in the prisons", said a top official in the ISF public relations division.

The "valuable in-kind assistance" included gloves, masks and cleaning materials.

"We distributed them to our personnel, prisons, prison inmates and medical centres, which contributed to stemming the spread and transmission of the virus," he said.

The US support for Lebanon's ISF "is not limited to coronavirus pandemic-related items, as it has gone beyond that for many years and in many areas", he noted.

"The United States played a key role in strengthening our capabilities by providing us with supplies, equipment, vehicles, computers, information technology (IT) and communications equipment," he said.

It also contributed to the construction of buildings for the directorate and provided training for personnel, he said.

"The US support, which takes many forms, contributes to the development of the professionalism of the ISF, to law enforcement, fighting terrorism and crime, and upholding the rule of law," the official said.

The PPE kits have enabled ISF personnel "to be fully prepared to perform their tasks", said security and strategy analyst Naji Malaeb.

"This preventive medical assistance is essential, because ISF personnel, by virtue of their work, be it outside involving the performance of tasks or in the offices and barracks, are likely to mix with other people," he said.

"This valuable assistance comes at a time when the Lebanese state is reeling under the impact of the economic and financial collapse, and at a time when no budget is being allocated for medical emergencies," he said.

The US assistance also has reached the Lebanese army, which received between May and September several shipments of masks, gloves, medicines, oxygen and other equipment, a source with the Army Command told Al-Mashareq.

This assistance "is of great importance, as it allows us to provide protection to the army's soldiers while they perform their security tasks... wherever they are, and stem the spread of the virus", the source said.

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