Ruth Sherlock | Connecticut Public Radio
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Ruth Sherlock

TYRE COAST NATURE RESERVE, Lebanon — An oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean Sea last month has polluted Lebanon's coastline, damaging beaches that are nesting grounds for endangered green turtles and vulnerable loggerhead sea turtles.

In southern Lebanon, some of the country's last beaches spared from factories and tourist development are now carpeted in globs of poisonous tar. As weeks pass, the soft black pieces fragment into smaller particles that sink deeper into the sand.

On March 15, 2011, protesters inspired by successful "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, rallied in Syria to call for an end to their own repressive regime.

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A surge in coronavirus cases is overwhelming hospitals across Lebanon, leading doctors to tell families to care for sick loved ones at home because there's no more space in the wards.

Jean Nakhoul, an executive producer for Lebanon's MTV channel, says his family has been calling around the country and finding no medical treatment for his 83-year-old grandmother who is sick with COVID-19.

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Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET

A large explosion rocked the airport in Aden, Yemen, on Wednesday shortly after a jet landed carrying officials of the country's Saudi-backed government. Dozens of casualties were reported. Video from the scene shows hundreds of people were gathered on the tarmac when the blast struck.

Nine years ago this month, residents of the small Syrian town of Douma were in full rebellion against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Throughout the preceding year, Assad had watched as popular protests ousted dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and demonstrations spread to Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen. Now pro-democracy dissent had ignited across his country — including in Douma, just five miles from the capital Damascus.

Abu Alaa leaves his home in Damascus at dawn to buy bread from his local bakery. There he stands in line for up to six hours to get the two packets of the round flat pita bread that government rations allow for a three-child family like his.

After this he goes to the gas station, where he usually waits a further six hours to buy the fuel he needs for his work as a minivan driver.

"Half of my day is spent waiting for bread — God, it's laughable," he says. "And the other half is spent waiting in line for diesel!"

Khaled Taleb steps out of his vehicle high on a mountainside in northern Lebanon, and surveys the charred remains of the cedar forest he fought to save. A black carpet of the trees' burned needles crunches underfoot.

Armed with only gardening tools and cloth masks, Taleb and four friends spent the night of Aug. 23 on this mountainside battling a wildfire that swept up from the valley and engulfed this high-altitude woodland of cedars and juniper trees.

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Lebanon's capital, Beirut, remains devastated by the massive explosion at the city's port last month. The country is in the depths of an economic collapse, and the coronavirus is spreading.

But as Lebanon reels from multiple tragedies, conservationists are pointing to one bright spot. They say a record number of endangered green sea turtles have come to nest on the country's shores. Loggerhead turtles have also come in large numbers.

Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET

Rescue workers in Beirut are delicately exploring the rubble of a collapsed building where a specialist team says it detected signs of life — one month after Lebanon's capital was devastated by a massive explosion at its port.

The effort began after a sniffer dog named Flash signaled to his Chilean search and rescue team that someone might be alive under the concrete and debris in the neighborhood of Mar Mikhael.

Lebanon is seeing a dramatic increase in the spread of the coronavirus since last month's massive explosion at Beirut's port, which damaged much of the capital city. Since the Aug. 4 blast, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased by some 220%, according to an assessment by the International Rescue Committee.

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As terrible as last week's explosion at Beirut's port was, killing 172 people and injuring some 6,000 others, it has prompted new hopes for political change in Lebanon.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned, as it emerged that the blast was likely the result of government negligence. Now Lebanese are calling for major reforms.

When Westerners think of Beirut, they might rely on dated notions of the city: a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990; a war with Israel and sporadic airstrikes; bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy; an attack 15 years ago on the prime minister's convoy.

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Updated at 4:51 a.m. ET Thursday

Beirut is reeling and Lebanon is in grief after a powerful explosion tore through the capital's port area on Tuesday. The enormous blast, which officials said was driven by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 137 people and injured thousands more. Emergency crews are still working to find all the victims.

In the Yemeni city of Aden, doctors and nurses of Al-Wali Hospital and their families have become patients. With the 75 beds in this private hospital now full, members of the public are being turned away.

"Right now, we can't accept anyone else," said Amr Al-Turkey, a critical care physician in the hospital who is recovering from COVID-19.

Lebanon is reinstating a national stay-at-home order for four days following a spike in the number of reported cases of the coronavirus.

Beginning Wednesday at 7 p.m., residents will be asked to avoid outings except for emergencies.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet decision Tuesday afternoon, Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said the government would use the four-day shutdown to conduct more tests for the disease and try to trace recent transmissions.

Factories in Syria are producing a drug aggressively promoted by President Trump as a possible "game-changer" in the fight against COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence that it can cure the disease.

Three Syrian pharmaceutical companies are producing hydroxychloroquine, as well as the antibiotic azithromycin — and other drugs that are still being tested — to combat the illness, according to the World Health Organization representative in Syria.

The Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia are struggling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak among migrant worker populations on whose labor the countries rely.

Even amid stringent lockdowns, the disease has continued to spread through migrant communities, with many workers living in cramped labor camps, where they share bunk beds in tightly packed rooms.

In Saudi Arabia, non-Saudi residents comprised 76% of the more than 3,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases this week, according to the country's Health Ministry.

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On a beach in Muscat, Oman's capital, families gather on a Friday evening to enjoy a brief respite from the scalding heat of this desert country's summer. Women fully clad in abayas splash amid the gentle waves with their children. Shrieks of laughter fill the warm air. Toddlers build sandcastles at the water's edge.

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