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Lebanon vows to do more on drug smuggling after Saudi ban on fruit, vegetable imports

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Lebanese officials Friday quickly pledged to do more to combat drug smuggling out of the country after Saudi Arabia ordered a ban on all produce imports from Beirut.

“The issue is very serious, especially if it negatively affects the rest of the Gulf states that could take similar or stringent measures,” caretaker Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told Reuters.

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Saudi Arabia announced that as of Sunday, no fruit or vegetable shipments would be allowed into the Kingdom after Saudi customs foiled an attempt to smuggle over five million Captagon pills in pomegranate shipped from Lebanon.

Mortada said Lebanon’s fruit and vegetable trade with Saudi Arabia was worth around $24 million per year.

Saudi Arabia said that the ban on Lebanese produce imports would not be lifted until Beirut proved it was working towards curbing illegal drug smuggling.

Captagon is an amphetamine used by fighters at war because of its effects on fighting tiredness. It has widely been made and exported illegally from Lebanon, and shipments are routinely foiled at Lebanon’s ports or the destination.

Separately, Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister said his country was ready to work with all foreign countries to combat drug smuggling following the Saudi ban.

Mohammed Fahmi was quoted by Reuters as saying that Lebanon was “exerting tremendous efforts” in its war on drug smuggling, “but sometimes they [drug smugglers] succeed.”

Fahmi, who was nominated to be a minister by Lebanon’s president and ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, said there should be more coordination and cooperation between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia’s security apparatuses.

Ties between Beirut and Riyadh have soured in recent years following the steady rise of Hezbollah and its increased influence over the state and its institutions. Hezbollah continues to support Yemen’s Houthi militia, which attacks Saudi Arabia and civilians inside the Kingdom almost daily.

On Thursday, the top US general for the Middle East said that Iran continues to ship weapons to Hezbollah.

Read more: Food prices in Lebanon spike by 55 pct as locals struggle to feed families: Report