Yemen government halts flights, closes schools

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Houthi deputy minister for Development and Economic Affairs Hussein Makbouli holds a press conference to address the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), in Sanaa on March 14, 2020. (AFP)
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A closed school is seen in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 March 2020

Yemen government halts flights, closes schools

  • On the streets, life has been largely uninterrupted by the government’s precautionary measures as large gatherings are still taking place across the country

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has canceled flights to and from the country’s airports for two weeks, and ordered the closure of schools for one week, to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
These decisions were made by the Yemeni Cabinet during a meeting in Riyadh on Saturday. Humanitarian flights are exempt from the ban.
Until last week, the country’s national carrier Yemenia flew weekly to Jeddah, Cairo, Amman and Mumbai.
Yemen’s Health Minister Nasir Baoum said health facilities across the war-torn country have not recorded any coronavirus cases, and all arrivals through air, land and seaports are subject to checks.
In Aden, health officials approved a plan to set up a quarantine for coronavirus patients at Al-Amel hospital after residents protested against establishing a quarantine at Al-Sadaka hospital for fear of an outbreak in densely populated areas of the port city.
In Hadramout, health officials said emergency teams in the province have not recorded any unusual deaths of patients at local intensive care units.
“Until now, there aren’t even suspected cases of coronavirus,” Dr. Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry office in Hadramout, told Arab News on Sunday. “Why would we hide information about new cases?”
The absence of coronavirus cases in Yemen “is expected given that the country has been on lockdown since the beginning of the war,” he said, denying rumors that some cases have been detected in Hadramout.

BACKGROUND

Measures come amid public skepticism that country is free of coronavirus.

In Houthi-controlled provinces, where most of the country’s population lives, the Iran-backed militia halted UN flights from and into Sanaa and closed schools.
But in the streets of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout’s capital, people expressed skepticism about official reports that the country is free of coronavirus.
“I don’t trust them,” English teacher Abdullah Saleh told Arab News. “It’s impossible that they haven’t been able to record a suspected case. We’ve never seen them testing large gatherings inside cities.”
On the streets, life has been largely uninterrupted by the government’s precautionary measures as large gatherings are still taking place across the country.
On Saturday night, hundreds of football fans roamed the streets of Al-Mukalla honking cars, playing music and setting off fireworks following a local football tournament. Mosques, malls and shops are bustling with people.
“I can’t stop working. I’ll be burdened with debts if I stay at home,” said Abdullah, a middle-aged fish seller.
“The virus will face the fate of other diseases that die before spreading in Yemen. God will protect us.”


Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

Updated 20 min 47 sec ago

Turkey-backed fighters retaliate against Syria-allied troops

  • Renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March

BEIRUT: Syrian opposition groups lobbed hundreds of missiles and artillery rockets at government posts in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, in retaliation for a deadly attack that killed dozens of their fighters a day earlier.
The renewed violence has undermined an already shaky cease-fire in place since March that aimed to quell military operations and government troop advances in the overcrowded rebel enclave.
The Turkey-backed groups, operating under the umbrella of the National Front for Liberation, fired hundreds of artillery rounds and missiles since late Monday at government posts in territories adjacent to areas they control in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
A spokesman for the NFL, Naji Al-Mustafa, said the rebel’s military retaliation targeted and killed Russian officers in southern Idlib, as well as Syrian soldiers working in the area.
The report could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from Russia or Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded hundreds of projectiles lobbed by opposition fighters at nearly 20 government posts in different locations in southern Idlib, western Aleppo and the coastal province of Latakia. The Observatory said there were casualties but had no details.
Monday’s strike was the deadliest in Idlib since the Turkish-Russian-brokered truce there came into effect in March, raising fears that the truce could further fray. Some 1 million people were displaced by the last offensive inside the already packed enclave, home to over 3 million.
The airstrike on a rebel training camp near the border with Turkey killed more than 50 Turkish-backed fighters, according to one opposition spokesman, and wounded nearly as many, in one of the heaviest blows to the opposition’s strongest groups. The Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, put the toll at 78 fighters dead and nearly 90 wounded.
The camp, operated by Faylaq Al-Sham, an NFL faction, was hosting training sessions for new recruits. The NFL said a “large number” of fighters were killed, but declined to give details. It vowed retaliation and blamed Russia for the attack.
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey said the escalation in Idlib in violation of the March cease-fire deal is “dangerous” and threatens to prolong the conflict and deepen the Syrian people’s suffering. Jeffrey said the UN-led political process is the only way to peace and stability in Syria.
“By continuing their quest for a military victory, the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are threatening the stability of the surrounding region,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It is time for the Assad regime and its allies to end their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people.”
Russia and Turkey, although they support opposite sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, have worked together to maintain a cease-fire in the last enclave of Syria’s rebels. But the attack comes as relations between the two countries have shown signs of strain over Turkey’s increased military involvement in a region stretching from Syria to the Caucasus and the Mediterranean.