Arrival of coronavirus in Bethlehem increases Palestinian fear

First coronavirus cases in Palestine were in Bethlehem. (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2020

Arrival of coronavirus in Bethlehem increases Palestinian fear

  • The Palestinian Ministry of Health recorded 48 cases of coronavirus
  • Experts are not able to estimate the losses inflicted on the Palestinian economy by the coronavirus pandemic, but they expect the worst.

GAZA CITY: The arrival of the coronavirus in Bethlehem has alarmed Palestinians. They have become more cautious and aggressive toward any movement by people who they think should be in quarantine.

Mohammed Al-Mashaikh, 25, was one of the victims of such fears when he tried to meet his fiancée at her home. Her neighbors surrounded him for four hours until the arrival of the representatives of the Ministry of Health and police.

Al-Mashaikh works as a chef in a restaurant next to the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem, where the first coronavirus cases in Palestine were discovered.

“I shook hands with one of the staff at the Angel Hotel, who was declared infected. A sample was taken from me and tested, and the result was negative, but they asked me to stay in quarantine at home for 14 days,” Al-Mashaikh told ArabNews.

He said: “It was 14 days since I shook hands with the infected person, but the calculation of the Ministry of Health was based on when they took the sample from me, and I had 4 days left.”

Mohammed proposed to his cousin Azhar on Feb. 23 and intended to hold the engagement party in April before the marriage in the summer.

“I fell in love with Azhar a year and a half ago, and we intended to get married in the summer, but in these circumstances I don’t think our plans will remain the same,” he said.

“On that day, I went by the car from my home in Aida camp in Bethlehem to my fiancée’s house in Al-Aroub camp, north of Hebron. When I arrived, my fiancée was not at home, and I waited for her there after I phoned her.”

“The neighbors gathered near my fiancée’s house when they learned that I was visiting, and locked me in a room inside the house for four hours until midnight, when the Ministry of Health allowed me to return to my house by car with a request to stay in isolation,” he added.

President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories, and restaurants, cafes and wedding halls were closed, and schools and universities were suspended.

Al-Mashaikh does not believe that he made a mistake when he left the house to meet his fiancée, who on the previous day told him not to come to visit her.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health recorded 48 cases of coronavirus, most of them from the city of Bethlehem in the south of the West Bank, which prompted them to put a bar on all entry and exit from the city.

Experts are not able to estimate the losses inflicted on the Palestinian economy by the coronavirus pandemic, but they expect the worst.

The Palestinian economy suffered as a result of the closure of tourist establishments in several cities, such as Bethlehem, Ramallah and others, as the government was forced to close hotels, restaurants and public places, creating temporary unemployment for thousands of workers.

Abdel-Ghani Al-Atari, head of the Ramallah Chamber of Commerce, said that the decision to close tourist establishments affects traders in general, noting that purchases had shrunk by 60 percent.

Al-Mashaikh is no longer working or getting paid, and he does not know how long this situation will continue.

“The circumstances are exceptional; I do not know when I will return to work, and when the situation will return to normal. All I am looking for now is to leave the house like any normal person and to meet my fiancée,” he said.

 
 


UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

Updated 57 min 45 sec ago

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

  • Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east
  • Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves

GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that the two sides in Libyan military talks had reached a “historic achievement” with a permanent cease-fire agreement across the war-torn North African country.
After mediation this week led by UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Turco Williams, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the UN called an “important turning point toward peace and stability in Libya.”
Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.
Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult,” Williams, a former US State Department official, said in Arabic at the signing ceremony.
“Before us is a lot of work in the coming days and weeks in order to implement the commitments of the agreement,” she said. “It is essential to continue work as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many problems due to this conflict facing the Libyan people.”
“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams added. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”
Ali Abushahma, the head of the delegation and a field commander for the UN-supported administration in Tripoli, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed ... We hope we will change the suffering on all the territories of Libya, especially in the south.”
“I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” he said, warning about polarization by factions.
The meetings this week mark the fourth round of talks involving the Joint Military Commission under Williams’ watch. The Geneva-based military talks come ahead of a political forum in Tunisia in November. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the UN mission said.
On Wednesday, Williams had said the two warring factions agreed on issues that “directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” citing agreements to open air and land routes in the country, to work to ease inflammatory rhetoric in Libyan media, and to help kickstart Libya’s vital oil industry.
Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Last month, the two sides reached preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory. This breakthrough also accompanied the resumption of oil production after a months-long blockade by powerful tribes allied with military commander Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based forces.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli, the seat of the UN-supported government in the west. But his campaign collapsed in June.
Fighting has since died down amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oil export terminals.