Egypt shuts mosques and churches over coronavirus fears

Egypt shuts mosques and churches over coronavirus fears
A few people walk in the vicinity of the closed al-Hussein mosque in Egypt's capital Cairo on March 20, 2020, after the country's Muslim religious authorities decided to put the Friday prayers on hold, in order to avoid gatherings and the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 disease. / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI
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Updated 21 March 2020

Egypt shuts mosques and churches over coronavirus fears

Egypt shuts mosques and churches over coronavirus fears
  • Egypt has so far registered 285 confirmed coronavirus cases including eight deaths
  • Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars said that governments had the right to shut mosques “to protect people from the coronavirus”

CAIRO: Egypt on Saturday ordered mosques and churches to shut their doors to worshippers in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, after calls for the government to follow steps taken by neighboring countries.
Egypt has so far registered 285 confirmed coronavirus cases including eight deaths.
Many on social media had criticized the government for not canceling weekly Friday prayers and masses at which worshippers crowd into mosques and churches.
The Ministry of Islamic Endowments said it would shut all mosques for two weeks “for the necessity of preserving souls,” but will allow them to broadcast prayer calls through loudspeakers.
Egypt has more than 100,000 mosques.
Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, said it would shut its historic mosque in old Cairo starting from Saturday “for the safety of worshippers, and until the end of the coronavirus epidemic.”
On March 15, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars said that governments had the right to shut mosques “to protect people from the coronavirus.”
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church on Saturday ordered all its churches to shut their doors and suspend masses for two weeks over coronavirus fears, it said in a statement.
The church also banned visits to monasteries and closed condolences halls attached to churches.
Each parish will name only one church for funeral prayers and the sermons will be restricted to the family of the deceased.
Christians represent around 10% of Egypt’s population of 100 million, according to unofficial estimates. The vast majority of the country’s Christians are orthodox.
The Coptic Catholic Church followed the same approach and ordered its followers on Saturday to pray at home until further notice. Its churches will open their doors for funeral prayers only, which will be restricted to family members.
Strengthening measures
Egypt, which has seen its tourism sector badly affected by the epidemic, will close all museums and archaeological sites starting March 23 until the end of the month for sanitization, the tourism ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Tourism revenue rose to a record high $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended in July 2019.
The most populous Arab country said on Thursday it would shut all cafes, shopping malls, sports clubs and nightclubs from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. local time every night until March 31. It exempted supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and neighborhood corner stores.
Egypt also shut schools and universities and moved to cut the number of public sector employees reporting to work in an effort to discourage crowding and slow the spread of the disease.
Flights were grounded on Thursday until the end of March, with the exception of outward-bound flights needed by foreign tourists.
The government said that during the flight ban and school shutdown, hotels and all educational facilities would be sanitised.


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 38 min 25 sec ago

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”


Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.


Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles
Updated 13 May 2021

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

DUBAI: Individuals and vehicles will no longer be subject to curfews starting on Saturday, after Oman’s COVID-19 Supreme Committee issued on Thursday a list of changes in restrictions.

The Committee also issued a ban on hosting any commercial activities inside stores between 8pm and 4am daily limiting the service to delivery. Groceries and supermarkets are exempt.

Moreover, the Supreme Committee maintained that within the hours of operation, stores, outlets, malls, restaurants and cafes will be permitted to accommodate up to 50 percent only.

The Committee also re-activated its decision to have only half of public sector employees reporting to work meanwhile the remaining will work remotely.


Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel
Updated 13 May 2021

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel
  • At least 83 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday
  • Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israeli troops massed at Gaza’s border on Thursday and Palestinian militants pounded Israel with rockets in intense hostilities that have caused international concern and touched off clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Days of violence between Jewish Israelis and the country’s Arab minority worsened overnight, with synagogues attacked and fighting breaking out on the streets of some communities.
With concern growing that the violence that flared on Monday could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region. But efforts to end the worst hostilities in years appear so far to have made no progress.
In renewed air strikes on Gaza, Israel struck a six-story residential building in Gaza City that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave.
At least 83 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, medics said, further straining hospitals already under heavy pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are facing Israel and Covid-19. We are in between two enemies,” said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker, standing beside a road damaged during the air strikes. An electricity pole had collapsed by the road, its wires severed.
In the latest Palestinian rocket attacks, one rocket crashed into a building near Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, injuring five Israelis, police said. Sirens blared in cities across southern Israel, sending thousands running for shelters.
Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said.
“All of Israel is under attack. It’s a very scary situation to be in,” said Margo Aronovic, a 26-year-old student, in Tel Aviv.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas. Samples were being examined and they had yet to draw any final conclusions, they said.
US President Joe Biden said he hoped fighting “will be closing down sooner than later.” A British minister urged Israel and Hamas to “take a step back” from the escalation.
’Open-ended’ Confrontation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “continue acting to strike at the military capabilities of Hamas” and other Gaza groups. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings, including high-rises and a bank, which Israel said was linked to the faction’s activities.
Hamas signalled defiance, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying: “The confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Turkey, whose hosting of Hamas leaders in Istanbul in recent years has contributed to a falling out with Israel, called on Muslim countries to show a united and clear stance over the Israel-Gaza violence.
In the fighting inside Israel, where some in the 21 percent Arab minority have mounted violent pro-Palestinian protests, attacks by Jews on Arabs passing by in ethnically mixed areas have worsened.
One person was in critical condition after being shot by Arabs in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, police said.
Over 150 arrests were made overnight in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”
“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” said the president, whose role is largely ceremonial.
Flights canceled
A number of foreign carriers have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.
The fatalities in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker, medical authorities said.
Gaza’s health ministry said 17 of the people killed in the enclave were children and seven were women. The Israeli military said some 400 of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions had fallen short, potentially causing some Palestinian civilian casualties.
The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after Israel’s inconclusive March 23 election.
Although the latest problems in Jerusalem were the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years.
These include Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a US plan to end the conflict that they saw as favorable to Israel and settlement building.


Rights groups urge Australia to rethink Israel trade deal 

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
Updated 41 min 57 sec ago

Rights groups urge Australia to rethink Israel trade deal 

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation. (Shutterstock/File Photos)
  • ‘Unprecedented’ ongoing situation means Australia should halt plans to deepen trade ties with Israel, rights groups say
  • Over 80 people, mostly Palestinians, have now been killed in violence in Israel and Palestine

LONDON: Human rights groups from Australia and Palestine have urged Australia’s federal government to rethink a potential trade agreement with Israel, citing the ongoing violent situation in Jerusalem and Gaza.

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation.

Australia already imports over $1 billion of goods and services from Israel annually, while its exports to the country are in excess of $340 million.

But citing the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Jerusalem, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council have urged the Australian government to halt considerations of expanded trade with Israel and condemn its actions against Palestinians.

Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said: “The situation is bleak, it’s unprecedented. Even in the numerous tragic and military assaults we have been subjected to in the past, Israel has launched the worst attack ever.”

At least 83 people have been killed since violence broke out in east Jerusalem and Gaza — 67 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, while seven Israelis have died from rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians have also been wounded in the last week, including many worshippers who were hurt during an Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque and compound.

Sourani called on Australia to “change track” and condemn Israel’s actions. He said in a statement that “every centimetre in Gaza is shaking” and that the international community, including Australia, must be ashamed.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is conducting a feasibility study into the potential for increased trade with Israel.

In a submission to the study, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council said the government “must not neglect major human rights concerns, and Australia’s obligations and responsibilities under international law.”

The rights groups’ submission called on Canberra to review all trade with Israel and “implement effective measures to protect the Palestinian people’s fundamental human rights.”

Rawan Arraf, executive director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, accused the government of rewarding Israel with free trade despite crippling life in Gaza and launching a “further military assault directed at civilian targets.”

Arraf said: “Over several years, the Australian government has adopted an adverse and harmful approach to Palestinian human rights.

 “Whether that’s at the UN or its appalling intervention at the international criminal court at the request of the Israeli government, to prevent investigations into international crimes in Palestine.”

The Australian government is expected to complete the trade consultation by July, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan previously stating that he hopes to “move to something of more substance by the end of the year.”

Politicians from both sides of the aisle in Australia have condemned the violence in Israel and Palestine and urged both sides to de-escalate.

Save the Children, meanwhile, has demanded all parties to the conflict cease targeting civilians, including minors. Jason Lee, country director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said families in densely populated and blockaded Gaza had nowhere to take refuge.

“Our staff are struggling to support their terrified children,” he said. “For them, as with all families in Gaza, the last 48 hours reminds them of the horrors they have witnessed over the last 12 years in three Gaza wars. We call for all sides in the conflict to take immediate steps to de-escalate and stop this deadly cycle of retaliatory actions.”