Coronavirus fears impose calm on Gaza front with Israel

A Palestinian artist paints a mural in the southern Gaza Strip, reading ‘by fighting the epidemic, we protect the human being and preserve the earth.’ (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2020

Coronavirus fears impose calm on Gaza front with Israel

  • The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza has quarantined hundreds of returning Palestinians through the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

GAZA CITY: The arrival of the coronavirus in the Palestinian territories and Israel has imposed calm between the two, despite tensions since the beginning of the year.
The High Commission for the Great March of Return announced the cancelation of activities that were scheduled for March 30 along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, fearing an outbreak of the virus among demonstrators and in compliance with instructions to prevent gatherings.
“In order to preserve the safety of the masses, it was decided to hold a number of activities on Land Day and the second anniversary of the launch of the March of Return that do not involve gatherings,” said Khaled Al-Batsh, a leader in the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine and head of the commission.
Al-Batsh called on protesters to ring church bells and shout the Takbir from mosques and homes in all Palestinian cities after ther Maghrib prayer call on Monday.
Since the beginning of 2020, the Gaza Strip has witnessed repeated instances of military escalation between Palestinian factions and Israel.
The last and most dangerous of these was on Feb. 23, after the Israeli army killed an Islamic Jihad activist and dragged his body by a military bulldozer on the security fence in the town of Khuza’a, southeast of the Strip.
In response to this incident, the Al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of the Islamic Jihad, along with other factions, launched missiles at Israeli towns, which Israel met with raids targeting the Gaza Strip.
After the announcement from the High Commission canceling the activities of March 30, the Gaza Strip witnessed a notable return to incendiary balloons and rocket fire aimed at Israeli towns.
According to multiple Palestinian statements, the objective of launching balloons was to pressure Israel to ease the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip about 14 years ago.
Israel did not take exceptional measures to ease the siege, however, and the use of balloons and missiles has disappeared since the last round of escalation.

Fear of the spread of this virus has made Gaza more cautious

Mukhaimer Abu Sa’da, Professor of political science

Mukhaimer Abu Sa’da, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that the pandemic was a major cause of the calm on the Gaza front with Israel.
“Fear of the spread of this virus has made Gaza more cautious,” Abu Sa’ada told Arab News.
According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israel understands that “Gaza is more sensitive to the spread of pandemics.”
The Gaza Strip recorded nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, which prompted the Hamas-led government to impose the closure of mosques, universities and schools, and place a ban on public gatherings.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza has quarantined hundreds of returning Palestinians through the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, while calling on residents to stay in their homes and not go out except for necessity.
Political columnist Hani Habib told Arab News: “The outbreak of the virus has meant that it is in the interests of both parties to continue a cease-fire. The burdens that Israel will have to bear as an occupying power is an additional motivator to control the spread of the pandemic in the Gaza Strip.”
It is not possible to estimate how Gaza will fare in light of the outbreak, especially as its economic effects could have severe negative repercussions on the already fragile territory.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.