UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise
Security men wearing protective masks stand on a street in Sanaa in May, 6, 2020, during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the COVID-19. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
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Updated 07 May 2020

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise
  • Health teams in Aden, Taiz and Hadramout reported a new surge in the number of infections

AL-MUKALLA: Envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to Yemen have renewed their calls for an immediate cease-fire in the country after an alarming surge in the number of coronavirus cases.  

Following a virtual meeting with Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Al-Hadrami, and a spokesperson for the Iran-backed Houthis, Mohammed Abdul Salam, the ambassadors urged both parties to “engage positively” with UN proposals to end hostilities and allow the country’s fragile health system to fight the virus outbreak.

“We told both parties that the best defense against COVID-19 is a permanent cease-fire and a resumption of political dialogue,” Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, said in an online post on Tuesday.

“We urged both parties to engage constructively with the UN texts with a view to adopting the joint declaration and attending the proposed crisis meeting.”  

Local media outlets also reported that the ambassadors voiced strong support for UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths’ diplomatic efforts with the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which seized control of Aden. 

In a recent interview with Arab News, Griffiths said that his latest peace proposal is based initially on a nationwide truce, measures to alleviate economic and humanitarian strife, and a commitment to the resumption of peace talks.

Discussions were expected to lead to a comprehensive peace settlement that would address the country’s thorny issues and prevent it from plunging into war again, he said.

The Saudi-led coalition and the internationally recognized government have declared a truce in Yemen to allow health workers to fight the spread of the disease.

Houthi rebels have demanded an end to airstrikes on their forces, the opening of airports and the withdrawal of Saudi-led coalition forces from the country before they adhere to a cease-fire.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the army and allied tribesmen pushed back two Houthi attacks in the mountainous Nehim district, near Sanaa and Al-Bayda.

As fighting raged, the Aden-based supreme national emergency committee announced on Wednesday that four new coronavirus cases had been recorded in Lahj and Aden, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in areas under the government’s control to 25, including five deaths.

Health teams in Aden, Taiz and Hadramout reported a new surge in the number of infections as they continued to trace patients’ contacts despite a severe shortage of personal protective equipment. 

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the health ministry’s Hadramout office, said that health workers identified more than 50 people who had direct contact with  three people who tested positive for coronavirus in the province.

Patients’ contacts were asked to stay home and report any health problems to local doctors.

At the same time, authorities in Hadramout reimposed a partial curfew from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., closed land entries to the province, and advised residents to limit social contact.

The emergency committee in the central province of Marib, headed by Gov. Sultan Al-Aradah, stepped up virus curbs, including extra testing at the province’s entry points, the use of rapid response teams, a ban on large gatherings and the shutting down of markets.

Following reports that the Houthis are concealing the number of coronavirus cases, the rebels failed to report any new cases on Wednesday and announced that 10 districts in Sanaa will be placed in 24-hour lockdown.

The first case of coronavirus inside Houthi-controlled territory was announced on Tuesday after a Somali national was found dead in a hotel in Sanaa.


Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
Updated 57 min 36 sec ago

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low turnout amid opposition boycott

Election for ‘new Algeria’ gets low  turnout amid opposition boycott
  • A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — vied for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament

 

ALGIERS: Voter turnout was low midway through the day as Algerians voted on Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a “new Algeria.”

Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted the election.

Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests.

The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.

A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.

FASTFACT

The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, were freed early on Saturday, three days after their arrests.

It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa’s largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.

“We are looking for change,” voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. “I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change.”

The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.

The participation rate among Algeria’s 24 million voters was 10 percent midway through the day, the electoral authority announced.

The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.

“What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy,” Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.


Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
During the session, chaired by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Saad Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri

Lebanon’s Sunni leaders renew support for Hariri
  • Supreme council meeting warns of ‘suffocating crisis’ facing the country

BEIRUT: The Supreme Islamic Sharia Council, which represents the Sunni community and its leaders in Lebanon, has renewed its support for Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate, amid an escalating dispute over the failure to form a government in the country.

After a lengthy meeting on Saturday, in which Hariri participated, the council warned that “any quest for new definitions regarding the constitution or the Taif Agreement is not acceptable under any of the arguments.”
It was earlier reported that Hariri might announce during the meeting that he was stepping down from the task of establishing a new government entrusted to him by parliament last October.
The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun, together with his political team represented by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
The meeting, which was held in Dar Al-Fatwa and attended by former prime ministers, said that the blame for delaying the formation of the government lies with those “who are trying to invent ways and methods that nullify the content of the National Accord Document, which enjoys the consensus of Lebanese leaders who are keen on Lebanon’s independence, unity, sovereignty and pan-Arabism.”
During the session, chaired by the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Hariri discussed the obstacles to forming the government and steps he has taken to overcome them.
Those present at the meeting expressed their fear that “the suffocating crisis facing Lebanon will deteriorate into an endless abyss amid the indifference and random confusion that characterizes the behavior and actions of leaders who control citizens.”

BACKGROUND

The French initiative and the mediation of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri so far have failed to help form a government because of an escalating dispute between Hariri and President Michel Aoun.

The dispute over the formation of the government is a “futile debate,” they added.
Hariri later described the discussion as constructive.
“The country is witnessing a political and economic deterioration every day,” he said. ” What matters to us is the country at the end of the day.”
One of the participants in the meeting, who declined to be named, told Arab News that “Hariri presented the options before him, including resignation, but the attendees rejected the matter and pressured him to adhere to his constitutional powers and wait to see what Berri’s mediation might result in.”
The source said that “the importance of the statement issued by the meeting should not be underestimated because it is a statement issued by Dar Al-Fatwa and condemns the president and his son-in-law.”
Fouad Siniora, a former prime minister, said that the problem of forming the government is internal, and Aoun must respect the constitution. “Aoun violates the constitution every day and does not act as the one who unites the Lebanese,” he said.
Siniora said that “Hezbollah is hiding behind the president and MP Gibran Bassil. It wants the government-formation paper to remain in its hands to use as a negotiating card. Hezbollah is a major problem and a source of pain.”
Mustafa Alloush, vice president of the Future Movement, said that “there is pressure from the Sunni community on Hariri not to quit his assignment and not to hand over the government formation to people working as proxies.”
He added: “Dar Al-Fatwa’s statement gave a clear sign of support to Hariri, and dialogue is continuing between Hariri and former prime ministers.”


Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
Zakira Hekmat aims to promote education, language learning, cultural programs, capacity building, and awareness campaigns among refugees. (Supplied)
Updated 13 June 2021

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  

Afghan activist doctor receives award for refugee work in Turkey  
  • Zakira Hekmat recognized by IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration after working with UNHCR

ANKARA: The Ankara-based IGAM Research Center on Asylum and Migration has recognized an Afghan doctor for her work helping refugees.
Zakira Hekmat, 33, was awarded $2,000 by the center, led by Metin Corabatir, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) former spokesperson in Turkey.
Hekmat, herself born an internally displaced person in Jaghuri district in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, said she considered herself lucky, which had driven her to help other Afghan refugees.
“I think that by giving back to my own community, I can best heal the pain of displacement, ruination of my homeland, and the suffering of my people,” she told Arab News. “I was lucky enough to have a house to live in and a university to attend when I first came to Turkey, but not everyone was lucky like me. So, I wanted to help them with all my capabilities because I know they face many challenges.”
Hekmat’s Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association (ARSA), which she started in 2014, worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus disease pandemic to help people in need, including with those who lost homes and jobs or were left vulnerable, and she was recognized in 2020 by Washington-based charitable organization HasNa as one of its Peacebuilders of the Year for her work.
She graduated high school living under the Taliban while doubling up as a teacher due to a shortage of female staff in her area. Hekmat then briefly attended Kabul University as an undergraduate before leaving for the medical faculty of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, and then working at an immigrant health center in the city, predominately serving refugees, many coming from neighboring Syria fleeing the country’s civil war..
Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society.

FASTFACT

Zakira Hekmat said her formative years in Afghanistan shaped her identity. Teaching poor children in Ghazni, she said, shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice by reconnecting marginalized people with the rest of the society. 

Now her focus is on refugees, especially widowed women, refugee girls and children, by promoting education, language-learning, cultural programs, capacity building, child-focused activities, translation services for refugees and conducting awareness programs.
ARSA, she added, had worked on dozens of voluntary projects with the financial support of the UNHCR and the Turkish government, including setting up a network of 370 refugees volunteers in 58 cities across Turkey to help newly-arrived refugees to settle into their cities, and producing and distributing items to protect them from the pandemic.
“By teaming up with our local volunteers, we produced protective masks and soap (to help prevent) contagion, and we distributed them free to NGOs in need across the country as well as to the refugees themselves,” Hekmat said. Her network produced about 1,000 face masks per day, she added.
In addition, with the UNHCR, ARSA helped around 600 needy Turks and Afghans by providing them with essential supplies for the winter, and delivered hygiene kits to over 6,000 families.
“I don’t care much about the country of birth, but I attach high importance to the country where I can breathe and live freely,” Hekmat said. “We can only overcome stereotypes and prejudices against refugees if we listen each other and come together around a cup of Turkish tea.”
Her current work also focuses on child protection, stopping underage marriages and domestic violence, and promoting social cohesion and awareness campaigns about asylum-seekers. She has also launched a project for women refugees to design accessories and other handicrafts.
“They produced about 600 items (so far) and we provided the raw material for them. It became a source of livelihood for them and served as a pathway to self-accomplishment,” she said.
Corabatir said Hekmat had acted as a bridge for more than a decade between each Afghan refugee and UN agencies in Turkey, and had tried to solve their problems with an extensive network she established herself over years in the medical sector and through her charity activities.
“We intend to raise awareness about these charity works and introduce these people to the attention of the authorities. She also showed to her peers that they have rights to enjoy as refugees. It is essential that these people inspire other refugees for raising awareness and leading social change in their communities,” Corabatir said.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Pakistanis, according to the latest data of the UNHCR.


Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM
Updated 13 June 2021

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM

Egypt and Sudan will confront any unilateral Ethiopian action on the Renaissance Dam — FM
  • Shoukry said Cairo is working with Israel to advance the peace process and achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people

AMMAN: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday that he anticipates negotiations with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam will continue to falter.
Speaking during a television program on Sada El-Balad channel, Shoukry said that the Nile waters concern every Egyptian, and the government deals with transparency and informs its people on all the negotiations that take place.
Shoukry said that his recent visit to Sudan came to confirm the close link between the two countries and to coordinate to assess the filling status of the dam, the pace of construction, and review all data related to this issue.
He said his country and Sudan will politically and decisively confront any unilateral action by Ethiopia on the dam, adding that the second filling of the dam will affect the course of negotiations and that Addis Ababa’s actions are contrary to international standards.
Ethiopia began the second phase of filling the reservoir behind its giant Grand Renaissance Dam in early May, a process expected to accelerate in July and August after seasonal rains.
Further construction work on the dam had already allowed for the second phase to start. Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam, which is still under construction on the Blue Nile close to the border with Sudan, last year.
“We hope that a breakthrough will be reached in the negotiations, but this depends on the Ethiopian political administration, and we affirm that the downstream countries will not compromise or give up their rights, in the event of serious damage occurring when filling and operating the Renaissance Dam,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Shoukry addressed a letter to the UN Security Council to explain the developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, and affirmed Egypt’s objection to Ethiopia’s announcement of its intention to continue filling the dam during the upcoming flood season.
On Palestine, Shoukry said Cairo is working with Israel to advance the peace process and achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state and the two-state solution.
“Egypt is committed to the need to establish a Palestinian state, and we will continue to work with the new Israeli government and international partners led by the United States to implement the goals of the Palestinian people.”
He also said President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has approved providing $500 million in aid, and they are coordinating with the Palestinian and Israeli sides to set appropriate frameworks that provide for reconstruction and speed up the provision of support to the Palestinian people.
(With Reuters)


Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
Updated 12 June 2021

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor

Shelling kills 16 in northern Syria’s Afrin: Monitor
  • The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed
  • A doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital

BEIRUT: Shelling of the rebel-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 16 people Saturday, many of them when a hospital was struck, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a doctor, three hospital staff, three women and a child died at Al-Shifaa hospital in the city which is held by Turkish-backed rebels.
The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where Syrian regime and Kurdish forces are both deployed, the Britain-based group said.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.