Palestinians close Bethlehem after virus spike

A worker of the Palestinian Bethlehem municipality in cooperation with the popular committee of Aida Refugee Camp, dressed in PPE (personal protective equipment), sterilises a street against Covid-19 coronavirus on June 25, 2020 in the Aida Refugee Camp near in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Palestinians close Bethlehem after virus spike

  • The 48-hour closure will begin Monday from 6.00am (0300 GMT), governor Kamil Hmeid said in a statement
  • Hebron and Nablus, alongside Bethlehem, have recorded a major spike in new coronavirus cases

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The governor of Bethlehem announced Saturday the temporary closure of the Palestinian city to contain the spread of coronavirus after a sharp rise in infections in the occupied West Bank.
The 48-hour closure will begin Monday from 6.00am (0300 GMT), governor Kamil Hmeid said in a statement.
The closure comes after the West Bank cities of Hebron and Nablus were closed last week for five days and 48 hours respectively.
The two cities, alongside Bethlehem, have recorded a major spike in new coronavirus cases.
The Palestinian health ministry announced 67 new cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness on Saturday, of which 33 were in the Bethlehem district.
The ministry has recorded a total of 1,552 virus cases in the West Bank, including two deaths.
Like the West Bank, Israel has also recorded a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave blockaded by Israel, 72 people have tested positive for coronavirus, with one death.
Bethlehem, where Christians believe Christ was born, was initially put into lockdown in March, after recording the first coronavirus case in the West Bank.
Schools were closed and non-essential travel and activities were that month banned, as part of the efforts to tackle the virus.


UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

Updated 42 min 47 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.