Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out that vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees typically pay the highest price during any conflict. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 21 July 2020

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?
  • Antonio Guterres says there should be only one fight  — “our shared battle against COVID-19”
  • Fighting has not flared in Syria’s Idlib and in the Gaza Strip, but in other places it has raged on

DUBAI: Since a deadly coronavirus outbreak in China’s Wuhan city late last year began to spread to the rest of the world, most of humanity has had no choice but to cope with the blows of a pandemic without a vaccine.

While the crisis has affected people’s lives cutting across political and geographical boundaries, few groups have proved more vulnerable than the world’s large population of displaced and dispossessed living in conflict zones.

At the same time, the wellbeing of billions of people hangs in the balance, with unemployment rates projected to soar and potentially affect the lives of 1.6 billion “informal economy” workers worldwide.

The international community has seldom faced such a perfect storm of challenges in living memory.

“The pandemic exacerbates so many of the world’s problems — war, racial and economic inequalities, gender inequality, poverty and more,” Kerry Anderson, writer and political risk consultant, told Arab News.

Several countries in the Middle East were already lagging behind in socioeconomic development due to conflict, drought, political unrest or environmental degradation.

With the advent of the pandemic, however, they had to quickly take on mankind’s latest common enemy: The novel coronavirus.

In response to the unfolding crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a worldwide cease-fire in March, urging parties to lay down their weapons.




Houthi fighters in Yemen’s capital Sanaa have not ratcheted down their rhetoric despite rising coronavirus cases. (AFP/File Photo)

In an emotional appeal, he warned: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

He pointed out that vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees typically pay the highest price during any conflict. They were now at risk of suffering “devastating losses” due to the pandemic, he said.

Guterres’ March 23 call got the UN Security Council’s backing on July 1, when it passed a resolution that asked all armed groups to begin a “humanitarian pause” for at least 90 days to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations. It also demanded a ceasefire at all conflicts it was discussing, such as those in Syria, Yemen and Libya. 

Four months on, did Guterres’s appeal make any difference to the lives of the people he had in mind?

To Anderson, cease-fires are important tools, but they must be followed up with action. A preliminary cease-fire is an “essential” but “temporary” approach, “not a solution to a conflict,” she said.

“A pandemic-related truce would help buy time to mitigate the effects of the virus in some of the world’s most vulnerable places. However, both the pandemic and the causes and consequences of conflict are likely to outlast a cease-fire.”

To develop longer-lasting solutions (such as definitive cease-fires), the international community must use this moment to build a more “cooperative approach to entrenched problems,” Anderson said.

In other words, a pause in fighting only presents an opportunity to pursue more durable diplomatic solutions to a conflict.

“It’s a window of opportunity to provide humanitarian aid, and an opportunity to try to both prepare for and mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Anderson said.

Gueterres’s plea to “silence the guns” and raise “the voices for peace” resonated worldwide. Eleven countries mired in protracted conflicts agreed to observe a cease-fire, and 170 signatories endorsed the appeal by June.

FASTFACT

70

Number of non-state actors, civil society networks, organizations that endorsed UN chief’s global cease-fire call.

On the face of it, they supported the UN chief’s call to silence all guns and stand united against the world’s first pandemic in decades.

But as Guterres himself noted later, the support for his cease-fire call was nominal in some countries, and “there was still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries.”

In some of the most volatile parts of the world, namely the Middle East and North Africa, the appeal of cease-fires proved fleeting.

Reports of airstrikes and clashes between rival sides poured in from Libya, Iraq and Yemen, while the health-care situation deteriorated further in war-torn Syria.

In Yemen, reeling from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, a two-week cease-fire proposed by the Saudi-led coalition backing the UN-recognized government went into effect on July 9.

But just days after the agreement, seven children and two women died in an incident that marked the start of a fresh round of tit-for-tat attacks that have defied the UN’s appeals for a cease-fire.




UN chief Guterres has urged combatants to lay down their weapons and focus on the ‘true fight of our lives.’ (AFP/File Photo)

Laura Petrache, a senior adviser to the Paris-based Migrant Integration Lab, said Yemen is in “urgent” need of a pause in the fighting in view of the increasing coronavirus cases in the war-torn country.

She views a cease-fire as a “perfect opportunity” to end the conflict as well as contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Less than 50 percent of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics are operational, and most lack qualified staff, medicine and often electricity,” she told Arab News.

Another country where the UN’s cease-fire call has failed to make a dent in the violence level is Libya.

On July 4, overnight strikes destroyed military equipment when they struck Al-Waitya in Tripoli’s outskirts, a base that had just fallen to Turkey-backed forces.

The attack took place even though both the Turkey-aligned Government of National Accord (GNA) and the rival east-based Libyan National Army had publicly welcomed the UN’s cease-fire call, according to Petrache.

One place where a cease-fire appears to have largely held is in Syria’s Idlib province, even though the situation there remains “fragile,” said Anderson.

“Idlib has seen its first confirmed COVID 19 case (in July), raising serious concerns about the potential for the virus to spread through a region overcrowded with Syrians displaced by war,” she added.




Kurdish-majority northeastern Syria is one of the many conflict zones vulnerable to COVID-19’s ravages. (AFP/File Photo)

The UN estimates that Syria’s public-health infrastructure, devastated by war, requires $10 billion in aid to combat the impact of conflict and the pandemic.

“Further fighting would only exacerbate an already dire situation and undermine any efforts to address the pandemic,” Anderson said, adding that it is vital that key border crossings are kept open for humanitarian aid to pass through.

For over a month now, an eerie calm has prevailed in the Gaza Strip, marking a sharp departure from the usual flare-ups in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“There has been no official cease-fire, but Israel and Palestine have put aside their disputes and made joint efforts to fight COVID-19,” said Petrache.

However, attacks have been reported at checkpoints in the West Bank as tension remains high over the Israeli government’s threat to annex parts of the occupied territory.

Despite the reduction in violence in parts of the world since the onset of the pandemic, the condition of children in conflict situations continues to be a cause for concern.

The cease-fires during the pandemic, if adhered to, are predicted to protect 250 million children.

“There’s going to be a generation of people who have suffered severe loss, now known as ‘human devastation syndrome,’ due to the absolute refusal of combatants to uphold any recognized standards of behavior during war,” Kimberly Gleason, associate professor at the American University of Sharjah, told Arab News.

“Unfortunately, the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen involve a heavy flow of foreign fighters. So although it looks as though COVID-19 hasn’t spread significantly there yet, fighters coming from countries with known coronavirus epidemics can easily infect local populations.”

Gleason also worries about the repercussions of the practice of targeting health facilities in war zones by combatants, which the Middle East has witnessed in recent years.

“Every additional day that these conflicts drag on, and every health-care worker who is lost to COVID-19 or conflict, is a tax on future economic recovery,” she said.

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Twitter: @jumana_khamis


Egypt denies Turkish claims over Mediterranean talks

Egypt denies Turkish claims over Mediterranean talks
Turkey’s position on the eastern Mediterranean issue has caused concern among its neighboring countries. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 March 2021

Egypt denies Turkish claims over Mediterranean talks

Egypt denies Turkish claims over Mediterranean talks
  • President El-Sisi praises strength of Egyptian-Greek ties in phone talks with PM Mitsotakis
  • The Egyptian side is sticking to its position rejecting the maritime agreement signed between the Libyan Government of National Accord and Ankara

CAIRO: Egyptian diplomatic sources have denied rumors that Cairo discussed the eastern Mediterranean issue with Turkey.

Egypt is committed to Cyprus and Greece being part of any negotiations with Turkey, the sources added.
Cairo also has “no intentions” of negotiating with Turkey over the issue, they said.
Turkish claims that a resolution is close to being reached are false, the sources said.
“The Egyptian side is sticking to its position rejecting the maritime agreement signed between the Libyan Government of National Accord and Ankara,” they said.
“Egypt’s respect for the maritime borders of the Mediterranean countries is not new and Turkey’s attempts to claim that the two countries have negotiated is incorrect.”
The comments follow claims by Turkey’s foreign minister, who said that Ankara would finalize an agreement with Egypt in line with the maritime authority agreement concluded with Libya and registered with the UN.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently discussed by phone areas of cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said that the two discussed close bilateral relations, especially cooperation in the field of energy and the eastern Mediterranean.
During the call, El-Sisi praised the strength of Egyptian-Greek relations.
He mentioned Egypt’s pride in cooperative relations with Greece and positive developments between the two countries over common interests.
The claims by Turkey’s foreign minister follow attempts by Ankara to gather Egyptian support over its claims to parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
Last year, the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, also expressed Ankara’s desire to restore relations with Egypt.
Turkish activity has intensified relations with neighboring countries — especially Greece and Cyprus — as Ankara seeks to control regional waters that are likely to contain significant quantities of natural gas.
While Egypt has demarcated its borders with Greece, El-Sisi last October ratified an agreement with Greece on the designation of an exclusive economic zone between the two countries.
In 2019, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories held the EastMed Gas Forum, which did not include Turkey.
Turkish gas exploration in marine areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus has also led to a breakdown of relations between the countries.


Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests
Lebanese pound banknotes are seen at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon June 15, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 March 2021

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests

Lebanese judiciary pursues currency speculators amid protests
  • Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night on motorcycles, roaming near the suburbs inhabited by a majority of Christians, which prompted the mobilization of security forces

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have ordered a crackdown on illicit foreign currency speculation as protests continue in Beirut.
The Attorney General Judge Ghassan Oweidat directed the Lebanese security services, including the Military Intelligence, the Internal Security Forces, the General Security, the State Security and the customs officials, to pursue money-changers who tamper with the national currency and are involved in illicit foreign currency speculation.
This move, not the first of its kind, is an attempt to dampen the widespread indignation that has continued for six days and intensified in street protests on Saturday and Sunday, which broke out after the dollar exchange rate hit 11,000 Lebanese pounds.
The protesters set up road blocks with rocks and burning tires on all major streets in Beirut and on the highways linking the regions. The Lebanese army reopened the blocked roads.
Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night on motorcycles, roaming near the suburbs inhabited by a majority of Christians, which prompted the mobilization of security forces. A clash took place in Choueifat between the protesters and a driver who drove through a blocked road, injuring seven protesters. The security forces arrested him.
The protests have moved from one area to the next without any visible leadership.
During the weekend, they went into areas that were not usually affected by protests, including the southern suburbs, the southern road, which Hezbollah deems forbidden to be blocked, and the city of Hermel in northern Bekaa, where people staged a sit-in and burned tires to protest over the poor living conditions.
Activists in Baalbek carried out a protest march opposite the city’s Roman citadel.
Political analyst Hanna Saleh said: “There is no explanation for the rise in the dollar exchange rate on Saturday night and the motorcycle protests except that it is an attempt to provoke a sectarian atmosphere to undermine the civil protests against the corrupt ruling authority.
“The goal is to resurrect President Michel Aoun, who, according to polls conducted by Hezbollah, is in a difficult situation and is no longer accepted by his public.”
Saleh added: “Every formula that provides cover for Hezbollah deepens the wounds of Lebanon. Hezbollah wants to run the game from behind the scenes. It has established a parallel economy. How can reforms take place in the presence of this parallel economy?”


Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar
Updated 08 March 2021

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar
  • Both sides agreed to unify diplomatic positions on Yemen

LONDON: Yemen’s internationally recognized government on Sunday restored diplomatic ties with Qatar, the foreign ministry announced.
Both sides agreed to resume bilateral relations and coordinate positions regarding political regional and international developments.
They also said they would unify diplomatic positions on Yemen, and work to achieve peace and stability in the region.
The announcement came following talks in Doha, between Yemen’s foreign minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman.
Bin Mubarak delivered a message from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, thanking Doha for its humanitarian and development support for Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt ended a three-year rift with Qatar following a Gulf summit in the historic Saudi city of AlUla in January.
During the meeting, Sheikh Mohammed underlined the need for a political solution to end the six-year war in Yemen.
He renewed Qatar’s support for unity, security and territorial integrity of Yemen, including supporting the efforts of UN envoy Martin Griffiths to bring peace and stability.
Kuwait last month hosted bilateral talks with Qatar and Egypt, and with Qatar and the UAE, aimed at resolving individual issues.

(With Reuters)


The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
Updated 08 March 2021

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
  • El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society

CAIRO: Sarah El-Amin, the Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa Organization, previously worked in philanthropy through a charitable institution, and as an investigative journalist. 

El-Amin was doing well as a journalist, but after the sudden death of her mother she decided to travel to Kenya to study. It was during this time that the idea of the organization came to her.

She started working to convey the true image of Egypt across the African continent through her community work with tribes in remote areas, which took eight hours to reach from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“My focus in my work abroad was serving the neediest areas in Africa, and I carried out many successful projects in Kenya,” El-Amin told Arab News.

“I was cited as an example of an Egyptian girl who overcame obstacles. During my trip abroad, I succeeded and was able to establish the organization with the support of a number of Egyptians abroad,” she said.

During her stay abroad and following the implementation of many projects, a number of Egyptian expatriates shared their experiences with El-Amin and together they came up with a plan.

“I could not do anything on my own without the collective effort of all the members of the Egyptian community in Kenya supporting me,” she said.

El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society.

She volunteered to work in a center for treating AIDS patients in Kenya, with the help of Italian experts and volunteers. 

She said that she named the foundation Happy Africa Organization because it aimed to ensure the happiness of African people with the support of Egyptians, financially and through other initiatives in different sectors.

El-Amin recently returned to Egypt, where the country’s Emigration and Expatriates Affair Minister Nabila Makram, and Maya Mursi, chairman of the National Council for Women, presented her with the Al Ta’ Marbouta Shield for her services to humanity.

The Ministry of Immigration has launched an official initiative, “The Power of Egyptian Women Abroad,” with El-Amin as its ambassador.

“The initiative aims to involve Egyptian women abroad in supporting the project to develop Egyptian villages to improve the lives of Egyptians,” El-Amin said.


Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
Zainab Al-Eqabi was picked to star in The Body Shop's Self-Love Uprising campaign. (Instagram)
Updated 08 March 2021

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
  • There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society
  • Zainab Al-Eqabi, 30, is a beacon of body positivity and source of motivation

DUBAI: When Iraqi sports enthusiast Zainab Al-Eqabi was seven years old, a bomb went off near her Baghdad home. Al-Eqabi, now 30, lost one of her legs as a result of the explosion.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey,” the pharmacist-turned-athlete told Arab News. It was the support of family and friends, as well as her own inner strength, that got her through. And despite the odds stacked against her, Al-Eqabi has taken her athleticism to a new level and has gone on to compete in several sports competitions in the UAE.

However, the 30-year-old admits that she has not always been an athlete — it was not until a doctor recommended that she should start swimming to ease her back pain, which was induced by her prosthetic leg, that she took up sports.

Al-Eqabi says that it “was a turning point” in her life.

“Swimming was not as difficult and scary as I thought at all, and it kind of opened up the doors to other sports,” she said. She competed in two triathlons as a cyclist in the UAE, and in 2020 joined the Dubai Fitness Challenge, during which she hauled a 2,000kg Jeep.

On top of an intense training schedule, a full-time job as a pharmacist and giving motivational speeches, Al-Eqabi makes a point of posting inspiring photographs of herself on Instagram — where she has accrued 1.5 million followers — with the aim of breaking stereotypes, combatting prejudices and contributing to a more confident society.

FASTFACTS

• Zainab Al-Eqabi lost her leg in a bomb blast in Baghdad when she was seven.

• She started swimming on her doctor’s advice to ease her back pain, which was induced by her prosthetic leg.

• On top of an intense training schedule, she works full-time as a pharmacist and gives motivational speeches.

• She competed in two triathlons as a cyclist in the UAE.

• In 2020, she joined the Dubai Fitness Challenge, during which she hauled a 2,000kg Jeep.

• Al-Eqabi has taken her athleticism to a new level and participated in several sports competitions in the UAE.

“In the Middle East, there’s this stigma on people with special needs or any kind of disability,” she said. “When I used to tell people that I have a prosthetic leg, they wouldn’t understand. They didn’t understand that I have an amputation. So, I decided to create a Facebook page called ‘Disabled and Proud’ and just started to note down stories from my daily life,” she said.

She recalled one instance when a woman confided in her that her disabled son had become more social and confident since he started following Al-Eqabi on social media.

“There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society. They limit their activity and involvement, just because of what they’re going through,” she said. “I hated that. So that’s what made me start posting on social media.”

Naturally, Al-Eqabi was the perfect fit when The Body Shop was searching for regional faces to represent its new Global Self Love Movement campaign, which promotes self-esteem and body positivity.

“I can really relate to this campaign. Self-love is a treasure that we all need to keep developing so that we can have the best relationship with our own self. I’m honestly so proud to be a part of this campaign,” she said.

When it comes to her own beauty routine, she follows a diligent skin care regimen because she believes that taking care of our bodies is important. Most days, she goes bare-faced, simply applying moisturizer and sunscreen and using a face mask once a week. On the days that she is not swimming, she will swipe a few coats of mascara on her lashes.

Ultimately though, Al-Eqabi’s secret to feeling her best is getting plenty of sleep and exercise. “Working out just makes you really feel good,” she said.

Al-Eqabi has had to put many of her plans on hold due to the pandemic. However, she continues to be a beacon of body positivity.

“I want to tell the person with a disability, don’t let it stop you, because at the end of the day you need to live your life. It doesn’t make sense to be excluded and to go through that by yourself. This is your life. You deserve to live it and enjoy it.”